Lily Kershaw is set to play Rockwood Music Hall tomorrow night, and because BYT is SUPER EXCITED for that, it makes it EXTRA-lucky that I was able to ring her up on the phone for a little catch-up recently. We talked about how she came into the singer-songwriter game, what it’s like to perform her more personal songs live, and (obviously) about American Horror Story: Coven, which I almost spoiled with ALL OF THE SPOILERS but fortunately DID NOT. SO let’s get going with all of that RIGHT NOW, and see you at Rockwood for Lily’s show tomorrow night!
So I guess tell me a little bit about how you’ve gotten to this point professionally…I know you’ve been writing songs and playing music for quite a while, but was this a lifelong goal to have it be a career setup?
It’s interesting, because it’s definitely something that I always secretly thought was the coolest thing in the world; initially I started writing music at about thirteen, fourteen, because I didn’t think I had a good voice, and thought that if I wrote these interesting stories then people would want to listen to me sing them. After a few years I discovered that I really CAN sing, though, and that it was all entirely in my head, but regardless I do really love writing interesting stories. It’ll be ten years this summer that I’ve been doing this, which is crazy! And I didn’t even really realize that it could be a career until I was about eighteen; I knew that I didn’t want to go to school for it, but I knew it was the thing I loved most in my life and the thing I couldn’t live without.
Well, and speaking of the interesting story aspect to your lyrics, a lot of the songs seem pretty personal…is that a weird thing to sort of put them out there for the whole world to hear, or even just to perform them live?
Yeah, it’s definitely strange; a lot of my songs were written prior to being twenty-one, which is when I started doing this as a real career, and I never really expected a lot of those to be heard by anybody except for myself. (In that way, I said exactly what I meant to say, and they’re very autobiographical as a result.) I think I was afraid playing shows for a while, though, because I didn’t like the idea of saying certain things in front of people; I liked the idea of saying them just to sort of get them out of my body and then record them, but performing it live…there are still lyrics in certain songs that I feel proud and excited to sing some nights, and then other nights I get shy. I think that’s what’s interesting about live music, though; it’s the realness that we’re humans doing this and expressing ourselves. It’s fascinating.
Yeah, I’m reading a biography on Nick Drake right now, and it goes into a lot of detail about how he found the whole live performance aspect of the job to be really crippling and terrifying. (I guess that was what ultimately prevented him from gaining more steam before he died, because he wasn’t ever really able to get over that and only performed a few dozen shows.) But I guess it also has a lot to do with the venue; I think the smaller folk clubs and more intimate spaces are so much more intimidating than playing to a big room would be.
TOTALLY. I’m so glad you said that, because I’ve been opening for Mason Jennings recently, and he plays the bigger venues. It’s ultimately so much more comfortable even though you’re playing for more people, because you can’t see past the stage; you can hear them when they laugh or clap or whatever, but when you’re in that intimate setting, sometimes I feel like people can hear my heart breaking. There are just some songs, especially some of the newer ones that I’ll throw into my sets, that are emotionally relevant to the point that I feel my heart breaking as I play them, and I just always hope that no one can see that happening! [Laughs] It’s definitely intense.
Well, and speaking of new songs vs. old songs, I know that some of yours go way back; as a person who writes creatively from time to time, there are some things I’ve written that, while I understand the place I was at when I wrote them, there’s kind of a disconnect re-reading them now, because I’m just in a totally different head space and they’re a bit irrelevant. Do you feel that way with any of your songs? Like are there any in particular that seem especially distant to the person you are now?
I’ve actually been struggling with this recently; the songs from this first record were taken between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, because I felt it was very important for me to express certain periods of my life, and I knew that after this record the songs would be very focused on life in my twenties. So it is a little weird, because they’re exactly what I needed to say at the time, and it was important to let that part of me show and heal, but there are definitely a few songs that are strange to perform. But it’s a nice gift to know that something so pure and lovely for other people came from something that was so painful and hard.
Right. And so you had kind of a stockpile of songs for the first record, it seems, but is there plenty more where that came from? In other words, are you just always writing and writing and writing?
Oh yeah, I’m always writing. I feel sorry for people who have to sit next to me on airplanes, because I’ll whisper-sing into my phone a few times until I can get off the plane. [Laughs] It’s constant! And of course you always fall in love with your latest material because it’s the closest and truest to who you are in that moment.
Totally. And so you also fairly recently were featured on Criminal Minds, which is great! If you were able to choose a show (or movie) to soundtrack of your own volition, though, which do you think it’d be?
I’d say Sofia Coppola could have any of my songs, anytime, any day. I LOVE Sofia Coppola films.
Yeah, Lost In Translation is definitely one of my favorite films! And in terms of TV shows, I don’t know how you feel about this as a Brooklyn girl, but to have a song on Girls would be great, or on American Horror Story: Coven would be awesome.
Oh my god, WHO DO YOU THINK THE NEXT SUPREME WILL BE?!
I’m behind, I’m behind, don’t tell me!
Okay, I won’t spoil anything, I just feel like they could all equally the the new Supreme and it’s stressing me out.
Obviously a part of me wants Taissa Farmiga’s character to become the Supreme, but another part of me kind of wants Emma Roberts’ character to get the title. [Laughs]
Ughhh Emma Roberts. WELL, before we wrap up on this pop culture note, do you have any #HASHTAGSOFWISDOM to impart on our readers?
Well, I have a sort of weird one that I did once, so I hope it’s not too nerdy or strange: #IMperfect, aka “I’m perfect.” Being in the LA scene can sort of have this skewed effect on how you view yourself, so it was sort of a thing I did to remind my following (I have a really great group of fifteen-year-olds who tweet at me all the time) that it’s okay to just be yourself.