Doom and Bloom
Originally printed in CMJ, November 1996
"My record company thinks I'm retarded," chirps Kurt Heasley. The frontman and main songwriter for the Lilys has just gotten off the phone with a label representative angry with him for spending too much time recording a new B-side. "They just want me to record something on a boombox, they don't care," he adds with upbeat energy that belies his true feelings.
The intricate sound stylist is used to the agitation by now: While recording the band's new album, Better Can't Make Your Life Better (Che/Primary-EEG), he forced the record company to double the studio time and budget. "We got into the studio, tried to put down basic tracks, and I quickly realized we were lost," he explains. The entirely new batch of band members he'd recruited from Boston-including Monsterland's Thom Monahan on bass-hadn't heard the songs, and the arrangements were too complex to learn in a day.
A one-month recording schedule quickly turned into two, and an $8,000 budget became $17,000. "They think indie," says Heasley of Che's purse strings; "I think music." Plans to include a big band were scrapped and replaced with xylophone and trumpet players. Samples of clarinet and bassoon were added later. Money arguments between Heasley and the label persisted, and by final mixing time the songwriter claims he was a nervous wreck and 50 pounds underweight from eating only garlic.
"At the end there was no money, no cigarettes, no pot and no coffee," he recalls, "I was hallucinating, I was so delirious." All this might sound like the makings of a musical disaster, but Better Can't Make Your Life Better is easily the best record Lilys have every made. "We originally wanted to sound like Badfinger backed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra," saus Heasley. In the end, he redefined the Lilys style from earlier records' shoegazer wall-of-fuzz and spacey rambling to well-crafted, mid-60's-style bubble-gum rock, heavily influenced by the Kinks, Monkees and Zombies.
The songwriter may not be a great accountant, but he's no fool. Ask him about various '60s pop records and he can ramble on about which equalizers, pre-amps and mics were used in the production. He's just as quick to discuss alchemy, Goethe or the scales preferred by Gilbert and Sullivan, and he's built up quite a reputation for being hyper-analytical. One fawning journalist from an English music tabloid recently asked if he considered himself an "obsessive genius." "I'm genius about my obsessiveness," he remarks snidely, reconsidering the question. "I'll obsess about anything-Pop Tarts, Oldsmobiles-I love it!"
He figures the new album will be appreciated most by little children, aged eight and nine, and isn't sure if the old Lilys fans will love it. "Maybe we'll have to have two types of shows from now on," he considers, "one for Lilys fans from '90-'95 and another for those from '95-'99.".....Neil Gladstone
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