Lillie Syracuse moved to Nashville at the age of 19 and started exploring her artistic boundaries. Originally, she was performing country music but that just didn’t fulfill her so she took time off to explore creating in her 70s soft rock, pop and retro roots. That’s where she found her sound.
Two years ago, Syracuse connected with Grammy-nominated producer and drummer, Mike Marsh. Together, they started to create her first full-length album, Coming Up Diamonds, which is out now. We chatted with the incredibly talented artist about the new record that’s full of glittery pop, rock and even soul in this brand new interview.
Nashville Noise: So nice to be talking to you! I want to hear about your backstory. What’s your earliest memory of music?
Lille Syracuse: My earliest memory of music is wiggling my 4-year-old self to Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” with the radio. I remember looking up and seeing the canopy of trees swaying to the pull of the air as we drove under them. I was sure the trees were dancing to the music while I bounced my feet (dawned in glitter jelly sandals) to the swell of what I now know to be one of the finest choruses of all time. That moment marked my first awareness that music could move things, that music was a thing, and that music was part of all things. I asked my mom who that was and remember feeling the singer’s name for the first time almost as sweetly as the music itself. I think the whole experience allowed me to start exploring the relationship between music and its conduits. Those three minutes were my first conscious awareness of music and that people could make it. Do glitter jellies and Dobie Gray count as a back story?
NN: I actually think that sums it up perfectly! So tell me about your move to Nashville from Pumpkintown, South Carolina.
LS: That is a many-layered story, for sure! The bird’s eye is that I came here for a fresh start when my mom had the opportunity to relocate her job to Nashville. I knew Nashville was a growing city and that I was bound to find some fulfilling way to contribute to the world. So, I took a blind leap without any goals or plans. I had no idea that music would find me in the way that she did and I’m glad she tracked me down.
NN: And when you did find her, what was that decision to pursue her seriously like for you?
LS: Digging deep! Liberating, transformative and reconciling. I spent the first few years of my career pursuing someone else’s music dreams. When I made the decision to make some vital changes and follow my own dreams (whether they be of music or any other gifts to share), I also chose the risk of possibly learning that music was not truly my dream. Or that I would find my self dreamlessly spinning around Nashville for years trying to locate me. I guess I never made the decision to pursue my music dreams specifically, I simply said, “anything still standing when this fire has settled better get ready to dance.” Music was one of the many that I found ready to dance with me into my new life.
NN: Wow. What a great story. I how you describe your story. Which brings me to my next question. I absolutely love your sound. How would you describe that — using only adjectives?
LS: Thank you much! Sparkly, experimental, technicolored, textured and bell-bottomed.
NN: And who doesn’t love a good pair of bell bottoms?! So your new records is out TODAY! Congratulations! How did this record come about and what was your inspiration for its soulful retro pop vibe?
LS: I wrote this record over the course of two years with simple intentions to explore the music as it came out. As the writing continued, my cowrites, musical collaborators, and I started to realize that a body of work may be forming. We brought the possible project to Mike Marsh and the creation expanded from there. We all are deeply influenced by the soul and pop music of the 50s-70s and are also fascinated with the incredible sounds that have landed here in the past few years. The organic, simple music-loving nature of this record and how it came about is honestly my favorite part of this whole story!
NN: Aside from how much I love the music, which I want to get to, I want to mention how much I love the album cover. Is there a story behind the artwork?
LS: Thank you so much! Making the album cover art was an amazing collaboration between myself and two other visual artists. The image was taken by my friend and one of Nashville’s finest photographers, Caroline Voisine. I then took the image to Bridgette Aikens who is also one of Nashville’s finest photographers who creates breathtaking cyanotypes as part of her photography practice. She coaxed Caroline’s photo of me into sweet blueness and I wrapped up the final art with some of my personal paintings and multimedia art. I really cherish intentional collaboration with other creatives while expressing art into the world. The more, the merrier for me!
NN: Wow. Goes to show you what collaborative actions between fellow creatives can lead to! Now, back to the music, where did your lyrical inspiration come from?
LS: All the senses! Smell, taste, touch, sound and sight have always inspired and guided the lyrics for me. I also come from the south — the dialect there is simple, warm, delicious and wastes no resources. I have found that when I can’t find the words, I’m just in my head. I try to slip back into the way I might have heard it said growing up and can usually find a sweet way to interpret into lyrics for the song.
NN: For this record, do you have a favorite? What makes it your favorite?
LS: “Love’s The Only Thing” — This song is a hybrid of two of my original tunes that Mike and I crafted into one. They were both written at a transition point in my life when I was truly coming to accept the love, happiness, and peace that I had found myself surrounded by. The lyrics “love’s the only thing you can hold” became my mantra as I released my old stories for their transformation. It will always be dear to my heart. Also: sitars and harmonicas crooning about on one mystical sounding ballad is just plain fun for me!
NN: Now let’s get a little personal. You have a big anniversary coming up with your wife, Diane. Congratulations, by the way. I can imagine it’s been an interesting first year of marriage for you two! How have you been managing this whirlwind of a year together?
LS: Thank you! Thank you! She is a light in this world and so deeply loved by everyone who knows her. I am eternally grateful to share life stuff with her. This has indeed been a year for the books! We both have been learning that we truly do enjoy each other’s company and that service, laughter, cooking, doggo petting and allowing space for heartache and tears are the best medicine for us right now. We have also been dedicating ourselves to personal growth, learning how to better be of service, and listening to the needs of our community and brothers and sisters at large. This has been very centering and empowering in these rapidly changing and transformative times.
NN: Beautiful words. I know this album just came out but are you looking at the future? Have you been continuing to write?
LS: I have! I have been taking it real easy on my self creatively speaking. Letting myself just be and explore what it feels like to not be productive just for the sake of being productive. Writing a song is certainly still a place that I find myself, frequently, though I will say that it is different right now. I don’t have words for that feeling yet but I’m sure there is a sweet lesson there! I am truly excited to see what the next few months and year hold for myself and creatives as a whole. We have a magic that will forever be creating beauty and truth from everything that we experience. This time is no exception.
Syracuse has virtual shows in the works with her band. Stay tuned for details on that and follow her Facebook page for more.