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Alex Lilly Gives Her “Best”

Stephanie DePrez | Thursday, January 22, 2009

This week Scene got a chance to sit down with Alex Lilly, the main brain behind Obi Best. Between bad cell connections and last minute answer changes (what music would you want on a deserted island?) Lilly revealed her complete down-to-earth interest in sound effects, quirky lyrics, and the joys of being just plain silly.

What was it like working with The Bird and the Bee?

I had been working on my thing before I came to LA, and the backing vocals kind of came out of the blue. I’d never done backing vocals before for a band so I was pretty excited when it happened. Sort of a lucky accident.

I think that they did influence me a little bit. I was inspired by performing with both Inara and Greg. I actually wrote the song “It’s Because of People Like You” right after playing with them, so I’m sure some of Greg’s awesome contrapuntal madness got into my writing a little bit. I was already writing stuff that felt sympathetic to stuff they were doing. That was part of the reason I was so excited to play with them.

Your music is very spacy and outside of the box. How do you create a song? What do you write first, music or lyrics? How do you decide where to layer voice and intruments?

The music comes first. Usually what will happen is that I start writing a piece of music and then it reminds me of something that happened in my life or remind me of a concept, maybe something that I’ve seen. The music does come first.

Sometimes the melody line that I have in mind directs me to a new key or to find another chord, but usually I tinker with something a lot until I find something that feels right, that is exciting to me. Sometimes if I’ve been in the same key for a while and I want to write a bridge I’ll think oh, it would be cool to go to the parallel minor, so little music theory stuff will pop up just to kind of shake me up. Usually I just do it with my ear and it will send me into other keys and other territories. I experiment with different sounds until I have an idea of a mood that I want. I’ll record a bunch of stuff and it becomes a process of elimination.

What’s it like to have that kind of control over your music?

I’ve never had it any other way. I’ve always had to take control. Music has always been my idea. My grandma plays piano but I had to ask for piano lessons. I asked for a guitar. I asked for Pro Tools. I felt like I always asked for what I wanted or saved up money to buy mic’s.

“It’s Because of People Like You” is about an angry note someone left on your car. Did someone really do that?

They did indeed. It didn’t say “It’s because of people like you” but it had the sentiment, “Learn to park and lock your car.” I had sort of a junky car, and it was not parked improperly, as I mention in the song, but he left a really belligerent, pissed-off note with underlines and capital letters, an incoherent mean note, and that inspired the song.

Well, they picked the wrong car. They have become forever immortalized because of it.

Yeah, I know. He’s my muse. That crazy old man, he’ll never know.

The first thing I thought when I picked up your album was, why is she hugging three people wrapped in sheets?

I can explain that! When I finished the record I decided to do a photo session where I dressed up as all my songs, so one session I’m dressed up for “Origami” and I’m in a kimono, and in another one I’m a “Swedish Boy.” The cover represents the song “Who Loves You Now” and it’s hugging all the boyfriend ghosts, all the boys you’ve been with and all the relationships you’ve had. They’re still kind of shaping you, and in your life, and you embrace them anyway. I dressed up people who were playing with me at the time.

I hear you are holding a video contest for the song “Swedish Boy.” Tell me about that.

We thought it would be fun to throw a contest for Swedish Boy. I think it will be cool if people want to submit a crazy video of vegetables dressed up as Swedish people. It’s supposed to be pretty low budget. A few people have entered. If there’s any film students that want to do anything, they can come up with something pretty silly and have a good chance of winning. Let them know!

What do you think is the most unexpected thing people will find when listening to “Capades?”

Hopefully they’ll be surprised with each song. Each song is different. Sound effects. Cooking glasses during “Days of Decadence.”

Why the name Obi Best?

I wanted something that had ridiculous positive childlike sentiment. I thought it would be funny to take the word Obi, which is a sash that goes on a kimono, and just put it before the word best, so its, “Oh be your best!” It’s ani-punk, so instead of anti-establishment it’s absolutely positive and kind of stupid. What would you say are your major musical influences?

I remember taking dance classes in fifth grade and this really cool modern dance instructor played Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” I was obsessed with it. At the same time my mom had put The Doors in my Christmas socking, so I was pretty in to that. Grace Jones I love. Of course all the classics like Queen, Led Zeppelin, the Talking Heads, Hpc, but not the drug! When I went to college I went through the classical phase and I would listen to Messiaen, Prokofiev, and Ravel.

It’s very intelligent music to listen to.

You know those Baby Genius CD’s? It’s like that for a college kid. You get smarter when you listen to it.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring the complete works of one artist, who’s would you bring?

I’d probably have to bring someone eclectic so I don’t go crazy. The Beatles? No. Miles Davis? I have to go with Pink Floyd. Yes. Pink floyd. They do a lot of different stuff.

(Five minutes later, the phone rings again.) Hello?

I have my answer! David Bowie.