Q: What has it been like finishing high school in the middle of a global pandemic? High school can be a turbulent and complicated time. How did the pandemic influence your experience?
Lila Ramsay: It was a sad end to my junior year and drastically changed my senior year. It took away a lot of what it means to finish high school; we lost so many symbolic and simple moments, and there are things that we will never get to experience, at this time, in this way. But I am also relieved and happy that things are getting better in these last few weeks of school (we just had an open mic together last night) and I am excited for what lies ahead!
Q: How did you first get into music? At what point did it turn into something you knew you wanted to pursue on a professional level? At 18, you already have an impressive resume: a new single, a YoungArts win for songwriting, and you’re featured on records of artists like Bon Iver as a member of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
Lila Ramsay: When I was 5, I started learning guitar through songwriting, and since then, I’ve wanted to keep doing it forever. As I’ve gotten older, it’s just become more serious, more real. Throughout high school, I have been doing songwriting workshops and learning to produce. I started performing my songs publicly, at school and in venues around New York City. Brooklyn Youth Chorus has been a huge part of this for me, too. I started there when I was 10. It has been an unbelievable experience, and has really helped me develop as a singer and exposed me to so many brilliant artists. The summer night we joined The National at the Prospect Park Bandshell was one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve experienced. One moment we were all regular people hanging out, and the next we were headlining artists!
Q: Walk me through how this song came to be. What inspired it? What was the best part about writing and composing? What was the most difficult part? How would you describe its sound?
Lila Ramsay: Because I’m graduating, I’ve reflected a lot on my time in school. Part of the song represents how I think a lot of 17 or 18 year olds feel––we can’t wait to be done and be on our own! But it’s also about what it means to feel like an outsider. I am really engaged and have a lot of thoughts, but I hang back. I observe. I don’t fight for attention, in school or in social situations. There are definitely times where I feel my introversion is not valued, that it’s not okay that I’m not loud and outgoing. I’m lucky, though. I feel free with music. It gives me my voice. I definitely have doubts and insecurities (believe me!), but generally when it comes to music, I am quite confident and I can take risks and just go for it.
As for describing the sound of “Yearbook,” I’d say it’s somewhere between indie pop and indie rock, with grungier guitar riffs. It has something of a punk-pop feel of years ago, but storytelling and feeling are at the core, not outrage.
This song came super quickly to me. When writing songs, I am often inspired by certain words. The yearbook was something I was thinking about, and the whole story unfolded quickly as it captured how I was feeling. The same was true musically. I was noodling around on the guitar, came up with the main riff, and recorded it using the little studio setup in my bedroom. Once I had the musical bare bones, I got to writing. The hardest part for me was the bridge. I didn’t want the momentum to die––I wanted it to be catchy and quick. My original idea was much too slow, so I scrapped the guitar part and started over again. Once I had my new riff and the line… “In and out of time, and I just don’t know…” I knew I had found my bridge.
Q: Who do you cite as major inspirations for your music?
Lila Ramsay: I’m a big fan of Sam Fender, Phoebe Bridgers, KennyHoopla, Beabadoobee and Robyn. I’m also hugely influenced by the music of the 80s and 90s––R.E.M, The Cure, Yaz––and the classic songs of singer-songwriters like Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan.
Q: How has music impacted your life? How do you hope your music affects others?
Lila Ramsay: That’s a hard one, because music is my life! It’s what I spend the most time engaging with.
Music has made me a deeper and better person. It encourages all of us to listen to others and it allows us to express ourselves. I hope that’s what my music does for others: touches or affects them, making them feel something. Both creating music and being a listener is extremely fulfilling to me. I cannot image my life without it––it gives me everything I want.
Q: As your high school experience is coming to a close, what’s next for you? What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?
Lila Ramsay: I’m going to college because I have educational interests I want to pursue. I have chosen to go to Trinity College Dublin because it gives me a chance to study at an incredible university and live in Dublin, which has an awesome music scene. It’s a priority for me that my college years will include going to a ton of gigs, writing a lot of music, collaborating with others, performing, and continuing to get better. Within the next five years, I see myself releasing one or two EPs, and possibly a debut album. I don’t feel I need to rush releases, but I will definitely be working on music incessantly.
Interviewed by Kat Rendon