Singer-songwriter Lyrah has been working on the skill of genre-mixing from a young age. Self-describing her music as a cross between Daughter and Halsey, her debut EP Chemicals shows how well she’s perfected this skill. I got the chance to talk with her about how she got started in music, the year long recording process for Chemicals, her songwriting process and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
My mom tells me I’ve been singing since I could make sounds, but I think it really all started with piano. I was lucky that I was able to start taking lessons when I was 3. I remember I never wanted to play the classical pieces I was supposed to practice and instead would listen to things on the radio and then figure out those song at my piano. Looking back, that was pretty great practice for developing an ear and understanding song structure.
I’m from a small town, so I sang at anything I could — church, weddings, funerals, skate shows, nursing homes, motorcycle rallies [laughs] I really made sure to diversify my venues.
Fast forward to the last five years, I started writing electronic dance music and began teaching myself how to produce which then affected my overall sound and writing style. I’ve always been writing things that are dark and catchy (hopefully catchy), but then had more production skills to make the things I hear in my head.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
The idea that I could just make music as my career was pretty appealing ever since I was a kid. But then when it came time to go to college, realism kicked in and I tried to find a different path that I could love. That path ended up being design and it now financially supports my music. So it’s a bit odd to think of myself as a professional musician. I just think of myself as someone who makes music and hopes other people connect with it.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So how would you describe your sound without using genre names? What kind of music do you produce?
I think about this a lot, especially when I’m deciding what songs to move forward with (since I write a lot more things than I actually decide to release). I want to make music that captures this feeling of wanting to dance and cry at the same time. I want to [create the] soundtrack of people’s lives and help their moments feel like something out of a movie. I hope my songs help them create better memories.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
Oh man, many influences from different extremes. [I] forgot to mention this earlier, but I studied opera when I was a kid and I think that coupled with the classical piano was definitely an influence. Debussy is the composer I fell in love with most.
Nine Inch Nails was a big influence because it was so raw and had aspects of being cinematic before Trent even went down that path (e.g. “Leaving Hope”, “Right Where It Belongs”).
I also loved my emo bands. Back when I had to choose what CD to have in my walkman, it was usually either Taking Back Sunday or Brand New.
And more recently, one of my favorite artists from the past few years is Sylvan Esso.
Let’s talk about your new EP, Chemicals. Where did the name for this project come from?
There’s a song in the EP called “Don’t Make Me” and it has the line “I wait, I stay, to see if our chemicals gave up.” This was the first song I finished in this project and as I was defining what I wanted to make, that was a line I kept coming back to. So all of the songs touch on the spectrum of chemicals we feel when we fall in and out of love.
What was the recording process like for this project? How long did it take for it to come together from start to finish?
This whole thing took a little more than a year. The writing process was fast. I can write something at my piano and bring it into ableton in a day. The recording of instruments/vocals, producing, and mixing took longer. It can get especially tricky when you have to work off of a studio’s schedule which may book up fast, but in this case I think it all worked out well. Even when there were months of sitting on the music, that reflection was healthy for this process of making my first EP.
The most recent single from the EP is “Down Low.” What’s the story behind the song?
“Down Low” is about wishing that the person you’re seeing wouldn’t make a show of your relationship, but rather keep you on the down low while getting to know you.
I always love hearing about the songwriting process so I was wondering if you could walk me through what your songwriting process was like for “Down Low.”
Absolutely! Based on something in my personal life, I wanted to tell someone that they were a distraction. [I] sat down at my piano and started writing as if I were telling it to him. So the first line was “Boy didn’t you know you were just a distraction”.
Because this was coming from a personal place, writing this was a needed outlet. Though the initial idea was about someone just being a distraction, the bigger idea that came out of this was this contrast of them previously making a whole show of you two dating, but then acting like they didn’t even know who you were once it ended.
I wrote it all at my piano and then developed it out more in ableton, had my brother add guitar to it, and started recording parts of it in the studio. When I worked [on it] with my co-producer Michal Nocny, it then took a new direction based on a guitar riff that he added, which is what opens the song. We then pursued a different production path for this song and it came together pretty quickly.
Are you someone who always has to write by yourself or do you like collaborating with other artists/songwriters for co-writes?
Collaborating is something I love to do based on the type of song and the person I’m collaborating with. For my EP, I think it was best that I was the only writer on it since it was also a journey of discovering what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. But when I get the chance to write with other people, it’s usually a really energizing experience and I love seeing what I can teach them and what I can learn from them.
Were there any major changes made to the song once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
Yes, I’ve learned to welcome the changes while in the studio. Often I would go into the studio to record over some placeholder parts I had in my ableton session (mostly synth stuff). What happened was this…I’d pick out a synth to record a better version of an existing part, but when I played around with the different sounds of it, I’d hear entirely new parts that would often replace the parts I set out to record.
What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
For my EP I had a goal of making a song that becomes at least one person’s favorite song. And recently someone told me that “Don’t Make Me” was their favorite so I get to cross that one off. I have a vision of the things I want to make, so making that vision real is the best goal I can think of.
Lastly, we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
Well lately I’ve been loving The Walking Dead comic series. I’ve actually never seen the show so I’m not sure how it compares, but this has become my favorite thing to read with coffee. Nothing like some caffeine and zombies to get you awake haha.