It's the last week of February, raining and grey and I'm in bed with round two of a deep winter cold that no amount of herbal tea or sleep seems to kick. I text Lily to say that I'm about to post her interview and also that her outfit today - green raincoat, green Doc Martens - reminds me of a frog and is mildly cheering me up in my shitty mood. I saved writing Lily's intro for last because I couldn't bring myself to put into words what it is I like about her and what made me interested in her the first time we met. Yes, her bright hair and rainbow of a wardrobe makes her hard to miss, especially when she's wielding around her bulky guitar case, but beneath that there's something genuine that my still-figuring-myself-out self resonates with. What I find reassuring about her is that before she is anything else, before she is a creative or musician or runaway - or whatever else she might call herself - before any of that, she is just Lily. That's all I'm going to say about her now, because you will see it right away when you read the interview.
What’s your name?
What’s your performance name? Your stage name.
Oh, Lily Seabird!
Perfect. How old are you?
Where are you based out of?
Uh, my heart.
Okay and why are you in New York?
Because I want my heart to grow.
The night we met I remember you said “Coming to New York was the dream and now I’m here.” What was that about?
Oh well, I wanted to do this for a long time, and now I’m here and it’s crazier than I ever thought it would be. But at the same time I’m like “Alright, how do I touch it now?” I’m here, I want to feel it now.
Can you tell me a little about what you do?
Yes. Well, in the morning I wake up...
A good start -
Okay, I pour some hot water in the coffee maker that’s on the ground of my dirty apartment. There’s this messy stuff everywhere and nobody will put the trash in the trashcan. But it’s not that bad. I only had to deal with that one time, and then after that I left a really mean passive aggressive note. But um, besides my daily routine, I like to play music. I write tunes about things I’ve experienced and things that I’ve seen being experienced. I’ll be doodling around and suddenly it’s like this demon takes over and says “Alright, time to write this song now.” And it just comes out! [Laughing] I don’t always really think about it when I’m doing it.
I used to think all my music sucked a lot, I continue to think it sucks a lot, but I got really drunk my third night of college and played the guitar. And like, I’ve been playing for five years, but I played that night and afterwards realized I should show my guitar to [more] people. [Laughing] Because this is what I like doing, but I also feel like a dick![Laughing] The night we met I was like “Oh, I should bring my guitar.” I don’t think you heard me play that night though.
No, I stalked you online and found your Soundcloud. Can you tell me about how you got your guitar?
I bought my current guitar three years ago. It’s a Seagull.
Your guitar is a Seagull, is that why you’re called Lily Seabird?
Why I’m called Lily Seabird? It’s fitting, but that’s not why. One time these two guys who were my friends when I was fifteen were saying “Lily is such a c-word.” Cuz my last name is Seward.
Like Seward Park?
Or like my great-great-great-great grandfather, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward!
Yeah, really. But anyway, that’s not what I’m talking about. My friends decided they couldn't call me “Lily C-Word” because it made me upset. So they chose “Lily Seabird” and then everybody just started calling me Seabird. I hate my last name anyway because people always find a way to roast me with it.
They used to say “Lily Sewer. She lives in the sewer!” [Laughing] That’s why I call myself Seabird, because people would always say that I lived in the sewer! God damn it!
So now people roast you about other things instead.
Yeah, it makes me more vulnerable. Look at all this other stuff they find to roast me about now! [Laughing]
Like I said, I listened to some of your music on soundcloud. How do you record it?
Oh no, oh no. Those recordings are from when I’m like sixteen in my room.
That’s only like to years ago, which is not that long.
I know. They’re kind of shitty recordings. I could definitely do it better now. But the way I recorded that was I was sitting in my room, on my bed, in November. I just pressed record on my computer and did it with the computer mic. I had nothing, I had no microphones, I had nothing that plugged in. All I had was my fucking computer. No extended materials. The computer ear.
So when did you start seeing music as a tool for self expression?
When I was little I played saxophone. I really got into jazz when I was like, eleven, and I used to just sit in the basement and play saxophone all day. I’d play a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane charts. I was in jazz band in high school and I thought everyone was gonna think I was so cool, like at school when I’d bring my saxophone to the Ice Cream Social. [Laughing] I thought everyone in the sixth grade was gonna love the jazz. My friend told me not to bring it, because everyone was gonna think we were so weird. But I was like “Saxophone... is still the coolest thing you can do.”
But then in middle school I just wanted to be like everyone else. I still played saxophone, but I discovered other music that wasn’t just jazz. I just got really into it. I made a documentary about the Beatles when I was fourteen. Then I got into really trippy shit. I’d already been playing saxophone for a while and, god, I remember this night I was in the car with my fucking stepdad - who, if you’re reading this, I hate you and you’ll never see me again - but I said “I really want to learn the guitar.” He was like “That’s a waste of your time, you’re not gonna be good at guitar.” But I still wanted to learn it, so for a while I was saying “Mommm, I really want to play guitar. Daaadd, when you answer the phone from California will you please send me a guitar?” And then one day I suddenly found a guitar in the attic. And it was a really shitty guitar, god knows what's happened to it now. The case I bought my current guitar in was really weirdly shaped and frustrating to hold so I just put the new guitar in the old guitar’s case.
I wanted to learn how to play Pink Floyd. I wanted to learn how to play Hurricane by Bob Dylan. I used to sit in my really cold room and listen to Bob Dylan under my covers and watching the snowfall. I remember being like “Shit, I gotta go to New York City, because that’s where Bob Dylan was, that’s where Lou Reed was. That’s where all those people go.”
Those were my people I looked up to so much back then. I feel like music is such a deeper more experiential form of life absorption. What I love so much about this place is, I like to know about other people. And how they feel about life. What do they think about? What makes them happy? What makes them cry? People that want to feel that come here. And they’re inspired to make cool art. I am so emotionally connected to humans that I just wanted to be able to be just - to be completely alone sometimes, but be surrounded by people living life. I can just go sit in a park at any time and feel all that energy, all those people, living their lives.
I get so stressed out about money and stuff, but like, life’s better. You know? I’m just gonna be poor here. Well, I was gonna be poor anywhere, but like, everyone was like “You’re gonna be so much poorer in New York City!! Whaaaat you’re so poor, how’re you going to New York City right now!? What the fuck??” And I was just like, “Because I wanna do it god damn it! I’m not moving to North Philly with everyone.” Not that that’s no fun, I just didn’t want to do it. That’s the pattern. And there’s nothing wrong with the pattern for anyone that does the pattern, the pattern just wasn’t for me. I’m crazy. I’m one with the wild. So I couldn't go with the pattern.
Can you think of a time when you grew a lot?
Yeah, I can. Last year. Last summer I was still living with my mom and her husband and it sucked a lot. There were a lot of problems. Drug related, treating each other correctly related. Um, my brother not having a good relationship to our stepdad. Like a lot of hate and a lot of really huge problems. Basically, my mom just... took it over the edge. So I moved out. I was seventeen and didn’t know who I was gonna put as my legal guardian on any of my shit, or how I was gonna get to school. But I knew I could’t live there anymore. I moved in with this lovely family, the Torrez’s. I helped them around the house, but mainly they just let me live there, which was really nice. But it wasn’t like living at home. It was living with these people who I’d never lived with before, so I was like “Alright, time to get your shit together and grow the fuck up, right now.” I had to take care of a bunch of things last year. Like I had no health insurance. I had to get all these vaccines to go to school, so I had to try to get health insurance, get Medicad and all this shit. And I was applying to college, I took all AP classes. I was also just emotional. Not super emotional, but feeling detached from everything while also trying to be positive and like “Yeah!” Also I had none of my shit. [Laughing] I didn’t have that much of my stuff because I packed in like seven minutes, so I was having moments where I was like “Wow, where’s my favorite teddy bear, or that frickin shirt that I like?” I just had to grow up really fast.
My friends were saying things like “Oh yeah, sorry I can’t, my mom said that I had to stay in tonight.” Or “My whole family is doing this together.” And hearing stuff like that, I felt sad. It was fine though, I just pulled it together. But, I grew a lot that year. Because now I’m here and I don’t think it’s as overwhelming for me as it is for some people. I already know what it’s like to not live with your family. I was a runaway until I turned eighteen. When I was living with the Torrezs it wasn’t like being on my total own, they were there for me, but they weren’t my family. They weren’t responsible for me. That was a privilege. That was so nice that they let me do that. I didn’t want to fuck it up. But I was also seventeen, so I wasn’t completely ready.
What do you think other people think about you based on what you make and the way that you look?
Oh, I feel like I have to be completely honest right now. When they first meet me they probably think I’m genuinely weird looking, kind of ugly and disproportionate and they definitely think I’m really awkward [Laughs] and cringey. But recently I’ve been realizing that I can be really awkward and cringey but if I show them I can play guitar they think I’m cool. Guitar’s not cool at all, it’s really easy to learn, it doesn’t make me special. I hate having to tell people about my music. I’m not a depressive person, I don’t wake up and think “Oh shit, everyone’s gonna think I’m ugly and weird today.” [Laughing] I’ve actually just come to terms with that. And why do I dye my hair crazy colors? Because I really like how those colors look when I see them. That’s why I wear crazy colors too, because I like looking at them. It’s so much excitement. Look at that shoelace! [Pointing at neon shoelace] This girl stole it from Duane Reade and gave it to me, it’s really bright and I like looking at it. Maybe sometimes people think I’m really overdoing it and I should do less. “She’s so extra, why’s her hair two colors.” Or maybe they like looking at the colors too. Oh my god, I think someone’s in a burrito costume over there.
Costume changes! Okay, stay focused for one more question. The last question I ask everyone is: can you remember a time when you felt truly powerful?
Wow. This is the first thing I thought of for some reason, and I can give you another answer but now I have to tell you this one. I don’t want to sound like I’m making light of the question, but I had a dream last night that I was in Harlem smoking a joint. The cops showed up so I pretended I had just been smoking a cigarette. But they told me to get in their car. So I went and sat cowgirl style on the cop in the police car, but he said “No get in the back!” So I crawled into the back of the police car and then they told me they were protecting me because my family has history in the mafia. Then I smoked a joint with the police. In my dream.
What the fuck??? Okay, I’ll take that!
So powerful right there. [Laughs] I sometimes feel very unconfident, but one of the first nights I was here I met this great guy, his name is Max. He’s a fashion design student and he’s really awesome. We were walking down the street and I said “I keep feeling like you guys are more grown up than me, but we’re not, we’re all just in college now.” And he was like “We are all grown up. Tell yourself you’re older. And tell yourself you’re beautiful when you walk, and walk like you’re on the runway. You will feel so much better about yourself.” So I was like “I’m gonna take a bigger stride, I’m gonna put my head up, my shoulders back, and I’m gonna walk down this street today and face whatever this shit is I need to face.” And now, when I’m walking on the street I’m like “This is a powerful experience.” And I’m just thinking of Max telling me “You are whatever you want to be. If you feel young, say that you’re older.” That was the gist that I got at least.
Nobody knows who you are here, you can be who you want in anyway that you want.
Anyway you want it...that’s the way you got it. Anyway you want it.
Nah nanah na na.