Lila Drew peppers thoughtful statements about music and life with the occasional “like” and carefree laugh. But the 18-year-old singer and songwriter and Los Angeles resident admits that she hasn’t always been the poster girl for California cool. Before coming to America at the age of two, her speech patterns were much different.
“All of my baby videos are fully British,” she tells CR. “I milked those few years!”
It was her parents, both American, who inspired the trans-Atlantic transition, moving their daughter and record collection to Los Angeles. Because of their tastes, Drew remembers her childhood home as filled with music, including D’Angelo, a slate of Motown, and even Joni Mitchell—all spiritual influences now woven through her silky brand of R&B pop.
That early listening translated into experiments in singing and playing the guitar, an instrument that Drew remembers as incredibly tricky. But thanks to a school class in GarageBand she even has proof of her first efforts—a self-recorded song called “Big Blue Eyes.” Proud of her work, she even designed cover art featuring a big red emoji heart. “I remember playing it at like my talent show at school and all my friends chasing me around the yard and being like, ‘Who is it about?’” she laughs “And I was like, ‘It’s not about anyone’…I just had blue eyes. That’s why I called it that!”
With slinky, Mighty Mike (Lana Del Rey, FKA Twigs, Miguel) produced beats and Drew’s diary-like lyrics, last year’s Locket (Side One) EP, Drew’s first official release, showcased an artist able to fearlessly ride out the confusion and highs of teenage life. But while she spent time in music theater strictly for the joy of singing in public, despite a hatred for the red hair dye she had to use while playing Annie three times, most of her early recording was done in secret. It wasn’t until a high school principal finally convinced her to perform at her school prom, that Drew set foot on a stage with a live band. (“Oh my God. You did some digging!” she yelps when the memory is brought up.)“I’ve been, like, in the studio pretty consistently since I was about 16,” Drew says. “I sacrifice a lot for it. I don’t know, if I had the chance, if I would do it again the way that I did. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Did I miss out on these like formative years of my life?’ No regrets at all with that…No one I went to school with knew I was doing music. I just like kept it really low key. But everyone would just be like, ‘Where do you go? We haven’t seen you. We never hang out with you.’ I remember my friends getting mad at me. But I think once I figured out the balance I was definitely able to make it work.”
Drew also credits the time spent recording music with learning how to express herself, although she stresses that there was no horror stories or disrespect. But just being in the studio as someone new to the business meant she was faced with a steep learning curve.“It was a really difficult thing to be a young girl when I was working with men,” she says. “I always knew exactly what it was that I wanted. I just didn’t know how to articulate that…there were a lot of times where I would have an opinion, and they would have a different opinion. I would go with their [choice] and I’d leave the studio and listen to the song on the way home and be like, ‘It needs to be the other way around.’”
Her new song “Dad’s Van” is another plunge into the minimal R&B that earned her a small legion of early adapting fans, including British DJ Zane Lowe who dubbed Drew an “essential artist” while playing her on his BBC 1 radio show. It’s also a nostalgic tribute to Paul Thomas Anderson and Sofia Coppola, which Drew says ranks among her favorite filmmakers and creative minds.
“I really wanted to paint this visual picture of What if I lived in suburbia?” she reveals. “I’ve always been obsessed with ‘90s independent movies. I just like love the idea of the 1990s because I was born in 2000s. So, I completely missed out on that era. Lyrically, what I was going for was so different than how I normally write, which is usually highly autobiographical. This time it was the question of: what if I lived in this kind of other universe that I’ve never quite gotten to experience?”
Drew might have made impressive strides in her career since her days as an ambitious pre-teen, but she’s still figuring it out the road ahead, which includes not only educational choices, but also determining how she’d like to shape her still-unfolding career. If anything, she hopes that the unfiltered honesty of “Dad’s Van,” and all the material yet to come, will help others feel less alone, no matter what phase of life they’re in.
“There’s so much room for interpretation,” she says. “And I’m really not one that writes super literally. I love the idea that people can really put their own spin on [the music] and relate it back to their own personal experiences. Every tweet or DM that says, ‘Your song helped me with this,’ or, ‘I can totally relate to the themes of that song’ is so meaningful to me. Especially because the songs are me, 100 percent. For other people to like really relate to that, it creates that community. That’s so important.”END
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