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For Tilly Bushay, Music Continues The Conversation

Written by on July 31, 2023

UK artist Tilly Bushay fuses reggae, pop and R&B to curate her smooth and confident sound. After her single “Oil & Water” was featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist, she broke down the song, her Instagram dating series and more.

Tilly Bushay by Emmanuel Akwafo, styled by Gemma Young. Courtesy of the artist.

Growing up in London, Tilly Bushay has always been active in her journey of expression, contributing to local theater clubs and writing plays, poems and dances. She credits much of her musicality with familial influences; with her father a lover’s rock and jazz producer and her mother a jazz singer, she grew up surrounded by expression and art in all forms. 

Bushay feels London’s music and arts scene has a heavy influence on her sound today, and even named two singles named after places in the city: “Sutton” and “Surrey Quays.”

“You can not escape your influences,” Bushay said. “London is at the heart of my music, and with it being such a melting pot of cultures, you can hear all of those sounds and flavors in my music.”

Following the release of her latest single “Oil & Water,” which centers on a relationship where the partners don’t mix well, Bushay created an Instagram dating series of the same name. In the series, she sets up blind dates with the goal of finding a compatible connection, or “Oil & Oil.”

“The ‘Oil & Water’ series … [encourages] people to learn more about what does and doesn’t work for them whilst dating and helps them identify their ‘water,’” she explained.

Following the addition of “Oil & Water” to Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for July, Tilly Bushay virtually sat down to discuss the release, her musical background and more — and she notes she may be releasing new music soon. 

You’re currently based in London. Did you grow up there?

Yes, I grew up in London. I am a Londoner, through and through.

Give us a brief rundown about your experience in the London music scene. How did you get started? Do you personally feel like there’s a strong music community in London? 

I got started by being at theatre clubs, writing plays, poems, dances, anything to express myself, really. I have always been a creative person and did a lot of writing when I was younger. The first thing I ever wanted to be was an author, and naturally this progressed into music and songwriting.

There is such a strong music community in London. There are gigs every night. It can be cliquey at times, but there is a stage for every artist at every level.

Tilly Bushay by Emmanuel Akwafo, styled by Gemma Young. Courtesy of the artist.

How does the London scene affect or influence your sound, if at all?

You can not escape your influences. London heavily influences my music; this can be seen in my past releases all titled after places and locations in London, “Surrey Quays” and “Sutton.” London is at the heart of my music, and with it being such a melting pot of cultures, you can hear all of those sounds and flavors in my music.

Do you play any instruments? What instrument would you learn if you could? 

I play keys for songwriting purposes. By that I mean that I understand the piano, but do not play it anywhere near as much as I would love to . My voice is my instrument! If I could learn an instrument it would be the piano to the standard I wish.

In one of the first posts on your Instagram, your mom was seen contributing ad-libs while you were recording a song. Is your family a musical family? 

Yes my dad is a lover’s rock and reggae producer. He had a reggae chart-topper with Louisa Mark’s “Six Sixth Street,” and my mum is a jazz singer. Til this day and throughout my childhood she was always in the church choir, although for her it was more of a passion piece. I grew up with sound, expression and art of all forms.

Your single “Oil & Water” was featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for July. What did the creation of that song look like for you?

“Oil & Water” was born out of a relationship mismatch. The song explores two lovers who just don’t mix well. Everybody has the water to their oil. Your water is personal to you. It’s the thing(s) that makes you clash with a person in a relationship capacity. It’s not just an ick. It’s deeper than that. Have you ever dated someone who you really fancy and really want things to work, but you keep clashing and aren’t in sync enough for it to ever be anything much? Well, this song is that.

Tell us a little bit about your “Oil & Water” dating series on Instagram! Where did the idea come from? Which came first, the “Oil & Water” dating series or the single? How do the single and the series relate, if at all?

The song came before the series, and I came up with the idea for the series. As you will see from my Instagram, I love creating content. I put out a post asking who would like to go on a blind date picked out by me and had people sign up to be involved. I am the friend who throws people in at the deep end and creates experiences. The “Oil & Water” series relates to this single, as it’s encouraging people to learn more about what does and doesn’t work for them whilst dating and helps them identify their “water.”

How would you describe your sound to someone who has yet to listen?

My sound is witty storytelling, journalling my experiences or experiences that I have shared with others. I have never kept a journal, so my music is where all of my secrets are kept. It is my self-exposure over all of the sounds that have influenced and made up my musical identity: soul, pop-soul, R&B, reggae and funk.

Some of your earliest releases date back to 2014. Looking back, do you feel your sound has changed and evolved over this time? If so, in what ways?

Yes it has changed, it is even more playful and I am more experimental with genres. Like “Oil & Water” has a clubby UK garage feel, and my release “Sutton” was heavily influenced by sounds when visiting family in St. Lucia.

If you had your own podcast, what would you talk about? 

My podcast would have to be about music and how we receive it. Breaking down tracks and expanding on how we have interpreted the lyrics, sound and concept. It would be like a book club for music listeners.

Tilly Bushay by Emmanuel Akwafo, styled by Gemma Young. Courtesy of the artist.

What are some of the triumphs and caveats of being an indie artist?

Knowing you’ve done it all by yourself whilst dreaming of how much more you could do with a team and label backing. I love the creative freedom and autonomy over my artistry, but no woman is an island.

How are you able to stay motivated in the industry?

By living, keeping my ear to the ground for new music and sounds and embracing people and conversations. People always talk to me randomly and share their experiences, whether it’s in the girls bathroom at a club, my friends debriefing on a FaceTime group chat or an older person on the bus who sparks up conversation. Music is a continuation of all my conversations.

What is next for Tilly Bushay?

Loads of new music up my sleeve. Follow me across socials and watch this space.

Keep up with Tilly Bushay on Instagram, and listen to the full “In Rotation” playlist below.

Interview by Imani Warren

Written introduction by Imani Warren and Morgan Ciocca

Answers edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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