About a month ago a friend of mine recommended — or dare I say passionately coaxed me into finding — an artist who “I would love”: Lily Talmers. Indeed, I loved her — so much so that last Friday I had the pleasure of sitting down with her to talk about her latest album release, Remember Me As Holy, which came out Feb. 11 and has since been the soundtrack of my life.
It is now my turn to expose you to the talent of this 24-year-old, Ann Arbor-based, Birmingham, Mich.-born and University alum singer-songwriter who writes from the warmest corners of her heart and the coldest places of her mind.
I am not sure if it was the cover art that drew me in, reminiscent of other great records with nostalgic childhood pictures such as Big Thief’s Capacity or Angelo de Augustine’s “Time,” or the first note of the song “Maybe It’s Madness,” but when I researched Talmers for the first time I stopped everything I was doing to delve into her 12-song LP.
I began listening to track after track, reading all the lyrics along the way. I embarked on a voyage of oscillating emotions: I cried with “Francis,” gasped at “Middle of America,” stared blankly at the wall in disbelief during “No Woman,” replayed “Into the Air” six times in a row and stopped to take a break with “The Push and Pull of It.” My poor heart!
A style of songwriting evocative of Joni Mitchell and a mode of storytelling as beautiful as Leonard Cohen’s, Talmers considers herself to have been influenced by the sonic quality of many 60s artists. Her second studio album is an ode to her roots in folk music, roots she said she respects so much she wouldn’t dare seek to ever emulate them authentically, but ones which certainly live within her nonetheless.
I was interested in finding out the meaning behind the record’s title, Remember Me As Holy, which is a line in the song “Francis.”
“It’s being scared that you affect people and that they have memories of you that you can no longer control and wanting to control those memories like a form of love,” Talmer told me in her sit-down interview with The Daily. “If you’re no longer in someone’s life, for whatever reason, at least there’s hope to be remembered as something good.”
Her words expressed a vulnerability of thought which stung while at the same time dampened my mouth with a sweet taste — such a wondrous notion had never before crossed my mind.
Just about a year after releasing her first LP, Temple Down, Talmers describes Remember Me As Holy as being “more self-aware and at the same time more accepting of me leaning into production, as a mode of artistic expression.”
Talmers pointed out that she is somewhat afraid of recording her songs because pinning them down means they’re not breathing anymore.
However, when embarking on the journey of recording this album, which began in October 2020, Talmers was sure of the people she wanted to work with. The record was co-produced by University of Michigan alumni Geoff Brown and Ian Eylanbekov and mastered by Elie Curtis, who is currently in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Brown also did the mixing and engineering and Eylanbekov, along with Ben Green and David Ward (from the band “Sabbatical Bob”), handled the instrumentals.
Talmers described the record as “an exercise of communication, of learning how to speak each other’s language.” Though at times contradictory, the music was about getting to know each other, knowing they all respected each other’s tastes and artistic inclinations.
Talmers recalls a seminal yet exhausting moment while making the record, in which she and her musical partners spent 14 hours recording the track “Into The Air.” It took several takes, involving listening and trying to mutually agree on guitar patterns and melodic turns for the song to be finished.
“There is a point at which the song feels actualized and it is like it’s a breath, it feels representative of what I want to represent,” Talmers said.
While listening to the record, however, I found myself holding my breath, not releasing it. I didn’t want to miss a note, a word, a concatenation of stunning lines — from start to finish, each song deserved my utmost attention.
I recall listening to “Maybe Next Year No. 2” and having my jaw drop to the floor at the line “I’m from the inside of a country that’s been bleeding for a long time / These days a bruise is just a pool in steamy July / You paint a blue sky and everything is fine.” The track is one of three songs that deal with themes of growing up in America’s money-driven society and Talmers’s sense of vastness and loneliness in the Midwest.
Talmers, who traveled to Europe before completing her thesis on the ethnomusicology of Portuguese and Greek music of lament, mentioned having felt ashamed of America’s supposed lack of culture for the longest time. Nonetheless, she found that writing about it was a cathartic process of validating herself and the flaws of the United States: “You have to have a sense of pride because you are kind of stuck.”
This longing for cherishing your culture, or lack thereof, is palpable in the melodies that accompany the artist’s work. With sweet guitar patterns, characteristic wind instruments and a soft and almost whisper-like voice, Talmers managed to stir up feelings I didn’t even know I could feel.
When asked what she intended to accomplish with the record, Talmers said, “I hope (my songs) help you become more honest with yourself, because the songs are really just me trying to reconcile what is in me out loud.”
She sought to have her listeners, jolted by the vulnerability of it all, recognize a sincerity in her that Talmers believes has gotten better over the years, one which she is able to channel and deliver, even though “being raw with yourself is kind of a pill,” she stated. In my humble opinion, she has accomplished all that and more.
Sitting down with Talmers was more of an enlightening experience and a heartwarming conversation than an interview. It truly was an afternoon well spent — a new favorite and one I know for sure will remain a favorite. I have long been a devotee of melancholic storytelling pickled in minor chords, or as American singer-songwriter Tom Waits once put it, “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” And Talmers certainly has a lot to tell us.
Daily Arts Writer Cecilia Duran can be reached at email@example.com.