At the age of 17, most people are focussed on their iPhones, the opposite sex, and generally being popular. Keeping on top of the latest trends and getting half-decent grades can be challenging enough, so imagine what it’s like for Lila Blue.
The New York native and San Francisco resident precariously balances a regular teen life with an increasingly high-profile career, Spider-Man: Homecoming-style. She’s had a big year — her sophomore effort, The Hollows Hold the Healing, came out in 2016, and she’s following it up with the Have a Look EP on Sept. 22. Meanwhile, she’s in her senior year of high school, though she’s forced to bend education around her rehearsals.
“I don’t go to a traditional school right now,” Blue says. “I go around the city and meet mentors to work around my rehearsal schedule. It was getting a little wonky — I was not able to keep up the rehearsal schedules with the homework and the gigs, and the class times. I made a decision with my parents that this would be best. I tried it out and it ended up working. I still take classes and have a regular life around everything. But it’s always been a part of my daily life so it doesn’t feel super-unnatural to be working a full-time job and be doing school.”
One might imagine that a flourishing music career would rocket a teen onto the top rung of the popularity ladder, but that’s apparently not the case. These teens are supportive, sure. But they’re not in awe.
“They kinda don’t give a shit — I love it,” Blue says. “I’ve noticed that certain friends are very focused on, ‘I just want to be friends with you.’ Then there are friends who are invested and active in the music that I make. I also have friends who are musicians — we work together. So there’s a spectrum of people. But the majority of them are like, ‘Great, cool, can we go get lunch now?’ There’s not really a big effect in the friendship about it.”
That’s contrary to her parents, who have a level of pride that, at times, borders on embarrassing for Blue. But then, of course they do. Their daughter is making a name for herself at a young age, and on her terms. She’s writing, singing, and playing authentic roots-influenced music, and relying on her talent — rather than a glossy image or production tricks — to carry her forward. Blue has a level head on her shoulders, and she’s been laying the groundwork for this still-blossoming career since she was six.
“I started writing poetry around the age of six pretty regularly,” she says. “I felt like something was missing – not in the words, but I really was craving to marry it to music. When I was eight, I picked up a ukulele, because my hands were really small, and I just started to take some of my poetry and play under it, and from there it evolved into this thing that I did for myself. But around nine or 10, I was part of an artist collective in New York called the Lake Lucille Chekhov Project, where they put on a Chekhov production in a week. All of the music is written in that week. I remember being this kid and being around all of these amazing musicians from different walks of life, and just absorbing a lot of it and learning from them.”
She’s continued to evolve ever since. Last year’s The Hollows Hold the Healing was one of SF Weekly’s “5 Best Bay Area Albums of 2016,” and in the 2017 Best Of issue, she was named the “Best Underage Singer Who’s Achieved So Much, She Makes You Look Bad.” There’s no stopping her, it seems. And through it all, Blue remains humble and eager to learn.
“With the last album, I knew that I wanted a very sparse record in terms of the instrumentation,” she says. “I’m so glad about the way it came out. As an arc, it had its own world. With the EP, this is the first time that I co-produced. The songs, even though I wouldn’t say they’re light songs in regards to what they’re talking about, the instrumentation is definitely different. I have some melodica and piano, and stuff like that.”
Perhaps her greatest achievement is the fact that he songwriting displays a maturity way beyond her years. There’s little that betrays her age in the accomplished arrangements and lyrics. Which is frankly weird. What the hell is she even writing about at 17? What’s inspiring her?
“It’ll be different things,” she says. “I like to work within the image world, so I’ll wait for things to come to me. Little pictures, like a woman braiding a child’s hair, and I’ll go from there. Other songs come from personal experiences or the experiences of people around me, where I’m just trying to wrap my head around what occurred or what happened.”
It’s working, and she’s fast-becoming embraced by our gloriously diverse local scene. For Blue, she’s like a kid in a candy store, soaking in all of the music that the Bay Area has to offer, from the inside.
“The music in this city is insane,” she says. “There’s something about the artistic community in the Bay that I just feel is so open and generous. I don’t know if I would have been able to so easily step into the music world in New York as I am here, the way the community comes around with open arms.”
Thankfully, she doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.
Lila Blue’s Have a Look EP is out Sept. 22. She plays with Y La Bambaat 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25 at Sweet Water Music Hall; 19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley. Then with Joon Moon and Karina Denike at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7 at Bottom of the Hill; 1233 17th St. On Sunday, Oct. 8, she plays on the Bandwagon Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass; lilabluemusic.com