Premiere: “Have a Look,” by Lila Blue
Text by Jamie Ludwig
At 17 years old, San Francisco by-way-of New York folk artist Lila Blue already has two albums and nearly a decade of scoring for theater under her belt, has had her songs selected for a movie (Lifetime’s Story of a Girl, directed by Kyra Sedgwick), and has developed a following on her cities’ live circuits and beyond.
Blue’s musical journey began around age 6 or 7 when she happened to mention to her grandfather that she wanted to learn ukulele to accompany some poetry she had written. Coincidentally, he had a ukulele tucked away and gave it to her. She played the instrument for eight years, and also picked up guitar, piano, and bass.
“The transition to guitar felt pretty natural, but the way bass was introduced to me was a bit more abrupt,” she says “In eighth grade, I broke my right wrist and ended up having to wear a cast all the way up to my shoulder for around two months, and couldn’t strum for the life of me. So I had to improvise, and did that by buying a bass, and flipping it so it lay on my lap, and essentially would play the neck with my thumb and hit the strings with the arm in the cast. My good friend calls it the ‘feral bass,’ and it worked well enough that I just kept playing bass after the cast came off.” Though her unusual bass technique has captivated audiences, Blue’s guitar remains her main instrument for composition.
On September 22, Blue will release “Have a Look,” a 5-song EP that showcases her diverse musical talents and penchant for storytelling. The EP’s title track came together from a single lyric, These days I just don’t have much left to say, and a mental picture that came to her while writing; of a woman lying on a bed while having her portrait painted by a man. “It looked idyllic. And I remember my initial thought, which surprised me, was that this was going to destroy her. And so with that in mind, I wrote the rest of the song.”
The song deals with themes of visibility, specifically the times in life when others project what they want you to be on you, rather than seeing who you are. Blue says the song isn’t related to a single experience from her life, but “there have been facets of my past and the pasts of women close to me where suddenly, you look down, and pieces of yourself are missing. And I know that feeling well, that feeling is familiar.”
“Have a Look” features Blue’s moody, finger-picked acoustic guitar, as well as strings and minimalist percussion. Each element adds to the atmosphere and message she sought to conjure through the characters of her narrative. “I knew when arranging “Have a Look” that I wanted a cello to act as the subtextual arch of the internal world of the woman within the song,” she says.
From there, she worked with cellist Crystal Pascucci and co-producer/engineer Samantha Perez to bring her idea to life. “I absolutely love what came out of that,” she says. “I feel like with the strings, and with the percussion as well, it was a constant conversation of ‘how do we show the different factors that are creating this world for this woman?’ That’s also why in the percussion I knew I wanted a man breathing in time, which is something I heard in my head when I wrote the song. Each piece, for me, was trying to create a soundscape that met the most truthful experience of this woman’s world.”
The 5 Best Bay Area
Albums of 2016
Thu Dec 22nd, 2016 10:20am
The Hollows Hold the Healing
Listen to Lila Blue, and you’ll have a hard time believing that this San Francisco singer-songwriter is indeed only 16 years old. Not only does she have a mature, muscular voice redolent of someone twice her age, but the messages and stories she encodes in her songs — which deal with the oppression of organized religion, sexual assault, absent parents, and the pain of breaking up — make her sound wise beyond her years.
There’s also something about her that is acutely Margot Tenenbaum-esque. Aside from the obvious similarities — they’re both from New York City and have been involved in theater, be it through music composition or playwriting — Blue and Tennenbaum are also driven and absurdly talented young women.
Blue was around the age of 14 when she recorded her debut album Lucille at Tiny Telephone, which she followed this year with The Hollows Hold the Healing. On the album, which Blue co-produced, the teenager plays acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and ukulele, lending a folksy feel to the record — that is, if you ignore the vocals. Blue possesses an athletic voice that is capable of shifting between a fluttering, breathy drawl (as in the album opener, “To Dust”) and a more plaintive, curved wail (“Kill All the Witnesses.”) The strength and subject matter of her songs offset the folksiness with a bit of soul and blues, similar something you’d expect from, say, Fiona Apple or Tegan and Sara in 2007’s “Call It Off.” It’s the kind of stuff that is just as likely to tug on your heart strings as it to make your jaw drop. Jessie Schiewe
Premiere: “Dear Lord” by Lila Blue
The 16-year-old singer gets religious in the acoustic folk dittY
Wed Feb 15th, 2017 10:35am
Sixteen-year-old San Francisco singer Lila Blue’s song “Dear Lord” starts with the same three words that Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” does: “All my life.”
But whereas Lamar turns those three lines into a meditation about the hubris and trivialities of being a teenager, Blue goes in a religious direction, questioning whether or not she believes in God, and if so, what she’d say.
Calling it her “first and last letter to God,” Blue used a bass to pluck the rumbling, low-pitch melody of the folk ditty. A deft musician, adept at playing both guitar and ukulele, Blue turned to bass for “Dear Lord” largely for circumstantial reasons.
“It was eighth grade and I’d broken my right wrist so badly that I had a cast that went past my shoulder and froze my arm in a bent position,” she says. “So I pulled [the bass] out and placed it on my lap and started playing it like a lap guitar.”
In the accompanying music video for “Dear Lord,” premiered today on SF Weekly, you can see Blue sitting cross-legged on a hardwood floor, plucking away at the bass. The video was shot in Virginia while recording The Hollows Hold The Healing, Blue’s second album on which “Dear Lord” appears.
The resulting video is as simplistic and nuanced as the song itself, shifting between footage of Blue sitting on the floor and Blue — filmed in black and white — purring away in front of a microphone. And that stripped-down style is exactly what Blue wanted for the video.
“Because that’s where the song spawned from,” she says, “feeling alone and questioning a belief you’re never sure you quite believed in.”