Local artist Lili K is not a household name yet, but that could be changing soon.
With a grassroots campaign in making music she funded her own album, Ruby, and seems to be sticking to her vision without a major label behind her. She backed up Chance the Rapper on his "Pusha Man" single and Vic Mensa's "Hollywood" song. She covered Disclosure's "Latch" to high praise.
Combining Motown with jazz music has made a style that is uniquely K's. WCT sat down with the budding singer in the garden of North Coast Music Festival where she opened on a Saturday afternoon.
Windy City Times: You are from Chicago?
Lili K: I am from Milwaukee. I have lived in Chicago for six or seven years now. I lived here when I was little as well so it has always been a second home.
WCT: Did you always want to make music?
LK: Yeah, I went to performing arts middle and high schools. That got me more focused on it. I always did it for fun around the house. I always sang in churches. My vocal teachers in middle school started introducing me to jazz. They suggested I should look into it and have been listening to it ever since.
WCT: So your voice led you to jazz?
LK: Pretty much. I started listening to Motown, gospel, and soul, those types of genres. I don't have that big booming voice that is prevalent in those genres. When I heard jazz my voice made a little more sense to me.
WCT: Is the goal to have you sound more pop sounding in the world of jazz?
LK: No. I am trying to make the music I want to make and hopefully go somewhere with it. It is a combination of a lot of different genres. It is not straight ahead jazz. It has a lot of soul and influences in it.
WCT: Have you been compared to the singer Esthero?
LK: No. I get the most random comparisons with a broad spectrum.
WCT: Who is your song "Tommy" about?
LK: "Tommy" is actually about my boyfriend whose name is Clinton, but his middle name is Thomas. I always make a joke about it in my set. It is a simple basic love song. A lot of my songs are about the negative aspects of love and relationships. He's a good guy so I thought he deserved a song.
There is an ode to Musiq Soulchild in there when I say "143." It means "I love you" and is from one of his songs. "Tommy" is a feel-good love song.
WCT: So tell our readers about the album Ruby.
LK: So Ruby is my debut album. There have been a few EPs and collaborations before. I really wanted to get away from studio production and working with other people that were bringing hip hop and pop into my music. I wanted to get back to the basics and make an album rooted in soul and jazz so that is what Ruby is.
The title is based on a tradition my mother and I have. Every major event I have had in my life, like college graduation, she will give me a ruby ring. She's a vintage clothing dealer. Since the album is a big moment in my life, I called it Ruby.
It is an ode to tradition and recording so we left a lot of mistakes in there. You can hear piano creaks and people talking in the background. We wanted it to be a really organic feeling album.
WCT: You self-produced and paid for everything?
LK: Yes, I did all of it. My band obviously is amazing. They helped me make the music what it is.
WCT: Recording studios are not cheap…
LK: No, they are not. I am lucky to know some people that gave me great deals. I worked my ass off to afford all of that.
WCT: Doesn't that allow you to be more proud of it?
LK: Yeah, because it is mine. It is putting blood, sweat and tears into something. It makes it more meaningful to you.
WCT: What are the challenges of being a local artist?
LK: It is kind of funny; I was just talking about this on my way here. In Chicago, I am opening North Coast here today but I fly to Philly tomorrow to perform at Made in America as a headliner. It is awesome to be at both of them, but there is a difference. I feel like when you are hometown artist you are viewed as a local artist but in other places you can be viewed as more.
WCT: Go to Japan!
LK: Can you imagine what would happen there? It is cool to be part of the Chicago music scene. There is a lot of great stuff going on here right now. Hip hop is at the forefront but there is also great soul and jazz. That scene is really booming right now. It is cool to be a part of that.
WCT: How did you meet Chance the Rapper?
LK: We were both at an event at Columbia College that was going on. It was before Chance was "Chance the Rapper," who everybody knows now. He needed a singer for "Hey Ma" and I came to the studio to do that. We worked on a few other things together.
WCT: How have gay people influenced your life?
LK: My Uncle Bobby, who is not really my uncle but my mom's gay best friend, raised me growing up. The two of them owned a vintage antique store together so I was around him and his partner all the time. It has always been a part of my life so not a weird thing to me. I have always been around fabulous gay dudes!
WCT: What was the name of the store?
LK: It was called Danger City in the '90s. It was a pretty awesome store, actually. I was little so I don't remember it all that well. I do remember dressing up and walking around. Apparently I dressed up like a little old lady. I thought I was convincing customers I was an old lady.
WCT: Adorable. I hope they took pictures.
LK: I think there are some out there.
WCT: Did the store influence your style?
LK: Definitely. I love the whole vintage aesthetic. Even music from those eras is amazing. It has surrounded me for my whole life. My furniture in the house was never new. It was stuff my mom got at a swap meet or antique store.
WCT: You have a regular gig at Soho House?
LK: Yes; we do a monthly jam session the second Tuesday of every month. It is really fun. My band and I are the house band. We invite other musicians to come jam and switch them out.
This month we also have Oktoberfest in Oak Park and going out to LA. I am hoping this weekend propels us to do more awesome things!
Keep up with K at lilikmusic.com .