Eager to please

The Black Lillies to play Oddbody’s Music Room

By Justin Kreitzer

Photo: The Black Lillies perform at Oddbody’s on Nov. 19; photo: Joseph Llanes

The Black Lillies are a Knoxville-based Americana band led by singer-songwriter Cruz Contreras. Their hybrid sound effortlessly blends elements of classic country and western, and dusty folk-rock with punchy Motown-like horns alongside danceable R&B and bluegrass-inspired rhythms. The band is currently touring in support of their fourth album titled Hard To Please, which was recently released via the Nashville-based label Thirty Tigers. They will make a stop in Dayton to play at Oddbody’s Music Room on Thursday, Nov. 19 with Mark Cantwil opening up the show.

In anticipation, the Dayton City Paper caught up with bandleader Cruz Contreras to inquire about his influences, the band’s recent lineup changes, the new album and more.

The Black Lillies’ unique sound leans heavily towards classic country and western but you have been known to throw in some Motown flavor and folk rock flair; who are some of your main influences and some of your not so obvious influences?

Cruz Contreras: Being from Tennessee, we’ve been very fortunate to grow up in an extremely diverse and complex musical culture. From the birthplace of country music in Bristol, to Music City USA in Nashville, to the soulful sounds of Memphis and Muscle Shoals just to the south and the bluegrass and classic country roots in our hometown of Knoxville, we’ve learned that music is music. If it has soul, if it tells a story, if it makes you dance, if it enriches your life—it is good. Our influences range from bluegrass and country to jazz and rock n’ roll to classical and pop music. We roll them all up into a brand new stew that is mindful of tradition and completely irreverent at just the right moments!

The new album, Hard To Please was made possible because of a successful fan-funded campaign. What are the anxieties and also the most exciting aspects about doing an album that way?   

CC: Making a fan-funded record is an amazing, challenging and rewarding experience. To have that vote of confidence from your fans is extremely humbling and inspiring. The idea that a very personal creative experience is going to be on display is a little unnerving, but also helped us rise to the occasion. The best part is knowing that we and our fans are in this together for the long haul!

Prior to recording the new album, integral band members, Tom Pryor and Robert “Bobby Dix” Richards left the band. How did that shape the album to come and how have you adjusted without these longtime members in the lineup?

CC: The departure of Tom and Robert was a huge deal for us. First, on a personal level … your band becomes your family and a change like that really hits home for everyone. On a musical level, those are some big shoes to fill! And this all came in the midst of an insane tour schedule, creating new material, figuring out who would play on the record and determining who would play the live shows moving forward. It was a whole lot to negotiate. That resulted in the album becoming a real transition for us. Trisha, Bowman and I were joined by Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses on bass, Matt Smith of The Honeycutters on pedal steel and this 19-year-old whiz kid guitar player from Nashville, Daniel Donato. With the help of producer Ryan Hewitt, we really stepped out and made the record we were hoping for. The process reminded me that the music itself is bigger than any of us.

My favorite track on the new album is the hip-shaking, rockabilly-inspired title track, “Hard To Please.” It sounds like a really fun one to play live! What is your favorite song to play live and why?

CC: I think the band’s favorite to play live right now is “The Broken Shore.” It was the second to last song written for Hard To Please, and we only recently began performing it live … it’s still very fresh. It requires a visceral performance, and when we perform it we get this feeling that we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

Fun, upbeat songs like the aptly-titled “Dancin’” seem like they would engage the crowd and get them up and moving, which can be hard to do. What can new listeners expect from a show by The Black Lillies?

CC:Dancin’” is exactly that. A get on your feet, put on a smile, let’s have a good time song. I love performing songs like that. Happiness is infectious, and the world can always stand a little more joy! Our shows vary depending on the venue. We play festival stages, listening rooms, clubs and about anywhere you can put a band. So if the crowd is on their feet we’ll rock out. If it’s laid back, we might tell a story. We don’t have a canned show, so we’ll be just as entertained as hopefully the audience is.

What does the future hold for the band?

CC: It’s hard to say what the future holds for The Black Lillies right now, but it does look bright! We’re gonna keep on touring, writing, recording and getting the music out there to whoever might dig it. The wish list does include a bigger ride, some videos and a day off here and there!

The Black Lillies will perform Thursday, Nov. 19 at Oddbody’s Music Room, 5418 Burkhardt Rd. in Dayton. The show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door or $10 in advance for patrons 18 and up. For more information, please visit oddbodys.com or theblacklillies.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Justin Kreitzer
Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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