Lala Lala released its second album The Lamb on Hardly Art on Sept. 28. The album deals with the personal trauma songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist Lillie West experienced after her home was broken into while she slept and after the death of close friends. It’s also West’s first album since she embraced sobriety.
We sat down with Lillie West before her show at Paper Tiger on Oct. 6.
Wolf Robinson: Hey, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us.
Lillie West: Yeah, of course.
WR: I think the last time you stopped in San Antonio was last November while you were touring with Girlpool. It seems like a lot has changed in your life since then, and a lot of those changes are reflected in The Lamb. What’s been the biggest difference for you between now and about a year ago?
LW: Well all of that stuff happened before November. I think that since then, I’ve just been trying to continue to get better. At this point, I don’t know what I want Lala to be, but I’m getting closer to what it is. Like, what I want the live show to be or what type of music I want it to be or something. And I would hope because of that tour and the tour I’m on now and the tours in between that I’m getting better. I don’t know. That’s my hope.
WR: Sleepyhead was your debut album, and it got big pretty fast. How do you think that impacted you when you were working on The Lamb? Did you think, ‘A lot of people are actually going to hear this,’ or was it more personally focused?
LW: If I were to say that knowing people would listen to my music wouldn’t change it, I’d be lying. It definitely changes it. I mean, as much as you want music to just be for you when you’re making it, it just isn’t anymore, and I just had to think about it in terms of other people, too. I don’t know. I do that anyway. I have a negative voice running through my head at all times that’s picking apart what I’m doing and imagining someone else not liking it. So I write a part and imagine someone else being like, ‘Well, that’s really elementary.’ And make it better. I don’t know.
WR: It’s pretty well-publicized that this new record is inspired by feelings of paranoia and dread, which in turn are inspired by personal trauma you went through, including someone breaking into your home. Could you pick a song from the album and talk us through how those things influenced it both lyrically and musically?
LW: I mean, I think that that stuff is just running through all the songs. It’s not one song in particular. And that just happened to be what was going on while I was writing most of it. I don’t know. I talk about it in “I Get Cut.” I like talking about “I Get Cut” because it’s the only love song on the album, and it’s romantic. But I mention the break-in in that. There’s a really literal lyric about buying a bat. I bought a bat after my house got broken into and had it by my bed, and I say ‘I bought a bat,’ and it’s literally in that lyric. But I just like talking about that song because it’s the only love song, and it’s fun and nice.
WR: Is that the same bat that’s in your music video for “Destroyer?”
LW: No, actually. That bat belongs to Connor Brodner, the drummer of Twin Peaks.
WR: Oh, no way!
LW: Yeah. I still have it in my house. It’s literally so bad I haven’t given it back. I text him every three weeks or something, and I’m like, ‘I still have your bat! Can I get it to you this way?’ and he’s always like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine,’ and then I don’t do it. I was supposed to go over to someone’s house that he knows, and I didn’t. I still have that bat. It’s Connor’s bat.
WR: You embraced sobriety in the time between the release of your last album and the beginning of work on The Lamb. How has that changed your approach to writing music?
LW: I think I spend a lot more time writing now. I wasted a lot of time partying, and I spend zero time doing that now, so I have a lot more time to do it I guess. You know?
WR: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s a really personal album, and it seems like performing those kinds of songs would sort of force you to be vulnerable in front of crowds every night. Is it hard to be vulnerable in front of people, or do you sort of separate yourself from what you’re singing about after a while?
LW: It depends. I try to conceal lyrics a lot because I don’t like being totally vulnerable or sincere in that way in front of people. Or there are some things that are cheesy. I try to stay away from them, even though there’s a lot of lyrics on the album where I feel like I didn’t succeed in that. It’s pretty personal and cheesy. But I separate myself from it. I feel like when I don’t like a lyric I’ve written, I’ll sing it in a weird way that it’s harder to understand live. The song “Exorcism” there’s a lyric … actually now people are gonna know what it is. There’s just a lyric I don’t like, and I always sing it weird so that people can’t understand it. But you can hear it on the record really well.
WR: You’ve toured with Girlpool, Cherry Glazerr, Surf Curse, Mothers, and I’m sure there are several other groups I’m not aware of. How does this tour feel different, both with Mothers and as the first tour since The Lamb was released?
LW: I just think that every tour, I learn something from whatever band we’re touring with. OK, so Cherry Glazerr. That tour was the first bigger tour we ever went on, and that really opened my eyes to a lot of things. Clem is just so good. She’s just such a natural performer, and she goes so hard. And actually, Surf Curse also. They go so hard, and that was inspiring in that way, to give it your all. And Clem has a no-fucks attitude that’s really refreshing, I guess. But then there’s other ways and other bands, like Mothers is just inspiring me in a specific way. Their guitar parts are just so cool, and Kristine sort of blends her voice with the guitar in a really cool way that I’ve never seen before. You spend a lot of time with a band, you watch their set every night, it’s easy to pick apart and pick up things from them.
But I don’t know, since The Lamb was released. It’s the first time we’ve had a record to sell. That’s different. There’s more strangers at the shows, I guess. More people I’ve never met before being like, ‘I like the album.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s so weird! How did you find it?’
WR: The Chicago indie music scene seems like it’s a pretty tight-knit group. Are there any other acts coming out of Chicago that you’re close friends with or that you’ve collaborated with musically, or that you’d like to collaborate with?
LW: I’m pretty good friends with this guy Sen Morimoto, who put out an album recently that is amazing. And we made one song together once, but I really want to make another one soon.
WR: Did he do the saxophone on “See You at Home?”
LW: Yes, he did the saxophone. He plays the saxophone on like every Chicago rock and hip hop record. I don’t know. We’re kind of all friends. It’s awesome. I love Chicago. People go hard, and they represent each other.
WR: With touring and the new album, you haven’t had a lot of spare time. What have you been doing with the little free time you do have, either on tour or when you’re back in Chicago?
LW: On tour, I try to keep myself busy in the car because it can be really punishing. I read and I do crafts. I knit, I draw and I write postcards to people. This tour, I brought my laptop, so I can make music on Logic and play Sims 2. I actually did that today. It’s the first time I’ve done it, and it makes me feel crazy. Racing down the highway and staring at the screen really intensely, it’s just so overstimulating that I’m suddenly like, ‘I’ve been playing for an hour, and I’m really thirsty.’ At home I just try and relax and play music for fun, you know? I mean, tour is fun, but it’s also now my job, and when I’m home, I try and do it without any expectations.
WR: Thanks so much for your time. Can’t wait for the show!