Lila Drew Wants to Earn the Respect of the Artists She Loves

Although Lila Drew was born in London and raised in Los Angeles, the place that had the greatest impact on the 19-year-old musician was within the walls of her house. Living among a collection of “thousands and thousands” of CDs, Drew was brought up in a home that valued—in equal parts—John Prine and Public Enemy, Lauryn Hill and Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin and Tom Petty. Though she was a student of musical theater throughout her youth (she played Annie thrice), it was her love of poetry and upbringing in the age of GarageBand that allowed her to explore her own writing, music, and sound.

Earlier this summer, while quarantining in Colorado and before starting college at Yale, the singer chatted with in anticipation of her collaboration with British DJ Skream—a remix (created virtually, of course) of her already popular single “Dad’s Van.” Below are highlights with the budding star.

You’re born in London, raised in L.A. Tell us a bit about how that has impacted your musical style, if at all.

I think it has. I think the one element that was really influenced was my sound. I’ve been working with a producer named Matt Hale in London, kind of on and off, just whenever I can get out there. He’d done a project with Aqualung back in the early 2000s. And I think being able to be in London and write songs in that environment, and work with British people has really influenced my sound. I think there’s a really strong emphasis on minimalism in the U.K. and in British music that I always really loved.

Even FKA Twigs, who makes these kind of big, not-familiar songs. Everything’s so tailored to her sound and so bespoke in that way. I always found it so interesting in terms of U.K. music, especially compared to the music that I hear in the U.S. Being able to write outside of L.A., it just changes the perspective entirely. Writing in different weather, different studios, with different people.

So at what point growing up were you like, “Well, I have a gift. This is what I need to do.” Was there a moment you can pinpoint?

I feel like I’m generally pretty self-deprecating, so there was never that, “Oh, my God, I’m so great at this,” you know? It was more that I just really loved singing, and I loved writing, and it just came very naturally. I was really lucky to grow up in the age of technology, because I was really interested in GarageBand when I was seven or eight. I was like, “Oh, my God, I have a real tool that’s accessible to me.”

I had a teacher at school who let me use their computer to make songs. I had a real tool that I can write on and sing to and record my own guitar and those stupid shakers with fruits and all those kinds of little kid instruments into a microphone. And I’d write all my songs and sing over them and burn them onto CDs. I think that was kind of the big moment, quote unquote, where I was just like, “Wow, I really love doing this, and I actually have an ability to do it on my own.” And to express myself in that way. But I was always writing. I was writing a lot of poetry when I was younger too. And that kind of transitioned very naturally into songwriting. Musical theater too.

Oh! What shows?

So many. I absolutely hated it. I really didn’t like it at all. I just loved singing, and here’s something that I could do at school that my friends were doing that will allow me to sing. But my acting skills are subpar.

That’s too funny.

They would cast me in all the roles. Also, I was shorter than everyone. I was a really small kid. So I was typecast as a young person that could sing. I was Annie three different times.

That was the only role I’d ever get. But that was kind of another moment where I was like, “Wow, I think I could actually maybe sing.” And people like hearing me sing. And then I was like, “Fuck musical theater, I’m just going to go write my own songs. I don’t want to do any of the other stuff.”

When you think about what’s next, do you have a dream collaborator?

Maybe Frank Ocean. That might be cliché.

No, I don’t think so.

It’d be him, or this guy Blake Mills. I think he’s just the best guitarist.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t talk about that because it’ll hurt the fans that you could get.

And when you say “that,” what were these people referring to?

It was in reference to something political. I wanted to be more outspoken on Spotify and other platforms like that. This must have been around the last election in California. I wanted to do more about it. It wasn’t necessarily bad advice; I just thought it was a bad warning. You don’t want to be too outspoken too early in your career about anything, because you don’t want to lose any fans. But now, the more I think about it, I should have talked about that then.

I don’t know if you saw that Taylor Swift documentary.

Did I? Yes.

I thought that part [where she discusses politics] was so interesting, and that shifted my perspective on it a little bit. Growing up in LA … first, L.A. is a pretty politically conscious city, and I’ve always been surrounded by a community that believes the same things as me. Which I think is good, but also probably not good. When I saw that documentary, it was so interesting to hear her view. I’ve just always been told that I have to play nice and act like a good girl. That I shouldn’t speak my mind. That I should be pretty indifferent about these issues. I thought that was really interesting. And I was like, “You know what? If Taylor Swift would have spoken out earlier in her career, she could have made a real, real difference.”

What has been the biggest high from your career so far?

I think when my very first song came out. It came out on a Monday morning because Zane Lowe premiered it on his show, which I also thought was crazy. It was my senior year of high school. I was in a film class. I had my AirPods in. I had my hair over the AirPods. I was sitting in the back row of the class so that I could listen to my song come out on a radio show that I’ve been listening to for years while I was in class. I think we ended up putting it on the speakers in the class. Some of my friends knew that it was happening. That was pretty wild.

Was there a movie, album, or TV show that you were obsessed with growing up?

Camp Rock.

Oh, my God. You’re so young. That’s so funny.

Camp Rock and the Hairspray remake. Those were the two movies. My brother, who is two years younger than me, we’d watch those every day. And The Jungle Book. The original Disney cartoon from the ’60s. The songs in that are the best.

Who was your first celebrity crush?

I guess Dan [Penn Badgley] from Gossip Girl. It’s making me sound so young. My friends and I were really obsessed with him. It was very Tumblr era, where everyone was kind of watching Gossip Girl for the first-ish time. Also John Krasinski, because of The Office.

How will you know if you’ve “made it”? What are markers of success for you?

My biggest goals in terms of making music are just to have the respect of artists that I really love and really respect. And, of course, it would be amazing to play for tons of people. I think the artists of our time that I really, really look up to the most are making their own path, like Frank Ocean or James Blake. Bon Iver. People that are really just forging their own way and still managing to make music that simultaneously pushes boundaries and is also successful.

Let’s talk about the remix of “Dad’s Van.” How did that collaboration come to be?

Skream, who did the remix, is super fit. Everyone that knows me would know I’m not big into EDM or electronic music, they’re just kind of genres that I’ve never dug so deep into. But I just think Skream is so great and has really helped create such a big electronic scene in the U.K. It was just one of those situations. It all happened kind of over quarantine too. Where he was in the U.K., I was in L.A., and someone just got my song to him. He was like, “I really liked it.” And the rest is kind of history.

I think it’s really cool to let other people put their stamp and their vision on a song that I’ve worked on. I worked really hard to get that song to the place that it is at with the production and the lyrics and the vocals and everything, so it’s really cool and freeing to have someone else put their stamp on it, see what they do.

Are you finding ways to stay busy right now? Writing songs? How does that work in a time like this?

It’s funny. I graduated high school a little over a year ago, and I’ve been taking a gap year since then. I’ve been working on an album for the past year, since I graduated. I’m so excited about it, and I feel like it’s the type of music I’ve always wanted to make but never quite understood how I could make it. And I feel really, really happy and very in touch with the music that I’m making. I’ve just been grinding away. I’ve had to learn how to record my vocals at home. It’s tedious, but it’s been really cool. I’ve been able to learn a lot about my voice through that. So that’s kind of been most of my time, finishing the album and working on videos, all of that stuff.

Well, great. Are you staying in Colorado for a while?

I think I’m going to have to go back pretty soon. I’m going to college in six weeks.

Where? That’s so exciting.

It is. I literally haven’t heard of a single college that’s not going back. I’m going to Yale.

I just got chills.

It’ll be a real trip this year.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photos courtesy of Lila Drew, Dannah Gottlieb, and Harry Isrealson. Design by Ingrid Frahm.

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