Originally from London, Lillie West spent her teenage years in LA before moving to Chicago to study. Suddenly finding herself in a loop of partying, toxic relationships and spiralling feelings, West initially formed her musical moniker Lala Lala as an outlet through which she could filter her emotions. Soon after, she had a full had a fully realised debut record – Sleepyhead (2016) – in the bag.
Two years on, we find West in a new phase of sobriety, a fresh mindset and readying the release of her sophomore LP, titled The Lamb. “I see myself as baby sheep in a way. I was sort of learning how to walk, communicate and live for the first time when I was writing the new album”, explains West when asked about the album title. It’s a metaphor that fully translates once hearing the record, in which she pours personal experience and fragments of self re-discovery.
That said, West’s tone isn’t’ all heart-on-sleeve, there’s a nonchalant and dark essence to Lala Lala’s sound that makes it both unpredictable and playful, two traits that shine in this interview where the musician talks ultimate movies, dystopian chemicals in oatmeal and fulfilling teenage dreams.
Robyn Sian Cusworth: Hey, how are you? What’s been going on with your day?
Lillie West: All good! I’ve had a quiet day and I’ve been reading a lot, in particular a book called Trip by Tao Lin.
RSC: Oh nice, what’s it about?
LW: It’s a book about a lot of things, like drugs and alienation, but one of his discussions centres a lot around food production and pesticides. So today I’ve been thinking about it a lot and worrying about it actually.
RSC: Funny you say that, recently I bought some grapes that tasted of seafood. I researched why and it was down to a pesticide. Terrifying!
LW: Wow that is bad. Yeah, I found myself staring at grocery products in a store today, which I don’t usually get up to by the way, and I found five weird chemicals in the oatmeal I usually buy – it’s so bad!
RSC: Oh no. I think we should take our minds of this then… You have an unusual accent.
LW: [Laughing] Ok! Well I’d say my accent is half and half. A lot of people think i’m from Australia but I lived in London until I was about thirteen and then I went to California. ‘Surfer British’ is how I usually describe it!
RSC: So when did you move to Chicago?
LW: I moved to Chicago from LA to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I went for about a year but I left to completely focus on music and by then, I’d fallen in love with the place.
RSC: So you must spend a lot of time with your bandmates at home? Could you talk me through who is who?
LW: So, Ben Leech is the current drummer, he plays on The Lamb which is about to drop this week. He’s pretty constant having been on the last few tours. Then Abby Black actually played drums on our first record Sleepyhead and after taking a break she’s jumped back in to play guitar and sometimes drums. Ben and Abby are the constants, but the tour we just finished included Miranda Winters who plays in a band called Milk Belly, who I love. Last up is Emily Kemph who plays bass and sings but she doesn’t tour with us. Emily is in a band called Dead who are pretty amazing too. A lot of people!
RSC: Do you get much time to play around musically, now that you’ve hit the ground running with the new album?
LW: Yeah! Recently I made a song with Yoni Wolf from Why? I also made a cover with a musician I love called Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, who is a multi-instrumentalist from Chicago. We just made a cover of Sixpence None the Richer’s Kiss Me!
RSC: Such a nostalgic song!
LW: Yeah, isn’t it? We were playing and just stopped and thought, this really is an incredible song [laughs]. It’s nice to be doing different things for fun, I guess when writing for Lala there’s an extra element of pressure. In a way I’m writing for an entity that isn’t just myself, it’s the band, the label and everybody else involved. So it’s good to keep doing things that nobody will ever hear.
RSC: Of course, it’s good for the soul. Do you have a cold [laughs]?
LW: [Laughing] I do! I do have a tiny bit of a cold, I’m so sorry!
RSC: No no please don’t apologise! You’re not run down from touring are you?
LW: Well, I was really ill all week on tour but it’s clearing up now. Whenever I sniffle I keep trying to pull the phone away… but yes, being on tour was amazing!
Who were you with this time around?
LW: Well the thing with that is it was with multiple bands. Four days with Wolf Parade, two days with a band called Level Up and a day with Why? Which is quite unusual and a bit jarring but such an experience!
RSC: So what other influences in music, arts and beyond would you list?
LW: A big question! I worked in an art house movie theatre when I was eighteen, which was based at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and I was influenced by a lot of stuff I saw there. They showed the movie Badlands which started my long term obsession. Movies are an important medium for me, especially as my dad is a filmmaker. At art school I was reading a lot of comic books too, such as the classics by Daniel Clowes. I think that having a visual background impacts the way I write my songs too. Hmm, what else? Mitski is up there, her music is so emotional and swelling, it feels really big and that appeals to me. Another musical influence is the band Pavement, I loved their odd lyrics a lot when growing up.
RSC: Lot’s of visual gems in there. Any visions for your next video?
LW: I’m thinking about doing one for Copycat and there’s a couple of videos I really like that came out from an artist this year called Sen Morimoto, a Chicago based musician that I love. His stuff is very cool.
RSC: Nice, so does your new album name, The Lamb hold any relevance to you? It’s quite a symbolic name?
LW: Yeah I think it kinda does. I see myself as baby sheep in a way. I was sort of learning how to walk, communicate and live for the first time when I was writing the new album. My entire life changed after making the decision to become sober. People say it’s like being ‘born again’ and I do understand why! I’m not religious but it feels like a perfect fit.
RSC: So how will you be celebrating the new album this September?
LW: We have the release show that night at the Empty Bottle, a venue ’round the corner from my house where all of my friends work and I’ve been going to since I have moved to Chicago. It’s in the middle of the tour but I’m sure there will be scope to celebrate! Maybe we’ll go mini golfing too…