Oakland-based electronica songstress Lila Rose goes into creative overdrive on debut full-length
There’s a pinnacle moment in the film The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy knocks on the Tin Man’s chest three times, only to hear an echo.
“Beautiful!” says the Scarecrow, prompting the Tin Man to reveal, regretfully, just what that echo was: the sound of a hollow chest without a heart. The rickety man then breaks into a sad song, in which he longs for that precious organ.
Hardly the longing type, Toronto-born, Oakland-based songstress Lila Rose sings confidently “’cause I’m built/like a machine/and I’ve come to take/you and your heart,” on the pulsating title track off her first LP, 2012’s Heart Machine.
Ironically, Rose explains that her robotic strength of mind was moulded from her weakest, most human moments.
“I would love to lie and remain this amazing, strong entity in people’s eyes, but no, I think the only way that I’m able to write those songs is to be able to go under,” she says. “Because I go there and I give myself a pep talk, and I write a song when I’m in the deep underbelly of the experience. And then I come through with this empowering thing because I’ve had to tell myself through that, ‘I’ve gotta get myself out of this somehow and if no one else is gonna do it, I’m gonna do it.’”
Rose’s personal strength and vulnerability are present throughout Heart Machine—from the cover art, in which she is completely covered in white paint and clutching a lustrous red heart attached to mechanical coils, to the steady heartbeat-like rhythm that unites the 12 pop/electronica/hip-hop tracks.
Almost like a “cinematic indie pop” cyborg, Rose has found nourishment in the intense melancholy that follows heartbreak, a theme that infiltrates all 50 minutes of the album, thanks in part to the mixing talents of San Francisco-based producer/composer David Earl.
But it’s her music video for “Obsession,” the entrancing album-opener, which encapsulates her determination and defencelessness best. The singer/guitarist appears almost entirely naked, wearing a smouldering gaze and her signature dreadlocks. Her airy, lingering vocals are backed by a killer combination of keys, handclaps, and subdued trip-hop.
“I can’t think of anything more profound, deeply meaningful, raw and honest, than the nude, than the skin,” Rose confesses. “I have, just like any woman—just like any person—I have my own insecurities around my body. So that was a whole process for me to show myself and allow myself to be seen in a really, really raw state.”
Influenced by artists like Ani DiFranco, The Cranberries, Ben Harper, Florence and the Machine, Radiohead, and Imogen Heap—“people with an edge, women with an edge,” she says—all of which produce music with an abundance of heart, soul, and startling elements that are as elegant as they are jarring, Rose says that beautiful and discordant sounds define her life. Her sensitivity to sound also plays a role.
“I can hear frequencies that most humans are not sensitive to—doesn’t mean they can’t hear them, but they’re not sensitive to them—so in a lot of ways, it’s amazing,” she explains. “When I’m making music, I’m pretty ridiculous in the studio. Any producer will say, like, ‘My god, she’s got ears that are just really on point.’ I hear everything, and that makes it hard because I’m very particular and a perfectionist, so it’s very nit-picky. But in the way of everyday life, it can be very difficult because sounds that other people have no problem dealing with (such as snoring or noisy eaters) can be difficult for me and really affect my everyday life … sound is just everything for me, kind of negates my mood and negates my everyday existence.”
Unable to escape sound, Rose is already cooking up a follow-up album with David Earl. “It’s gonna be pretty bangin’,” she admits.
“I’m an Aries, so I work really fast and really hard, and just kind of stretch myself out,” Rose explains. “Heart Machine is really still pretty alive for me and I’m just taking my time with this new thing.”
Fans can catch up with Rose and her four-piece band at Moe’s Alley on Nov. 8, where she promises “your heart will be blown open,” and also keep an ear out for a new single, set for release in a few weeks.
Lila Rose plays at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12/adv, $15/door. For more information, call 479-1854.