B – Sides: Interview w/ Neosoul Jazz singer Lili K

Words by Jake Krzeczowski
Photos by Keeley Parenteau

Chicago’s a city long known for both its musical lineage and its unique ability to smash them into one another. Electrified blues became rock, disco became house music and hip-hop emerged from the both. For her part, Milwaukee native Lili K has spent the better part of the last decade here cultivating a sound unto herself with a unique blend of jazz aesthetics brought into a modern soul-searching R&B. Having stepped onto the national stage as part of the larger wave that produced fellow acts like Saba, Eryn Allen Kane, Jamila Woods, NoName and chance The Rapper among others, the public at large first took notice on her iconic opening to Chance’s Acid Rap where she serves as the first voice on the record.

After a series of strong releases through 2016, as well as appearances on The Social Experiment’s SURF album alongside Jessie Boykins and Joey Purp on “Go”, onstage headlining a Made In America stage or serving as the inaugural TIDAL Rising artist, Lili went back to Milwaukee and took a three year break. That break, brought on by anxieties, business, relationships and the general gamut of what many find themselves wading through in their twenties, served as a creative reawakening. The result is her return, Songs With Friends which serves as the multidimensional talent’s toe in the water as she eases back into the pool of releasing music. The project itself is a happy ode to simply creating, a positive affirmation of her accomplishments this far and a peek into the next evolution of Lili K. Read more below and listen to the whole project on Spotify.

On Songs With Friends you quite literally make songs with friends you’ve made along the way. What was it like putting that together?

Well, there’s Air Credits on one song. Then I have one with B Free who’s an amazing artist out of Milwaukee I’ve looked up to since high school. Then Klassik with a K from Milwaukee, who I’ve known since middle school and then my friend Evan Lane who I’ve also known since middle school. And he’s I guess the least established which I hate to say, out of the other artists – he just hasn’t released as much solo work but he’s phenomenal and I feel like his voice definitely needs to be heard. Not only his voice but he also plays Viola on a song, he’s so fuckin talented.

So yeah, I just wanted to work with people I’ve always liked and admired and have always been kind to me in the industry. Which you know, a lot of times you see the worst sides of people when you work with them and it sucks because it ruins a lot of what you thought was a good friendship. It’s been cool to just reach out to people who…its real, its fuckin real and it’s one thing that’s been really important to me in the past like two years really is taking this time to figure out myself, my truth, what I want to do with my career, with myself. Because I feel like I’ve been tip-toeing around a lot of shit for a while and I wasn’t confident enough or calm enough or I hadn’t figured out enough shit…I don’t know I kind realized there’s no point in having these fake ass relationships with people or pretending to like people who don’t respect me, you know what I mean?

 

What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome on the way to releasing this project?

I think one of my biggest hurdles that I had to overcome was figuring out that I had the wrong people around me during the Ruby release. Even though the album did great and I’m really proud of everyone who was involved in it and I’m not saying anybody that was involved with it was a bad person or anything, it just wasn’t the right fit for me and I felt like I was being pushed in directions that everyone else wanted me to go in but nobody on my team actually gave a shit about me. I really noticed that by looking back and noticing how unhealthy I was, how unhappy I was, just like looking at pictures of myself: I was depressed and I had no idea. and I really had to hit rock bottom.

I was neglecting my self-care, my self love, all the shit was happening in my personal life with my family. This was 2015/16 and I didn’t really realize how bad it had gotten until maybe mid 2017 and that’s when I pretty much stopped everything and decided I needed to be alone and figure my life out. Because I’m not happy with myself, I don’t love music anymore, I don’t know who I am, I don’t trust anyone and I just felt like my guard was up and I was unhappy. You wake up and you’re like ‘when did I go off my path?’ Or ‘why did I think this was the right path?’ You don’t really know what happened or what the exact moment was, but you know some shits wrong. And the root of it was just within me.

 

What was the thought process behind releasing an EP rather than a full album?

This EP in general I had to get back to making music just for the pure fun and love of making music. So it kind of served two purposes for me: one was that and the other was to serve as a buffer before I release the album. Because I’ve been gone for four years. I haven’t released a body of work since 2015, since Ruby. 2016/17 went really fast and was just a blur of a bunch of bullshit. I needed to get back to creating for the love of it and then I’m honestly kind of scared to release the album because I don’t have the team anymore, my name doesn’t hold the weight it used to, I don’t have the affiliations I used to have because I had to separate myself from people for my mental health and in the big picture of things I made all the rights choices because I’m so much happier now than I probably have ever been at least since I was a little kid. Just because I actually like myself and I like the people that are in my life*1 It’s so obvious.

You can tell. I also finally made it a point-because I always make myself work so hard and I’m a perfectionist-and I was just like no I need to set some time aside to have fun with my best friends, to travel, to do things that might not seem important but in the big picture are so important because what’s the point of any of this if you’re not enjoying life? Really, what’s the point if you’re not enjoying things or doing things that help people or give back. Like, what’s the point if positivity is not coming out of it?

 

What did you learn from your time away?

You have to go through everything to get to that realization. You have to experience things to learn the lessons or you’re just going to keep going through these trials over and over again until you learn this lesson. So I just forced myself to learn the lesson. I was like let me sit down, take some time, figure it out. I wish I could afford therapy. Journaling was a big thing, I did a lot of journaling and self reflection. I’ll go into writing without anything in mind, I just write pages and pages and I’ll be crying while I’m writing whenever I’m feeling something really intensely. And then I’ll put it down, give myself some time before I read it back and I’ll read it back and I’ll read it back over the next couple of days and I’ll realize what’s valid and what’s not so that’s one thing.

 

With Songs With Friends in the world, What can we expect moving forward?

My music is completely different. On the second album which will come out after the EP. Whenever I can figure out how to do it correctly. Hopefully sometime before the year is up. I don’t want to rush it just for the sake of getting it out, that’s kind of the point of this EP. Its like here’s some fucking music to listen to while I figure my shit out. While I get some funding, while I get a team in place because I don’t just want to put it out. I want to do the album right. The EP is fun, its a reintroduction. I’ve been gone for four years I’m sorry but I’m back.

 

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