Even as my music tastes expand to strange realms of obscure, there is still something very powerful about simple and earnest songwriting. No matter how much Japanese noise or Indonesian psych I listen to, a soft voice with truly expressive lyrics just gets me all jelly-legged, so it's no wonder that WALL has gently kicked my knees in.
WALL is the dream-pop project of the Londoner Lyla Foy, who has been crafting tracks for her new EP, Shoestring, over the past year. Foy formulates her songs by using her voice as the keystone for her songwriting and then builds these humble, yet potent, songs around the vocals.
Lyla was kind enough to get together over Skype to chat a little bit about her process, her first SXSW experience, and some of her influences.
Noisey: WALL is a pretty new project for you. When did you start WALL?
Lyla: Exactly a year ago. I only know because my Soundcloud subscription is over. [Laughs]
You're a self-taught guitar player. When did you start playing guitar?
I think I was about 13 or 14. I have a terrible memory, so I don't remember the exact time. I'll just say 14, since I've been saying that.
What got you interested in playing guitar?
I think when you're a teenager and you're a girl, you have a lot of emotions flying around. For me, I wasn't very good at talking to people. I just needed to vent some emotions somewhere, so I took it out on that poor guitar. I just hit terrible chord progressions… I treated it pretty badly. I'm not going to lie to you; It definitely not pretty to the ears. I feel sorry for my friends who had to listen to it, but hopefully, over the years, it got a bit better. I'm sadly not a very good guitarist. I'm more of the three-note solo type of person. I use the "less is more" approach with my guitar playing. That's more my style. Barre chords were the hardest thing for me to learn. Just holding down with my small fingers is pretty tough.
Barre chords are still really hard for me. I have small hands for a man, so it can be difficult to me. Did guitar come first from singing or was it simultaneously?
It was all for the sake of writing songs, not for one or the other. The guitar was simply the vessel for writing. I also learned other people’s songs. I certainly can't sing anyone else's songs, because I think I have one of those voices that it only works for my songs. [Laughs] I try to sing other peoples songs, but its never really that good.
Was singing and music always something you wanted to pursue, but never really had a chance to until you were a teenager, or did you never really think of doing it until that time?
Well, I definitely wanted to, but I was too shy to say, "I want to be a singer." I thought it just sounded stupid. I've always just worked away on my projects and not told people about it. I just try to get good at something and then share it later. Some of my friends tell me what they are going to do and then never do it. I think I’ve always wanted to do something performance based. I kind of liked being in plays and stuff, but I thought it was a bit of a solitary thing. Learning lines and that kind of thing never really appealed to me. Just being able to do something as a group—like a band—has always been exciting to me.
Are there any singers in particular that influenced the way you singed or inspired you?
When I was sculpting my voice and finding my sound, I was listening to Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, and Portishead. Not a soft voice, but very expressive and unique—not just loud and shouty. Not jazzy, but people who have a silky tone. I've always liked that kind of stuff.
Were you listening to those people when you were really young or were you really influenced by them when you were trying to sing?
I was quite young. I have an older sister and brother. I was into grunge and some more alternative music at quite a young age because they were. They were in bands as well. I got influenced and crossed over to the bad side a bit younger than most people. I can't exactly remember when I was listening to who, I just remember being in my room listening to this and that. That was probably close to when I started writing songs as well. I think before I was 13 years old, you wouldn't have found me listening to punk music. You'd probably find me on the swings in the park or in a bounce house.
I want to talk about some U.K. music. A lot of the music that I keep hearing from the U.K. lately tends to be electronic. Would you say there's an over-saturation of electronic music, or would you say there's a bigger music scene than just that genre?
It's just quite trendy at the moment to be an electronic artist. I don't listen to quite too much electronic stuff. I don't really know that whole world too well. My scene and my friends are a lot more guitar bands and indie stuff. I think people have got this impression that guitar music is dead… I don't think it's true. I think a few years ago, [guitar music] was very over-saturated, so people rebelled and started making different things. It's popular for sure, though.
What made you pursue this dream-pop project, as opposed to something else? Excuse me if the term dream-pop isn't appropriate... [Laughs]
[Laughs] That's fine. I was doing a ton of stuff that I was really enjoying, but I wanted to focus on something just on my own… Just do exactly what I wanted to do and not work with anyone else just for a minute. I mainly wanted to see what would happen. I was doing collaborative stuff entirely, and quite a lot of it. I would see the sounds in my head, but I never really got around to exploring it. I'd been feeling that for a few months beforehand. I had this idea of a song and I just needed to get it done. I canceled a gig, stayed in, and started writing in that new way. I have a soft voice so if we're playing live where I'm singing over a band with drums and everything is really loud, I can feel like a small mouse. So, I decided to write starting with my voice and I don't have to be singing over loud noises—keeping things a bit quiet in the beginning and building things up. It's not always going to be that way. Maybe I'll make a WALL punk album or something. [Laughs]
What are some bands from the U.K. that you've been into?
I'm really into this female singer called 9mary, who will be supporting us on our show coming up. She's pretty amazing. She has a very old-time voice…She sounds very classic. I'm also a few other bands: Filthy Boy, Phoria, and Women's Hour.
How has the process been for Shoestring? Is it different than recording "Magazine?"
The process technically has been the same formula I did for "Magazine" and those early tracks—same writing and approach in my home studio. I do all of it on my own, not letting anyone telling me how it could be better, though I'm sure it could.
Anything you're trying to express differently in this record from the previous one?
I would say, in general, Shoestring is a bit more melancholy than Magazine. It's not like Magazine is more up-tempo or particularly happier, but it's a lighter song. We wanted to release something that was not too heavy or hard on the ears for the first single. I think we bought ourselves a little bit of freedom to explore. When I was picking the songs, I went for the more left field kind of stuff, like the song "All Alone" is a more of an abstract song, unlike “Magazine,” which is simpler. It's like a progression and I'm exploring slightly darker imagery, I'd say.
You just attended your first SXSW. How was that experience?
It was great. I'm kind of scared of crowds of people. It took me a little while to ease into the madness. Regardless, it was just incredible. I was a little bit overwhelmed when I was looking at the booklet of everyone performing. It made me feel quite small and tiny in this massive sea of bands. We had some really fun shows though. It was good. Were you there?
Yeah, I was there. I had a ball. What were some of your favorite things you saw there?
I actually didn't get to see much because we were staying a little bit out of town. It was quite relaxing. I was just hanging with my band and actually spending time together. Even though we're in a band together, it was nice to have a mini holiday for us. We were actually really boring. We rehearsed in the house and tried to get some work done.
I did see some stuff. We were on a couple of bills with good people. We played with The Milk Carton Kids, who were amazing, Devendra Banhart, who was also really good. We also saw Iron & Wine, who were such a massive influence on me. That was pretty awesome. I got my picture taken with Sam from Iron & Wine, which was pretty special… I have a massive grin on my face right now just talking about it. I wanted to see Foxygen, but they had a bit of a breakdown, so maybe it's best that I didn't see them. I have to say that I feel a bit sorry for them, because I didn't feel that what they did was that crazy. I don't envy bands that have the spotlight on them. Maybe they are nuts, but I like them. I think we're all allowed to have a bit of a diva moment here and there. I think it should happen more, honestly.
Do you feel there is a difference between the U.K. music scene and the U.S. music scene?
I don't know if I'm authorized to give my opinion on that, but if I could…I think it's very hard. I can find a lot of similarities between London and LA. They had a similar feel to them for me, which maybe other people wouldn't say that. Even New York had a different feel to London. I felt a little bit more at home in LA, even with the contrasts like sun and things like that. The South definitely has a different kind of feel, though. Obviously, [there's] a lot more country music, even though we didn't see any country stuff. We would walk past bars in Texas and it would be blasting out everywhere. I don't think we do country music very well here. All these big cities are all very competitive, and that makes music quite good, really.
Any plans on returning the U.S.?
Yeah, definitely. We're hoping to be back soon. There might be touring happening in the fall. We're planning our next adventure now.
Shoestring is out now! Be sure to grab it here.