Kurt Heasley :: Lilys and Artistic Freedom

by Ryan Haughey

Since 1988, Washington D.C. artist Kurt Heasley has been rocking through genre and style with his band Lilys. Call them shoegaze, dreampop, post-rock, or grunge, the spirit of Lilys is to pursue the purity of art. Over the years, Kurt and Lilys have been compared to My Bloody Valentine, The Monkees, and The Zombies, but there’s no pinning down the sound of Kurt Heasley. 

Growing up in Washington D.C., Kurt says that he was exposed to the masses. With such a large population packed into D.C. and the surrounding area, he had a wide array of creative influences. There’s no small talk with Kurt – he jumps right into the deep end of philosophy of religion, artistry, and self-care. He says that throughout his career, his weirdness has attracted outcasts and individualists, allowing him to surround himself with a diverse crowd of free thinkers. In the early 2000’s, Kurt collaborated with bands such as Nobody and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, as well as having produced for bands like Ladybug Transistor.

Over the past few years, Lilys have reissued a handful of albums, including 1994’s A Brief History of Letdowns on Frontier Records – re released in January 2021. The record begins like an anthemic rock essential. Kurt’s poetic lyrics are like an old oil painting – one you look at and see the story and emotion behind the pigments. Gritty, distorted guitars set the stone canyon for Kurt’s voice to trickle through and croon lyrics of devotion and camaraderie. With a track list of names, Kurt shares stories of people and places with the deep love of experiencing the continual newness of life.

About a thousand loud and proud guitars drenched in distortion are a pillar on A Brief History of Letdowns. It’s not nostalgia you hear on most songs – rather, a recognition of the beautiful every day; or something you might feel nostalgic for in the future. Lilys drives a groove like a freight train. During the jam sections of the album, you can hear an assortment of effects and sweeps, guitars stacked up like a mountain of bricks, sonically bursting through your speakers.

In the Presence of Nothing is A Brief History of Letdowns’ predecessor, and was reissued in 2017. This was Lilys’ first full-length record, and it’s a bit more experimental. You can hear a few more subtleties in this album with more diverse ideas, but don’t worry – it isn’t missing that staple fuzz wall of guitar distortion and feedback. Lilys’ first reissue was in 2015, with Eccsame the Photon Band, which was originally released the same year as A Brief History of Letdowns. This release has more atmospheric aspects to it. The track listing is sprinkled with untitled, little diddies – bass lines, feedback effects, synth lines, and some excited hype-man-esque shouting.

Lilys have no one sound – maybe it’s because the lineup was consistently changing. This is probably a contributing factor, but Lilys’ ever-evolving style and sound stems from Kurt Heasley’s consistent and passionate pursuit of new ideas. Kurt’s mind must be racing most of the time, because he’s rarely short of new ideas. He encourages those he meets to find their creative passion and explore it without any fear of judgment or failure. Weird is weird, but weird is just fine.

A Brief History of Letdowns is out now on Frontier Records.

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