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Singer Lilly Yan Strives For Authenticity Over Perfection

Written by on February 27, 2023

Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Lilly Yan uses her lyrics to transport listeners to different places.

Growing up in Hollywood, Florida, singer-songwriter Lilly Yan was heavily influenced by the tropical feels and diverse makeup of the Florida region. Looking back on her childhood, she recalls many different musical sounds like salsa, merengue and bachata, and notes the influence Florida’s diverse geography has on her style today. 

Now, as a musician in Atlanta, she has begun doing acoustic performances in the city. While she enjoys performing, she has found the most passion in writing. Yan showcases her writing skills in both English and Spanish, finding inspiration in both languages. Recently, she notes, she has preferred writing in Spanish.

“I just switched to mainly Spanish lyrics in 2020. Seems as if more people are connecting to that side of me,” Yan explained. “I love being able to express my experiences through words. Performing is extremely exhilarating, too. Both are different to me, but also extremely rewarding.” 

Lilly Yan by Tristan Hallman, courtesy of the artist.

Her single “Diferentes Lugares,” Spanish for “Different Places,” was written and sung in Spanish and made its way onto Vocalo’s February “In Rotation” playlist. The track showcases both her lyricism and production skills. 

“The overall production to me in this particular song is so stimulating, and I think that’s what makes it so special,” Yan said. “I hope this song encourages people to travel more and see the world. Life is too short to not explore.” 

As a new month approaches, Yan is excited to release a new single in the works, as well as some big news about an upcoming project. The Vocalo team heard from her about future releases, the Atlanta music scene, important lessons she has learned so far in her career and where she is still looking to grow. 

Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up in Hollywood, Florida? 

Ahhh, Hollywood, how I miss it so… minus the hurricanes. Growing up in Hollywood was a beautiful experience. The diversity, the different cultures, the amazing food, the heat, the beaches. I loved every minute of it growing up there.

What was the music scene like there? Did you have any early favorite artists who you feel have influenced your style today?

So I lived in Hollywood up until I was 14, but for the most part, it was super tropical. Lots of flavors like bachata, salsa, merengue, reggaeton, you name it. I was actually heavily into rap, and once upon a time thought I’d become some amazing rapper. I actually do have some flow though, haha. As far as favorite artists from early on, I’ve always had a thing for ‘80s music in general. Heavily influenced by synthesizers, retro-wave, shimmery guitars and lots of funk. 

Photo by Juno Jo via Unsplash.

When did you know you wanted to perform and make music?

Probably when I was around 12 years old. I auditioned to be in a choir for a church womens’ event, so I had to perform a song for the director and his exact words were, “Okay, I think we’ve got something here, you’ve got a good voice.” That motivated me to press forward with music.

We’d also love to hear about the Atlanta music scene! Could you give us a brief rundown of your experience there so far? How long have you been based in Atlanta?

The Atlanta scene is pretty eclectic. Hip-hop is of course super popular over here, regional MX, singer-songwriter, pop. My experience so far has been a bit limited. I’ve mainly done small acoustic shows, but am looking to expand and get a full band on stage with me soon.

Photo courtesy of Tristan Hallman

In terms of the music-making process, do you prefer writing and recording or performing live? Or are they too different to compare? Explain.

So since I only have a few acoustic shows under my belt performing original music, I’m not sure if I could really compare the two. I absolutely love everything about writing, though. I’m a true writer at heart. I’ve written ever since I was a kid and have always been into literature, so the writing process in itself is beautiful to me. I love being able to express my experiences through words. Performing is extremely exhilarating, too. Both are different to me, but also extremely rewarding.

For listeners who may not know, you make music in both Spanish and English. How does your creative process differ when approaching a song in Spanish vs. English, if at all? 

This is a really great question. So the process honestly varies for me. I find inspiration through both languages, but these last few years I’ve mainly been writing in Spanish and growing in that area. I just switched to mainly Spanish lyrics in 2020. Seems as if more people are connecting to that side of me.

Do you feel more comfortable communicating your thoughts and feelings musically through one language over another? Please elaborate.

I wouldn’t say that I feel more comfortable choosing one language over the other because they are both a part of me, you know? Although, I do tend to veer towards English and I most likely do that because I grew up in the states, but only spoke Spanish in the household. So I normally just end up translating whatever I had from English to Spanish, since I’ve been focusing on that.

Your song “Diferentes Lugares” was added to Vocalo’s on-air rotation for February. Tell us about the single and what it means to you. 

First off, super cool, so thanks! “Diferentes Lugares” is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever released, even though all of my songs hold a special place in my heart… I feel like I have to say that as an artist, haha. I wanted this one to be different and a bit more darker than my other projects. I wanted to give this song more of a sensual vibe without the actual lyrics being sexual, so the idea was to let the sensualness permeate through the music. The overall production to me in this particular song is so stimulating, and I think that’s what makes it so special.

What do you hope listeners take away from it?

I hope this song encourages listeners to live life with intentionality and be daring. It’s obviously a very specific song about travel as I love to do and plan to do more of this year. So I hope this song encourages people to travel more and see the world. Life is too short to not explore.

What was the most challenging part of making this single? How did you overcome that obstacle?

Would you believe me if I told you there wasn’t really anything challenging about making this song in particular? It unfolded so naturally. If I absolutely had to choose something, it would be making sure we had that synth solo just right. The idea was to make the solo sound intoxicating and euphoric, but we didn’t want it to be anything over the top or too busy. It’s one of my favorite parts of the entire song.

What do you feel is the most important lesson about performing or producing music you’ve learned so far in your career?

I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about performing is that not everything you do is going to always come out perfect. We’re humans, we’re not perfect and that’s okay. I do think that the most important thing is to always perform your heart out and connect with the audience. People are looking for authenticity from us, and we need to give it to them. As far as producing, I think everyone should remember that music in itself is subjective and, if you have a non-mainstream niche, that it is okay. People will find you, you don’t have to always go with the current. Go against it. You just have to keep releasing music and creating the sounds you love.

Photo courtesy of Tristan Hallman

How have you evolved as an artist since the release of your first single? Where are you still looking to grow?

Absolutely. I’ve grown lyrically, I feel like my songwriting has matured and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve also improved vocally, challenging myself to try things I’ve never done before, even if it’s intimidating at first. The point of all of this is to push and stretch myself. I’m still looking to continue to grow more in both of these. Also level up as a musician. I love the journey that I’m on and I’m looking to have fun with it, because that’s why I originally started: to express myself and have fun and hope others join me.

What are you up to next creatively? More music? Live performances? Let the listeners know!

Well, I have a new single coming out at the end of March or early April that I’m very excited about. A pretty big announcement I’ll be announcing after that release, and I’m hoping to get more performances under my belt, too! So stay tuned and keep in touch with me through the socials.

Keep up with Lilly Yan on Instagram, and stream her music on Spotify below.

Interview and written introduction by Joshua X. Miller

Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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