"Each song is a chapter, inspired by love and relationships, both good and bad": Jen Lilley gets candid about her upcoming album
Musician and actress Jen Lilley gets candid about her new and upcoming album which focuses on fleeting love, empowerment, and vulnerability.
Actress, songwriter, and musician Jen Lilley is all set to debut her new album this fall. Her debut single 'King of Hearts' is already garnering a lot of attention and her upcoming album is believed to focus on vulnerability, fleeting love, and empowerment.
When Lilley is not pursuing music she can be seen testing out her acting chops. She is well remembered for her work on TV as well as her role in the 5-time Academy Award-winning film The Artist'. The actress is also a favorite with audiences since playing America's sweetheart on the Hallmark Channel and NBC's devious leading lady Theresa Donavan on "Days of our Lives."
Meaww speaks to Jen Lilley about her new album and how her musical journey began. Here are some excerpts from the conversation we had:
Your new debut album coming out this fall sounds incredible, could you share your inspiration and process behind that?
Thank you so much! I have always loved 60s music. I grew up listening to a lot of Motown with my dad, but it never occurred to me to do a classic 60s style album until I met legendary music producer, Adrian Gurvitz. When I first met Adrian, he and I would sit around his piano and improvise and see which licks we connected with. One day he just stopped and said, 'Wait. Everything about you is 1960s. Your look, your voice, your style. You sound like Dusty Springfield.' So we honed in on that vision and really took our time collaborating on the music and message. After the demos, Adrian was able to assemble the most incredible musicians to line up several studio sessions. Live musicians bring a color that no artificial intelligence ever could. They bring their soul into the music they play. That’s something you just can’t capture with a program. We loved the outcome so much, we both agreed strings were necessary to complete the listening experience. It took us two years to finish the album, but we didn’t want to compromise a single note. It’s been an incredible journey, and I’m so excited to finally share it.
Was the album a collaborative effort? How were you able to hold on to what you wanted versus what was being suggested?
It was very much a collaboration, but honestly, I leaned into Adrian’s vision for me as an artist. He is so wise. Music is his life. When we began this album, I was embryonic. I call Adrian my rock daddy because he took me under his wing and shared a wealth of wisdom and years of experience with me. He raised me up as an artist. He cheered me on when I wasn’t sure I could ever hit the high notes. He knew all along what I was capable of, so I trusted his vision, trained as hard as I could, and persevered, and I think it’s served me well.
What message are you trying to convey via your new track ‘King of Hearts’? What was your inspiration behind it?
The entire album is a story, and each song is a chapter, inspired by love and relationships, both good and bad. The truth in life is that every single person is in a relationship of some kind. We’re in relation to our friends, to our parents, to our family, to our bosses, etc. Even if you isolate yourself, you still came from something, and you are thereby in a relationship. 'King of Hearts' explores a relationship built on empty promises, one that’s actually non-committal, devoid of trust, and therefore destined to fall apart. The moral of the story is: it is far better to be on your own than in a relationship with a person who doesn’t value you.
Tell us about your musical journey so far. Has music been something that you have always wanted to dabble in?
Absolutely. I’ve been singing since I was nine years old, and when I was little, I dreamed of singing professionally. I didn’t pursue singing for a long time, because I suffer from stage fright and wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to overcome that fear. I had to mature and gain confidence in myself as a performer. I moved to Los Angeles to become an actress, but music just kept following me. A few years ago, I did a Christmas album as a bucket list item for myself. It was thrown together, but at the last minute, incredible and truly legendary musicians agreed to play the sessions on that album, and Capitol Studios let me use studio B for a few of the tracks. That album, which was really just a pet passion project, sold out in an hour, and went to number one in Amazon swing charts, out-selling my personal inspirations, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Harry Connick Junior. I was dumbfounded.
By the time January rolled around, I just figured it was a bucket list item I could cross off my list, but all my fans kept asking when I would debut an original album. Again, I put music off, I didn’t have the confidence or know-how to write and record a real album. A year later, I met the former Mayor of Malibu, Pamela Conley Ulich, at a Childhelp fundraiser, and we got chatting about our interests. I was telling her how I loved to flip furniture and interior design, when my hubby chimed in, and said that I was an amazing singer too. I kept downplaying it, but Pam kept asking about my music. My hubby gushed and Pam said, you have to meet Adrian Gurvitz. To be honest, I passed it off. I didn’t really follow up with her about Adrian, and that night, when I retired to my hotel room, I remember laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and asking myself why I didn’t at least get his info.
The next day at the airport, I literally ran into Pam. Literally. Like straight out of a Hallmark movie ran into Pam, we both said, “Oh! Excuse me, so sorry!” and then realized how serendipitous the entire moment was. We were both flying to two completely different airports, there was no reason for us to encounter one another. She said she was thinking all night how she never gave me Adrian’s number, and I said the same. So she gave me Adrian and his lovely wife Elaine’s number, and then steadied me by the shoulders and made me promise to give my word that I would contact him.
After about three weeks, I was at an awards show, and I saw Andra Day perform. If you’ve ever heard Andra Day, she will straight up melt your face off with her talent. I pulled out my program, and right there it said, “Andra Day, produced by Adrian Gurvitz…” I’m not sure what other lovely things her bio said, but I got my phone out right then and there and contacted Adrian. I met him a few days later, truly thinking that I would just honor my word to Pam, meet a legend, and get back to acting, but something transpired that day, and I found myself agreeing to collaborate with him for a debut album. The rest is history.
Are there any artists you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Tony Bennett. I love his music so much I even had a miniature Tony Bennett doll that sang, “Everybody Loves Somebody” in high school. Yes, I was that kid, who listened to the rat pack when everyone else was all about the top 40s. I saw Mr. Bennett sing at Weinstein’s pre-Oscar party the year “The Artist” was nominated for 10 academy awards. He literally flew in via helicopter, sang one song, and then boarded the helicopter again. I was standing about 15 feet from him, and I just stood there, paralyzed in awe, while tears silently streamed down my cheeks. So, first and foremost, Tony. But also, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Lauryn Hill.
It is not unknown for writers and songwriters to experience a writer’s block from time to time, how are you able to work through that?
You just start writing a new song and then come back to it.
Congratulations on your 5-time Academy Award-winning film ‘The Artist’, what was your experience like on the set? Could you share your takeaways from that part?
In a word, life-changing. After auditioning for a different role, Michel Hazanavicius wrote me into the film. My main takeaways were:
1. Don’t worry if you fit the role you’re auditioning for, just go in and give them a strong choice. Sometimes they didn’t know they were looking for you until you showed up. That goes for job interviews of any kind. Present the best version of yourself, and trust if the job is yours, it will be.
2. Chase your dreams. It took Michel ten years to find funding for The Artist. Financers just couldn’t catch onto the dream and vision in his heart, but Michel never gave up. He persisted until he was able to create and live out his dream, and received 10 Academy Award nominations and 5 wins. Tenacity pays off.
You made your on-screen debut through the role of Theresa Donovan on ‘Days of Our Lives’, what about the role stood out to you the most?
Theresa was the absolute polar opposite of me in every way. She challenged me as an artist.
Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming projects?
I’m currently starring in a hilarious comedy called, 'Stuck Out of Love', with Andrew Lawrence, Jonathan Bennett, and Kassandra Clementi, then I’m flying back to Los Angeles to snuggle with my foster kiddos for a few days, and flying out to Canada to film a brilliant Hallmark Christmas movie called 'Holidate'. After that, I’ll be hustling for the album and writing my keynote speeches for upcoming foster and adoption events.
Being a woman of many talents does sound challenging, how are you able to balance your music and acting?
I just take everything day by day and really prioritize my time. I’m completely silly with friends and family, but I’m extremely focused when it comes to work.
When not dabbling in music or acting, where do we find Jen Lilley?
Spending quality time with her family and friends, or advocating for foster care.
Where would you want to center your focus and attention- would it be music or acting or perhaps both?
I’ll have cake and eat it too.