Lila Drew’s parents aren’t musicians, but they instilled a deep love for music history into the artist from a young age.
“I grew up listening to everything from Led Zeppelin to Public Enemy to Smokey Robinson,” the London-born, Los Angeles-raised singer-songwriter says. Her dad has maintained a massive record collection, mostly of classic LPs from the Sixties and Seventies. “I think that’s a big testament to my parents being big music lovers.”
These days, the 19-year-old’s biggest influence comes through in the soul music she makes. A field trip to Memphis when she was 13 had a massive impact on her music taste alongside years spent falling deeper into Motown’s back catalog. “I wrote my college essay about Aretha Franklin,” she says. “That was really the music that I gravitated towards.”
As a pre-teen with access to GarageBand at home and school, Drew was able to easily turn music into her creative outlet. Around age 11, she was learning the guitar and growing comfortable with her voice, allowing her to sing and play into her computer and tinker with selected tracks. Drew was diligent about writing, once believing as a kid that to be a singer you had to write all your own songs.
“It’s obviously not true,” she says, “but that was the transition into me writing all the time.” Drew wrote what she knew: songs about the weather and her third grade boyfriend were practice runs for the diaristic indie-R&B she now produces. “A lot of the songs were just me trying to use words in interesting ways,” she explains.
Growing up in L.A. with music-obsessed parents made aspects of her musical development easy: she was able to have her first studio session at 14 thanks to her vocal coach at the time. It was then that Drew knew she would “give up everything” to make a career in music a reality. She began working in studios — something she details as “accessible at a pretty young age” to Angelenos — more frequently with various collaborators, most of them older men.
“I always felt like my voice wasn’t exactly heard in the studio,” Drew says, adding that it wasn’t in a creepy or mean way. “These are guys that are pretty seasoned with big personalities and big opinions, and I didn’t really know how to share my own in that environment.”
At 16, she began working with the producer Mighty Mike, the first collaborator to make Drew feel heard in the studio. “He always asked for my opinion,” she reflects. “Before, it was much more of a trade-off.”
Encouragement from people like Mighty Mike led to the development of her debut EP, 2019’s Locket (Side One), written between ages 16 and 18. Each song looks backward, playing with nostalgia and childhood memories and culling musical influence from more modern favorites like Lauryn Hill and Frank Ocean.
“It’s insane to me that my growth as a writer and person is documented in the music,” she says. She had written and recorded over 30 songs with no exact plans to release them, accidentally ending up with the independently released EP. Growing up with a love for great, classic albums, however, means that Drew has now set her sights on making just that. She’s been recording between L.A. with Joy Again’s Sachi, and London, where she has been working with the artist Matt Hales, best known as Aqualung.
“I feel like I’ve really been able to lean into music that I can really stand behind,” Drew says. “Not just stand behind for a few months but can stand behind for a longer period of time. It’s always been my goal to make something that can be classic and lasting.”