The Lilys: Guilding
From SPINonline, by Lysbeth Guillorn
With their new EP Services for the Soon to be Departed, and 1996's critically acclaimed Better Can't Make Your Life Better the Lily's (along with bands like the Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Olivia Tremor Control) have come to the forefront of an American pop-psychedelia sorbet/renaissance that is helping cleanse the worn palate of alt-rock-dulled taste buds. SPINonline's Lysbeth Guillorn ([email protected]) spoke at length with the Lilys' Kurt Heasley.
"Who knows what the future of music is? I'm here to give my fill of the recording kettle. I'll take as many ladlefuls of hot audio before I die, before my insides rot out," says Kurt Heasley, singer/songwriter and guitarist of the Lilys. He has a grand way of talking, with the ability to change topics and jump the trains of conversation like a profound hobo--Shaker practices, his new daughter, the feminist Mayan calendar, and oh, yeah...music. He's had a whirlwind year so far, marked in part by a tour, the birth of a child and the release of an EP, and he's not finished yet. While his approach to life and music may seem meandering, Heasley has a goal in mind: to create music to his utmost, something he hopes will ultimately better his own radio.
Quite a few people have passed through the Lilys lineup since their 1992 debut album In the Presence of Nothing. Going from line-up to line-up, Heasley would write the music the group was into at the time. The first two records featured droning guitars and muted vocals, similar to My Bloody Valentine. In 1996, the Lilys sound underwent a dramatic change with Better Can't Make Your Life Better, which had tons of melodies, and a style more reminiscent of the Kinks, the Who, and Beach Boys. The Lilys had metamorphosed into a full-blown pop butterfly.
Late last year, Heasley was asked to complete an EP's worth of music, and what he came up with, Services (for the Soon to be Departed), retains much of the newfound pop energy he discovered after recording 1994's Eccsame the Photon Band. He calls Services a "blues opera for a child to be born named Tayt in six movements." Working with the same band as last year's record, Aaron Sperske (drums), Thom Monahan (bass) and producer Mike Deming (organ), Heasley wrote an overture that is neither blues, nor opera, which he dedicated to his daughter.
While Better Can't Make was pure pop, Services is in its structure more experimental. The six songs on the EP flow together, pop fugues about birth and conspicuous consumption. The music is multi-layered and vintage-sounding, without having been directly copped from anyplace except the collective consciousness. "The Energy Channel" features what one rock crit termed an "almost famous riff." "That was really my intention. To have something that sounded like a hyper children's show riff, but like the new kind of kids' shows-something from Scandinavia, where they'd have an acid rock ensemble as the house band for a kids' show that taught you everything from origami to unified vector geometry, herbology and hypnotism. You know, the kind of kids' show that I'd want to watch." Right.
"The Gravity Free Atmosphere of MSA," the last song on the EP builds into a hypnotic instrumental that stops abruptly, leaving the listener with the question "What's next?" "That's exactly what was next. Hypnotic becomes monotonous to the point where there's nothing, where you're completely just immersed. 'Now go and do something. You brought your attention into focus, now go out and have a good time with it.'"
What's next for Heasley is a busy summer, first recording a non-Lilys project that will be released in September for Darla Records' Bliss Out Series, a project he describes as Music for Airports but in lullaby form. And for the Lilys, he will actually sit down and write a record at the piano, focusing on composition. He's looking forward to opening up new possibilities. "Any instrument necessary to play said piece can be obtained as opposed to going in and saying 'we have guitar, two organs, and two people that can sing,' and writing for that in a way which all the records to a degree have been. We've been limited. Now I want to see what it will be like to sit and write. To have melodies and lyrics and all the music underneath scored and ready to go. Rehearsed and swung appropriately."
Will there be any personnel changes in the Lilys? Heasley replies, "Oh, personnel additions. No one's getting kicked out or anything. We've got more options now." The idea of anything that would cramp Heasley's personal or artistic freedom sends him into a tizzy, and for Heasley, others' expectations are a big part of that cramp. "If writing an album full of songs as erratic as 'The Tennis System' [from Better Can't Make] is what's going to be expected of me, I'd be hell-pressed to do it if it wasn't what I was really set on doing. And if everybody said, 'No, Kurt, you must become more and more eclectic, you must become more fringe, you must become more disassociated from pop music than you've ever been before.' I'm sure I'd just start writing the most cohesive material, just to be a bastard."
The Lilys' unpredictability may prevent them from having a following, but Heasley seems unconcerned about that, or about selling records. He's interested in expanding his part of the recorded medium by playing whatever pleases him, and it seems more than just playing a part. Even if it means working on a shoestring budget, he knows that it's what he wants to do. On "Paz en el Hogar" from Better, he sings "viva enigma," which could be seen as a motto for his creativity. While he wants to be accessible, he'd rather not be pinned down by definition. He'd actually like more people to be in on the joke.
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