By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Daniel Garcia.
When her producer exclaimed during a recording session why he thought she had “ears like x-rays,” Lila Rose laughed. He wasn’t kidding though. The daring singer, songwriter, and visual artist was born with a rare condition known as hyperacusis, which renders certain natural sounds into unbearable frequencies. They can even become painful.
The condition often starts around the ages of 11 or 12, and because it’s so uncommon many children go undiagnosed. Rose didn’t even understand what it was herself until roughly a year ago. At the time she was scrolling through Facebook when she encountered an image of a woman clasping her hands over both ears, exhibiting an expression of mute agony on her face.
“My jaw dropped when I started reading the article,” Rose tells BTR. “Word for word, I realized that this is what I have been dealing with all along.”
Even stranger, hyperacusis doesn’t just render certain sounds unbearable; it also has the capacity to imbibe some with more emotional impact for the listener.
Despite all of this, Rose considers the oddity both a blessing and a curse. She’s focusing more on the blessings with each and every passing day, and part of the way she exorcizes this is through creating undeniably visceral music.
Being a perfectionist to some degree is integral to every artist’s vision and process, even if it manifests itself in the smallest minutiae of creation. For Rose, this becomes increasingly apparent: her highly sensitive ears have evolved to craft songs that sound impossibly balanced. Whether it’s the bowing of a single violin, the lonesome brass call of a trumpet, or the thunder of drums, every instrument lends itself to the greater harmony of the whole.
Sound isn’t the only thing that Rose is sensitive to. The artist is adamant about maintaining the presence of a universal interconnectedness between all manners of life on the planet. It’s a bit of a mystery to pinpoint when the realization first dawned on her, but from an early age it became clear that she was quite different from the other little girls and boys her age.
“I became a vegetarian when I was only six years old,” Rose remembers, “all of my own accord. It doesn’t necessarily imply interconnectedness, but I think it shows that even then I had a deep–maybe even innate–sense of empathy for both the human race and for those outside it.”
Her state of universal awareness would only continue to intensify as she matured. Aside from influencing lifestyle decisions, it’s ignited her drive and mission as an artist. In a sense, it’s one of the fundamental roots underlying the songwriter’s latest release, We.Animals.
It’s a concept album where the marriage between overarching sentiment, instrumentation, and delivery creates a boundary-less union. Whereas on her debut album, Heart Machine, Rose employed primarily electronic soundscapes, this time around the performances are all organic. Strings glissando and lilt (courtesy of the majestic Squid Inc quartet), electric guitar howls and horns build the compositions to triumphant peaks of beauty and darkness.
Even her vocals take on a noticeably rawer and more stripped-down character. Capable of a lullaby’s croon, lamenting cries, and powerful defiance (sometimes all in the same song), Rose has a voice with range and conviction so far-reaching that it only makes sense it should be left undiluted–potent and free as the sounds from which it takes flight.
Perhaps it wasn’t a conscious decision, but the choice to pursue organic instrumentation directly reflects the conscientiousness towards nature that is perpetually woven throughout the album. Much like the title suggests, We.Animals. is a universal cry to cast aside our differences. Animal, human, plant, or star–we all rise from the same mystic rumblings and love in the universe.
“As artists, once we have this realization there is no turning back,” says Rose.
“We can try and numb it out or not pay attention to it, because it can be very painful to know about some of the things that are happening in the world. But as an artist if you have the revelation then it’s your role to create from that place. Whether it comes directly, or even subliminally.”
As she assures, the album is undeniably subtle. Without knowing anything about the songwriter’s roots in life-affirming activism, the music itself simply stands alone. Perhaps more fascinating is how such brooding, dark, and often portent shades can give way to eerie incandescence that, while often emotionally tumultuous, can usher an affirming lightness of being for the listener.
Some aspects of We.Animals. are far more overt. Take the album cover, for instance–an alluring black-and-white photograph of Rose naked with a gun to her head, with a ghastly echo of a lion lingering in the backdrop. The image suggests the link between species, our destructive role in others’ existences, and even the singer’s own love for felines, but there’s even more evocative backstory at work.
The original cover was almost the same, save the fact that it extended to include Rose’s bare breasts. While powerful and beautiful in its own right, she chose to crop the image after realizing most distributors would balk at the prospect of taking on such “controversial” material.
Which is ridiculous–especially when you consider it’s an artist expressing herself with her own body, and that the very essence of using art to tether connections to nature implies taking pride in the beauty of being human. For those that are curious, the original cover can be found in a blog post she made recently regarding nudity.
Don’t worry–while she may have decided to compromise this time for the sake of getting her music out into the world, Rose doesn’t plan on letting censorship deter her going forward.
“If the opportunity presents itself to take a chance like this going forward, then hell yeah!” she exclaims with a laugh. “If there’s a project down the line where I need to show my nipples, then I’ll say ‘great, let’s do it!’”