Chloe Lilac Is Sick of You Romanticizing Mental Illness [Q&A]
Chloe Lilac is a force to be reckoned with. At only 17-years-old, she has toured alongside Rejji Snow, Charlotte Lawrence, and Sasha Sloan and proved to be so much more than just a brilliant singer and songwriter. An advocate for female empowerment, Lilac has established herself as a strong and powerful voice of the future and her debut EP, Manic Pixie Dream, is a testament to her eloquent ability to speak through music. Beautifully written and produced, the EP paints the songstress' life story and the journey she has endured to get to where she is. Strong, courageous and downright honest, Manic Pixie Dream illustrates society through her youthful eyes and the generation she has found herself inherently apart of.
Get to know Lilac through the lens of addiction, mental illness, and female camaraderie in our Q&A below:
OTW: What was your journey to where you are now in the music scene?
Lilac: It was great! It was really stupid. I made a lot of stupid decisions. When I was eight, I was in a rock band with my friends and in one of those band programs. So I started writing songs around eight and learning how to play guitar and stuff. And when I was around twelve, I started producing all my own stuff. It was really fun, technology man… I feel like it was really accessible to me because of Garageband on my mom's Macbook. Then when I was 13, I started street performing trying to get discovered, so I would go around Union Square, and I got to know those areas really well. And when I was 14, I hit high school and I was like, "Fuck this, I hate it," so I started like sneaking out on week nights when my parents would go to sleep. And with my busking money, I got Bluetooth headphones, and I would produce in class.
I got kicked out of that school, and I had gone to that school my whole life, so it was really painful for me. And I lost all my friends so my only friend was music. I basically went through this really dark place in my life where I started using all the time, and I got really bad in terms of my mental health. My anxiety just got completely out of control because I was bullied really badly in that school and then I was isolated because I was homeschooled after that. I couldn't function in a school environment so I was half trying to get myself together. And the way I worked with it was just through doing music so I was uploading stuff on Soundcloud every two weeks.
I was fortunate enough to get discovered by my current A&R when I was around 14, and he really helped me sober up and get my act together and put me in the studio with a lot of really talented producers and really forced me to take a hard look at myself and get my life together. I've come a really long way since, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity. I try to help out as many up-and-coming artists like myself, as I can. One of my passions is helping other people with music.
OTW: Do you still produce?
Lilac: I still co-produce a lot of my own stuff but I'm not super great at it. I get the bones down and send it to someone who really knows what they are doing. But I really like it and I take a lot of joy in being part of the production process. I don't think there are a lot of female producers out there. I try to teach young women, I give them free classes on production.
OTW: What influenced the songs that are on Manic Pixie Dream?
Lilac: My EP is mainly about being a young person in New York City and being a young woman growing up. I'm 17 so I'm still coming of age, but I started writing that EP when I was 14. It's all just about being young and how hard and difficult it was for me growing up and how removed my generation is from vulnerability, and how scared everyone is to grow up. And how hard it is being a young woman and in general, how painful it was to realize how objectified I am and how inherently misogynistic our society is. I had a lot of rage for a really long time about it as I started to come into my own and I realized if I work through it with music, that will help. So if I can help a young woman who feels the same way out there with my EP, that's what matters to me the most. If I can help anyone just get through the struggles of being human and coming of age.
OTW: What song do you think speaks the most to you?
Lilac: Definitely "Jesus." I wrote that one when I was 14. It was maybe the first or third session I ever did professionally. It's been in my back pocket for a minute now. But that song sounds like a love song, but it's really about my process becoming sober and realizing how messed up I was. 14 was a huge age to me; it felt like a lifetime in one year so it was a letter to myself and being like, "Alright I have all these problems with addiction." Whenever I perform it, I really feel it, and it seems like it’s the song that speaks the most to other people too. That is really special to me. I love that it touches other people, it's open to interpretation. That's what is beautiful about music. It might not be about addiction to someone else, it might be about an ex or their mom.
OTW: How does it feel to look back at that period of your life?
Lilac: I don't know how I'm alive. I don't know how I fucking survived through that shit but you know, it's fine. I'm good now. It feels like it was a lifetime ago, but I'm also just incredibly grateful that I got through that, and it's made me such a strong person, and it's made me really understanding of other people and their struggles and also of my journey getting sober. As a young person, it's pretty rare to work on yourself at this age. It was like a huge wave was in front of me but the wave was how much shit I had to do to work on myself. It does feel like a lifetime ago, but it was only because I've really worked on myself and been through so much since then.
OTW: What advice would you give to somebody who might in that place right now and struggling to come up for air?
Lilac: There is nothing wrong with asking for help. It doesn't make you weak; in fact, vulnerability is power. You really have to look inward to fix yourself, other people aren't going to fix you. You can't look for the answers in other people, the answers are all within yourself. That's what I did a lot... looked for answers in drugs and friends and boys, not like sex, I was way too young for that but I'd chase after these boys and they wouldn’t give a fuck. It was all me running away from my problems.
It might really hurt, but the beautiful part about it is that at least you get to feel it and it's human, and you will learn how to deal with it. Therapy is great, and it doesn't mean you’re a crazy person. If you're open to it, if you're struggling with drugs or addiction, I think it's really important for people to try out Al-Anon or AA and see what it does for them. Everyone has an addiction, it just depends on what it is and trying out one meeting could be really beneficial.
There is nothing wrong with being human, and I feel like in this technological age, it is so frowned upon to feel. I love my generation so much; we're a generation of activists and love and acceptance, but there is this other side of it that is really romanticizing mental illness and drugs. We have rappers dying all over the place, dropping like fucking flies all the time from drug addiction, and it's so hard to watch. My favorite musicians are just dropping off the face of the Earth, and it's setting this really dark example for my generation in music.
OTW: How does society's obsession with romanticizing the wrong things impact your music?
Lilac: It’s so instilled that vulnerability and being human is a negative thing when it’s the most beautiful thing we have. What are we if we don't have connection and love in our life? What do we have? We're just apes on a floating rock. It's bullshit. People are so scared of their own emotions. People are so scared of connection and like genuine connection and vulnerability, and it is tragic for me to watch because that's what I crave the most. People are so scared of emotions. My music might be too intense sometimes, but I think intense is good. And I like writing fun songs too but my favorite songs are ones that really connect with people. I really like my music to capture moments and feelings rather than a surface thing.
"Summer," I would say, is my most surface song but it's still an experience. I feel like you’re on the journey with me. It's all about being young in New York and making friends for the first time. Last summer was this electric amazing summer for me, and I wanted to capture it in my music, whereas "Jesus" takes you to this really dark place in my life. That's what I love to do with my music, take people on the journey with me, and if they can sympathize with that, that's great. I love it and apparently people can too.
OTW: What is your writing process like?
Lilac: I feel a lot. And the thing that inspires me the most is really intense emotion and intense stuff. So whether it's happiness or sadness, it doesn't matter; it's intense. So if I feel really strongly about something, I'll write about it. It doesn’t come all the time and sometimes it does, which is great. Writer’s block isn't a stranger to me. If someone is reading this and is having writer's block, it will end.
People get really freaked out that they are going to have writer’s block forever but it ends. You have to keep writing. You have to power through, and you'll come out with a great song one day. I get inspired by other artists too, like Childish Gambino; he's my biggest inspiration. Lana Del Rey is one of my biggest writing influences. Honestly, Shel Silverstein. I fuck with him. It's super cool that he's a children's poet but his stuff is really deep. David Bowie, obviously. The process is coming up with a really good chord progression. If the chord progression is good, the song comes immediately.
OTW: How would you describe the scene you are in now?
Lilac: Instagram is everything, it's huge. We're DIY kids so we love making art. I love making art. I'm a very artistic person. I draw a lot and I paint a lot. My friends are all artists of some degree. But I'm really a part of the DIY movement which is about genuine art and appreciating that and trying to keep that alive in this age of everything being plastic and fake and generated on Instagram. My friends and I will throw punk shows with our Garageband friends, and we will go out and do stupid shit. We are all incredibly motivated people, like a lot of my friends are young professionals and are thriving in their industries as 17-year-olds, which is so inspiring. All my best friends are really doing big shit out here, not just in the music industry. And it's all young women! My friends are all super progressive people and from all different walks of life. That's a great part of New York, it's a huge melting pot of everyone everywhere.
OTW: What is one piece of advice you would give to every girl out there?
Lilac: Be nice to other girls. It's really important. I hate it when I'm literally just on the street and a girl glares at me because I am another girl. That is the most painful thing for me. Stop feeling like you are in competition with other women. We are all here being oppressed, actively. Let's band together. Female companionship is one of the most beautiful things in the world. A woman and another woman being homies is the best thing ever so don't close yourself off to it because you feel threatened by something that is enforced by the patriarchy. Women should not have to feel like they are in competition with each other because there is no competition, we're all beautiful and amazing. Be nice to other women and be nice to younger women and older women, don't be ageist about it. Just be nice to people and that will get you so far. It just makes you feel so good.
OTW: If you were a crayon in a crayon box, what color would you describe yourself?
Lilac: Probably lilac. I've identified with that color my whole life. It's definitely not my favorite color. I've just always identified with it because it’s a fun color but there's also depth to it. It's not warm and it's not cool, it's right in between. My favorite color is pink though cause I'm a basic bitch. I love a warm pink but not hot pink, a salmon.
OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?
Lilac: Isaac Dunbar, Leyla Blue, Mia Gladstone, Ren, Maud. I'd say those are my top picks, I fucking love those heads, they're all pretty close friends of mine. I love being friends with other artists because they know what's up. Also, Christian Leave and Ryan Woods, they both make really good music. Those are my homies.