FEATURE: Introducing… Lily V
The initial takeaway is that Lily V is an old soul. Dressed stylish in a hooded faux fur jacket and ‘day-off’ grey tights, it’s surprisingly easy to strain past the nose rings and the ‘Sydney’ tattoo on her hand (she has 15 others) to see that fluidity comes naturally. And yet, she’s fast gaining national attention for her knife-edge sass as support on Blackstreet’s national tour and as the renegade who found a loophole in the city council rulebook and mounted the iconic Coke sign in Kings Cross for her debut music video.
The Western Sydney just-turned 18-year-old, who penned her first song at the age of 12, excels at interjecting honeyed soul with build-and-release ‘90s pop middle eights or slinky drum’n’bass hooks. Lily V’s debut single Tattoos ticks all the aforementioned boxes: an indelible, sellable hook that could only be pulled off by a feisty millennial, enough chord changes to show off her impressive range and a few purposely frayed edges that behead the fringe-pop production currently boding well on the charts.
Lily V’s upcoming debut album is being released by Kings Cross Records, the renegade start-up launched by Chauncey Black (of Grammy-winning group Blackstreet) in Sydney. Black himself is signed there, as is the record’s producer J-Hot, and the producer of Lily V’s self-funded, self-released EP, Astrid Holz. Crucially though, the EP was as much a part of an internal move in the right direction than a bid to put use to all her SoundCloud-dwelling tracks. Having left school in Year 11 Lily V toyed with the idea of a 9 to 5, taking up a retail job at Calvin Klein – “it made my parents happy for a bit,” she quips – before making the verifiable decision to choose a career in music.
“I don’t know, I didn’t have fun in primary school, didn’t have fun in high school…” she pauses. “I always knew that music was what I wanted to do and I never got the right musical upbringing in school.
“I thought I may as well remove myself from the situation and actually focus on what I want to do instead of just putting myself through stress that I didn’t need to.”
Lily V may be in the strange albeit common position of having her natural state marketed as a product, but she’s a realist in her artistic prime. “There’s such a small percentage that make it. There’s people with such amazing talent in the world and if I’m aiming for that then I can’t open up any door for error or second chance I guess […] I don’t have anything but my ass to fall back on.”
While she may have placated her parents with a feigned interest in the white-collar job market, her family have now joined the chorus. Father John Vamos is the Chairman of Kings Cross Records, and as a storied business coach with his Business Coaching Systems, he’s been preparing Lily V since she was knee-high – even grading songs she would write on long flights out of ten.
Chauncey Black, who features on Tattoos and took Lily V on Blackstreet’s “Made in the 90’s” Australian tour through April, describes her as “so versatile”, a vocal chameleon, but only voluntarily. “She’s got that whole Amy Winehouse vibe,” says Black. “She could sound like Brandy on one record, like Rihanna on one record. Her music is not like theirs though, it’s hers.”
Black came across Lily V last year. Kings Cross Records’ Lewis Khan, who was invested in her at the time, got in contact with Black, requesting he collaborate with her. Black penned three tracks for the upcoming album, Lily V has written four and the rest are co-writes; but she won’t release them all in one go. Kings Cross Records will release a five-track EP around July, which will include a second single, then another EP before the end of year. It’s all part of the label’s overarching strategy to expose Australian artists’ international cross-over potential without the need to relocate.
Lewis Khan, CEO at Kings Cross Records says Australia’s current climate doesn’t nurture emerging acts: “We’ve identified that gap in the market between what the majors are doing and the huge amount of local talent there is.”
Khan and Chauncey, despite having been based in various parts of the globe throughout their careers, believe gauging success on whether an act can break into the Billboard 200 before they’re a hero in their homeland is flawed.
“What [labels] do is, when they play [local talent] here first, they don’t let it get hot here,” Black told TMN back in March. “Why would you take that shit to the states where the competition is off the meter?”
“I think Australia as a country is not a music-based country,” adds Lily V. “It’s a sport-based country. You can’t hide that fact […] So for the majors to take a gamble with an upcoming artist, I understand why they don’t do it, but how do you make change if you don’t shock the system?”
“[It ties into] what Lil was saying,” continues Khan. “That there’s perhaps a lack of local artist development and A&R that perhaps the majors aren’t doing.”
This outspoken mantra that begs acts to dominate their homeland before anywhere else is showcased all throughout Lily V’s music video for Tattoos. Filmed in Sydney’s Kings Cross over two days with production company Tribal Apes, the clip, directed by Evan Winter (Sean Paul, Enrique Iglesias) embraces many of the suburb’s trademark idiosyncrasies. The shot where Lily V and Chauncey Black are 25 feet in the air on top of the 130 feet-long Coca Cola sign wasn’t an easy hoop to jump through; but thankfully Bruce Dawson, one of the Directors of Tribal Apes, is a lawyer by trade and helped get the clearances across from Sydney City Council.
While’s she’s appositely still coming down from Cloud Nine following the tour with Blackstreet, Lily V is having to exercise restraint as the long-winded album campaign starts to form – it’s not hard to read it as a reaction to her self-supported past. Then, as if her inner pragmatist was listening in, she offers a hint about the artist she’ll become.
“Seeing a journey of an artist is what I love the most,” Lily V talks about the artists who inspire her as if they’re the reason she’s breathing. “If you look at Rihanna, when she started Music Of The Sun, to now, R8, you’re like ‘ you have been 72 different people’. And that to me is amazing.
“It’s better than someone that’s just come out and is established and you’re like ‘whoa, what have you done’. How do you know all this without experience?’ The only way that you learn is by doing it and learning in it, and being in it everyday.”