For breakout Gold Coast singer-songwriter Lily (Lily Papas), that’s always been the MO. An unmistakably standalone voice in a world increasingly geared towards homogeneity, Lily, who has been singing since she was eight and began writing music not long afterward, prefers to trade on passion rather than what’s in fashion.
Lily’s debut record, Encore, was written mostly in her Gold Coast home but recorded in Los Angeles. It was a deliberate continental shift, as Lily sought to match her surroundings with the thematic focus of her songs, many of which use Hollywood Hills as a metaphor for another life.
Revelling in the kind of fantasy that amplifies Lily’s quixotic lyrical style, its a record that ultimately documents her coming of age and maturity, both as a woman and as a songwriter. From an early age, Lily was an escapist, channelling the frustrations of her teenage years into a persona that would leave her world behind. “I used to write songs that drew from movies I watched,” she laughs, discussing tracks like ‘Wild’ and ‘Freak’. “I had no personal experience of love – or anything, really. I had frizzy hair, pimples and braces. I always wanted to be someone else.”
Lily has always been a bold dreamer. Told by a music teacher at 11 years old that she had the voice of a folk singer, Papas went home and learned to sing Christina Aguilera songs instead. “I’d always go for the big notes,” she says. “I wanted to be Steve Nicks so badly. I would just tell myself, I am going to be a rock star.”
You can hear the result of Lily’s commitment on Encore, a record whittled down from over 200 songs and developed over two intense years since signing to Neon/Universal. Lily’s voice, sonorous and mahogany-edged, certainly doesn’t sound like it belongs with electronic production. But if you ask her, that’s precisely the point. She’s never fit in before, so it doesn’t look like it’s going to start now.
“I have this thing where I have to prove people wrong when they said I can’t do things,” says Lily. It’s certainly working well for her so far. Impossible to pigeonhole but instantly accessible, Encore is equally indebted to London Grammar’s ardent synth love letters (‘Jackson’) and the brassy melodic strokes of The Pretenders’ Chrissy Hynde (‘Honey’). It’s 10 songs of lushly produced alternative pop that use the process of creation to find peace.
Ultimately, it’s an album of two sides “I came to the realisation after finishing these songs that it was often me holding myself back,” Lily says. This is no better represented than in the albums closing suite, which ruminates on the real cost of fame and adulation (‘Party Girl’) and abandoning the alter-ego in favour of the personal (‘Good To Be’). Astonishingly accomplished but unsurprisingly confident, Encore marks Lily as one to watch, but more importantly one to be heard.