On The Radar: Lala Lala
New-found sobriety results in thoughtful follow-up from Chicago solo artist Lala Lala.
Second album The Lamb represents a new beginning for Lillie West – aka Lala Lala – who, like the disorientated new-born creature of its title, is finding her feet, having embraced sobriety. Born in London, raised in LA and later Chicago, the 24-year-old quit drink and drugs while making 2016’s self-released debut Sleepyhead.
The follow-up finds West in a less turbulent, more content headspace, but still questioning all aspects of her life, blending lightness with dark and scratchy lo-fi post-punk with dreamy melodic pop.
“Getting sober is like a really long process,” she tells Long Live Vinyl. “The very beginning is extremely confusing – what am I doing, and is it even going to stick? I had a period of total isolation after getting sober, drove to the Badlands in South Dakota, was super-confused and had no direction. This record was written when I was starting to feel sure of my sobriety and the path it was leading me on. The title is a reference to sobriety – I’m like the baby sheep learning how to live my life, and this is the first product of that.”
A sense of geographical disconnect also informed much of the direct and autobiographical writing on The Lamb, with West, who retains a soft British accent, calling Chicago home.
“The only place I’ve really lived as an adult is Chicago, so events there have been influential, but my parents live in the UK. I think there’s a sense of not really being sure where my home is, I’m always missing someone. It manifests itself in the writing of all the records I’ve done. It’s a confusing place. I’m a very questioning person of whether something is the right place for me to be. A lot of my songwriting is that – what is the right thing to do? Does it actually exist?”
That Chicago connection has borne fruit in the shape of a productive working relationship with Philip Lesicko and Jessee Crane’s Rose Raft studio in New Douglas, Illinois, where the album was recorded by Dave Vettraino, with Emily Kempf playing bass and Ben Leach on drums.
“Dave’s good. He’s a very straightforward person and very talented,” says West. “We’re close, which is great, because when I record demos it’s very fast-paced and I’ve got to record it as I’m writing it. I have to record now, or I’m going to forget it! He was very accommodating of that. He questions a lot of his own ideas in a productive and creative way.
“I was sort of scared to work with anyone else, because he’s the only person I’ve ever recorded a record with. I hear stories from my friends who’ve recorded with strangers and the person is really hard-headed and they end up not being happy with the record. It was nice being collaborative.”
An equally important relationship has been the one Lillie shares with her new label Hardly Art, set up by Sub Pop. “They’re fantastic, I love Hardly Art. I was really excited to work with them. It’s run by a woman, has the history and help of Sub Pop behind it and there’s a lot of female artists on the label. They’re super-accommodating and want you to be yourself – there’s been no negotiation of my personality or how to present me.”
With The Lamb complete and out on 24 September, there’s a nice sense of symmetry for West who, as a teenager, worked in Chicago’s Reckless Records store: “It was funny, I’d see posters of my more successful friends in the place I worked, and it’s very, very exciting for me that my record is now going to be in the place I worked…”