The Winehouse Mag

January 27th, 2015
A Winehouse Chat with Lili K


"The moment I start to compete with another artist is the moment that I’m no longer doing this for the love of music, and I don't want that moment to come. The more good music, the better."  

This spring Milwaukee-raised, Chicago-based Lili K will release her debut album, Ruby.

Already a budding name in the jazz soul scene, Lili K has shared the stage with the likes of Musiq Soulchild and Dwele. And her collaborations with Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, The O’Mys, Lorine Chia, BJ the Chicago Kid, MC Tree, and Thelonious Martin, have earned raves from Rolling Stone magazine, NPR, and the Chicago Sun Times, among others. Now she is parting the curtains and taking center stage. Ruby is indeed a gem ─ pun intended ─ relaxed, cool and jazzy, with just the right touch of throwback soul for one to chill and love to.

Yesterday she debuted the video for lead track, “Tommy,” on Saint Heron, the lifestyle blog created by music and style maven, Solange Knowles. And today, in the first Winehouse chat of 2015, the self-titled “Jazz Aristocrat. Songstress of Soultrap” and I talk about the glorious Ella Fitzgerald (a personal vocal icon for us both), taking the competition out of music and her fantasy music festival. Chaka V.


 Hearing jazz was like discovering myself for the first time.

TWM: When did the music bug bite you for the first time? Do you have an early memory of knowing that music was the career for you?

LK: Music has been fun for me since I was little. But it was my grade school music teacher, Mr. Ken Anderson, who really pulled out that passion within me. The most vivid memory I have of realizing music was something I had to do was in 5th grade at my school’s Christmas concert. I sang The Christmas Song solo, and I made my teachers cry. I thought I had done something wrong, and Mr. Anderson had to explain to me that I’d done something right, haha. Looking back, I’m sure it was just some sappy moment the teachers were having, but it made an impact on me, nonetheless.

TWM: With all the musical genres out there for artists to develop their voices in, why jazz and Neo Soul? What about those sounds resonated with you?

LK: Jazz and soul have always felt the best to me. (The neo-soul movement as well). I came up on Motown at home, spirituals at school, and gospel in church – so all of those were instilled in me at an early age. Soul is kind of my home base as far as music goes. When I was about 12, I heard Ella Fitzgerald for the first time ─ suddenly my life made sense. Although I was raised on soul and gospel, I never had THAT voice. And hearing jazz was like discovering myself for the first time.


I heard Ella Fitzgerald for the first time ─ suddenly my life made sense.

TWM: As a big jazz lover myself, can you share with me some of your biggest influences? And which contemporary artists you would love to collaborate with in the future?

LK: Ella Fitzgerald and Rachelle Ferrell are my two favorite vocalists of all time. They just ooze musicianship and a true understanding of their voices. They both inspire me to continue to learn about my own voice, every day. Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle. I could go on and on. Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, Gregory Porter, D’Angelo and Anthony Hamilton are all huge inspirations who I’d love to work with.

TWM: By day you’re a music educator, and by night you’re a performer/recording artist? Does teaching help spur your creativity or hinder it? How do you balance those two different musical roles in your life?

LK: Music education is so important to me. I’m a product of an arts education, and I’ve seen it change lives. I plan on being a music educator for the rest of my life. The days that I teach voice lessons, I feel great. I’ve been so busy lately, and I haven’t been able to teach as much as I’d like to, but it is something that I gain so much hope and love from. I feel like I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.

TWM: You are very involved and supportive in art and music, not only yours but others as well – I can see that just looking at what you tweet about. How important and influential has being part of artist communities, collectives and families like Soul Trap been for you as a musician?

LK: Artists supporting artists is such a beautiful thing. Since I was young, I’ve never viewed music as a competitive thing. It’s always been about love. I went to an arts high school (Milwaukee High School of the Arts), and being surrounded by so much talent, and working with peers who inspire you to be better, instilled a huge sense of community in me. Everyone in Soul Trap supports one another, there’s a small soul scene in Chicago that supports one another, and that’s amazing. The moment I start to compete with another artist is the moment that I’m no longer doing this for the love of music – and I don’t want that moment to come. The more good music, the better.

TWM: Are you the sole songwriter for your music? Do you co-write?

LK: I typically write the melody and lyrics of a song, sometimes some really simple chords on piano, and then I bring it to a member of my band and we create something out of it. I’m an extremely average piano player, so I need help with writing the music for my melodies.

TWM: How long was this album in the making? And how was the process working on it?

LK: Well, this one has a few different elements to it. Some of the songs I’ve had written for years, and just never recorded them. Others I wrote specifically for the album. My band and I recorded for about 2 weeks total, but it’s hard to put a timeframe on how long it took to complete. We didn’t rush at all, we sat on things, went back and added stuff. It was a really fun experience, and I learned so much, as it was my first time producing myself.

TWM: For many artists the first album is often the truest reflection of their musical vision, and it really starts setting the precedent for their signature sound. How much will this album reflect your vision for yourself as an artist? Is it what you imagined yourself creating when you first started out?

LK: I feel like the first album for a lot of artists is just getting out the songs they’ve been sitting on, haha. It’s like an exciting relief because now you get to focus on new material. This album is heavily rooted in my older soul influences, and I expect future projects to be rooted in my other influences. Genres tend to pigeonhole artists, and I don’t want to be confined to a genre, especially because so many are a part of me. I didn’t really have a vision in mind with this album besides which songs would be on it, and it being all live instrumentation. So it was a creative process throughout, and it came out the way it was supposed to.

TWM: Why did you name the album Ruby?

LK: Well, my birthstone is a ruby, and I decided to title the album that based on a tradition that I have with my mama. For milestones in my life, like my high school graduation, college graduation, etc., she has given me a vintage ruby ring (she’s a vintage clothing and jewelry dealer, so she comes across awesome stuff all the time). So for me, ruby rings have always represented a big accomplishment, and something to be proud of. Since this is my first official album, and the first one I’ve produced, I thought calling it Ruby would be fitting.

TWM: Now for some Winehouse quickies: You’ve performed at many great festivals. If you could put together your own event, which 7 artists would perform in your dream line-up?

LK: Oh wow! Hmmm… The Roots, Steely Dan, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, D’Angelo, Dee Dee Bridgewater, No Doubt (playing the Tragic Kingdom album all the way through), Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz and Lincoln Center Orchestra. That would be a strange and amazing lineup, haha.

TWM: Name three albums you couldn’t live without? 

LK: Pure Ella by Ella Fitzgerald (a collection of many of my favorites), Voodoo by D’Angelo, and Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder.

Click on Album Covers to Listen


Songs In the Key of Life


TWM: What can we expect from your debut?

LK: Hopefully music that makes you feel good. I love creating music, and I hope I’m able to share that love with as many people as possible.

For tickets to Lili K’s February Chicago concert, check website for details. Ruby debuts this April via Freshly Bkd Records.

Image by Dakota Blue Harper

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the founder of The Winehouse Mag.


copyrightsign© Journalist/Author Chaka V. and the Winehouse Mag, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material on this blog/website, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner, is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chaka V. and the Winehouse Mag with appropriate, visible, and specific direction to the original content and site.

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