[INTERVIEW] Lily and the Parlour Tricks
By: Nicola Lyon, Lauren Labadie
Editor-in-chief: Charlie Morgan
We Spoke to Lily of Lily of the Parlour Tricks who played a string of shows at this years annual CMJ Music Marathon.
Some describe you as a retro rock-and-roll band, but some of your songs have some pretty dark beats and bass. How would you describe yourselves?
Don't know if we qualify as 'retro' anymore; the songs have been moving into new territory. But we are attached to some older sensibilities - costuming, movements, harmonies, the way we structure our shows. We all listen to so many different kinds of music and tons of it is modern. We like to be able to bring together elements of lots of different genres. Among them happen to be some older influences, for sure.
What is it about retro music that inspires you so much?
Musically I think everyone owes a lot, if not everything, to older music in one way or other. We all grew up listening to different musicians, and in turn those musicians were listening to music growing up that made them want to be musicians. No shame in paying respect to our elders. But a lot of the inspiration we find is aesthetic. 50, 60 years ago, people wanted, expected even, to see a "show", and a big part of that was visual: The Shangri-Las in matching jeans and turtlenecks, Elvis in his white shoes and oversized jacket, James Brown and his orchestra - it was part of the show. It wouldn't distract from the music, it would enhance it somehow. I like that.
What do you love most about performing?
That feeling of putting on a show is big. We've been playing together for so long at this point but it never feels stale. Winning over an audience presents itself as a new challenge every time.
Do you improvise at all on stage?
Angelo (guitar) does. Never know what he's gonna do. Our arrangements are pretty airtight in order to accommodate those out-of-the-box moments. Out-of-the-box puts it mildly.
Do you write all the songs?
What music were you listening to growing up?
My parents always had classical music and jazz playing at home. My brother introduced me to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. When I was 10 I got very sick and was home from school for days, and I started listening to the Oldies station. Buddy Holly, Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, the Chordettes. I owe a lot to 101.1 WCBSFM.
What influences your music now?
A lot of that same stuff, plus lots more. David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Waits. John Lennon's cover of "Angel Baby" has been on heavy rotation recently.
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Stories. Always reading.
You wrote a song called Darwin, relating to the survival of the fittest. Why does that theme appeal to you?
A few years ago friends and I started saying "Darwin" when we heard about someone doing something particularly idiotic - like those Darwin Awards books; same thing. I started seeing it more and more in everything we do. Not just the stupid things, but more in terms of fate and coincidence. Can we change and adapt or are we just the way we are, and that's that? It's a love song. The opening lines came to me first, because I can't drive and I've never wanted to. I wondered if that made me less "fit". Still do. Should probably get a license.
You seem to be intrigued by human psychology and there are rumours you spend a lot of time reading old accounts of American criminals and murderers - what draws you to the human mind, and why are you driven to write about it in your music?
I almost left music school to study criminal psychology. Instead I decided to stay and do research on my own time. I guess the lamest and shortest answer would be that I'm interested in how psychopaths find logic in their own behavior. Some of the case studies I've read, you wouldn't believe how reasonable these people sound in their testimonies. She had to kill her lover's wife by poisoning a box of chocolates. He had to collect the noses of his victims in a box under his bed. It's gruesome, a lot of it, but it's fascinating. I find it more interesting to write from someone else's perspective than my own anyway. I write my fair share of love songs and stuff, but every so often I'll read something that hits a nerve. At the end of the day I like to write scary stories, they're just in song form instead of on paper.
What are you listening to right now?
The new Dr. Dog album.
You mentioned in another interview that you love Jack White, yet he is so different to your music stylistically. What is it about his music that you love so much?
He seems to have a similar stance on the whole "retro" thing, though I'll wager he dislikes the term even more than we do. He takes older genres of music and has his way with them. He has his bands dress in specific color schemes and styles. He has a very particular stage persona. He takes chances and remains in control. I admire the way he works.
Favourite new music act?
Rocket & The Ghost, our friends from Brooklyn.
What was SXSW like for you?
A barrel of fun. 10 shows in 4 days. We look forward to a repeat in 2014.
Your song Belle Gunness was used for a BMW commercial. How did that happen, and how did it feel to have your music projected into the commercial sphere?
A producer we had just worked with, Wilson Brown (of Antfood Music & Sound Design), pitched the song to BMW who had just hired him and his team to do their latest commercial. Lucky for us, they loved it and that was that. Still feels a little surreal. But wonderful. We're grateful. I still have yet to see it on TV. But it's funny when we all get texts from all of our relatives who are watching a baseball game or something when it comes on. Angelo's sister's boyfriend was first to see it, on the Golf Channel.
Has it helped you gain publicity?
It's been great.
CMJ is a big leap for you, what are you hoping it brings?
This is actually our 4th year at CMJ but the first time we've done so many shows. As always, our goal is to reach as many new fans as possible. So far so good.
What's your indication of a great gig?
Hearing people say "I can't wait for the next show".
Thank you to Lily and the Parlour Tricks for taking the time to chat to us. They are currently touring the US.