Lily Frost
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Lily Frost

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You’ve been hearing Lily Frost’s name for years.

The Vancouver-raised, Toronto-based musician has made eight albums and plays frequently around town, sometimes alongside husband José Contreras from By Divine Right. Or maybe you’ve heard the Being Erica theme song, Everything I Ever Wanted To Be, which she co-wrote.

But if you haven’t been paying close attention, now’s the time to start – the criminally underrated singer/songwriter is conveying some seriously positive vibes right now. Frost’s new album, Do What You Love (Aporia), is a high-spirited collection of smart indie pop featuring her clear and glorious voice, honest and direct lyrics, and spellbinding songwriting that often takes surprising twists. (She’s a master chorus-writer.) Written as a letter to her baby girl, it has a universal message: Do what you love.

But getting to that point hasn’t been easy. Along the way, there have been record deals and bands gone sour, body image issues, bad day jobs and unsavoury relationships. Ahead of her album release show Saturday (September 15) at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), the forthright Frost talked to NOW about all of it, no holds barred.

In an age of melancholy and earnest singer/songwriters, Do What You Love is refreshing. It’s confident and fun but not without passion and message. Were you aiming for upbeat pop or did it just come out that way?

Thanks! Yeah, I was focusing on creating an upbeat, positive album that will allow for a live show that brings smiles to people’s faces.

It’s quite a departure from the dark and eerie folk of 2009’s Viridian Torch, which I also loved. What happened in between those two records?

Well, I had a baby girl. Viridian Torch was a choice to go fully into my artistic muse. It was very niche and I think a lot of people misunderstood it. Those who got it loved it. But I want to get back to clear communication with my audience. I want to transmit joy and inspiration.

I read that you wrote the new one as a letter to the daughter you were about to have. Was there one key message you were hoping to get across?

Know yourself, follow your dreams and don’t lose time with negative people or taking the wrong path.

In the title track, you sing, “Do what you love and the money will follow. If you do what you hate to get the money to do what you love, you’ll find in the end that you don’t have any time, that you’re a shell, you have nothing to give and no reason to live.” What happened along to way to give you this perspective?

I’ve met a lot of depressed people who seem uninspired and robotic. They talk in words that are fed to them and they can’t see out of their box. Life should be more than that. I think that in order to succeed you need to realize your dreams and then commit to them. How can your true passion flourish if you’re spending all your time at a job you don’t like? Your dreams need attention to grow. At first you have to sacrifice and invest in order to get rewards. The love you have for your passion will see you through the hard times.

What career advice had your own parents given you?

They were dream crushers. I had bad jobs since I was 14. My mom wanted me to work at a factory. I left home at 18. I learned my lessons through experience. I met amazing friends in Montreal while I was attending Concordia who encouraged me to keep writing, singing and performing. We were all artists. They were mostly French and we were all reading Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Rimbaud, playing in bands and living together. We were broke but we were free!

Was it difficult to get the balance right: finding a way to sing to your daughter but also to your fans, who are mostly – presumably – adults?

Not really. I was more singing to the girl I used to be. I write from my heart.

Tell me about the song Stand, which is one of the musically darker tracks on the album.

It’s about having a spine, standing up for yourself and not compromising. I wrote it 12 years ago, inspired by Robert Johnson’s idea of being at a crossroads and singing the blues, which was considered to be the devil’s music. I was also inspired by where I was at the time. I had shaved my head and was celibate. I was willing to do whatever it took to be a star. I signed to Nettwerk Records in Vancouver. We did a lot of big shows with Coldplay, the Dandy Warhols, until it all imploded because of alcohol and egos.

I value friends and family, balance and inner truth much more than I did back then. I am “not gonna sell my soul,” as the song states. I altered the lyrics and decided to re-release the song with this new sentiment.

You’ve said that the album is about “embracing femininity with strength, joy and creativity.” Can you explain what you mean? What does femininity mean to you?

Well, I used to be shy as a girl. I was encouraged to listen and sit pretty for the world. But I’ve learned where that leads. We have to speak up. Every relationship has two side - NOW Magazine


Discography

Do What You Love-2012
Viridian Torch-2009
Lily Swings-2007
Cine-Magique-2006
Situation-2004
Lunamarium-2001
Cosmicomic Country-1999

The Colorifics:
Living City-1997
Guilty Pleasures-1995
Girlie Door-1994

The Sheiks:
Recession Blues-1990

Photos

Bio

Lily Frost is a rare bird. As a singer songwriter Frost has always danced the line between indie and jazz, thus creating a niche of her own. Frost draws from her real life experiences in her lyrics and in performance there is an intimacy, a gentle passion that can take you somewhere else evoking a certain nostalgia – the rainy streets of Paris a winter picnic or perhaps a beat café in San Francisco… Her parents were hobby artists who loved music, taught disco dancing and played records after supper for Lily and her younger brother to dance to. Lily’s mom also encouraged her by sending her to the Royal Conservatory for dance and piano lessons all her childhood life. Lily remembers: "Mom taught us steps like the snoopy shuffle, the charleston and the twist while Dad was away working as a foreign trade commissioner in places like South Africa and Saudi Arabia." Summers were spent up north at the family cottage. At this sanctuary Lily and her cousins would run barefoot on the rocks, cooking, doing crafts, sports and music. It was during these summers that Lily bonded most with her Calgarian cousin Kinnie Starr; also a singer/songwriter. This relationship has always been inspiring, important and competitive. “Whether together or apart over the years we have always helped propel each other forward.” Frost fled the nest at age 18 to study jazz in Montreal. One serendipitous day, flipping through sheet music at Cheap Thrills record store John Davis of The Gruesomes underground infamy approached Lily asking if she would like to audition for his other band The Sheiks. Davis took a liking to Frost’s voice immediately and asked her to join them on stage the very next night! This was very exciting for Lily and she accepted with trepidation. The Sheiks covered songs from the 1920’s, doing Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway and Big Mama Thorton while also giving Frost a trial by fire education of the blues. The Sheiks were very stylish and brought audiences on a voyage into the past. From that first performance, Frost was allured by the stage and has never looked back. Meanwhile, at University, Frost found herself restless at talking about doing music. She was anxious to get out there like the bands she was meeting to make records and hit the road. She taught herself guitar and wrote songs while performing with The Sheiks on the weekends. Her friends were strongly encouraging her to throw herself into music fulltime. Consequently, during exam week, she found herself traveling in a rickety van to The New Orleans Jazz Fest with a bunch of French garage rockers and, instead of going back for her third year, she accepted an offer to sing in Cairo for six months. (which is a book in itself!) From Egypt, Frost took a bee- line to Vancouver to join Quebec band Les Minstrels (playing keyboards with them and dating the bassist) who had relocated to escape the -40 degree winters back home. She ended up staying for 10 years. All the while, Frost was learning life lessons the hard way by throwing herself whole-heartedly into relationships and experiences, all of which further fuelled her lust for life and ultimately, her songwriting. Her interest in writers like Rimbaud, Joseph Campbell and Simone De Beauvoir also inspired her and she quietly developed an abundance of original material. Once in Vancouver, Lily and her friends from Montreal would frequent a local institution called The Railway Club. The late Ray Condo, (adored by Montrealers) had initiated the pilgrimage west and was the star of the jams. His band backed everyone up and then Ray would close the show. Upon hearing Lily sing the Aretha Cover “Hold On” Ray asked her to be the featured vocalist in his group, The Swinging Dukes. "Ray soon became a mentor and dear friend to me up until he passed on in 2004,” remembers Frost. “He had house parties with open stage rockabilly jams, BBQ’s, tap dancers and lots of welcome and joy to go around." Frost sang with The Swinging Dukes for a few months until Ray said to her the words that were to change the course of her life: "You gotta get your own thing going, kid." Frost and a couple of her broke friends (Dave Lachance and Jorge Diaz) started busking to make some much needed change. They played upbeat swing and rockabilly which caught peoples attention. Starting on the street they quickly got invites to play at art galleries and private parties and eventually they were packing clubs and touring up and down the West Coast to L.A. and back. They recruited local guitarist Bernie Boulanger from the Rattled Roosters and called themselves The Colorifics. Soon they were known for spearheading the Vancouver “cocktail nation” alongside The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Combustible Edison and The Pink Martinis. Five years and three albums later, Frost quit The Colorifics due to conflicts within the band. Always having been an avid writer (“I had a lot I needed to let out”), Frost wanted to finally start performing her