Tara Lily’s voice absorbs the atmosphere of the whole room when she performs live, holding it still in the palm of her hand before lifting and warping it into different states dictated entirely by the emotion of her voice. Its mesmeric power translates into her records too — with lyrics exploring the destabilising effect of doubt and insecurity on relationships, she sings her debut track “Who Saw Who” with a frenetic energy that feels like it’s about to slip out of her control, heightened by the unfamiliar mix of jazz harmonies, horn percussion, grime-inspired beats and double-time rhythms. Produced by BBK’s Jammer, it’s layered and disjointed in a way that makes you want to rewind and work out what you’ve missed, and sits completely outside the boundaries of genre — something she puts down to the eclectic mix of music she listened to growing up in Peckham.
“Jazz has not really backed me,” she says when I ask whether she feels aligned with one of her influences over another, highlighting that support for the grime elements of “Who Saw Who” shaped the initial buzz around her as an artist. What she won’t compromise on is “dumbing down” her music to appeal to a singular or commercial audience, something she’s been refusing to do since starting out studying at the BRIT School. “I went there aged 14, made loads of mates, [but] I didn’t really fit in musically. No one does jazz there,” she explains. “Socially it was a great place. I was wild — I ended up getting kicked out…”
(LEFT) full look CHANEL (RIGHT) jacket and scarf 16 ARLINGTON, earring PEBBLE LONDON, hair slides STYLIST OWN.
full look CHANEL jacket and scarf 16 ARLINGTON, earring PEBBLE LONDON, hair slides STYLIST OWN.
Having celebrated her 22nd birthday a few days before we speak, Lily is setting out her intentions for the year ahead with the same values — “being happy with the music I’ve made, and getting it heard by people who are feeling it and get what I’m doing” — and after finishing her music degree this summer she’ll be releasing her debut EP. “I’ve grown up,” she says on evolving as an artist since dropping “Who Saw Who”; “I was making that music when I was 18 and now I’m a different person with different thoughts and feelings.” Lyrically the project is personal, inspired by relationships and revenge, difficult times in her life and the mistakes she’s made over the past few years. “But,” she insists, “it’s up to everyone to read their own stories into what’s there.”
Lily tells me her live sets provide a space for these stories to connect, a chance for her to “meet hundreds of people in a moment.” It’s performing the EP she’s looking forward to most, and when I ask what lessons she’s taking forward into this next chapter of her career, she cites this feeling of complete presence on stage as something she wants to apply to the rest of her life as well. “Lessons are: enjoy the moment,” she says decisively. “Enjoy the journey, the highs and the lows — it’s all real.”