The self-proclaimed soft-spoken songstress Lily Arminda is known for writing songs that immaculately weave poetry with intricate melodies that ecompass a myriad of emotions ranging from heartbreak to joy as she moves through different phases of her life. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Lily got her start opening for local bands and touring artists like Lucy Dacus and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. Her ability to imbue emotionally-crippling lyricism into subdued folk tunes like “Lullaby,” as well as write joyful, more upbeat dream-pop on songs like “Greatest Hit,” showcases her versatility. Her latest EP, Neighborhood, is an experimental collection of lo-fi songs that ruminate on her love life and navigating her early 20s in the Lower East Side of New York, where she now resides.
I spoke with Lily over email and we discussed a wide range of topics, including her songwriting process, working with Corey Kilgannon, and her biggest songwriting inspirations.
What was the scene like for you growing up in Ohio? Do you have any personal music heroes who were also brought up in your town?
Lily: I grew up opening for nationally touring artists in my hometown (Columbus, Ohio) at local venues like The Basement and Newport Music Hall. I was more involved with opening for artists foreign to the local scene than to local artists. I wish I would have been more involved with the local scene growing up but have found that sense of community in the NYC music scene. I am a huge fan of the Columbus based band Snarls though. They’re making the Columbus scene cooler.
How old were you when you first learned to play, and what gave you the drive to continue?
LA: I started playing guitar when I was 15. I took a few guitar lessons at first but ultimately taught myself. Soon after, I taught myself ukulele and enough piano to get by for producing. Guitar was a little difficult at first but I kept at it because I knew that it would help me make the music I wanted to make. I was determined to be more than just a singer and playing an instrument felt necessary to my songwriting.
When I first heard your songs, it felt like listening to a descendent of Joni Mitchell. Who are your biggest inspirations, musically and songwriting-wise?
LA: I’m really into artists who have strong lyricism. I can get pulled into a song sonically but lyrics that I resonate with are what tend to bring me back to a song. At the moment, I’m really into Matt Maltese, Caroline Polachek, and Samia. All of them have distinct songwriting styles that I admire as well as production that I am excited by. I’ve also been into Charlie Puth’s “Voicenotes” album recently. That album has shown me that mainstream pop music doesn’t have to lack integrity and the fact that he produces his songs at that level is really inspiring.
When did you first link up with Corey Kilgannon and when did it occur to you that the two of you had great chemistry as a creative team?
LA: I actually reached out to Corey when I was finishing up my senior year of high school because I was really invested in his music. He has a way of writing that feels very emotionally driven while self-aware which I strive to emulate in my own writing. I thought that we could make something cool together and that he would understand the sound I was going for. I stayed with him and his siblings in his brother’s house in Jacksonville Beach, Florida for a week or so during the summer before college and it was such a privilege to work with him and friend/engineer Jesse Montagna. They both listened to what I wanted which doesn’t always happen when working with producers (especially male producers) so it was so refreshing to be heard and understood by them while they helped me bring my project to life.
“Mismatched Poetry” seemed to have an acoustic folk sound, whereas “Neighborhood” felt more like indie bedroom pop. How do you feel your style and sound has evolved over the years and between projects?
LA: My sound changes from project to project but it always feels like a natural progression. It’s mainly related to whatever I’m into listening at the moment which changes a lot. For example, I rarely listen to indie folk anymore while that used to be almost what I listened to exclusively. These days, I’m more into dream pop, indie rock, and grunge which have all inspired my direction for my next EP.
When you are writing a song does it usually come from personal experience, and have you ever experimented with narrative storytelling from a fictional standpoint?
LA: I tend to write songs from personal experience but I also love to experiment with making things up. Whenever I write songs from a fictional standpoint though, a little bit of truth always seeps through. I feel like I can’t run away from the fact that I almost always write songs as a way of processing, whether it’s a conscious choice or not. This means I always learn something from writing even if I’m not originally setting out to write about my life.
Has moving to New York changed your creative output given the grave change in living circumstances, or do you feel it’s remained the same?
LA: New York City is the primary love interest in each song on my album “Neighborhood.” I feel a deep connection to living here as it’s the first place that’s truly felt like home to me. Living in New York has drastically changed who I am for the better and those changes have informed my songwriting process.
Your lyrical prose is a massive highlight for me, especially on songs like “The Ghost.”Walk me through your songwriting process; what does a typical day-in-the-life look like for you writing-wise?
LA: Thank you so much! I write every day. This is only possible when I let go of my expectation for each song to be “perfect” and shift my definition of a song being “complete.” I’ve only learned in the past year or so that a song can be complete if it’s not perfect. This alleviates a lot of pressure that I used to put on myself which gives much needed space for me to be creative. I write music and lyrics at the same time which is the best way for me to get the emotion across in a song. I love freestyling songs and recording them in my voice memos and then either keeping them as they are or revising later. Revision is super fun for me, it’s fun to experiment with rearranging things and finding the most effective way to express myself.
Do you feel being in lockdown has changed the creative process for you, or has it remained the same?
LA: I’m writing about things I haven’t written so much about before. I’ve also found myself being more secretive about my unreleased music. I have a desire to surprise everyone with the songs on my new EP when it comes out. I was supposed to start recording a new EP in March but that was deterred because of the pandemic. Now that my producers and I are back in NYC, we’re ready to start recording (safely) and I’m beyond excited to see my music progressing in this way.