Interview: Kyla Tilley Bloom and Grow

Kyla Tilley Bloom and Grow

Throughout the 7/8 time verses of “Bloom & Grow,” Tilley’s distinctive chaotically melodic fingerpicking performed on a classical acoustic guitar produces an uncomfortable sense of instability. This sets the tone for the story’s central topic of confronting one’s past doubts and fears. The chorus transitions to a more “stable” and powerful 4/4 pace, with elegant and enticing vocal melodies and brilliant open chords leading the way. “Come on youngster, don’t dwell in remorse and previous mistakes,” it says sonically. It’ll all work out. “Go forth and accomplish amazing things!”

Kyla Tilley, a prog-folk singer-songwriter from Newfoundland and Labrador, is delighted to release her first digital single of 2022, “Bloom & Grow.” It will be available for streaming on all platforms on Tuesday, April 19th, and is the first single from her upcoming album, which will be unveiled later this spring.

Kyla, ever the storyteller, begins her new body of work with a discussion with her inner child. It’s a poetic exploration of the mental barriers erected by anxieties and past failures, emphasising to the listener why these things are worth learning from, but not reasons to avoid taking risks and thinking outside the box. “Bloom & Grow” was born out of a key time in Kyla’s life during the epidemic, when she was faced with the reality of being confined to her flat in Montreal, her home for the previous 13 years. She felt suffocated, unable to access her studio outside of the house, sweltering in the Montreal summer heat, and quickly aggravating her next-door neighbours with her all-day music producing marathons.

She often fantasised about living in a more tranquil rural area, free to produce whenever and however she pleased, and actively inspired by her surroundings. Kyla understood that the only way she could continue to bloom and grow as an artist would be to return to her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, as she reminisced on giving her inner child advice of “thinking big” and taking risks while songwriting. Shortly after finishing this song, she and her husband relocated to a woodland paradise on the Avalon Peninsula, and she credits the experience of writing it for guiding them to this new and exciting chapter of their lives.

Kyla Tilley is a singer-songwriter from Canada who is recognised for her intimate and emotionally charged live performances, gymnastic guitar playing, and great shoe collection.

Today we had a chance to interview Kyla Tilley about her journey into the music industry and her freshly released single, “Bloom and Grow.”

I grew up in a pretty musical family, in a pretty musical province and I always loved listening to music. When I was 11 my parents stuck a classical guitar in my hands and sent me to my older brother for lessons. I loved it immediately and never looked back.

Classical and electric guitar mostly. I can make anything with strings and frets sound pretty good, but guitar is the only one I really play. And my voice. I can sing. I play bass on all my albums but I wouldn’t call myself a bass player. I’ve also played flute, theremin, banjo, recorder, and percussion on some of my recordings, but really basic stuff.

Fairly established. What I do will always be quite niche, but these pandemic years have shown me that fans in that niche exist all over the world and I’m beginning to find them and that has been very motivating.

Guitar. There is no greater joy than playing a blistering solo on an electric guitar.

I can find inspiration even when I’m feeling completely uninspired. The host of a showcase I’ve played a few times pointed out that you can put me in an empty room and give me a word and I’ll come out with a song, and that’s not far off.

Getting overwhelmed by all the extra things that don’t have to do with writing music or playing shows.

Jethro Tull, John Prine, The Incredible String Band, Steeleye Span, Morbid Angel, Maxime le Forestier, Gowan, J.S. Bach, Gentle Giant. The list goes on and on and on. Lately I’m continuously inspired by the songwriters I’m meeting in online open mics.

I like sewing, hiking, camping, working out, dancing, running, tai chi, watching sports, and playing video games.

I have set hours in which I work which I think is a key part of it. I’ll have an idea of what I plan to work on.
For songwriting I throw ideas on paper, I’ll roll D&D dice to chose some starting notes if noodling on my guitar isn’t working. Usually I write lyrics and music somewhat simultaneously, but periodically I’ll write all the lyrics first, or all the music first and that will give me a different sounding song. For recording usually I get the guitar down, then vocals, then I layer whatever is needed on top.

I have a twich channel where I broadcast all parts of this process.

Bloom & Grow was written right at the start of the pandemic during the spring. I was living in Montreal at the time, in a one bedroom apartment that had suddenly also become my studio and my husband’s office. I was working with some songwriting prompts from Sarah Spencer, a songwriter in Nashville and I started thinking a lot about Newfoundland (where I’m from) and fresh air and green spaces. The main riff just came from noodling. I’m a sucker for a 7/8 riff, for odd time signatures in general, and shifting rhythms. I had the chorus pretty quickly but it took me a couple more sessions to get all the lyrics for the verses.

Me and my husband moved back to Newfoundland not long after I wrote the song. We moved to a rural setting so that we could set up a recording space and not bother any neighbours, so this was recorded in my home studio. I always spend a long time getting my click tracks just right. My songs tend to have quite a lot of time and tempo changes and I try to get the tempos as close to a natural feel as possible.
I score out my songs and use the score to make a midi file which I use to generate a click track. Then there’s a lot of trial and error as I play with the tempos until I get it just right.

Then it’s guitar. This is my Yairi Gakki classical guitar recorded through a cascade fathead ribbon mic. I like to make cuts as easy to mix as possible so I usually practice with the click until I can lay it down either one complete take, or 2-3 sections that can easily be mixed together.
Then it’s the main vocal, for which I used the same ribbon mic. For whatever reason, I can’t stand the sound of my vocals double tracked so it’s a single vocal track. I had set up a second mic to mix in, but for this song we ended up just using the takes from the cascade.
Then bass. I borrowed a Fender Jazz Precision bass from a very kind friend and recorded it DI.
Then drums. My husband is a heavy metal drummer. He lays down some 16th notes in that 7/8 section that just make me over the moon happy. We jammed the song quite a bit before he sat down to record it.
Finally, once all that was mixed, I put the background vocals in. I hadn’t really planned on having backing vocals as I’ve also arranged this for choir and wanted to do the recording with one voice, but when we listened to the mix I could hear them in my head, so down they went.
My husband does the mixing. Very little post processing on this. Just used a little EQ and compression.

I’d like to collaborate with people who work in completely different genres from me!

Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor? Probably my oldest brother. He was my first guitar teacher. He taught himself and then my parents paid him to teach me. We used the book Introduction to Classical Guitar by Charles Duncan and I always recommend it to people wanting to improve their skills.

No, but I do broadcast my songwriting on twitch and I speak a lot about the types of things I think of when writing music or playing guitar so that is a kind of mentoring I suppose.

I mostly play small listening rooms, or happy hour type gigs where people haven’t drank much yet so I don’t have to deal with this often. I do find myself at the occasional bar gig though and when that happens I stick to my rowdier songs and I don’t talk as much between them. If a bar hires you you’re pretty much there to provide background, which is different from the type of show where people buy tickets to see the artist. I prepare different sets for different situations, and I’m ready to switch it up if I get to the show and it’s not what I expected. I really believe that it’s best to work with the crowd rather than fight with them. If they want to sit and listen, I’ll give them a show they want to listen to. If they want to party and hang with their friends I’ll give them that space and keep the music upbeat.

I love them both. I’m very happy on my own, but playing in a band and writing with other people is a lot of fun, and of course you come up with stuff you never would have come up with on your own.

Small listening rooms where I can see everyone and really take them on a journey through my songs and stories.

Everything. I’m always looking for inspiration, so it comes to me. Books, movies, walks in the park, art, other music, video games, cleaning my house even. I listen to tons of music, and different music. I don’t think you can write interesting music if you don’t yourself listen to a variety of music.

I make it a point to experience the creativity of others. So, going to art galleries, playing video games, listening to music. I love dance, watching dance performances, reading. Sports too. Just watching people who are masters of their craft really excites and motivates me and that’s a big part of being creative.

I take breaks to recharge. I have a pretty strict rule about working on Sundays. Unless I’m on tour, Sundays are reserved for pure sloth and I rigorously avoid doing anything related to music so when I go back into my studio on Monday morning I’m refreshed and ready to go again. I really notice it when something happens that causes me to miss what I call Sunday Souls Day.

Nope. I used to. I’d be really nervous for the first 2 to 3 songs in a performance. Nervous enough that my fingers would shake and I’d make mistakes. I decided I didn’t like feeling like that so I read a lot of books and did a lot of exercises and deliberately practised stepping onto the stage the same way I practised my instrument and now I don’t have any problems with nerves. I don’t even do a pre-show ritual any more. Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner is my favourite book on the subject.

Metal, prog, and folk are my favourite genres. I dislike music that is derivative or too repetitive. I love melody, and crunchy dissonance. I really enjoy fusions. Give me an unexpected mixture of any genres and I’ll get pretty excited. Nothing makes me happier than shredding.

I think I detach myself from my work more easily than a lot of artists do. It’s just music. I know that if I make something awful I don’t have to release it, or if I do release something awful, I can release something better next time. I think it’s a little unusual to feel that way, but it really frees me up to experiment. Maybe it’s because I feel that way that I continuously hire a heavy metal drummer to play on my folk albums.

I’m happy with my previous songs. I can’t remember who said it, but I read somewhere that it is important to remember that an album, or a recording is just a snapshot in time, and I really took that to heart. I think my newest release is one of my more interesting songs, and I think I’ve gotten better at recording, but I think my previously released music is pretty solid too.

Don’t forget to follow her on Instagram as @kylatilley

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