interview by Michael McCarthy
If you haven’t heard of rising disco pop starlet Lily McQueen yet, you should watch the video for her glittery pop nugget “Chasing Your Love” below. It’s one of the most infectious songs I’ve heard in weeks. Her whole album, which comes out on June 30th via Concierge Records, is an ’80’s pop fan’s dream come true, nine glittery songs that sound like they could’ve been released in 1988. (If they were, she would’ve been one of the day’s most popular artists.) To my ears, they sound like classic Madonna and early Kylie Minogue with a dash of Kim Wilde and a hint of Pat Benatar. One thing is for certain: Lily’s hooks are as indelible as those on Taylor Swift’s pop break through, 1989. They’re the right flavor of disco thump for the retro wave people have been riding lately. Glam sugar nuggets packed with irrefutable hooks that would’ve fit perfectly on the soundtracks to John Hughes’ movies. Slices of an electric dreamscape that call to mind a more innocent time. I could ramble on and on about how much I love Lily’s music, but let’s have a chat with her instead…
MM: I know you’re based out of Los Angeles right now. Did you grow up in L.A.?
LM: No, I grew up in Brooklyn.
MM: What prompted you to make the switch to Los Angeles?
LM: I wanted to for a while, I think. I grew up in New York so I wanted to try something else.
MM: Where exactly do you live in L.A.? I ask because I lived in Glendale a few years myself.
LM: Oh, right now I just moved here so I’m living with some friends in Pasadena.
MM: I love Pasadena.
LM: Yeah, it’s really beautiful.
MM: Is McQueen your actual last name or is it a stage name you came up with?
LM: It’s my middle name. It’s a family name.
MM: I understand your album, Electric Love, was recorded from coast to coast. What studios was it recorded at?
LM: The only proper studio I used was Midnight Sun in Greenpoint. Besides that, I just worked in home studios with friends.
MM: How old were you when people first started telling you that you could sing? Or did you just decide that for yourself?
LM: I’ve been performing since I was really young. I guess [when I was] like nine or ten, I started acting and singing and dancing. I never really was told, you should should do that, pursue it. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I sat down and wrote my first song. Like I want to do this.
MM: What did you study in college?
LM: I was actually an art history major. With a focus on film.
MM: Do you play any instruments?
LM: Yeah, I play guitar and piano.
MM: Did you take lessons?
LM: Yeah, I started taking piano when I was like seven and guitar when I was ten.
MM: Did you want to take them or did your parents suggest it strongly?
LM: They never suggested it strongly. With piano, my older sister took it and I wanted to do everything she did. And guitar I wanted to do. That I really stuck with my whole life. It was always really fun to me.
MM: When does your album come out?
LM: It actually comes out June 30th.
MM: Ah, OK, I thought I saw a couple of different dates on different press releases, hence my asking. Will there be any other singles or videos released ahead of the album?
LM: Yeah, I’m gonna release another single in a few weeks. It should come out June ninth. That’s “Electric Love.” Then I’ll be releasing a video along with the album to promote the third single.
MM: You have three songs on the album with the word love in the title. Would you say you’re a romantic?
LM: Yes. I would say that. I would also say it was my one crutch with my songwriting. I was like, why did I use that word again? It was maybe my lazy crutch. Yeah. But they’re all songs about heartbreak and love.
MM: I read that “Chasing Your Love” was produced by Obey City or O.B. Is that a person or a group of people?
LM: Sam Obey. It’s one person. He used to go by the name Obey City and now he goes by Sam Obey. Yeah, it’s just my friend. He’s a producer and a very talented musician.
MM: Which tracks did he produce? Or did he do the whole album?
LM: He did “Chasing Your Love” and “I Can’t Get it Right with You.”
MM: What other producers did you work with?
LM: I worked with my friend Adam Brodsky. He produced three of the songs and co-wrote two of them. And I worked with Abe Seiferth. He produced two of the songs. And Andrew Raposo. He produced one of the songs.
MM: Do you do any producing yourself?
LM: Yeah, I co-produced all of the songs. When I write them, I generally come to the studio with a semi-produced track and a lot of the elements. Or a few of the elements I use will find their way into the final song.
MM: I was wondering how you approach the songwriting process. Do you start by programming beats or do you play the guitars for the songs or where does it usually begin?
LM: It really all depends. Like “You’re Not Ready for My Love,” I just sat down with my guitar and played that. And then like maybe a week later I brought it to my computer and started to work on building the song around it. Actually, a lot of this album, I wrote songs on Garage Band on my phone.
MM: I was wondering what you used to program beats or write the songs.
LM: Yes, Garbage Band on my phone for a lot of these songs then I started to use Logic towards the end.
MM: Did you use any drum machines from the ’80’s to get that sound?
LM: I have to think about all the songs for a second… Um, yeah. A lot of the drums are actually live. It’s live mixed with a lot of the samples, which are electronic. The accents are electronic. But a lot of those accents Sam or Adam would do. I don’t know what programs they used. I believe there’s a 909. There’s got to be. I know there was on a version of “Say Something.” I’m not sure if it actually made its way. But, yeah, that was what Prince used so I wanted to use it.
MM: Your song “Stand Down” says “Summer Version.” Is that because there are different versions of the song?
LM: Yeah. On my EP I recorded that song. And then I just started playing it more and more with the band I was playing with in New York, who were called The Ex-Boyfriends. Lily McQueen and The Ex-Boyfriends. And before I left we just wanted to get in the studio together and play it the way we’d been playing it live. And I called it the summer version. It was kind of a shout out to Pavement.
MM: Did you get writer’s block at any point when you were making the album?
LM: Yeah, lots of it. I mean, my friend once said something to me that was helpful in those moments. She said 99 percent of what you write is gonna be mediocre. It’s that one percent that rises to the top. That feels right. So, yeah, there are many songs I wrote and I was like, wow, I can’t write a song. That was the last song I’ll ever write and I don’t know how to do this. And I’d write maybe ten songs like that. And just when I was about to give up I’d write the eleventh and it would sound right.
MM: How did you get past the writer’s block? Did you just force yourself to write another song?
LM: I would try to let go of the ones that weren’t working and not force them to work and write a new song. Start fresh. And I’d also try to be patient. If I was really just trying to write a song to prove to myself that I could write it and didn’t feel like I had anything to say I’d be like, don’t try to write a song today. There’s no point in that.
MM: Can you tell us which songs are the most personal to you and what they’re about?
LM: They’re all pretty personal.
MM: Are there stories behind any of them?
LM: I mean, yes. Maybe “Say Something” is the most personal because that one was the hardest for me to record. It took about 30 tries to get that one right. I really liked the feeling that it captured for me. Which is what this whole album is about. It’s understanding that something isn’t right for you, but not putting the blame on somebody else. It just seems like a simple request. If you can’t do this, just say something to me. They’re all really personal, but that one always resonated with me.
MM: Are there any stories behind any others that you could tell us?
LM: I don’t know. They’re just about finding love and losing love and finding the wrong love. Yeah. I don’t know anything deeper than that.
MM: Your sound is described as very ’80’s influenced and you don’t try to hide it. Who are some of the artists from that era that influenced you?
LM: I feel like my top three that I’m really informed by are Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and Phil Collins.
MM: Some of the beats reminded me of Phil Collins.
LM: Cool. Yeah, I was in a country folk band in college and when I graduated I realized I wanted to go a little more pop. Not that country folk music isn’t pop music. It all is to me. It just depends how you dress it up. And I remember graduating and hearing “Take Me Home” by Phil Collins and re-listening to “Don’t Come Around Here No More” again for the first time in a while. Basically, I heard those two songs and I was like, this is everything I want to go for. And I wrote “You’re Not Ready for My Love” a week later.
MM: Do you think you’ll do another ’80’s influenced album or do you think you’ll do something different for your next one?
LM: Those are still my major influences. I think that the next album I would like it to feel a little bit more like a classic rock band. The way that The Heartbreakers sound. So, I’m not necessarily crawling back to ’80’s music. Time will tell for that one.
MM: I’ve seen a lot of artists do remix contests or simply release the stems to one of their songs for producers to remix. Have you thought about doing anything like that?
LM: Yeah. Yeah, I have. And I have a few friends who I am going to ask to remix some songs for me.
MM: I read that the video for “Chasing Your Love” was directed by Adinah Dancyger. Did they come up with the concept for the video or was it basically your idea and they just brought it to life?
LM: Adinah, yeah, she and I, we discussed it together. And I think that naturally listening to that song we both thought about ’80’s John Hughes movies and just wanted it to be this weird world because the song is kind of a silly song for me. But the love interest in the video, he actually helped us come up with a lot of the idea. I guess it was just a conversation. We all threw out ideas together. It was definitely that Adinah had a specific vision for it and she did a really great job of bringing that to life.
MM: What formats will your album be released on? Will you be releasing it on vinyl? And I know cassettes are starting to come back again, strangely enough.
LM: I don’t have cassettes but I will do vinyl and digital.
MM: Are you a fan of vinyl yourself?
LM: I am a fan of vinyl. Definitely. I like to put on a record and let it play. And I like the object and looking at it.
MM: What format did you grow up buying music in? Did you grow up buying CDs or are you from a younger generation that just grew up downloading everything?
LM: Well, I’m kind of split. I grew up buying CDs for a long time and then I feel like it was around 13 that I started downloading music.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
LM: Hmm. It might’ve been Oops I Did it Again by Britney Spears. But the first album I ever got was The Best of Buddy Holly and Minnie Riperton. I was a little bit different.
MM: What are your thoughts on streaming services? Are you a fan of streaming?
LM: Yeah. I mean, that’s how I listen to all my music. I do recognize that there is a problem in how it compensates artists. As an artist, I would love to see something change. But I accept it as the way we listen to music and I think we need to work with it and figure out a way to make it work better. Because I don’t think it’s gonna go away.
MM: I’ve interviewed a lot of artists who talked about getting two dollar checks and just framing it and putting it on the wall.
LM: Yeah, it’s definitely something that needs to change. Otherwise, how are we gonna keep making music if we can’t survive off of it?
MM: Have you done a lot of performing live yet? I know you mentioned the band.
LM: Yeah, I’ve been playing for two and a half years now. I guess longer because I played with my band in college. But basically two and a half years. On and off.
MM: Do you have a band that you play with all the time now? Or do you just hire different people for different dates?
LM: Well, since I just moved to L.A, I’m just figuring out my band. I have a few people I’ve played with that I’m like, I want to keep you. If you want to stay around, I want you to stay around. And I feel like I’m getting closer to finding the band.
MM: Do you have any live dates scheduled right now?
LM: I have. I’m planning like a mini-tour back to New York for the release. And I have one on June 27th at Ortlieb’s in Philadelphia. I have a show at Baby’s All Right [in Brooklyn] on July 9th.
MM: Do you do any covers when you perform live?
LM: Sometimes. I’ve been trying to decide if I want to work one into the set. I’ve covered Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
MM: Which songs by them did you do?
LM: “I Won’t Back Down” and “Dancing in the Dark.”
MM: Name three things off of your bucket list that you have yet to do.
LM: On my bucket list? I haven’t made a bucket list.
MM: What are three things you really want to do that you haven’t done yet?
LM: I would like to go sky diving. I want to go to Egypt. And I want to go see a Tom Petty concert.
MM: What attracts you to Egypt?
LM: I was really obsessed with it when I was a kid. My second grade class learned all about Egypt. I’ve just always been fascinated by Egyptian culture. Their civilization.
MM: What is your biggest pet peeve?
LM: Nail files. The sound of filing nails.
MM: That actually, to me, is as bad as someone running their fingernails across a chalk board.
LM: Yeah, I really can’t stand it. And flip flops. I really hate flip flops. [Laughs]
MM: Do you have any pets?
LM: I don’t. But I would love a dog. I take care of my friend’s dog sometimes and that makes me very happy.
MM: Name three artists from your parents’ record collection who you actually like. Or liked in the past.
LM: Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Laura Nyro.
MM: Can you name the five Spice Girls without looking it up?
LM: Mel B, Mel C – or do you mean their spice names?
MM: Either or.
LM: OK, I might have to do that actually. Sporty Spice, Baby Spice, Scary Spice, Posh Spice… Oh my God, who’s the fifth?
MM: The one who quit is the one you’re missing.
LM: It’s Geri Halliwell. But what was her Spice girl name?
MM: Ginger. Ginger spice.
LM: [Laughs] How could I forget? I’m a red-head. That was the one I had to play as a kid.
MM: Name five of your favorite movies, books, albums or TV shows.
LM: Five of each?
MM: No, just a total of five things from those categories that you really like.
LM: I’ll do TV shows. Parks and Recreation. Twin Peaks. That ’70’s Show. The Sopranos. And The Wire.
MM: Have you watched any of the new Twin Peaks yet?
LM: I have not. I have yet to start it. I just saw Fire Walk with Me the other night, though, which I have never seen.
MM: I would say the vibe of that movie is kind of the vibe of the first three episodes of the new Twin Peaks. They’re very abstract David Lynch type stuff. But then the fourth episode is like the TV series. There are more characters and a lot more conversation in it. So, if you watch the first three episodes and find them too weird keep watching because the fourth one is awesome.
LM: I’m definitely expecting to find it weird, David Lynch. My roommate was saying it’s the perfect synthesis of the TV show and Fire Walk with Me.
MM: If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
MM: Final question. If someone was giving you a million dollars to go to charity and it all had to go to the same charity or cause, which would you give it to?
LM: At the moment it would either be ACLU or Planned Parenthood.
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Special thanks to Lily for taking the time to chat with me and to Renee at Girlie Action for setting it up!