Interview: Oakland’s Lila Rose on darkness, collaboration and waking up


Alternately invoking “Goth-R&B,” electronic singer-songwriter types like Bjork, and an edgy dark rock, the music Lila Rose makes on her most recent album WE.ANIMALS. will stop you in your tracks.

Rose relocated to Oakland from Toronto only a few years ago and has found lots of success here in the Bay Area, being named the 2014 East Bay Express Artist of the Year after the release of her album Heart Machines. She’s got a new album now and released a video for her song “This Could Be Ha” last week. It it is dark, intense and wrought with the kind of struggle humans must face both individually and collectively. We caught up with her about the video, the process of making WE.ANIMALS, the importance of empathy, and connecting music to universal imperatives.

“This Could Be Ha” – Lila Rose

SFCRITIC: Seems like coming to California (from Toronto) was a big move for you. What inspired the move, and did you come first to the Bay Area or have you moved around in-state?

LILA ROSE: You know in retrospect, it was a big huge move! I had been on a tiny little tour in California (which was laughable now looking back). But on the last day, I ended up at a party, and met a whole load of amazing people. Then it all started making sense: it was the new home I was looking for! I had known for a while that I wanted to leave Toronto, but just didn’t know where to. California suddenly revealed itself to be my list: warm weather (yes please), ocean, nature, incredible conscious communities, creatively bountiful, supportive in regards to cutting edge arts, environmentally aware, and “alternative” all around. Oh yeah, and I always wanted to live somewhere with palm trees. Check. Check. Check. I moved to Oakland, and have been between Oakland and Berkeley ever since!

SFC: Your most recent album WE.ANIMALS. brings out what you call a “dark, organic, weird sound like Nine Inch Nails, Tool and Radiohead.” How was that darkness culled, and what impact did the live instrumentation have that electronic instrumentation wouldn’t have been able to provide?

LR: First and foremost the darkness was culled from a deep, emotionally empathetic place in my soul. All my music tends to be on the “darker” side of things. I see it though, like I’m taking the darkness, in order to release it. To see something for what it is in order to transform it, and give it a new light. The world/reality has some intense, dark and difficult expressions within it, and I see myself as a vehicle for transforming that essence musically. Secondly, on this particular album, I worked with producer, Daniel Garcia. Speaking of dark, he took us even deeper! Between the two of us, and our musical influences, we really “went there”. We both have somewhat of a fearless sense about our musical approaches. The live instrumentation gave it more of the organic essence- which ties into the concept behind the record: raw, natural, tangible.

SFC: (Regarding the video & song title) what does “Ha” mean? Is it short for Harder? I just need to know.

LR: Haha. Well in the song I repeat the words “this could be HA” until finally the release “this could be harrrrderrr.” Ha is like “HA!” like “TAKE THAT!” Like “WAKE THE F UP DUDE!” Like shaking you out of your sleep. Like reminding you that things could be harrrderrrrrr. Make sense?

SFC: Yes totally. The video is intense! You definitely captured the heat of the desert, the palpable vitality of a seemingly barren landscape. Right down to the scratched and dirty bare feet, the whole thing really drives home a message that humans are making things harder for ourselves. Can you tell me more about the concept?

LR: Mmmm yes. Thanks for seeing that (it was pretty painful to shoot in alot of ways- heat, sharp rocks on feet, carrying heavy bones, etc). For me, the meaning of the song itself is that it’s important to remember the basics for which we have been given in life- food, water, shelter, safety… no matter how deeply we might experience difficulties in our every day lives, things can always be harder, when we remember the bigger picture. Lest we forget the struggles happening all over the world- the immense suffering, which puts into perspective all the blessings we have been given. We get to choose our approach to life every single day (specifically in the Western world). That ties into the overall concept of the album.

However, this video was conceived of by my collaborator, Daniel Garcia, who dreamt up the entire story line. He also directed, shot, and edited it! He says: “We have the power to decide the way we journey through life. The video is a metaphor for life. The journey is long, heavy and challenging, but we decide how we walk through it, what to carry, what burdens we take on. At the end of the road there is us, our own spirit, in acceptance, in liberation… in order to get there first we need to die, our ego needs to die, the burden of our illusion needs to die; to find ourselves again. The vision came to me while meditating on the song and playing the song in my head over and over again. ‘You make things harder, harder on yourself, so go easy, easy on yourself’. These words inspired the vision of Lila walking through an intense journey, looking for answers, looking for life, searching for a way to release, to feel at peace. And the Only way to find this is through the mystic death, the death of the ego.”

I wrote more about the meaning of the video, and the making of it here:

SFC: How is the instrumentation broken up on this album? It seems like you and Daniel play many of them … Did you have to learn any new ones for this album or did you perform differently on this one as opposed to Heart Machines?
LR: Actually almost all of the instrumentation on this album was played by Daniel Garcia. I may have written original parts by fiddling around on the keyboard, guitar or kalimba but Daniel ended up playing most of them in the end. We didn’t necessarily learn new instruments, but there certainly were new sounds introduced. For instance the drum on Confessions was a West African drum which i don’t think either of us had played before but we figured it out easily. Heart Machine was very different in that any of the live instrumentation was me playing them. I sculpted out most of the songs on my own and then brought them to David Earl to produce them together. On WE.ANIMALS. it was really a joint effort with Daniel Garcia on creating those soundscapes together.
SFC: This one’s not really a question, more of an observation: When I listened back to your first album Heart Machine, after hearing your descriptions of the differences, I was surprised to hear just as much of that dark underbelly musically. I often say that we don’t really change much through our lives, we just get better at expressing who we are. This seems really true between these two albums. HM is great – the critics agree – and it also is apparent that WE.ANIMALS. is a more mature sound. You are expressing this fundamental musical self with more nuance and craft, as well as a new alignment with your cause: opening our eyes to the brutality we perpetuate with our indifference (specifically regarding animals). There’s a power in that complete expression that blasts out of W.A. in a way that HM only hinted. Great work.
LR: Mmmm thankyou soooo much for those observations. Yes I think you’re very right. I was in a very different place emotionally when I wrote Heart Machine… it was alot more personal where as WE.ANIMALS. is alot more outwards- about the world “out there”… and you’re right also- I have matured and grown alot between the two albums! Thank goodness for evolution 🙂 I’m so curious to see where I go next!
Lila plays a short set at The Chapel next Friday, and returns from tour November 21st to let loose at The Starline in Oakland.