Before meeting Lila Rose at a cozy coffee shop in Oakland I was, admittedly, feeling a bit apprehensive. I was expecting a particularly intimidating persona based on her haunting, passionate, sometimes enraged music denouncing mankind’s incessant destruction of the environment: a pugnacious firebrand dressed in all black to mourn a dying planet, viciously attacking anyone who stands in her way, likely to eviscerate me if I misunderstand her message or misinterpret a lyric. Reality produced a rather pleasant surprise: clad in a pink, floral-patterned vest and exquisite town boots, the Lila Rose not imagined by my slightly paranoid mind’s eye is an affable, charming and yet still extremely passionate activist-musician. Her warm smile belies the intensity of her music, and she remains adamantly positive despite all the doom-filled predictions of where global warming is taking the planet.
“I couldn’t get myself out of bed if I thought otherwise,” she tells me with the faintest tinge of sadness skirting around the edges of the words. “If you read the newspapers or watch documentaries, yeah, the facts can be overwhelming and depressing. But even in my darkest moments I still hold onto the hope that we can change things before it’s too late.”
Her newly released LP, We Animals, can sound like a dire warning, but it is so much more than strident protest. During our conversation, Lila explained what led to her unique sound and indelible passion.
The Bay Bridged: It’s obvious that your two greatest passions are the environment and music. Was there a particular spark of inspiration that convinced you to mix the two?
Lila Rose: I don’t think there was a particular moment. I just cared about those things so much I couldn’t imagine separating them. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Art is such a strong, expressive medium and, for a while, my more political side was in the closet to an extent. Music was my bridge, my way to bring it out publicly, to express those views to a larger audience in a creative way.
TBB: Do you feel like your views could potentially turn an audience off, that your subject matter could be too abrasive for people that just want to hear catchy pop music?
LR: That’s a big thing that stopped me at first. I thought about that quite seriously before starting this project. It’s always a challenge addressing issues like this because it’s very easy to come across as too intense or corny or preachy. It’s certainly an emotional trigger for people on both sides of the issue, especially when addressing something like animal rights.
So yes, it took a while to both build up the confidence and write music in a way that could still appeal to a broad audience. My subject matter is pointed, but it’s not so specific that the audience will feel I’m personally blaming them or so angry it takes away from the enjoyment. I’m definitely not trying to turn people away. These are, after all, issues that affect everybody.
TBB: Have you been getting a positive reception so far?
LR: Yes, and maybe it’s also because these issues are becoming more “mainstream.” Environmental disasters are occurring more frequently, they’re getting more media coverage, and the facts are becoming more apparent to even those who don’t regularly read the news or avidly follow environmental issues.
TBB: Even so, it feels like a lot of artists are still reluctant to tackle some of these issues. Why don’t you think more aren’t speaking up about global warming or environmental catastrophes?
LR: A lot of artists are moved by tension in their lives, and a lot of tension happens in heartache, love and relationships. The tension for me existed greater within this subject matter. I’ve always had a sort of soreness about the earth. Some of it stemmed from the influence of family members, but I also feel I was born with a tender soul, one that implicitly and intensely cared about animals and the planet.
TBB: Along with the gripping music, you place a heavy emphasis on the visual component of the medium as well. Is there a specific reason for this emphasis?
LR: Some of my biggest musical influences are also extremely visually driven – Bjork, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails. My main collaborator in producing these images and videos, Daniel Garcia, helps me to achieve the art I see in my head. Sometimes I question myself, think I’m going too far. Like the album cover – I’m holding a gun to my head and I had to ask myself, am I really ready for this? But Daniel knew how to push me at the right times and hold me back at others. I think it’s an effective, attention-grabbing image, and I think it adds a lot to the overall themes I’m working with.
TBB: Your music can be haunting and atmospheric. Does this reflect a sort of pessimism about how you view the planet’s and, along with it, humanity’s future?
LR: Music always has a message, always contains a glimmer of hope, and mine is no different. We can start by acknowledging problems, but it doesn’t have to end with the problems. There are always solutions. Sometimes you feel like there’s nothing you can do, that the problems are too big to control, but I need the hope for change to go on living.
Lila Rose, LYNX, Mariee Sioux
May 7, 2015
8pm, $15-18 (21+)