Lilly Wolf crafts pop music for the moment. Though their influences are many – ranging from house and hip-hop to trance and UK dub step – their sound may best be described in comparison to contemporary peers like Purity Ring, Chvrches, and Robyn. Deep bass, glitched beats, atmospheric synths, and shimmering vocals permeate their songs. That their sound is tight and perfectly crafted is not mere luck.
The duo that make up the project, Lilly Wolf and producer Dr. Nu (Alex Neuhausen), met nine years ago at Stanford University. At the time Lilly working as a singer/songwriter and recruited Alex to play guitar for her act. The two eventually formed the alt-pop band Hey Young Believer and went on to moderate success. But over time the two honed their skills together, developing a deeper taste for texture and a broader range of sound, eventually moving away from the doldrums of rock and into the EDM arena. Since then Lilly Wolf has honed their craft, gaining a wider audience, and have even been featured on hit shows like Bad Girls Club and Keeping up with the Kardashians.
Their recent single “Pop Dream” speaks to this progress. The track is a superb little pop gem. The opening synth swells give way to a toe-tapping beat and melodic piano lines. As chanteuse, Lilly’s ethereal vocals are foregrounded and lead the track, as they should, and drive the piece’s main motif. The song is pure candy for the ears – immediately engaging and entirely irresistible. As the chorus suggests, this duo have indeed been writing pop dreams.
Lilly Wolf has just released a new video for the single and can be seen live at numerous shows around NYC throughout the next few months. Check out our interview with Lilly and Alex below:
How did the two of you initially meet and begin working together?
Lilly:Â We met when I was in my senior year of undergrad at Stanford and Alex was starting his PhD. We formed a band and played shows around San Francisco. True fact: we didn’t get along that well for the first threeÂ-ish years. Alex is pretty blunt and noÂ nonsense, he doesn’t mind getting a little confrontational (he prefers NYC to SF). I was a total shrinking violet and I was always inching away from criticism. Then I grew a spine. Now we’re best friends. Alex taught me to produce, we both use Ableton Live and pass tracks back and forth. We get together a couple times a week to demo ideas, tweak instrumentals, record vocals etc.
In the past your music gravitated towards a more traditional acoustic singer-songwriter style. What caused you to shift to an electro-pop aesthetic? Was it a change in your personal tastes, the general shift of contemporary music towards EDM, or just something new to explore and experiment with?
Alex:Â A mix of having a much wider range of sounds and style to work with, as well as not being dependent on live musicians. We both like creating new sounds and textures and doing cool stuff with them – the same motivation has now pushed us sort of past dance music and into futuristic sounds pop/hip-hop mixtures.
Are there any aspects of your current music that carried over from your earlier output?
L: I’m classically trained on piano, and I was all about classical music from around age 8 to 13. My first concert was at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in upstate NY; I think it was the Philadelphia Orchestra. Alex (Dr. Nu) and I have been working together for almost 9 years. The long term working relationship and consistency really help with staying focused on songwriting. We don’t have to worry about band drama.
Can you easily define your music as a single genre? How do you describe it to people?
A:Â I can’t define it as a single genre. We combine elements of hip hop, classical, and and pop music. Our latest tracks are really about combining pretty piano and string parts and vocals with dark synths and aggressive, deep low end and drum sounds influenced by house music and hip hop. We get compared to Purity Ring, Chvrches, Odesza, Aluna George, Disclosure, and Banks.
Though you write and perform as a duo, you perform under the name Lilly Wolf. What was the reasoning behind the singular name?
L:Â We were originally going to be Lilly Wolf and Dr. Nu, but that was awkward to say and too long for people to remember. In general, band names are hard to come up with and I like the idea of getting to be myself, or at least some true aspect of myself, on stage.
How do the two of you collaborate? How do the songs take shape?
L: I write the lyrics. We split production and songwriting duties, and Alex focuses on the final mixing and mastering. We have identical MacBooks with matching software and plugins, so we can send tracks back and forth and hone them and make variations in Ableton Live. At any given time we have 4-5 songs that are sketches, where we have a beat or I have a few melodies I like, and then we spend about a month writing lyrics, recording vocals, and polishing the production to turn a sketch into a full song.
What kind of instruments and synths do you incorporate into your songs?
A:Â We record and produce in Ableton Live, mostly because it’s the software that I happened to start with 10 years ago and we both find it really intuitive. We use a lot of 3rd party plugins like ReFX Nexus (synths, strings, and pianos), Massive (synths), Trilian (bass), Omnisphere (pads, textures, choirs and arpeggiated synths), and Sylenth (general synths). Sometimes I’ll record myself playing live guitar. For mixing we use a lot of plugins from Waves and we do our mastering with Ozone.
What are your influences, both musical and otherwise?
L:Â I’m a classically trained on piano and I love dance music, so I listen to a mix of classical music, hip-hop, and dance-pop. I like Chopin, Mozart, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Kendrick Lamar, Dre, Kanye, Jedi Mind Tricks, Stromae, Kings Dead, Gaga, Rihanna, Britney, T Swift. The stuff Max Martin writes. Or A.R. Rahman, or Thomas Newman, for movie soundtracks.
You recently relocated to Brooklyn. What about New York appealed to you and influenced that decision?
L:Â I’m from upstate NY and Alex is from DC, so moving here from California was actually more like a homecoming. It’s a cliche, but without a doubt, NYC is the greatest city in the world, and it’s an endlessly inspiring place. The fast pace and ambition of everyone else keeps me motivated too – it’s infectious. We also knew we’d meet more people and make more connections here, and so far we have. We get to work with amazingly talented photographers, videographers and editors, and we get to play shows and collaborate with great musical artists.
Your music was recently licensed to appear on shows like “Bad Girls Club” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” How did that come about?
A:Â Bunim/Murray, the production company that makes these shows, reached out to us back in 2009. This was 3 albums ago, when we had a band called “Hey Young Believer,” and our LP did well on various blogs and websites, so their music director discovered us. Since then, they’ve licensed each new record we come out with.
How did it feel to hear your music on TV being broadcast to such a large audience?
L:Â Great. Kind of surreal. It drove home for me how no one really experiences a piece of art in the same way – it’s always informed by your current emotional state and the context of your own life. So when I heard my song being played on TV, I think of my own experience writing it and the events that inspired me to write it.
What’s next for Lilly Wolf?
L: We’re going to continue releasing a new single each month and at some point will box them up into an album. Finally, we’re opening our own venue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We’ve been doing a lot of work over the past year booking and promoting shows with “Brooklyn Wildlife,” a great team of promoters, and now we’re getting our own space to do even more of it.