(photo by Noah Greenberg)
Since 1988, Kurt Heasley has headed the Lilys, a group which has gone from shoegazed dream pop to Kinks-ian rock to spaced out meditations to much, much more with a revolving line up that has included more than seventy-two different musicians. Heasley's vision is constantly changing, and he is well aware of this. The element that remains constant, however, is the brilliance to which this man approaches his craft, with certain points of his career almost reflecting a Trout Mask Replica for the 21st century, with the disassembled and rearranged fragments of both brilliant pop songs and the social idioms to which we hold them in place of Captain Beefheart's skronk and blues.
I may be getting ahead of myself here... but I cannot contain my love for this music. I was delighted for this chance to interview Kurt. Check it out after the jump.
Finishing a K.K. Heasley album currently, after that I don't know. I've been relearning to play guitar for what feels like years now while looking for a place in song writing that's grounded and effortless, less stylized. I absorbed so much new information during the recording of the last 2 Lilys albums. One of the main lessons being the benefit of focus and it's effect on a record when absent. Focus, in the traditional sense, does not come easily to me. It was just my karma to start out life so scattered.
I've always been a tremendous fan of the lyrics in Lilys, as they are very complex and multi-layered but also easily relatable and not without charm or emotion. How do go about writing lyrics?
I'm constantly writing down pieces of conversations or exchanges of ideas in a journal or on a cocktail napkin or whatever is around because me finding the idea significantly poetic enough makes it interesting. I like writing about the changing nature of relationships and finding something universal in that relationship playing itself out to the point it starts all over again.
Boy/Girl, Horse/Rider, Master/Servant, Pigeon/Statue they're all observable relationships that are perfect to be told in lyrical form. I have found that, the more sensational the relationship, the better the lyrics. Some of the best subjects for songs are also the best things in life. It all depends on what kind of heavenly song you want.
I feel like the album "Ecssame the Photon Band" has held a special place in the hearts of Lilys fans. It definitely has a different feeling than the rest of the Lilys' catalogue, with its slower, more spaced-out songs filling the record's running time. What had inspired the feeling of this record?
The Eccsame 'feel' definitely came from a combination several sharp first experiences unfolding all at once. Leaving D.C. had opened my eyes in many ways. I felt it was time to be less experimental and more musically concise. That year I had set out to make a really Pop album but what ended up being
recorded was more a documentary of my confused and emotionally volatile state.
Harry Evans saw a way right from the start to bring the songs together by giving such massive yet controlled drum performances that all the additional overdubs just floated on top. We used space to give the effect of 'space' I guess.
The record that you released after "Ecssame", "Better Can't Make Your Life Better" took an even greater leap of change than the previous album did, not only in songwriting, but in production as well. How did you decide to come about this change? I read an article from CMJ in 1996 that described the hectic process behind making the album and said that, out of nervousness, you had become 50 pounds underweight from eating only garlic. Is this true? Do you think what came of the album was worth the time making of it?
I was nervous only because of going over the original recording budget. I thought that the record could be done in 4 weeks and we worked on it for over 6 weeks. Everyday I thought if I could just finish a few more songs it would work itself out so I pushed myself to keep going. Probably not the most healthy of choices but I was young and kids will be kids when it comes to taking risks with their own personal safety.
So after everything that could be eaten from the studio kitchen was eaten, I started on the items that might not be considered enjoyable as a main course by itself, like garlic. 3 or 4 days of working like that was quite enough for me but during those last 4 days we had finished all the instrument and vocal recording so leaving the engineer in peace to finish the stereo mixes was OK. I had an idea for the record and we went for it. Looking back it just seems like I bit off more than I could chew.
I read an article from Tidal Wave Magazine in 1999, that said during the making of the first Lilys album, "In The Presence of Nothing", you were discovering the essentials of pop music by studying an album by Doris Day, someone not spoken much of in the trials of modern rock. Do you have other influences that would be surprising? Are you still a fan of Ms. Day?
I do still love Doris Day. Really beautiful songs and really interesting recordings. What was so fascinating to me about her mid 50's period material was watching how the producer of the recordings had chosen to phase invert her voice against the orchestra creating a ducking effect when she sang. Her voice comes in and you can see on an oscilloscope the orchestra disappears leaving a flower pattern shape that's hollow in the center with only tiny bits of the orchestra on the top right and bottom left. Science may be the
sexiest form of commerce, ever.
Are you still running Mica Soul Arts? I have tried to find information online about it, but I was unable to discover anything.
The main components of M.S.A. have been transferred into a special events production company that includes some new partners. The celebration continues both on and off the Internet. The 21st century is looking bright for all parties involved.
I have seen some videos where Ariel Pink is playing in Lilys, as well as a clip of Pink's "My Molly", where you are seen on guitar. How have your collaborations with Ariel come about? Are you a fan of his newest record?
Ariel and I met right after he graduated from college. He came out to have some fun on the east coast and that gave us a lot of quality time together. His musical presence right now is so unique that what Haunted Graffiti can accomplish should not be under estimated.
It's nice to be favored with critical acclaim, even when a brother is dressed up like 'Physical' era Olivia Newton John but Haunted Graffiti will cross over from 'subculture' into the realm of 'successful' because that's truly where they belong, between Jay-Z and Green Day.
Do you know if the film about Lilys, "Everything Wrong is Imaginary", will be released? It seems pretty fascinating from the trailer.
So much uncertainty concerning the fate of that film. The producer died tragically back in 2009. I'm going to speculate that the pieces will be picked up and fashioned into some righteous cinematic triumph.
On the Lilys' Facebook page, I saw you had posted an image of Kalidasa, the classical Sanskrit writer. Has his work come into influence on your life and music?
It's more like the entire Eastern Esoteric Tradition has had an enormous influence on the people who had enormous influence on my life. It could be Kalidasa, Confucius, Goethe, Ben Franklin or Yogi Berra all saying pretty much the same thing, remain in the moment because the past and future are illusion. Living is the art and it takes some practice to just be.
some great live videos of the band playing in a record store in the late 90's...