17-year-old Chloe Lilac's new EP, Manic Pixie Dream, is a tribute to the mistakes and memories that defined the summers of her youth, and the wisdom and inspiration she took away from them.
She talked to Popdust about growing up in New York City, sneaking out at night to try and make it in the music industry, overcoming drug addiction, and using music to cut through the technologically-charged, Xanax-heady apathy that's defining her generation.
Image via Aupium.com
How did you get started writing music, and what made you want to pursue it?
I started when I was eight, and I was in these rock bands with my friends when we were super little. I wasn't really allowed to listen to pop music as a kid—my dad made me listen to only Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads and David Bowie—so when I heard my first pop song ever, I was like seven. It was Ain't No Other Man by Christina Aguilera, and I was like holy shit, I need to write a song like that.
New York seems to inspire a lot of your work. Do you have a favorite place or a favorite retreat in the city?
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and I still live there. There's a bridge near my house, like five blocks away, right near Green-Wood Cemetery; and in the summer I'll just sit there. I only bring my favorite people; it's a very secret, sacred spot. Also, I take everyone to the Prospect Park lake.
New York's my soulmate. I was born there, I'm gonna die there, and I hope I never have to leave. I love the atmosphere, especially in the summer, when the city comes alive. That's what the summer's about, being young and free in New York, and I really wanted to capture that feeling with my music. New York is the most beautiful ugly place.
Chloe Lilac - Jesus Couldn't Love Me (Audio) www.youtube.com
You've mentioned sneaking out and performing when you were younger. What was that like?
I spent a lot of time performing around the Union Square and SoHo areas the summer before my freshman year of high school, and when school started, I went to a few classes before I was like, this is the worst thing I've ever done, and I only want to do music. I had such an incredible summer street performing—there's this fire escape outside of my room, and so at night once my parents were starting to go to sleep, I would sneak out the window with my guitar and go to SoHo and Union Square. I'd street perform outside of SoHo House, desperately trying to get discovered by music industry people for a couple of hours before going home to sleep for like three hours. I had these headphones I bought with busking money, and I'd put them in and write songs in class. I did [this] for a long time until the school found out and basically said, "you have to stop this or stop going here." So I decided to stop going.
Chloe Lilac - Summer (Official Video) www.youtube.com
So you decided to leave school and fully commit to music?
Well, kind of. I had really bad anxiety because I was bullied really badly when I was younger, so a regular school wasn't really an option for me. And I just wanted to do music forever. I was cripplingly anxious for a long time, so leaving school was definitely half-anxiety, half-really wanting to do music. Music was my solace. It really helped me work through stuff.
Your music does feel kind of like an oasis; it's very escapist, but I feel like anxiety is a very pervasive Millennial/Gen Z thing. Do you feel connected to the modern Gen-Z technological era, or do you try to escape that through your music?
I think both. A feature of my generation is a lack of connection. I'm growing up in a time of Tinder and Instagram, and kids don't go outside and play anymore. It's strange to be a young woman and a teenager around this time. But I try to leave the technology in a section of my life, and I have another section for real life.
I am Gen Z, so technology is a huge part of who I am. I think everyone's really scared to connect in my generation, but that's all I want to do. That's why I want to make music. If I can help people feel something in this age of not wanting to feel anything, that's what matters to me.
Can you tell me about your upcoming EP?
It's coming out on March 8th, and it's really about being a young woman coming of age in New York City, and how hard and beautiful and insane it was. It's also about my struggle with drug addiction as a young kid. Falling into drug abuse and substance abuse in New York was really easy, like in any big city, but New York is so dense, and you get a lot of freedom here because of the trains. Kids grow up super fast where I live, and I was exposed to a lot early on.
The EP is also about coming into my own as a woman, and how painful it was for me to start to be objectified and oversexualized. If I can help any other young women out there work through their shit, and work through how hard and painful it is to just be human, that's all that matters.
Can you take me through your songwriting process? What inspires you to sit down and write?
I'm inspired by really intense emotions. When I'm going through stuff, I put it into my music. Listening to other people's music really helps me, too; some of my biggest influences writing-wise are Lana Del Rey, David Bowie, Mazzy Star, even Courtney Love. And Childish Gambino is a huge influence of mine, I fucking love him.
You started out by producing your own beats, but you ended up collaborating with other producers. How did you go from making solo music to where you are now?
When I was fourteen, I started uploading songs on SoundCloud, and I was fortunate enough to be discovered there by my current A&R. Before I got a record deal, he sat me down and told me he was only going to work with me if I sobered up—I had a pretty bad drug issue. So I got sober and worked in the studio with a lot of different people. I was so lucky to have that opportunity, especially so young, and so now one of my favorite things to do is help out younger artists and my fellow female artists specifically—anyone who needs tips and advice about things I didn't know existed that can get people's attention.
Any secrets you can share?
Just hashtags—hashtags on SoundCloud, posting at certain times during the day, collaborating and reaching out to people without being an asshole. There's nothing wrong with asking for help.
Chloe Lilac - Manic Pixie Dream [4K] (live @ Baby's All Right 1/29/19) www.youtube.com
If you're comfortable talking more about your experience getting sober, what was that like?
I realized I was deeply unhappy with myself, and I was doing drugs to escape. My family was worried about me, and I was losing a lot of friends. I had this opportunity, and I didn't want to fuck it up, so I had to take a hard look at myself.
It took a lot of signs from the universe. I got arrested when I was sixteen. I had a bunch of mental breakdowns—it was really bad—but I'm confident that I'm in a really amazing place in my life right now. My recovery has been such an incredible journey and I have so many supportive people around me.
I had to take a hard look at myself and really sit down and say what's going on with me, how do I love more, how do I just feel more. I was so numb, that's why I was doing drugs in the first place. I think my generation is so scared to feel, and I was so accustomed to that. The people I was around were doing Xans all the time, all that bad shit. Twelve Step really helped me, too.
That's a powerful message—that recovery is really possible.
Drug addiction in my generation is so normalized, with the Juul and stuff—I know I fell into that trap—and the romanticization of addiction and drugs is so predominant in pop culture. So with my music, I wanted to show both sides of the story. There are great sides to doing drugs and getting fucked up and being young and stupid, but there are also really dangerous sides. It's like a toxic relationship; you can lose yourself, and you lose a lot of your identity in it. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. That's how I view it.
Manic Pixie Dream is out March 8.
Image via cravethesound.com
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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