Interview: A Lily

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(Photo by Oleg Pulemjotov)

Echotic talks to multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and all round musician A Lily.

Who is A Lily?
Generally, A Lily is me (James Vella). A Lily is a name I picked to represent the music I write on my own. I chose it almost by accident when I was a teenager trying to write electronic music on the family computer. It stuck, and has gone through laptop music, folk, drones, pop music, piano solos and maybe a handful more. What I like best about A Lily is that it can be anything I like.

If you could describe the sound of A Lily in 3 words, what would it be?
Clueless, lawless exploration.

What/who are your influences?
For my last record – an EP titled Lupa – and its follow-up (an album called Roma), I wrote about the story of Romulus and Remus. Two brothers in Roman folklore who were raised by a feral wolf and fought to the death over the formation of the city. I re-read the story by chance fairly recently and found so much darkness and magic in there. I thought it was perfect to write about. I wanted to reach that same middle ground between surreal, beautiful and fierce. I also read lots of Jorge Borges, watched lots of Twin Peaks and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and cooked lots of Middle Eastern food while I was making these records.

What kinds of things inspire you during the songwriting process? Do you like to write in seclusion or in a more collaborative fashion; why?  
I like to write with an instrument. I like to play almost absent-mindedly like an “automatic writing” process and just see what comes out. Then I get stuck and have to go for a walk along the beach. It’s all very isolated work.
But I play with a live band, who are fantastic. At this point the process becomes a lot more diplomatic and inclusive. We deconstruct the songs into chord sequences, melodies and structures and re-arrange them from the beginning again.

You recently released your EP Lupa and it has received much love. What was the recording process like and how did it influence the sound of the EP?
In general, the recording and writing process are the same. The songs – after the skeleton vocal / chord structure – are built from the ground up. I arrange as I go and I add instrumentation one layer at a time. Inevitably, this influences the sound. Partly by the simplicity of the set-up: I have a couple of microphones, a computer and a bedroom full of instruments. But more broadly, the type of composition is very distinct from a “write, then record” process. I can spend months working on a single track, ditching material and starting again, or recording the same harmony lines on every instrument that can play it. It can become maddening, but eventually someone sets me a deadline and I have to stop tinkering.

If you could work/collaborate with anybody (dead or alive) who would it be?
John Coltrane. I’m a huge fan of John Coltrane. I know exactly what I’d like to record with him. If he ever reincarnates.

Are there any other acts/artists you recommend?
Lots. Maybe too many to name. My favourites at the minute are His Clancyness, Perera Elsewhere, M. Geddes Gengras, Yong Yong, Sutekh Hexen, Zulus, Dog In The Snow, The Lunchtime Sardine Club, Vincent Vocoder Voice, Tom Pitts.

What is A Lily’s upcoming plans?
I need to finish the album. It’s almost there, I’m just gradually replacing rough recordings with finished takes and working with some friends that play instruments I can’t – violin and trumpet and such. I’m also planning on taking the live band out more next year, maybe some touring in support of the album release.

Catch A Lily supporting Ásgeir tomorrow (Thursday 1th Dec) at the Green Door Store, Brighton. Tickets still available.

[Helen Brown]

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