Lili Holbrook

SF Local Band Spotlight: Lily Holbrook

in SF Local Bands by

I was first introduced to folk rock singer Lily Holbrook almost 10 years ago by accident on Youtube. What intrigued me the most about her was that here was this young lady that looked like a pop starlet with her perfect cheekbones and big beautiful doe eyes, singing these heavy and melancholic songs with deep poignant lyrics. Give “Welcome to the Slaughterhouse” a listen to see what I mean.

She’s originally from Boston, moved to New York and Los Angeles, and now calls San Francisco home. Her style of folk rock has often drawn comparisons to Jewel and Tori Amos, but her sound is unique and truly her own. In fact, legendary producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morisette, No Doubt, Michael Jackson) has said this about the talented songstress: “Lily Holbrook is the real deal!”

You can find Lily on any random night of the week performing on the streets of San Francisco and she’s recently kicked off a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a brand new LP. In between practice and performance, she was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. We talked about what inspired her to start writing songs, what her main influences are, and what’s the strangest thing that’s happened to her while busking in the streets (and what a story that was!)

Can you tell our readers that may not know about you a little about yourself?

I’m a singer/songwriter originally from a small town in Massachusetts. I got my start as a street performer in Boston when I was 21. For some reason, I thought it would help me conquer my stage fright.  I still feel more comfortable playing on a street corner than I do on a stage though, hehe. I have released three albums and am gearing up to release a 4th and 5th next year.

When did you first start writing songs and what inspired you to do so?

I have tapes of myself making up funny little songs starting as young as 5 or 6 so I guess it was in my blood. I’ve always been somewhat of an introvert, was painfully shy as a kid, and I think writing helped me to express feelings that I didn’t otherwise feel comfortable sharing.

What are you favorites topics to write about?  I tend to write about the pretty dark subject matter. My early material is heavily centered around death- I had lost a brother at 16 and that shaped many of my songs. After living in LA I wrote a lot about impossible beauty standards and sexism in the music business.  Of course, I’ve also got some of your standard break up songs — especially lately as I went through a bad one not too long ago. Occasionally I will write something of a more political nature. I wrote a silly song about Trump right before the election.  Given the current state of things I definitely foresee some more of that coming!

What are some of your main influences?

Such a hard question because I love so many different artists! Some of the more obvious influences would be, first and foremost, Tori Amos (such a goddess!) as well as Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Suzanne Vega and PJ Harvey but I am also a huge fan of Classic Rock- Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, The Who, The Stones. Hendrix, etc. Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac are two of my biggest idols. I’ve got a major soft spot for Neil Young. I’m also inspired by 80’s bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode as well as everything from the 90’s when I grew up. It was such a great era for music!

Lili Holbrook
Lili Holbrook

You’re originally from Boston. How is the music scene over there different from here in San Francisco?

San Francisco is my home and probably my favorite place on the planet but nothing beats Boston’s rock scene. So many great bands have come out of Boston. When I was in college there was an amazing indie rock scene and I was seeing shows almost every night! There are great bands in San Francisco as well but it’s not quite the same. Electronic music has kind of taken over.

Before moving to the Bay Area, you pursued music in Los Angeles for a minute. What was that like?

I use to play on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica just about every day of the week. It led to some really interesting opportunities and eventually landed me my first record deal. I had a lot of fun during that time and met some wonderful people but it could also feel really soul sucking. I ran into so many predatory individuals in the music industry. I was young and fairly naive so it was very scary at times. Ultimately I left to get away from all that. I do wish I could transport the weather to San Francisco though.

What are some of your biggest musical accomplishments to date?

Some of the coolest things I’ve done would be opening up for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC and playing at the All Points West Music Festival in New Jersey which was headlined by Radiohead. I got to play on the same stage as Sia back before she was very well known but I was already a huge fan so that was really neat.  In all honesty, I think what I’m most proud of is that I’ve stuck it out in this crazy world of music for as long as I have and stayed true to my own artistic vision.

You’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund your new album. Why did you decide to go that route?

I’ve had some pretty bad luck with record labels. Both of my last two albums were put out on labels that collapsed shortly after their release. One of those albums, “Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt” was released on Back Porch Records, which was a small subsidiary of Virgin/EMI. When they went under I got kicked to the curb but EMI still owns the rights to that album even almost 15 years later. It’s frustrating. I don’t think I would ever go the label route again but unfortunately, like most indie musicians, I just don’t have the funds to make the kind of album I’d like to make. That’s where Kickstarter comes in!

What do you hope to accomplish with this new album?

I’m truly hoping to blow my other albums out of the water and put out my best work to date. I think some of my latest songs are my strongest. It will be great to be the master of my own ship and have no interference from labels in regards to creative control.

And now a few of fun questions for ya. If you could collaborate with anyone (dead or alive), who would it be and why?  

I would pretty much sell my soul to collaborate with Jimi Hendrix. He’s my all time favorite guitarist and his songs take me to another planet. Also, Lana Del Rey. I think her writing is really unique and has a haunting quality that I love. I’m also slightly in love with her, hahaha.

You do a lot of street performing in San Francisco. What’s the strangest that’s ever happened to you while busking? 

So many crazy things! I should really write a book. I’ve had cake thrown at me, received a $600 tip, had a man doing interpretive dance and somersaults at my feet while I was playing, haha.

I think the strangest thing ever was this one time in Santa Monica. I was in the middle of a song, minding my own business when a very large scary looking woman pulled up her skirt, flashed her vagina at me and yelled: “Look at this, bitch!” An elderly man who used to watch me from time to time had been dancing to my music. He was a new age hippy type with long white hair and he always carried around a big walking stick. He had seemed like such a sweet, soft spoken man but he went up to her and started screaming in her face.  I guess he thought he was defending my honor.

Right when he started yelling at her a homeless man who had been quietly standing near by jumped in and started attacking him. Then the old hippy man went completely apeshit on the homeless guy and started bashing his head into the sidewalk until the cops came! That was probably my strangest and definitely my most dramatic night of street performing.

Can you tell us something about yourself that most people would be surprised to find out about you?

I’m not much of a fan anymore, but some people might be surprised to know that I use to be very involved in musical theatre and almost joined the Broadway tour of Les Miserables when I was 17. It would have taken my life in a very different direction!

Check out Lili’s Kickstarter campaign HERE.

Having released albums under Digital Nations, a label founded by Steve Vai, music critic Louis Raphael has remained deeply connected to the pulse of the San Francisco music scene. Following his tenure as the San Francisco Music Examiner for and, he embarked on creating Music in SF® to authentically highlight the vibrant offerings of the city's music scene.