Songwriters: Lily West
Lala Lala front woman Lillie West prefers simplicity in musical expression, and she's equally direct when she describes what she went through while working on the band's new album, Sleepyhead. "I had a really tragic year," she says. "I was hit by a car, lost a close friend, and someone broke my heart." In an effort to sort through her grief, West turned to her bandmates—bassist Karla Bernasconi and drummer Abby Black.
West's bare-bones approach arises as much from pragmatism as it does from aesthetics—she's only been playing guitar for a few years, and she began working on the band's ragged, minimal postpunk while she was still very new to the instrument. "I was writing songs a little bit, and then my roommate at the time, Lyla [Taube], started messing around on drums with me," she says. When they landed their first gig, they struggled to pick a name—and ended up going with one that was right in front of them. "When we would introduce ourselves together, for some reason it was really confusing for people—Lillie and Lyla—and sometimes it would just devolve into them saying 'lala lala,'" West explains. "So we just decided to call it that."
Taube didn't stay in the band for long, but the lineup with Bernasconi and Black seems more or less settled. West steers the ship, helping set the mood and nudging the band to release material at a steady clip. "I work very, very quickly," she says. "I get bored really fast, and when I make something I want it out in the world." Her bandmates appear well suited to West's need for speed—when she brought them the song "Okie Dokie Doggy Daddy," she says they finished it in about 14 minutes.
The tunes on Sleepyhead feel fully realized, in part due to their occasional shambolic turns. The music has some of the barren chill of northern UK postpunk, though West's forlorn, near-monotone vocals aren't quite frozen over—and her straightforward, magnetic melodies give the songs some approachable warmth. Often it feels as if she's focusing her positive energy to push through the suffering she endured while making Sleepyhead. But on "Okie Dokie Doggy Daddy," she confronts her misfortunes head-on. "It's about recognizing yourself in tragedy, what to do with that energy, and taking ownership of your state of mind," she says. "That's something that I was definitely struggling with and learning over the course of the year—how to navigate adversity and remain true to yourself."