Knoxville, Tennessee, band The Black Lillies is a twangin' modern primitive. Goosing its alt-country ruminations with a wide spectrum, from bluegrass to soul and rock 'n' roll, this band serves to soothe the same savage it fuels in its audiences nationwide.
The band's latest, "Hard to Please," couples the lyrical introspection familiar on the band's previous three records with a gorgeous non-country aesthetic that ultimately makes the band all the more honest. The Black Lillies is out on the road, agitating the asphalt, and flaunting "Hard To Please" — which by the way, the band banged out in a mere two weeks.
The Black Lillies's Cruz Contreras took time to answer a few questions during some down time on that endless black ribbon. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
CITY: You wrote "Hard to Please" in two weeks. How is that possible?
Cruz Contreras: The key to writing a record in two weeks is locking the door. Telling your peeps you're going into seclusion, and letting Mother Nature take over in the form of a snowstorm that shuts down all your daily distractions. Also keep your ridiculous ideas on a piece of scratch paper.
What was the hardest thing in recording in such a tight timeframe?
Necessity is the best motivator. We recorded the live tracks with the band in four days, but took our time with overdubs and mixing. It was really the first time we had adequate time to record and give each song its full-deserved attention.
What was the easiest?
The best part of recording is working with a team that is totally focused, committed, and determined to create the best possible music in that moment. It's the satisfaction that comes with striving for excellence.
Will you ever do that again?
My goal with the next record is to get into a flow with writing again, well in advance, like ... now.
How is this album different from your previous work?
"Hard To Please" is our first recording with an outside producer. It was time for me to focus on writing and performing and let someone like Ryan Hewitt get us to that next level, sonically and conceptually. He pushed us much further than we would have pushed ourselves to get the best take possible. And so importantly, that outside perspective really ensures that each song gets its full stylistic treatment.
What's the common thread running through all four records?
The common thread in each record is the songs. They're all personal to me in some way. Our sound has evolved over time and will continue to do that, but the common thread is the songs.
What kind of songs are you writing now?
Right now, I'm revisiting old material that never fully came to life or was neglected, and learning new (to me) cover songs. But what my mind and eye are looking for is what is next. It's like looking at the horizon as you approach something — it comes into view the closer you get.
In what kind of venue do The Black Lillies sound best?
We play all kinds of venues: clubs, bars, theaters, dance halls, festivals, you name it. We play to the room, the space. It's one thing I pride our band on, that flexibility. I love to play acoustic bluegrass style as well as big stage rock 'n' roll.
What's it like playing the Grand Ole Opry?
Playing the Opry is the ultimate honor for a country musician. It's a very discerning audience. In our case they often look at us like, "Hmm, who is this? What is this?" They give us a chance, ponder, and then smile. We've made new fans.
How does it compare to playing Abilene in Rochester?
Ha! I love Abilene. It's always a packed room with high energy. Raw and real. Abilene is kinda like the Grand Ole Opry of Rochester.