The Black Lillies
515-B North McDonough St.
Decatur, GA, 30030
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 8:15 PM
The Black Lillies
Over the summer of 2017, Americana darlings The Black Lillies launched an experiment … a songwriting challenge for themselves that forced them to be accountable to their fans.
“The Sprinter Sessions” were a series of live videos broadcast via Facebook Live from the back of their Sprinter van while driving down the highway or at stops around the country, from the frozen cityscape of Philadelphia in late winter to the side of a Midwestern backroad with fallow fields stretching to the horizon. In various combinations, the Lillies — founder/songwriter Cruz Contreras, bass player/songwriter Sam Quinn, guitarist/songwriter Dustin Schaefer and drummer/songwriter Bowman Townsend — committed themselves to recording a brand new song every week. They weren’t lavishly orchestrated or fully fleshed out; sometimes lyrics had been written mere minutes prior to the broadcast. The songs were performed on acoustic instruments still grimy from shows the night before, and the guys didn’t bother to pick out their finest threads. Quinn, more often than not, played shirtless.
“You’re putting songs out there that weren’t finished, weren’t perfectly arranged, and we might barely have been able to perform them,” Contreras says. “We might be tired or hungover, playing them at a truck stop or wherever. It wasn’t glamorous — but it held us accountable to that a rate of productivity that was really important, and it kept our fans up to speed with the evolution of the group — even if a lot of them did offer to send us clothes or food!”
More than anything else, “The Sprinter Sessions” set the stage for “Stranger to Me,” the new album by the Lillies that drops Sept. 28 on Attack Monkey/Thirty Tigers. The album is the band’s first since the departure of longtime member Trisha Gene Brady, and it’s one that has been highly anticipated by fans and members of the media who were curious to hear the “new” Black Lillies. It’s been a slow roll-out, but the new record is the sound of a band that’s been renewed and reinvigorated, anchored to the traditions that made it so beloved by so many but chiseled down to the bare essentials:
Four men. Four friends. Four artists, each of whom could rightly put out a solo record tomorrow, tied together by a bond to something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
“Paring down the lineup has given these guys space to shine and grow and evolve, and the chemistry is incredible,” says Contreras, who in another life was the mandolin-shredding bandleader of Robinella and the CCstringband, once signed to both the Columbia and Dualtone labels. “The guys have become not just sidemen or guns for hire; they’re invested. Their opinions count, and their creativity is as much a part of this record as mine. There are songs that I wrote; that Sam (a veteran of the Americana group The Everybodyfields) wrote; that we wrote in any combination and all of us together.
“It’s pretty simple, when you get down to that romantic notion of having a band. We rehearse together, we travel together, we hang out together because we’re dedicated, and I think the music is really showing that now. For me, it’s been years of learning to set your ego aside, but experience teaches you that you have to.”
Making room for other voices in the band was vital in rekindling Quinn’s creative fires. The winner of the 2006 Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest and a respected solo artist after The Everybodyfields folded, the well had dried up for him back home in Knoxville until a spot opened in The Black Lillies. Working with Contreras, Townsend and then Schaefer, Quinn says, was akin to tossing gasoline on the smoldering embers of his songwriting chops.
“It’s like, when the itch hits, that’s the time to scratch it,” he said. “Office Depot is now my favorite place. I’m always buying paper and pens and destroying them, because I write all the time.”