If you feel like you are floating around in a dark, dream-like state, check your headphones; you’re probably listening to Lilly Wolf.
This Brooklyn-based duo has a sound that can be related to the likes of Grimes, Chvrches, and Lorde, but they do not hesitate to embrace their underground NYC music side.
Originally formed in San Francisco, Lilly Wolfson (vocals) and Alex Neuhausen (bass and music mixing) met while studying at Stanford University. Wolfson was a senior undergrad music major, and Neuhausen was just beginning his PhD in Electrical Engineering.
“I was just trying to find somebody to jam with,” Wolfson tells BTR, “he played guitar, I played piano, so we formed a band.”
The next few years they performed as the band Hey Young Believer until they left San Francisco for the city that never sleeps, New York. “We routinely play these crazy loft parties in Bushwick, or just a lot next to an impound yard out in Brooklyn,” Neuhausen tells BTR about his first band in NYC. “In San Fran… it’s just sort of a settled city, and gentrified I guess would be the word. So you can’t get away with doing nearly as much like the crazy shows and parties that we get to play now.”
She personally finds the city “friendlier” to pop music and hip-hop music. Writing songs that are often dubbed pop-electro means sharing a bill with two or three rappers on a given night—something Wolfson finds exciting. The shift in sound challenged the band to explore new sonic avenues that could complement the other touring acts sharing the same stage.
The duo constantly plays all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, hitting up venues like Pianos and The Cake Shop in Manhattan or Trans-Peco and the Basement Bar in Brooklyn. Just last year they played over 40 venues across New York and they plan to keep playing into the New Year.
“We’ll probably do two shows a month in a mix of lower east side places and Brooklyn,” Neuhausen tells BTR.
The duo says Basement Bar is their favorite official venue to play at. They both agree that the sound there is “phenomenal.”
However, when asked where Lilly Wolf’s venue of choice is, both Wolfson and Neuhausen laughed. “That’s a funny question, because I run a venue sort of,” Neuhasen says about his DIY venue, Secret Loft. “We’ll throw shows like once a month, and I do a comedy show once a month, so that’s probably our favorite venue… Lilly works as a bartender a lot of the time. It’s great.”
There are many areas in New York, and Brooklyn especially, where lofts, studio apartments, or even just large empty spaces are converted into venues. Bushwick has establishments like Shea Stadium, Bohemian Grove, and, of course, Neuhausen’s Secret Loft, which are all just spaces where the tenants decide to put on shows.
That’s the scene you where you’ll find Lilly Wolf.
“I feel more Brooklyn,” Wolfson tells BTR.
“Yeah, we both live in Bushwick and we record music in my apartment,” Neuhausen adds. “I built a vocal booth, and stuff like that–you couldn’t do that in a Manhattan apartment.”
Though it sounds like Lilly Wolf prefers the Big Apple to sunny San Francisco, they cite much of their music-making perfectionism to the education they received at Stanford University. Neuhausen notes that both songwriters self-admittedly share perfectionist tendencies and consider one another detail-oriented to the point of obsession. Which is a good thing, in a creative mindset.
Along with playing all around NYC, Lilly Wolf is releasing a new video for the song “Terrible Mistakes” in about a week. The director of the music video, Luke Choi, has also directed music videos for artists such as ASTR, Big K.R.I.T., and even 50 Cent. His style is eccentric, replete with flashing images, collages of scenes in different settings, and lots of playing around with color. The anticipation for this video intensified after Lilly Wolf posted a still from the video of Wolfson submerged in a bathtub.
Album cover for “Deleted Scenes.”
During her writing period for Deleted Scenes, Wolfson was crashing on a friend’s couch. “I didn’t have my own place, so it sort of fit the setting,” she tells BTR about the video, which was filmed primarily in those lofts. Wolfson also says that the video features scenes that take place at the beach and in the financial district.
The song the video is for, “Terrible Mistakes,” starts with melodic bells that transition into a gloomy dance mix, with lyrics about love and loneliness. When asked about the lyric writing process, Wolfson said she still does not quite know how it all happens.
“I sort of wish I did know so I could do it again,” she says. “I find that reading novels helps, but really I just take my computer, or maybe even a pen and paper, and I go to a café or I sit down at my desk and I’m like, just write stuff.”
Writing “Deleted Scenes” was a particularly strange process for Wolfson since she quit her day job to focus on the lyric writing. She’d never made a leap like that before; she spent most of her life occupied with straightforward schooling and regular day jobs. Then suddenly her only job was to write poems, which she found compelling but also difficult to transition. The new creative lifestyle relied upon discipline, waking up and directing herself to create something each day.
Wolfson says she spent most of her time writing in cafés or during walks around Brooklyn. Her and Neuhausen were constantly emailing each other back and forth, exchanging lyrics and music, until eventually they would agree on a sound.
“After maybe six months of writing I felt like a different person,” says Wolfson.
The duo’s precise and tailored sound shows off just how serious they are about their music making. No matter what Lilly Wolf releases next, expect the same penchant for detail and subtlety of craft that have defined a band which only continues to evolve.
To hear the rest of our interview with Lilly Wolf, tune into this week’s episode of the Discovery Corner.
Or check out the tunes yourself by clicking here.