Lila Drew seems era-less. The eighteen-year-old burgeoning pop star is sitting in her backyard in Los Angeles, speaking to me over the phone with an air of cognizance not readily available to most her age. Her debut EP is called locket (side one) and the cover art looks as if it could be straight out of the 90s: crushed velvet and an engraved Lila locket. You know, like the one your grandma bought you when you were nine. Out May 24, locket (side one) marks the exciting beginning of Lila Drew's career.
Born in London, Drew's family moved to L.A. when she was three. "Honestly, my Mom's from Canada—from Montreal—and she just basically absolutely hated [London]. She'd wanted to live in LA her whole life," Drew tells me. Even with the release of locket (side one), Drew seems to be maintaining a semblance of normalcy in her senior year. College essays and prom have both been on the recent agenda. The only thing remotely out of the ordinary is that she performed her own songs at her prom. She laughs when I ask about it. "It was so funny...I was so nervous to perform in front of people I know. I feel like when you perform in front of people you don't know, there's a bit of a disconnect there, and you can really be yourself. When it's people you know, they sing all the words, and they know you really well, that was so nerve-racking." How was the rest of her prom experience? There's a long "um" again, followed by: "it was good. I can't say prom is fully my vibe. But you know, it was very different this year because I'm a senior, and I went last year as a junior as well...it was good! It was fun, it wasn't too crazy." Is prom really anyone's vibe? "I feel like it's a bit over-hyped, in general. My school's pretty—‘chill’ isn't the word, but it's a little more low-key." Somewhere in the back of my brain, the eighteen-year-old girl I aged out of is almost jealous of her nonchalance. She's certainly not sweating the small stuff.
Perhaps all that energy is appropriately channeled into her art. Lila Drew's lyrical M.O. is sentience. In the opening track of locket (side one), she flies through "and this all just questioning/and you're supposed to tell me things/I'm breathing underwater/Crazy that I saw you/I'm speeding when you tell me I should stop/and I'm bleeding when you tell me that it's wrong" with the kind of rhythmic flow you'd expect from a rapper. She finishes off that phrase with a run, and then "take it back" explodes into a bassy, trap chorus. She's playing with speed, rhythm, and musicality, but the blend is magical, not busy. There are elements of Motown, soul, hip-hop and 90's R&B in her sound. "There's definitely a very clear picture in my head with those artists and that musical time, even though I wasn't around," she says. In fact, the first album that she ever purchased was Aretha's I've Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You. "This is kind of a crazy story. I went to Memphis on a school trip in the 7th grade—so random—with my middle school...we visited Stax Records." The interjections and editorializing her own thoughts is near-constant. "I just had gotten a record player a few weeks before," she continues, "and it was the first one I'd ever listened to on a record player as well. I was so blown away...everything from that album cover to the way that the songs flow into one another to her vocal and every instrument. The other one would maybe be Stevie Wonder." That, as far as reflections on influences go, is pretty airtight.
In the vein of nostalgia, the video for "take it back" is about as era-less as Drew herself. "All these stories are crazy," she tells me. "I found these directors...I think I honestly found them on Instagram. They're called Weird Life Films. And they're just the nicest people I've ever met. And it all kind of just happened. We collaboratively came up with this idea that a girl wakes up in an abandoned town...and she finds comfort in her solitude in this state. We wanted to portray it in a bit of a weird way." The video is filmed in a town which, according to Drew, "was man-made after a fire in the 70s. And this whole town is like a replica of Chicago in the 70s, but tiny. The directors ended up having a friend who worked in city government or something there, and they were really chill about letting us film overnight...it ended up being this perfect setting for the video. We didn't need to build it ourselves, it was kind of already there which was so wild."
It's a fitting metaphor for a decidedly old soul, having to navigate a world completely obsessed with social media and branding. "I think the idea of social media as a platform for a brand is kind of a strange idea to me. I try to keep everything organic. It's definitely a lot of work, and it's part of [the] work. Before my first song came out, I had 700 followers on Instagram and they were mostly people I knew...it's really daunting to be like 'I'm going to share my whole life—or at least parts of my life on this platform.'" Daunted is an appropriate response, considering how much it's demanded of artists to share their lives with fans.
I do really like Twitter, I have to say. I'm obsessed with Twitter, I think it's so funny. I like the ability to express yourself without filter, or even the ability to express yourself without an image that's perfect for your Instagram feed. I think social media can be super helpful. I've found so many people on social media, but I prefer to use it as a source of inspiration, visually, than for a branding platform for myself...But I think there are so many artists using social media in such powerful ways, so that's super inspiring to me.
She's also amazed by the positive dialogue that happens on Twitter. "Obviously there's a lot of negative dialogue that goes on as well. I've been looking at it over the past few days, with all these crazy abortion laws are being passed in many States in the U.S. There have been so many instances of social media being used as a form of activism, which I think is great. And of course that goes both ways. There's a lot of harsh and terrible conversation on social media as well, but we have the ability to talk about what we want in somewhat of a safe space...all I see on Twitter is politics and Game of Thrones!" she laughs. She’s got the Twitter ethos pretty pinned down.
When I ask how she takes in music for her own pleasure, she starts with "I have a weird confession," before blurting out "I'm a huge album person." This is not a weird confession, at least not to me. "That's not really how people experience music now at all, but I'm super into [it]. When an artist releases a new album I literally sit in my room alone and blast it, just trying to listen to it...there's something cool about being fully focused on something." As we say goodbye, I find myself marveling, for the umpteenth time, at the esoteric nature of Lila Drew.