Belgian-born neo-soul singer Lily Head invites listeners to talk to their inner child.
When Lily Head, 28, opens the door to me a cloud of incense and steam appears around the door frame and a flurry of bright beads in her hair click together as she takes me through to her kitchen.
She stirs a steaming bowl of pasta, unphased by her long chrome acrylic nails tapping together as she moves the spoon around a bowl.
She offers cheesy garlic bread and pasta and a velvet yellow mid-century modern chair to perch on next to a dark table covered with a mustard, yellow and orange busy ’60s floral tablecloth.
Lily lives in a post-war, flat-share with three other girls in their early twenties. The musician is about to head to her friend’s gig at The Beehive in Mile End.
Collaborating with Anderson Paak’s team to release her new EP “Cherry on the Cake” last month, the neo-soul artist is interested in the “gap between how this generation feels and how we communicate”. Between songs on Lily’s new album are voices from a past trip to London, voices of people describing how they see love and loss and connection.
Why did you move to Bethnal Green?
‘I came here a year ago and I remember walking down Brick Lane thinking I could really picture myself here. I interviewed people in the street for interludes on my current EP. I knew I wanted to be east, I wanted to be close to the busy part but this area also gives me the peace and quiet I need to write.
‘I think if I lived more central I would be more tempted to go out all the time and distract myself. I need time to reflect in my own space. In Belgium, I used to live in the centre but in a quiet area, and I would write out of my window, I felt like I was closer to nature.
‘You’re making me think now, maybe unconsciously I was looking for the same thing I had in Belgium.’
What were your first impressions of Bethnal Green?
‘I remember thinking there were a lot of cute shops, from a lot of different cultures, Indian supermarkets, and different fast food places.’
How has your music changed since being here?
‘There is also a big difference in the scenes here, there is so much Jazz in London. The equivalent in Belgium is rap – which I would say makes up about 60% of the scene. I would love my music to be more influenced by Jazz, I’ve loved going to jazz gigs here.
‘I’ve been learning so much, I’m always with different musicians singing and jamming. I’ve learned to be a vocal coach for my friend’s new album. But I write less, I kind of miss it, I think it’s because I’m in a house share now and I’m scared of waking them up.’
How does it feel being in a house share after living alone?
‘I like it – I think I would have been depressed living alone in a new city. But I love speaking to my flatmates, and chatting in the kitchen, I get excited when I see them knowing we’ll have long chats.
‘Once I was alone in the house and I was so scared. There was a full moon in Aries – people get crazy on full moons!’
What do you miss about living in Bruxelles?
‘Other than the waffles – my friends. I feel like London is a big city and people are always out and about, and maybe pay a bit less attention to each other. In Belgium, we don’t talk to each other if we don’t know each other. But here, when you meet people it’s harder to create deep, lasting connections.
Why do you think people are more surface-level in London?
‘It’s because of the ‘hustle’ and I think people try and show a facade. They’re trying to see what they can get from other people to help their own hustle, so they forget how to be their real selves around people.
I feel like on the whole [in Bethnal Green] we mind our business here, it’s nice in a way. I’ve never been harassed in the street here like everywhere else in London, and the world. There isn’t much chatting though.
Has London boosted your career thus far?
‘Yes, things just go faster here. You can meet the right person faster than in Belgium. Even a week after I moved here, I was jamming in the studio with well-connected musicians, and people were interested in getting to know me as a musician. I didn’t even have to ask for anything everything just came to me. I feel like I just manifested it.’
Would you say you are spiritual?
‘When I was looking for houses on the spare room – nothing was working and everything kept falling through. I had a room set up, but it didn’t quite feel right and then that fell through too. I said to my angels, ‘What is going on?’ I was annoyed with them. ‘What’s the lesson here?’’
‘I see them as spirit guides really. It all came about during lockdown, or ‘confinement’ as it was called in Belgium. I was really just by myself because I was living alone. Then as a person and artist – I also got more into astrology and really tried to understand it more.
‘I always felt things very deeply – and I felt very different from people. But I didn’t dive into that feeling as much as I do now.’
How does it compare being a woman in London to Bruxelles?
‘I feel like here, I’ve never had to prove myself more, professionally as a woman. People just don’t take you seriously at all. I often find myself in rooms of men ignoring me or belittling me, it’s not the same in Bruxelles, there’s a lot less pressure to prove your worth as a woman.
‘Here I feel I constantly have to prove I deserve to be in the room, the way people look at me and talk to me, the energy they give… its something I’m still getting used to, it’s very frustrating.’
How does food help you connect with your culture?
‘I miss waffles from Belgium – they’re delicious. When I went back recently I took a bit into one and it was like a cloud. They’re so good.
‘Fufu – it’s like this paste that you roll out and spread over your hands to eat your food. It’s delicious. There’s another dish I forget the name of… it’s very green and is spinach-based.
If I could bring back one from London to Belgium it would be Hashbrowns. They’re perfect I don’t know why we don’t have them in Belgium. And the chai lattes from Quarantacinque.’
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy: ‘It’s warm and magic and inviting’: Chloe Latchford on how Magic Me helped her tackle isolation and re-connect with Bethnal Green’s community.
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