Star-on-the-rise Lilah chats self-discovery, interpersonal relationships, sadness, and balance in her new EP 'Atlantis'.
Given the soulful timelessness of her voice, it’s surprising that the budding east London singer-songwriter Lilah only started releasing music last year.
A self-proclaimed enigma, painter, Shakespeare enthusiast, but most relatable of them all: a young woman narrating the transitory change from her teens to early twenties. Speaking on self-discovery, interpersonal relationships, sadness and balance, these are all themes Lilah touches upon in her ethereal seven-track EP ‘Atlantis’, which dropped at the end of 2021.
Lilah (short for Delilah) is the archetype for an alternative expression of femininity in RnB. Her siren-like beguile is reminiscent of the femme fatale character, who finds empowerment in emasculating her lover. Lilah’s sonic and visual work also takes the audience on an intellectual journey — she’s no stranger to a Shakespeare reference or two, as seen in her music video for ‘Summer Night’s Fling’ which is laced with tragic references, made apparent when she holds a knife to her lover’s neck and has his head served on a silver platter. By dissecting the cult classics of literature and cinematography, the characters which Lilah designs and performs come with an unrepentant power.
And it’s no mistake that Lilah, as a female artist, portrays herself with such a commanding sensuality. “It’s a lot easier for men to be themselves in the world that we live in. A lot of women struggle to be unapologetically themselves because I don’t believe the world is in a state where women are comfortable to do that, and are fully allowed to do that,” she tells Notion. Lilah is quite literally “out here doing it for the women” — she wants to create a world where female artists can be rockstars: defiant and brazen by nature.
Throughout our conversation, Lilah and I both agree “love is hell!” — another reminder that although an enigma, she’s also a young woman navigating change, love and everything between.
- HAT SENSUALIST
- TOP NODRESS
- TROUSERS FIORUCCI
- SHOES SOPHIA WEBSTER
What encouraged you to start releasing music last year, why not sooner?
I always wanted to make music, but I never really had a clear direction in how I wanted to make it. Music meant so much to me that I just didn’t want to make bad music. So I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know how I’m going to facilitate this.’ For a while, I was working in the industry but I didn’t like what I was doing, and I decided, ‘I need to be an artist. This isn’t for me.’ And then I met my manager, producers and the writers that I work with now. That was about two years ago.
It [my music] has been ready for a while. But I think like with the pandemic and everything. It just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like we were able to achieve what we wanted to achieve in terms of the creative — shooting the cover and the videos. So it just took a little bit longer than expected, only because of the pandemic.
You describe yourself as an enigma. What about being an enigma in the age of the internet appeals to you?
For me, I like the word enigma because it doesn’t define anything. Enigma is the unknown, it’s a bit unsure. The reason why I use the word enigma is because I don’t even know how to define myself as an artist. I’m constantly learning about myself and growing through that and discovering new things about myself. So to myself, I’m an enigma because I don’t even know what’s going on? (laughs).
In five years time would you want to be able to define yourself more distinctly, or do you like having an ambiguous identity as an artist?
I don’t think I’ll ever [define myself] because I know myself, like I know who I am. I know my values. I know what I stand for. But in the times of creativity, I think it will be something that will forever change and grow over time. I don’t think it will be a set thing for life. But in terms of me as a human on a personal note, I definitely know who I am.
I know that you’re a Shakespeare enthusiast. I see a lot of his influences in your work, such as themes of tragedy in the video for ‘Summer Night’s Fling’. How does his work influence your writing and your visual concepts?
When I was growing up, my mum would make us go to one Shakespeare show a year. So I grew up there. Before I started making music, I studied physical theatre, and my favourite thing was Shakespeare just because of how expressive it is. I’m just always enamoured by how Shakespeare created his own world, and his own language to express certain political matters. That’s what I love about his work, and just visually as well, it’s always tragic. I love tragedy. I’m a very bright and happy person, but in terms of imagery and storytelling, I always love a bit of darkness. That’s why I like Shakespeare because it’s light and dark.
In the music video for ‘Summer Night’s Fling’ but also in your cover art for ‘Atlantis’, — where there’s the lifeless man floating in the pool behind you — I see that you really play on the idea of the powerful woman and the femme fatale character.
For sure. That’s always been my alter ego. You know, the strong woman, the femme fatale vibe. The [Atlantis] cover was inspired by one of my favourite films called Harold and Maude. And the boy in it is obsessed with death, he always likes to ‘fake kill’ himself. There’s a scene in the film, where his mum is swimming in the pool, and he’s pretending to be dead, and that’s where I got the reference for the cover.
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- BRIEFS 1XBLUE
- SHOES NODRESS
- EARRINGS SAAD COLLECTION
- RINGS MI MANERA
In the ‘Summer Night’s Fling’ video, I saw lots of Shakespeare influences, it felt very Quentin Tarantino as well — with the knife to the lover’s neck. Does this femme fatal alter ago make you feel empowered by emasculating the lover in these scenarios?
Do you know what it is? I just love the contrasts. The light and dark. In my life, balance is the most important thing. I think because my music is so emotional and vulnerable, the balance of being able to have fun visually and sort of contrasting that and showing a different side of my personality appeals to me. More so, it’s taken from films I’ve loved and energies that I like and want to portray.
Something that’s really striking about your work is your attention to detail with your referencing. I know that you’re an artist yourself. How do the worlds of art and music collide for you? Do they allow you to express yourself differently?
In my world, art and music coexist, probably on an equal level. I’m very expressive when I paint.
Music is very important for me when I paint. I think it’s just escapism for me. And they both coincide with escapism. I would like to definitely incorporate my art more into my world of music. I think it’s important that I’m clear with what I’m trying to do with music first, and then, eventually, I’ll find a way to coincide the two and bring it together because they are both extremely important to me as routes of expression.
You’ve said that when your friends listened to ‘Atlantis’, they were like, ‘Omg we didn’t know you have emotions?!’ How do music and art help you to express yourself in ways that maybe you can’t in daily conversations?
It’s so funny because, on the surface level, I’m a really good talker. But when it comes to my personal life, I’ve always struggled to express how I actually really feel. Particularly when it comes to interpersonal relationships… love, friendships, and even with my parents, and those people very close to me, I find it very hard to talk about myself or express myself.
I can psychoanalyse everyone. But when it comes to me, I just can’t do it. So I definitely feel like art is a place I feel comfortable doing that. Because when I go to write music and even when I paint, it’s like a therapy session for me. And that’s where I’m getting it out. That’s where I’m pouring it all out.
When I’m in a session and I’m with Jay who I write with, I tell him all my issues, I feel comfortable and then work out a way to express that through the music. And then when I paint, it’s obviously just me and the canvas, the canvas as my therapist, you know?
Do you listen to your own music when you paint?
I used to when I first made it, yes, I listened to it a lot. And I still do here, but mainly when I paint I always end up listening to The Beatles. Now I’ve curated my own playlists of songs from different albums. Because when I’m really in the mood to paint I’m usually sad. So I listen to specific songs that uplift me or relate my sadness.
- BRA RHEIA
- BODYSUIT CALVIN KLEIN
- CORSET LULA LAORA
- BOOTS NATASHA ZINKO
- EARRINGS HOOPS + CHAINS LDN
- RINGS MI MANERA
- BRACELET GIOVANNI RASPINI
What are your biggest influences as a musician?
Definitely the Beatles, Paul McCartney is my king. It’s super eclectic. I like Rick Rubin. I obviously love Frank Ocean and Kanye West. I love Kid Kudi as well. I love people that are just unapologetically themselves and very true to their art.
It’s interesting that you just mentioned all male artists. I think it’s interesting because they’re all really powerful individuals and they take front and centre in their music, and that relates to what you’re doing.
It’s interesting because even the women I look up to, like Lily Allen, also have quite a masculine approach to her music. But it’s a lot easier for men to be themselves in the world that we live in. A lot of women struggle to be unapologetically themselves because I don’t believe the word is in a state where women are comfortable to do that and are allowed to do that. I would love to have some more women on my list. But I’m out here doing it for the women, and to hopefully try and create that world where women can do what they want, be rockstars, be a bit rude and punk.
I know that you did an intensive two-week process in the studio to create ‘Atlantis’. Why did you choose that approach to do such an intensive process, as opposed to other artists who work over a year or something?
It was kind of half and half actually, I worked over about a year with Jay, just me and Jay. Getting the core bone of the music; writing it, and making sure the writing was what we wanted, and the melody was what we wanted. And then we went in for two weeks with PTJ, the producer, to really build the songs up and add live instruments to build the feeling of the song. It was so sick to do that within the two weeks because everyone that came down to the studio, as we all go into a routine. The energy and the momentum just stayed flowing. I feel if we had gone and then come back, gone away and come back, we wouldn’t have created the same vibe.
- PUFFER, BODICE & LEG COVERS LULA LAORA
- SHOES SOPHIA WEBSTER
You’ve said that ‘Atlantis’ is a “coming of age” project that navigates your teens to twenties. Can you pinpoint some notable challenges in this transitory time?
It’s funny because my friend always told me there are pillars in your life. There’s love, there’s family, there’s friends, there’s your career. And there’s your health. You have to make sure at all times the pillars are stable, and sometimes one might be shaken. But the most important thing is your foundation first.
Some shake sometimes some might crumble, but some will always be stable, it swaps. Especially with this project, navigating growing up in a family, especially for me, being so close with my family when I was younger and even now being so close. It’s very hard to navigate that changing relationship, from child to adult, especially like a daughter to father.
Then friendships growing up, growing out of friends, getting new friends, chopping and changing..that’s a super difficult time.
Then love is just like hell! There’s no remorse (laughs). But you know, I’m grateful for what I’ve experienced so young in love, because I think that’s helped me set that foundation for that pillar in my future of love to be super strong. And for me to know what I want from love and what I want from a partner and what I deserve from a partner. So I’m grateful that I’ve experienced this hell at a young age.
Does the hellishness of love help you to manifest things in your music and your art?
For me when I’m in pain, at that time.. I actually find it very hard to create music. I can paint when I’m in pain, but with music, I have to kind of be out the other side and in a good place to reflect back on it. The love stuff only affects my music when I’m out of it. Because only then I’m able to reflect on it and write about it. But when I’m in it, I do find it blurry, I do find it hard to concentrate.
I like how art is your first port of call, and then as you come to terms with things, music is the way you can confront how you’re feeling in hindsight. Do you see yourself doing music for the rest of your life? Or is art a stronger contender?
Music is always gonna be my main focus, for sure. I’d like to build my music career more so than anything. But because I am very creative, I’m very multi-disciplinary. I think as my career progresses, I definitely will take on other things, I’d love to get to a point where I can just incorporate everything and do it all myself, like to direct my videos myself.
I want to play every role. Sometimes I’d like to take myself out of my body and be like: ‘Okay, what would I do with you as an artist?’ I want to do everything.