whynow is the time to listen to… Lila Drew

As part of our series on emerging artists, we spoke to Lila about her latest release, falling in love with pop music and bringing the visuals of her music to life with acclaimed director Vincent Haycock.

Lila Drew interview

A self-described “pop cynic who makes pop music”, 22-year-old Lila Drew recently dropped her debut album, All The Places I Could Be. The record is a nuanced exploration of the years Lila spent writing it, between the ages of 18 and 20, purposefully bearing all the imperfections such a time of discovery can encompass.

As part of our series on emerging artists, we spoke to Lila about her latest release, falling in love with pop music and bringing the visuals of her music to life with acclaimed director Vincent Haycock.

Hello, how are you doing? You’re in America right now, is that right?

Yeah, I’m good. I was born in London, but I moved to L.A. when I was really young. Hence my total lack of accent. I go to school in Connecticut, so I’m here around 90% of the year, and in L.A. probably two weeks of the year.

How are you balancing school and being an artist?

It’s a tough question. I came to university with the goal of improving my songwriting. But I was making music throughout high school as well, starting when I was around 14; when I started high school was when I first went into a proper recording studio.

Lila Drew

Photo: Vincent Haycock

I realised in that process that although I was making a fuck tonne of music, I wasn’t writing about anything substantive, because I had nothing going on in my life other than music. For that reason, being at university and in a new place surrounded by people has been super beneficial.

It adds a real-life experience?

Yeah, there are things happening in my life that are tangible. I don’t feel the need to create fantastical worlds to write songs. I’m not that type of writer, to be honest. I wish I was, I so admire Taylor Swift, who is obviously an incredible example; she’s just able to craft these made-up worlds and live inside them and embody them. I just find it difficult to write like that, it really doesn’t come naturally to me.

Well, let’s talk about the good music you have written. Your debut album, All The Places I Could Be is out now. How happy are you with this record? And what do you feel it says about you right now as an artist?

It’s funny because everyone’s been asking, ‘Are you excited?’ but I’m also nervous [that it’s out]. But I’m really happy with the record; it’s been a labour of love. I started writing it when I was 18, and I’m 22 now, so it’s been some time.

Lila Drew

Photo: Vincent Haycock

Looking back and listening to it, I really feel it’s an honest representation of where I was at, at the time. And it’s an honest representation of my sense of exploration I was experiencing whilst writing it. I think I went into the process thinking, ‘If I can just write one song that I really like, then I’ll be really happy’, and learnt to trust my own tastes and trust how I feel. I don’t think I’d experienced that prior to this record. There are so many elements of the record that lend itself to feeling like it’s a record about exploration.

You mentioned that these songs were written between 18 and 20. You’re 22 now, so is there almost a bit of a disconnect; even though it’s your debut album, these are songs about who you were?

No, I really do see myself in all the songs. I guess I see myself less in some of the writing, which has changed a bit [since then]. That’s like life, in a lot of ways. But I have some distance from the record in the sense I didn’t just make it spontaneously. But, to be honest, I’m such a perfectionist with music, I would never feel comfortable putting out a record that I made in a spontaneous way.

You’ve said twice – a “labour love”, “perfectionism”. Is that something that you felt quite strongly with this album?

Yeah, for sure. Every sound in this record is purposeful. Every lyric is purposeful. Every mistake is purposeful. And that was the most important thing. I think a huge part of that was showing people the way in which the record was made, through the process of listening to the music; and wanting people to feel physically close to the music when they’re listening to it, making it feel really human and natural. Even in moments like the song ‘Selfish’, which is an electronic song, I wanted there to be a lack of perfection, leaving in all those discrepancies to make it sound more textured and alive. On the other hand, all those moments were really specifically picked out.

Lila Drew

So you’re saying there was a kind of planned imperfection to it…?

Yes, exactly. But I think like to make a record, especially at that point, I felt it was dishonest to myself to craft a perfectly polished pop record. I didn’t feel that would be honest to my sense of discovery. I really started the record feeling like I’d never made a song that I liked.

That sounds ridiculous, but I felt strongly in that. I just wanted to make a few songs that I really love. And that’s all. So it was a really powerful experience to go through that and realise I can make songs I really like and they feel honest to me.

It sounds like there was a tension between an image of yourself as a singer-songwriter, and how you were actually feeling when making this record. Is that a fair enough assessment?

I think it was just easiest for me, as a writer, to tap into the things in my life that felt heaviest. I hear people say all the time that sadness is a more potent emotion. So I think it was more about that; writing in an emotional, heavier way just felt easier for me. Then we ended up making songs like ‘2023’, which have the most ridiculous lyrics and ‘Used To, which has all these crazy sound effects, and even has a sample that we used from The Princess Bride. Then I also ended up writing a song with Matt Hales, ‘Bad Juice’, which is a song about fucking nothing, I listen to it and the lyrics are crazy.

Just to move onto other people you worked with on this project. You worked with filmmaker Vincent Haycock to bring the visual world to life. He’s worked with the likes of Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Florence + the Machine, sohat was that like bringing that working with him to create the visuals?

It was another fan moment for me. I’ve really felt that in a lot of the process. I’ve been watching Vincent’s videos since I was like 12, as a child of Tumblr. We met and talked for a bit. I remember him saying, “I really see you”; and, “I really see the way that you interact with other people, that you’re not that extroverted, and I understand you wouldn’t really feel comfortable being front-and-centre on camera”.

He really gave me permission to be me in front of the lens. That was so important for me – especially as a young woman in that situation, I’ve just felt so insecure in front of cameras before. Every video I’d ever done prior to ‘2023’ [with Vincent], I felt like I was an actor. I feel really uncomfortable in my body most of the time. And I felt from the jump that I could be really honest about all those things with Vince in a way I hadn’t with any other director I’d worked with.

After that video, we embarked on this whole creative journey together, doing everything from our vinyl to merch. We ended up doing three more videos plus a live film. We went to Mexico City and shot the videos for ‘Bad Juice’, ‘Lila’s Theme’ and ‘Used To’ in four days. He was really the perfect person to bring the songs to life. I think, in the same way he saw me so clearly, he saw the music clearly as well – and those things don’t always go hand-in-hand.

Lila Drew

Photo: Vincent Haycock

I read you’re a self-confessed “pop cynic who makes pop music”. What do you mean by that?

I think, growing up in LA, surrounded by people who were also steeped in the world of music, I became such a music snob. It wasn’t even that I was looking down on people, per se. But I wouldn’t allow myself to listen to music, even if I thought it was good, if I didn’t deem [the artist] to be of a high enough quality.

You were looking for an edge, something that wasn’t quite so mainstream…?

Yeah, I was in love with a boy in middle school who listened Aphex Twin when he was 13. It was crazy, that’s just what I was really drawn to. I don’t even really like Aphex Twin that much, not to…

Yep, if Aphex Twin is reading, you don’t mean to offend…

It’s not even really the music that I love. Now, I do love pop music. I think it’s awesome and I also think pop is the most subjective music genre. It’s so undefined and so much of the music I realised I was listening to when I was younger, and was a total snob, and the music I’m listening to now, could be defined as pop in so many different ways. I also think pop is becoming a much wider, more encompassing genre, and I think I [previously] had a very cynical approach to what pop music is.

Lila Drew All the Places I Could Be

All the Places I Could Be

So you’re coming out of that phase now. Are you making more pop music?

No, I’m making slower music, because I’ve learned how to play guitar. I’m really drawn to music I feel a lot of people will like; not for the sake of commerciality, but for the sake of finding some sort of common ground. For the record, I love that people like different music. That’s what makes the world around.

Indeed it does. You’re also into another artform, though. You write creative nonfiction. What kind of stuff do you write and why that genre?

I write a lot of personal essays, a lot of creative nonfiction essays. I write a little bit of fiction as well, but not as much. I’ve always been drawn to it. I’ve actually weirdly found that long-form writing is a lot easier for me than songwriting. With songwriting, I have to wait for something to strike, but I find it easier to digest my experiences through long-form writing because I don’t have to worry so much about word choices.

Even before the release of your debut album, you’ve had a fair amount of success, achieving millions of streams. You spoke about insecurities earlier, but what have you made of the success you’ve had so far?

It’s cool. I think it’s just told me to continue on, really. A lot of the songs that have garnered a lot of streams I put out long ago, so I feel detached from that. It’s quite unbelievable to me that I made those songs, and that they have the streams they have now.

But the only thing I’ve thought about for years is this record. I really only consume music via albums. That’s just the way I listen to music, so I just wanted to make an album that was mine. And this feels so much more important than any of the songs. Not to discount the other music I also spent a huge amount of time and effort on, and a lot of people did. But these [songs on the album] just feel really truthful to me and feel like they’re in my voice and not someone else’s.

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