We had the pleasure of meeting long-time Sparkplug member Lily Virginia at a recent New York Music Tech Meet Up. Lily is a New York-based artist and her album Play Me Twice will be released on November 18th. We chatted with Lily about her search for that perfect hollowbody, and songwriting process.
Describe your gear collection - What are your favorite pieces? Any great stories or memories behind them?
My main setup is a combination of the organic with technology. I'm really such a big sound and tone nerd so I love fun gear, but the feeling of "realness" (whatever that means) always comes first for me. I want whoever is hearing my music to feel super connected to the song and the experience so at least for this album whenever I've brought in a piece of new gear or technology I'm asking myself whether it's going to support the feel of the song or be a distraction. Philosophy aside, I play a semi-hollow body Harmony vibrajet 1973, and I send that guitar signal as well as my voice through a TC HELICON voicelive 3. What's pretty cool about this setup for me is that I then attach an expression pedal to the Voicelive and, depending on the song, control the amount of vocal effect I want with my foot. I love that because it adds that organic real feel to a produced sound and it's just another way to move in the music and the moment of performance.
My Harmony is my guitar baby. I went on a 6 month search for it until I found what I was looking for. What happened was a friend of mine, the bassist on my EP, had a beat up old Harmony guitar - they're these wacky guitars that were factory made in the 60s and 70s - and he came to me one day and said, "Lily, this is the guitar for you. This is your sound." Originally I fought the idea, I was worried that if I played a hollowbody I'd be getting into country and that didn't feel right to me. But I took the guitar home anyways... and damn it if he wasn't right. The looseness of the strings allowed me to try out some of the Classical Latin finger picking technique I had studied in Argentina and Brazil years before but now in a whole new electric sound. So that started me on a journey in terms of my writing that you'll hear on my upcoming record. But there was a big problem! The thing wouldn't stay in tune... factory made guitar... must've been an out of tune batch...
So I started my search! High and low for another hollow body. But none of them had as good a tone as that old out of tune harmony. Finally after months of searching, I realized I just needed another Harmony... From a better factory batch. I walked into my favorite guitar store of all time, 30th street guitars (I've been going there since the first week I moved to NYC!) and there she was! My Harmony. I plugged her in, tried out some of the new songs, and I knew it was meant to be. Matt helped me get her set up and it's been true love ever since.
The voicelive was also the result of a great friend helping me move from a clunky setup with the voicelive touch to a much more sophisticated and ultimately easy approach to live sound. She literally spent hours coaching me on how to use it and then I spent another 20+ hours programming it but so worth it - it is a remarkable piece of gear that really helps me achieve everything I want out of my current sound.
What gear are you crushing on?
As a guitar player the only thing I ever always want more of is ... another guitar. I also love cool mics. And anything vintage. So on Sparkplug, right now I'm super into this 1960's Airline Rocket Hollow Body Guitar, this Vintage RCA 44-BX Ribbon Microphone (wow, so cool), this Vintage RCA 77-DX Ribbon Microphone, and this Vintage 1960s Silvertone 1472 Amp.
How would you use them?
Well, I've had a feeling about the next batch of songs I want to write for a while now. I'm interested in big open strums of the guitar with a decent dose of effects (prob though my helicon and/or integrating a freeze pedal to sustain those chords) and letting the bass and drums do the work of fueling the movement behind each song. I wish I had a cooler gear story/desires but really that's all I want, to play music that connects me to a higher plane of spirituality with technology helping find cool sounds but not getting so complicated that it gets in the way.
And I guess that's where tone comes in. Finding the right mic and the right sound that can translate an audio signal into the way yo want it to not only sound but to really feel is so key.
What song of yours would you most like to hear them on?
A new one!!! I do feel like this next album will be written with sound first, lyrics and song later. I've never done that before so it's really scary to me. But I want to find THE FEEL of the song first and let it guide me to what it is I'm supposed to say.
This album, Play Me Twice, that I'm releasing right now had a sound in mind. But it definitely came music and lyrics first. I had a vision of writing "bluish purple songs with silver-gold shimmers," and so I was seeking that sound and vibe in the way I was writing but it had its own specific writing process. So I'll want to explore new ways of writing the next album for sure.
Is there a specific artist or song that first piqued your interest in this gear or sound?
Actually no. I admire a lot of artists, artists who take me to that higher place. But with Play Me Twice I found myself searching for something I wasn't hearing yet and wanted to hear desperately. So in some ways it was a rejection of what I was hearing around me - over produced, over compressed - I wanted to find space within music and within the sound while exploring a raw vulnerability with my audience. I hope I was able to achieve that with this record.
Who’s got the gear collection you most covet? It can be a studio, producer, band, whoever!
I'm a sucker for tone. So any studio that has a lot of analog processors, or a tape machines, ribbon mics I'm super into. I of course love the gear at my producer, Alessio Romano's studio (Studio42brooklyn.com) here in Brooklyn. My mastering engineer Alex DeTurk also has an amazing collection at Strange Weather lso in Brooklyn.
Any upcoming releases or shows?
My album will be officially out digitally on Nov. 18th and the release party here in NYC will be at Soho House on Nov. 16th. can't actually believe I'm saying this but it just got sold out! People can still get on the waitlist by RSVP'ing at lilyvirginia.splashthat.com and of course I'll be playing more shows with the band after the release.
As for links, this album, since it is an audio/visual album, is coming out in a series of media formats. People can follow me here to stay posted. And of course everything is on my website: lilyvirginia.com
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