Kurt Heasley of Lilys


An interview with Kurt Heasley of Lilys

Since 1992, Kurt Heasley and his Lilys have been no secret to the minds of music lovers of the world. But sometimes it just feels like Heasley’s odd little pop/rock/dream/psych/mod/groove moods and melodies are the global scene’s greatest little secret. Heasley is in Cambridge again now, where his oft-travelled Lilys project has been located in the past, recording and developing music for an album that is probably going to blow someone’s mind in the beautiful but yet-undetermined future. In the meantime, Heasley is will be playing a rare solo set this Sunday night (Nov 3rd) at TT the Bears (he opened some shows for My Bloody Valentine you might remember), in honor of Clicky Clicky Music Blog‘s benefit show for Community Servings. It doesn’t hurt that CCMB’s Jay Breitling is also world Lily’s fan #1. Sunday’s show will kick open its doors at 8:30 and will also feature performances from Earthquake Party!, the Hush Now and Soccer Mom, as well as DJ Sets from Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz). $10 for a good cause, and hey, LILYS!!! BUY TICKETS, LOTS OF TICKETS

For a super-brief primer, here is the last INCREDIBLE Lily’s single, “Well Traveled is Protest,” from November 2012. And here is a taste from the last full-length Lily’s record, Everything Wrong is Imaginary, a song called “Black Carpet Magic.”

Now onto the Kurt…

JD: So you told me via email that you were ‘coming back from the studio.’ So what’s going on with that? What are you doing in the studio?

KH: Well… there’s been a lot of writing, sort of outside the Lilys’ process, happening over the last 3 years, and making the research and development time available requires a lot of playing and hearing where things are at. It’s a shed. And what goes on in the woodshed stays in the woodshed. And when it’s time to sit down and produce new material it will it least be from a place that is well practiced and clear on the intent.

JD: And so you said “outside of the Lilys’ process. So does that mean that you want to do something under a different flagship?

KH: Well, there are some people that I’ve wanted to work with over the last 6/7 years. And there have been so many other projects, so many other areas. To be all things to all people, especially to ourselves, we sort of have to deal with the job right in front of us. And one thing I really found about making the transition from ‘90s writer to 21st century writer is that I feel I’ve pretty much been the same person, but the world to which I’m adding commentary and context to has changed so rapidly and that in and of itself has changed my approach drastically. So yeah, I’m noting the changes in myself and how I relate environmentally.

JD: And so, are you living in this area and collaborating with other musicians in this area?

KH: There has been a lot of playing with some of the Lilypad jazz scene guys. Mostly Jesse Gallagher and I. Jesse from Apollo Sunshine has sort of risen to…finding the place where we can be relevant. The funny thing is that some musicians make music because it’s basically all they can do to keep from going, you know, mad! I have had lots of experience with music as therapy, enough to go into that area. I feel that rather than looking at how bizarre the industry, how upside down the industry has become, a lot of the people that I drew inspiration from have created new models of becoming industrious and productive.

The overwhelming evidence would be that a lot of younger musicians don’t see the same development process as imperative. And those experiences that create seasoned musicians who are really able to work well with a variety of people aren’t being generated the same way over the last 12 years. You know, there wasn’t a whole of difference between when I started and when I was 30. Now, technology and how technology is being [used as] a part of the creative process has caused a very interesting isolating effect which has made some really interesting stuff—especially in technology development, because it’s sales and accessibility has increased its availability as the price point drops—but it really hasn’t raised the level of unique communication. In fact, if anything it’s almost created this strange standardizing blanket that a lot of people can’t grow out of in their late teens and early ‘20s, which when you were playing music between 1950 and 2000 if you wanted to have a satisfying musical experience, especially in the recording environment, you had to work with people! And that’s not the case anymore, and I feel like, well, I will do what I do best which is work through these paths with talented people and not put myself in [the position of] doing all their jobs.

People have to know themselves and trust others to do [their] thing to come up with the execution of great ideas. I see a lot of great ideas poorly executed. At one point in the ‘60s and ‘70s it made for some really cool fringe art. But starting in the ‘90s it became almost this consensus of ‘student mentality.’ It’s hard to be perpetually novice and interesting. I think a lot of how bands relate to each other; how they relate to dare what I call the craft-of-the-craft, and I think it actually has some really exciting opportunities—some of the openness, some of what I see as the lack of what I see is not there, it’s not that it’s ‘not there,’ it’s that it’s just not being realized and utilized and brought to people’s attention because I feel like a lot of people just feel frustrated with the saturation of these 50,000 Bandcamp records. How do you sort through it all? It’s really, really challenging! Especially when I talk about that haze of middle-dom. It used to be that music was lo-fi and it was really quiet when you were listening to it. Now it’s being brought up to digital-zero, so it sounds ‘loud,’ but now it sounds terribly loud. It’s like WHOA! That is very loud, and not in a Sly Stone way! And that was pretty renegade record making for the time.

JD: So you’ve brought a lot of points here. I’m sort of picking up on them in different places here. But most recently, I think that this idea of 50,000 records on Bandcamp. Another thing you mentioned was the process one takes in order to come up with art. I’m sort of putting these two things together and taking what I know about your music, and I’m going to just guess of your part is about processing—about keeping your ears and eyes open and then regurgitating that into some owl pellet eventually.

KH: Sure. I think it would be more like the cud. You’re out there. You’re grazing, you’re grazing, you’re grazing…You go back to the barn at night, and then you bring it back up and begin to chew it. That’s where the nutrients are. When you begin to process why you have done what you did. Why was I so compelled to buy this record? Why was I so compelled to listen to this song 50 times? Why was I so into the 12 string, or the piano, or the synthesizer, and to be able to do a little self-inquiry. And then once in that self-inquiring place, be able to ask reasonable questions….sitting down with keyboard players and bass players and drummer and engineers—I think a lot of great art asks those questions. Whether it’s ‘why am I so lucky? or ‘why am I so heartbroken?’ or ‘what the hell is going on in this mad, mad world?’

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