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Interview Thu Jul 09 2015

Taking Things to the Next Level: An Interview with Lili K


Lili K is on a train on her way back to her hometown of Milwaukee when I call her on her cell. It's a humbling mode of transportation for someone whose star is rising so quickly. In fact, I imagine Lili K is one of the few people on Roc Nation's radar who travels by Amtrak. But Lili is low-key like that. As we talk, I'm struck by how sophisticated yet sincere she is. Her lack of pretension despite some serious musical chops is refreshing and rare for a city whose stars sometimes have personalities as big as Chicago's shoulders (cough, Kanye, cough).

Soaring high off of the release of her debut LP, Ruby, Lili K was most recently tapped as TIDAL's first "Tidal Rising" artist, an experience which we talk about among other things like her love for interludes, paying the bills, and growing up singing gospel music.

Talk to me about your experience with TIDAL.

We were thinking of different ways we could premier Ruby and we didn't want to go a super traditional route as far as blogs go. We threw out different ideas and my manager suggested we reach out to TIDAL. I didn't think that they'd reply, but they replied to us the next day and told us they loved the album and wanted to put something together. We didn't know what it was going to be at the time, but it turned into them doing a whole article on me as well as offering to pre-stream the album for a week before it came out. From there it just snowballed. They brought me out to New York and we did a video shoot. They're good people and it's cool because they actually make an effort to get to know the artists they spotlight.

In your "Where I'm From" video you mention that there's more to Chicago than its hip-hop scene, like the soul scene. Can you expand on that or offer an explanation on why Chicago's soul scene is sometimes eclipsed by its hip-hop scene?

In general, music goes through trends and right now hip-hop is the big trend. Also, blogs are a more fitting platform for hip-hop than they are for soul music, and blog culture's influence continues to grow. It's funny because Chicago is one of the birthplaces of soul and gospel music, so there's still amazing venues where you can see those kinds of artists performing constantly, even if the music isn't as supported online or on the radio. Regardless, I still think the soul and jazz scenes here are awesome and it'd be great if they got a little more light because there are so many talented artists that fall within those genres.

Tell me your origins story. When did you first meet some of your frequent collaborators like Chance?

I lived in Chicago when I was little, so this city has always been a second home to me, and then I moved back to Chicago from Milwaukee to go to Columbia College in 2009. I got introduced to a lot of people from playing open mics and I met Chance through Peter Cottontale, whom I used to collaborate with. Peter and I used to introduce ourselves as a duo and we made a soul, jazz, hip-hop, fusion sound that a lot of people started gravitating towards. That's how the two of us started working with Chance and Vic Mensa. Plus I was 18 and had a fake ID, so I was able to go to lots of jam sessions. That's how I met most of my current bandmates.

You have some really impressive musicians in your band. Do you see yourselves working together as a unit for a while?

Oh yeah, I definitely think so. I mean everybody does their own thing as well. But from recording Ruby together we've developed into a family. It's the most solid band I've ever had and I've known them all for over five years. We share a similar vision, too, which helps.

What is that vision?

Well, I came up in the church singing gospel and then went to a performing arts high school in Milwaukee. But it was my middle school choir teacher who first encouraged me to listen to jazz. That changed everything. That's when I understood that I didn't have this powerhouse gospel voice but what I did have was a weird jazz voice, which then informed everything. I began to play with a lot of jazz musicians and I loved Neo-soul and Motown, too. I like to combine all those elements with my original music and create things that range from a throwback soul sound to a newer jazz sound. There's definitely a lot of different influences at work in my music. Take everything I like, throw it together, and see what happens -- that's what I've always wanted to do. I also like to work with all live instrumentation. Studio production doesn't get me quite as excited as calling out solos and taking inspiration from my bandmates does.

When it comes to your musical career -- what's your ultimate goal or end game?

I guess my personal definition of success would be just be able to make a living off of music. It's not about being rich or famous. I don't dream of being recognized on the street. I'd love to go back and teach master classes in high schools and colleges. I'd like to be successful or cool enough to be able to go back and teach kids and have them actually listen. I want to prove myself to the youth! The end game is just to exist solely off of music and not have to ever have a 9-5.

Whose career do you envy?

I've always admired India Arie and how she has handled her career. She's so musical but she also acts as an advocate for issues she thinks matters which I appreciate. Plus her album Voyage to India was so inspiring to me. It's what made me want to make a complete body of work. That album is full of interludes and so is Ruby but Voyage to India is where I got the idea from.

To an outsider it seems like you are right on the edge of breaking big. Is that impending fame palpable to you?

I really don't know. I've had this conversation with a few people because whenever crazy things start to happen people ask me if I'm excited. And I am, but at the same time, when you're in it and you're working it takes a long time to process because you are actually experiencing it. You are seeing the journey and the amount of hard work you do to get there. From the outside, it seems like so many things are happening at once, but when I look at it I see the day-to-day schedule. It is exciting but I'm also constantly being reminded of my reality. I'm getting awesome opportunities but I'm still grounded by the fact that I am self-funded and have to do different jobs to pay my way. I have so much more work to do, but it doesn't scare me. I've seen my peers skyrocket and I'm inspired to take things to the next level.


Chicagoans can catch Lili K. on the rise this Saturday, July 11 at The Shrine, where she'll be performing with BJ the Chicago Kid. Doors open at 8pm, show starts at 9:30pm, and tickets can be purchased on The Shrine's website for those that are 21+.

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Alex Martinez / July 9, 2015 4:21 PM

Hey, It's actually Columbia College, not Colombia College.

Andrew Huff / July 10, 2015 3:48 PM

@Alex - Sure is! Thanks for the typo catch, it's fixed now.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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