By Kate Gilberd
tigerlily is a Los Angeles and Seattle-based pop artist who released her singles lisbon and new york this year. WTBU DJ and writer Kate Gilberd chatted with tigerlily about working on music during the pandemic, her inspirations, and being an Asian-American artist.
KG: I got to listen to both your singles, I thought they were awesome! Has quarantine been productive for you music-wise, or in other ways? How’s it going for you?
t: Yeah, quarantine has been interesting. I’ve had a lot of changes throughout quarantine. I started out in New York, and then I moved back home [to Seattle] when quarantine hit and I started releasing these songs, which I hadn’t even necessarily decided on releasing. Since then, I mean, I guess quarantine’s been going on a long time. I actually just moved down to Los Angeles. I’m living down here right now just working on the material that’s going to be in the next releases. So yeah, a lot has happened.
KG: I know you were in the band Bleachbear when you were young. How has that impacted your style now? And how did you get from that genre of music to where you are now?
t: I guess the way I write is similar. I think a lot of what makes genres genres is in the production, but I always still try to bring in the guitar elements into my songs. They get kind of drowned out – now that I’m doing more pop stuff, you can’t even really hear it – but if you listen closely, those songs like “lisbon” and “new york” are both written on the electric guitar, and you can kind of hear it in the background. I like to try and bring in some of those elements. And I think even more so in the future songs I do, I want to bring out a lot more of those rock elements and bring that into the pop music I’m creating. It was also just a good learning experience, because I feel like being an artist has so many ups and so many downs. Having been in that band for so long, I got to experience a lot of that and mentally prepare myself for what it was going to be like doing the solo project. I feel like the first time you do anything, there’s all these challenges that you encounter. Having done that band already, I kind of knew what I was getting myself into. It helped me navigate some of those challenges.
KG: What are some of those challenges with making music, and how did you figure those out when you were younger?
t: I’d say part of it is the release and how to get people to actually listen to your music. Building up a social media following, and the technical things. Those were all things that I learned just from being in the music industry for so long, talking to other musicians and learning from our own mistakes on our past releases. Then I think another big part of it is mentally preparing yourself. There’s always going to be people who aren’t going to like the music you’re putting out, and there’s always going to be people who have criticisms or just don’t get what you’re trying to do. Sometimes things just pop off, but normally it’s a lot of ups and downs.
KG: Who are some of your musical influences and inspirations?
t: It’s really diverse. When I was doing the rock stuff, it was a lot of the classic cool musicians like Johnny Cash, Radiohead, Nirvana, Queen, and the Pixies. And then I was also always really influenced by the OG pop people too. I always loved Mariah Carey, and I loved Ciara and all of that. Now I listen to a lot of emerging artists. I just try to get more involved in the community and see what people are doing. Some newer people I’ve discovered recently are like Sasha Sloan and Troye Sivan. These are all bigger artists, but these are the people I’ve discovered now, because they’re making the kind of sounds that I want to be making. But I still definitely have all of those past influences that I grew up with.
KG: I know you’ve lived in a lot of different places. How has that influenced you? And do you think it comes across in your music, in more than just the song titles?
t: All the songs are inspired by real places that I went, real experiences that I had, and people who I met in those places, so I think all of that comes into it. I’ve always been really inspired by the idea of cities because to me, cities embody this like, nostalgia that influences the songs that I write. I feel like each city has its own story – not just the story of the city itself, but the stories that you make when you’re in that place, even if it’s for a small amount of time. For me, going through my phone and finding the poems that I wrote when I was in the city, and the old photos, maybe some voice notes from around that time – I’ll take all those things, and then try and embody that. I always say my songs are like letters. I try to make them like letters to a moment in time when I was in that place and with that person, or people. They’re kind of like time capsules, I guess you could say. Each song is kind of like a capsule trying to capture the nostalgia I have and the memories of that city.
KG: I know that you dance in your “new york” music video. Is that something that you do? Do you have any other hobbies?
t: I’ve never considered myself a dancer, but I love dancing. When I was living in Colombia I would take salsa classes, and I continued that in New York, because New York City has a really vibrant Latin dance scene. So [for the video] I really wanted to do a Beyoncé, Single Ladies inspired three person dance for “new york.” I’ve always loved dance, so I definitely want to continue getting better. As far as other hobbies, I guess I do basic things that other young women are into. I like going thrift shopping, I like watching the Bachelor. I’m a horrible cook, so attempting to learn how to cook.
KG: What are you most looking forward to post pandemic? I know there’s obviously a lot, especially as a musician, that you’re missing out on, but what’s one thing that you’re looking forward to the most?
t: I think it’s just collaborating with more people. I mean, you can still collaborate with people from afar, but it’s definitely different when you’re in the studio with someone. I’d say that’s definitely what I’m most excited for. There’s so many amazing emerging artists that I definitely want to collaborate with around the world. I’ve always loved British music, so my dream is to do a dope song with a British artist who has a dope accent. And I’m part Korean and Japanese, so I think it’d be super cool to do a song with some artists that are in Korea and Japan, that are partially in those languages. There’s just so much potential for collaborations. I think once quarantine’s over, people will be more open to meeting up.
KG: Did you get to perform at all as tigerlily before COVID hit?
t: Yeah, actually, the last show I did I opened for Social House in New York, which was super cool. It’s funny, because I used to perform all the time. When I was in the band, we were doing shows every weekend. And I do miss that, but I’m an introvert, so it didn’t occur to me that that’s something I’ve missed. But that’ll be exciting too, to be able to do more solo shows after things open up.
KG: Who is your dream artist to open for?
t: I’m trying to think who would be the coolest. Well, I’ve always been obsessed with Enrique Iglesias. (laughs) So that’s probably my dream opening act. I don’t know how well our genres mesh, but who knows?
KG: I know you said you were working on music. What are you working on right now?
t: Yeah, it’s been interesting, because I definitely have some songs coming out soon that are from around the same time that I recorded “lisbon” and “new york.” And then I was also like, what do I want to do next after that? So I’ve been rethinking the direction that I want to take it. I’m just writing a bunch of stuff and trying to do sessions with other people to figure out how I want to evolve as an artist. I feel like songs usually come out in batches, and after one of them is done, you think, what’s the next thing? Sticking with the theme of places- I still like that idea. But sonically, I feel like there’s a couple directions I could go. So yeah, I’ve just been writing a ton. I feel like every time you’re in a new place you kind of write differently, so I’m really excited to see the songs that come out of being down here in LA.
KG: Have you noticed any differences in your writing so far, since you’ve been there?
t: Yeah. It almost has a country sound to it, but it’s not country music. Definitely some things inspired by James Blake and Sasha Sloan. And like, these kinds of sad ballads that I feel like could incorporate some really cool guitar work into them. So we’ll see if those actually ever get released, or if I’m just taken in a different direction than that, but that’s what I’ve noticed so far.
KG: Do you have any words of wisdom for young women, especially Asian-American young women, who want to start succeeding in music?
t: If you’re Asian American or even just as a woman, you’re going to be the minority in the room, and you’re gonna have to learn to operate in an industry where the decision makers are primarily white men. There’s a lot of people you have to interface with, whether those are the producers, the mastering engineers, the other songwriters, the distribution companies – there’s all these other entities you have to deal with along the way, and you’re gonna encounter a lot of white men. A lot of the time, people just don’t get what you’re trying to do. Like, I’m working on a collab that’s gonna be coming out next month – it’s me and another artist from Seattle, Brian Chin, who’s dope, and he’s also Korean American. When we were submitting the song to people, they were like, “You got the genre wrong. I don’t know why you submitted this to me, I’m a pop writer, but this is K-Pop.” I’m like no, we’re Korean, but this is pop music! You’re gonna encounter a lot of stuff like that, and you can’t let it get you down. A lot of people are gonna doubt you. Even today, I was just talking to my friend, and he was like, “well, are you sure you even want to do music?” And you just have to be like, yes! No one’s gonna know you like you know yourself.
In music there’s this fallacy that someone big is going to discover you, because that happens sometimes. But for the majority of people, no one’s gonna save you but yourself. No matter what anyone tells you, you have to know that this is what you want to be doing, and there’s a lot of hard parts of that. When I walked away from music after doing the band, it was because I was really tired of putting up with stuff like that. Then, when I came back to it, I already knew that was going to happen. I knew there were going to be people who are racist or sexist. You just have to find the people who are fans of what you’re doing and drown out the rest of it. It really comes down to having a really good mindset, because then you’re going to figure out everything else. I think anyone can get there. It’s just like, do you have the right mindset to get you to that point, so that you don’t drop out before you reach your full potential?
KG: My WTBU show is called Spotlight, and we focus on a different artist every week and play their music as well as their influences and similar artists. If your music was being spotlighted on a radio show, who would you want to be on the playlist with you? And what are important songs that you think should be on that playlist?
t: I’ve always really been influenced by Frank Ocean, because I think his writing style – the honesty he brings to it, I’ve always loved that. “Ivy” by Frank Ocean is one of those songs for me. LANY, I love that group. I’d listen to their songs, like “Malibu Nights,” and I’d think oh, I want to go to LA. So I guess that influenced my move down here. They’d be on that playlist. Barcelona has always been a place that’s influenced me, and in “lisbon,” I wrote about a boy who I met studying abroad in Barcelona. One of my favorite artists from Spain is called Sen Senra, and one of my favorite songs of his is “Ya No Te Hago Falta.” And then, one of the influences behind the song “lisbon” was Khalid’s song “Location,” so I’d put that on the playlist. My songwriting style is kind of similar to the OG Taylor Swift stuff, so I’d probably put on “August” by Taylor Swift. A song about places that I love is “Tompkins Square Park” by Mumford and Sons. And The Head and the Heart is my favorite Seattle band, so one of their songs too. Those are some that come to mind.
KG: Thanks for sharing that with me! Is there anything else that you want me to include?
t: If people want to stay up to date with what’s going on with me and the new music that’s going to be dropping, please find me on my Instagram, which is @tigerlily_music, check out my music on Spotify, and follow me if you like it! There’s going to be a lot of new stuff coming out. I hope people come track me down and send me a DM – it’s always nice to talk to people, especially in quarantine.