It can be nearly impossible to crawl out from the mire of the New York City music scene where the number of talented bands is rivaled only by the number of today’s genres. Nevertheless, singer-songwriter Lily Cato did just that with Parlour Tricks, an indie-pop-rock-alternative-retro-soul sextet that gained a loyal following and scored major honors winning the 2014 Village Voice award for Best Pop Band in New York. The band went on "hiatus" since this interview with Cato took place, but she remains active musically and served as the NYC music organizer for last January's Women's March on Washington. Here's what she had to say, and spoiler alert, she's not a fan of the Mango Mussolini.
What’s your pre-show routine like?
Well, getting dressed. We always have wardrobes for the shows so we get dressed together, run over vocal parts if there’s anything new that we’re trying, warm-ups if we remember to be good and do them. That’s pretty much it. The [routine] is very chill.
Does everyone fit in the same van when you tour?
We make the bad ones ride on the roof.
Who are the bad ones?
It depends on the day. We take a 15-passenger van. We’d love to take something bigger, but bigger is more expensive. We just pile in. Two of us don’t drive so we’re the ones who get to sit up front and keep the driver awake. We did an overnight drive two months ago, and I had the passenger seat graveyard shift. I literally just read every article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone about Donald Trump out loud. I was reading non-stop for like four hours, and it was great. We stayed awake!
That would definitely keep you awake.
That will! The terror will keep you awake.
Have any of your shows gone horribly wrong?
God, yeah, probably. Let me think. What’s your criteria?
Missing Instruments, horrible crowds?
Shit like that happens all the time. We played a show recently where the crowd was amazing, and the vibe was a lot of fun, but the sound was so terrible that we had to cut the set short. It was just unfathomably bad on stage. Those are really the darkest moments because we want to have a good time, and we’re not fussy. We’re pretty easy going in general and good about sound check, but this was like, I had to admit defeat. I couldn’t hear anything, and after a certain point, what is the purpose of continuing. That’s not funny bad, just sad bad. We’ve also played some weird corporate events. I think the first one we played was a holiday party for AOL and Huffington Post, but we had never played an event like that before, and we hadn’t prepared nearly enough material because they wanted us to play three sets. We had maybe 50 minutes of material, so we just played the same set three times and played all the songs differently. We did a normal set, then we played in a bossa nova, and then we played everything like jazz. It was really funny, and no one fucking noticed! There should have just been an iPod playlist, but it was a learning experience.
Yep, pretty dark.
Do you do most of the songwriting?
I do all of the songwriting!
Are your lyrics from personal experience?
Some of them. It’s funny because I used to not write from personal experience at all, not even a little bit, because I read pretty obsessively. I was writing songs predominantly based on books or newspaper articles—taking a narrative from someplace else or entering characters that I liked—but nothing particularly personal. But then I don’t know what happened. I got really annoyed one day. I was having a fight with my boyfriend, and two songs very rapidly came out back to back, and they were different from anything that I had written before. It marked the beginning of a new phase of songwriting because I was never particularly introspective in songwriting. It became like a game, a very new frontier, but my favorite songs on [Broken Hearts/Broken Bones] aren’t the most directly personal. “Walk in the Park” is about the book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt that came out a couple years ago, and “Broken Hearts/Broken Bones,” the title song, is about a friend’s relationship... a really rough break-up that my friend went through. “Bukowski’s” about weirdos that try to pick you up at the bar. I pull from anywhere.
What’s the weirdest gift you’ve gotten from a fan?
Uhmm. The weirdest gift…?
Guys get underwear thrown on stage, right?
No! I wish! Why don’t people do that more?
I guess it’s a thing over here in Portland.
We have to go to Portland! We’ve never played in Portland. I don’t know if fans have given us any gifts. You’re making me, uh…
Oh, I’m sorry.
Jesus, yeah, it is embarrassing. Fuck. We have fans ask us for gifts. No one gives us any presents!
Thank you for calling this to our attention.
People should be more grateful.
Haha! Buy our albums and give us presents.
Have you ever had any spiritual experiences at a show you’ve seen?
I’ve had a few very different ones, but one was seeing the local Brooklyn band called Not Blood Paint perform for the first time. I’m a huge fan—they’re fucking weird. I walked into a venue to see another band, and they were on first, and I didn’t know who they were. They were playing glam metal with beautiful four-part harmonies and face paint and full-length fur coats, like grandma coats, and I had never seen anything like it. And I loved it in a way that I hadn’t ever really loved new live music before. I see a lot of live music, and I usually know at least one of the people on stage, in this scene, because everyone knows each other. It was really amazing to see something totally new and be caught off guard, and it felt transcendent. It was such a fresh, wholesome, in a weird way, feeling. It felt so good, and it stayed with me for so long. It’s the only band that I actively go out of my way for. If I’m in town and they’re playing, I’ll go see them.
On the other end of the scale, seeing Paul McCartney play “Blackbird” by himself on a stage in an arena was pretty up there. Just sobbing with my friend. That was special. That might win!