Unfortunately, great music tends to come from a place of pain rather than joy. For jazz singer Lili K, that darkness manifested in the gun violence found in her home city of Chicago, as well as the abuse she felt in a romantic relationship.
However, there’s a way to combat that pain: turn it into healing.
“As artists, it’s kind of our duty to use our art to serve as a positive expression of those things, and take something that’s so painful and turn it into something that can release as something more healing,” she explained.
This is a strategy she uses to great effect on her debut studio album Ruby, in which she soulfully sings about the various relationships in her life and how those struggles have affected her.
“Ruby is definitely a collection of songs based on relationships. Not all are romantic relationships, but family, friendships, and people interacting with one another,” she said. “I think that the core of human interaction gives me the most inspiration when I write because it’s what effects me the most. So if it’s a friendship that’s gone astray, or having issues with my boyfriend, or with my mom, those are the things that effect me the most and give me the hardest time emotionally.”
Lili K, whose full name is Lillianna Kryzanek, struggled for a long time in this abusive relationship, and said the best thing to do is confide in someone, admit there’s a problem, and work on self improvement.
“A lot of it is realizing that you have to focus on yourself and you have to be happy and be healthy, and if you’re not yourself and you’re not in a good place in that relationship, you shouldn’t be in that relationship,” she said. “No matter how much you try, you can’t change a person. Everyone deserves to be treated the best way possible.”
Hopefully, Ruby can serve as an album of healing, a tactic fans of the flourishing Chicago music scene might recognize from the likes of hip-hop artists Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa, who have featured Lili K on their highly acclaimed, uplifting albums.
You can catch her on several fantastic tracks from these cutting-edge artists, including songs such as “Good Ass Intro” and “Pusha Man” off Chance’s career-launching mixtape, Acid Rap, as well as “Hollywood LA” off of Mensa’s 2013 mixtape INNANETAPE.
Where those ventures had Lili K singing gorgeous backup vocals underneath the two rappers’ masterful flows, Ruby brings those soul and jazz talents to the forefront.
While her voice is incredible, she’s modest about her abilities, claiming she never had the huge, booming voice of singers like Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, so she turned to the more subtly talented world of jazz. It was her middle school teacher who actually first turned her on to the genre.
“It definitely changed my life, because I heard a voice being used in such a different way and it wasn’t the huge, powerful, belting voice that I just didn’t really have,” she said. “It definitely taught me different ways to use my voice and introduced me to the whole world of jazz, and that was the tipping point for me.”
She said she has an awesome band that helps her put instrumentation to the words and melody in her head, which come to her at random times, whether in the shower or on the subway.
“I used to sit down and try and write, and it was never really my best work,” she said. “The musicians in my band are so much better than me at their respective instruments and ability to approach the kind of taste for what I have and the direction I want to go in, so we’ll work together to build a song structure around [the lyrics].”
That formula is working for her on Ruby, which landed her and the band a featured spot on Tidal’s emerging artists page, where she said the music streaming service’s community of music lovers were overwhelmingly positive.
Ruby is available for streaming everywhere, and you can visit lilikmusic.com for a full list of tour dates.
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Lili K Interview: Photographed by J. Frank