Interview: Lily Unsub [PHDM Records]
Lily Luck aka Unsub has been producing music for the better part of a decade with a slew of releases across multiple labels, including a whopping 3 albums this year alone. UK-born and NZ-bred, now based in Auckland, Lily was kind enough to answer some questions about her multiple talents, and what it’s like to live as three artists within one body...
In addition to writing and performing a wide variety of music, you're also an accomplished illustrator and have worked in film and sound editing. When did you realise you were an artist, and when did you decide to pursue music as a career?
I've always needed music as a way to understand and communicate how I feel so it was kind of a natural draw to pursuing it as some kind of career when I was spending the majority of my time doing it anyway. I guess I only started seeing myself as an “artist” when I gained an understanding of it to mean someone who expresses themselves through creativity. Pursuing it as a career tends to bring in the elements of competition and comparison which is kind of the death of creativity for me, so starting the label and removing the idea that it’s a job has given me the freedom to be open and express ideas without expectations or limitations. The crux of it is that it’s something I do regardless of any kind of career that comes from it. It’s a form of self-care. Sharing it with others to connect is what turns it into something more though.
Who are your musical inspirations, both past and present? Any artists you think people should check out?
I'm a huge fan of Amon Tobin, Burial, Bonobo, Deftones, Spor and Tool. Seeing what Billain has been doing has been incredibly influential for me too. Combining the visual and sonic storytelling to a completely different level and seeing it done well is inspiring. Local artists people should check: Biobird, Habit, Paige Julia.
Any favourite musical events you've performed at, or attended? Any venues you particularly like?
My favourite festival was/is Deliverance in NNSW. Was my first international and introduction to Wytaliba. Was mind blowing and ended up living there for a while. Best gig ever was the RSL in Armidale, NSW the same year. It’s this small town in the middle of nowhere and it just went off. Was like a catalytic chamber of positivity that just kept building. Locally I'm a big fan of Pointers Bar in AKL, amazing sound system and friendly peeps. E4 Records (AKL) is a nifty intimate venue that is always a blast and Static in Hamilton is always a blast.
You're a prolific producer and have albums coming out on a regular basis. Any secrets to your work rate?
Live a life of high anxiety and intense emotions you need to escape from lol. But in all seriousness, writing is one of the few things that allow freedom from thought and that freedom brings with it a focus on the moment I'm in. It's both grounding and uplifting. It’s addictive. Choosing music, or any form of creativity, as your drug of choice is going to have that kind of effect on your work rate.
Any recent releases that you're particularly proud of, and why?
The first Pure Heart Dirty Mind (‘P.H.D.M.’ - Lily’s own imprint on parent label ‘NexGen Music’) release; The Misadventures of Pilbourne Delaney LP. It took the better part of a decade for it to come together and the story behind how the collaboration could actually take place and the communication barriers that had to be overcome for it happen means it will always hold a certain level of significance for me. It being the first release on the label and the amount of work to get things to that point also makes me feel kind of proud of it in a different way.
You've written short films and worked on both features and shorts. How did your involvement in film come about? Do you like the medium and are there any plans on doing music videos for your musical releases?
Always loved film, studied it at university and got involved with the film school in Wellington. Music is visual to me so film tends to be an extension of that. Definitely have plans for video in future. A lot of stories to tell that don't always translate the way I hope with music.
Your artwork is deeply erotic and features motifs of BDSM and mind control. What sort of a relationship do these visuals have with your music? You also have synaesthesia - how does that play into the visual/audio link?
The artwork is a different articulation of a lot of the stories within the music. People listen to a song and if they recognise the feeling it'll connect with a part of their story, a soundtrack to an emotion or memory, and art is kind of a way for me to put a bit more of my story out there in a slightly more nuanced way. People will still see things through their frame of reference and how they interpret something tends to say more about them than me but it gives me the chance to understand them a little more, connect and have a conversation that might otherwise have not taken place. There is a vulnerability to it that lets others be vulnerable in the same way. The synaesthesia is very deeply interwoven with how I create music because it’s often literally my memories and how my mind organises/retrieves them. Has its challenges with how it affects my sight but I didn't know it wasn't like how other people see the world until I went completely deaf for 6 months and was like "oh, well, this is different".
You have DiD (dissociative identity disorder) which means you are actually several performers, each with their own identities and styles. Care to give readers a wee primer on any challenges - or benefits - that brings?
It’s a clusterfuck of challenges and compromise more often than not. It’s like the body is a car; most of the time I'm driving with passengers in the seat next to me, sometimes they are driving, sometimes I'm in the backseat and occasionally I'm locked in the trunk. It took a long time to create communication between us and it can break down at the best of times when you've got different people trying to live their own life and make choices that affect each of us. Being able to collaborate, teach each other things and having different perspectives (even when they aren't wanted) can be both challenging and deeply rewarding.
There are 3 of us who make music and we all have different tastes and influences. Different things we are good at within it too. There is me, Lily (Unsub & n0isemakeR), Alice (Alexis K) and Ellie (n0isemakeR). There are also 2 younger ones who're under 10 which presents a whole different set of compromises. Can be in the middle of working on something or talking to someone and suddenly it’s a few hours later and I'm halfway through a Disney marathon surrounded by empty chocolate milk cartons. Despite the disagreements and sharing time with the others, I couldn't imagine things being different to how they are. We've saved and supported each other through the craziness of our life experiences and being able to see through someone else’s eyes has taught me a level of compassion and empathy that I might not have learned otherwise. P.H.D.M. represents a milestone for us all to have worked on something as a collective. Something we've done together.
What does the future have in store for you - are there any artistic endeavours you'd like to continue or dive more into?
A lot of touring, writing and drawing for the next year but moving into film/music videos is a large part of the focus for me. Ellie is a keen photographer and now has an EOS 400D so you'll probably see her doing a fair bit of that. Alice likes to write think piece type stuff so she'll likely do more of that. Beyond that, I just got a new pole installed in the studio to delve into more physical expressionism and creativity.