February 23, 2014

An Interview with Casey Hood of Lily and the Tigers

Casey Hood speaks of songwriting like it holds an almost transcendental mystique. “It’s something that’s coming out of your subconscious and is coming to light,” says the lyricist, principal composer, and lead vocalist of Lily and the Tigers, who along with bassist Adam Mincey and guitarist Jared Pepper has crafted a masterpiece of folk and Americana, The Hand You Deal Yourself (due March 4), an album that is as visceral as it is inspired.  

You recorded the new album in Vermont. Was there any special reason for that?

When all these songs starting coming up, we just kept saying, “Wow, we’d really love to go to the woods to record this album.” The album before this one was recorded quickly in one night, and we were still in a city atmosphere; we felt like we didn’t get to fully dive into it. We had a connection through a friend of a friend with [producer] Steve Askew who used to live in Atlanta and work in the music industry down here. He made us a great offer and we love Vermont—we’d toured there a couple times before—so we just hit the road and decided to go to Vermont for a whole week. It kind of gave us the chance to really get into our zone and do things the way that we wanted to do them. 

It’s amazing how the environment in which you make music can affect how the music ultimately sounds.

We actually camped out the whole time we were up there. The studio that we were recording at was about fifteen minutes down the road, but we were camping in the middle of a state park right by a river. Every morning we’d hear this river and at night we were cooking over the fire and playing music. It was a really beautiful experience. 

You write the lyrics, but how does the music come about in general? Is that more of a group effort?

I will just get a melody or something and I’ll start humming it at first—I won’t even think twice about it; it’s just something I do a lot—and then lyrics will come to me. Then the last thing that I do is sit down with the guitar. So before I meet up with the band I usually have the chord structure and the general sound, and then Jared and Adam work their magic in there. 

We started off as a two-piece and we grew into a six-piece, and we’ve just come back down for this album as a three-piece. That has had an influence for sure on the songwriting because there’s more space for us to work on intricate parts and feel out, “Where are you on this part of the song, and how can I counteract that?” or, “How can we work together?” So now that we’re three pieces it’s a little easier to work on the actual music part and write that out together.

Is the space that comes from the three musicians something you all try to embrace, or do you generally try to fill it in?

It is something I’m definitely learning to embrace. I [used to be] more so like, “Let’s have everything filled,” but Adam and Jared have both taught me more about the space. I come from more [the perspective of a] songwriter and they come from more songwriting in the sense of just the instruments, so they’ve kind of taught me more about space over the years. I’m definitely learning to embrace that, because it can be so powerful. 

“Honey” is one of my favorite songs on the album, particularly how it kicks into a whole new rhythm in the chorus.

I often find that I do that. I enjoy that, just kind of stirring it up a little bit. I love that song. Jared actually used a hard scraper and a chain to do the percussion in that song when we were recording it.

That’s like a Tom Waits approach.

Yeah, very much so. It kind of had that feeling. We knew that we wanted a little bit of percussion on it and we were just hunting around the house studio that we were at and put together all the metal objects we could find. We just kind of let Jared do his thing.  

Another favorite is “Just a Memory.” Your vocal on that is really soulful.

I definitely was listening to a lot of Otis Redding at the time. I love soul and R&B music and Motown. 

Overall do you enjoy the songwriting process?

I do really enjoy the process. Most of my songs come so quickly to me that it’s such an energy rush when they come upon me. It’s one of those things where I might be walking somewhere or riding a bike—usually they come to me when I’m in motion, even like driving on a trip or something—and I’ll notice, I’ll get that feeling. And I’ve learned what that feeling is. So they’re there and they’re present and [it’s] just capturing them quickly. I don’t do a lot of revising. Usually once they come out then they’re out. I’ll play around somewhat with verse placement and all of that. It's definitely an exhilarating feeling. It is a little harder when you bring it to the band for the first time and everybody’s trying to figure out their spot, but I find it inspiring and exhilarating. 

For more information on Lily and the Tigers, please visit their official website.