LIMF Academy 2019: Lydiah
We’re meeting each of the LIMF Academy Most Ready artists ahead of their performances at this weekend’s festival. First up is the storytelling troubadour Lydiah.
Within minutes of meeting Lydiah, we’ve covered a kaleidoscope of topics from her admitted strange love of sucking on lemons in lieu of alcohol, spotting whether people are wearing contact lenses and taken a surprisingly dark turn into the specifics of the Michael Jackson allegations.
If we learn nothing else about her, we at least know how quickly her mind works.
But, in actual fact, we learn much about her. Despite the darkness that lies in much of her music, Lydiah herself is a warm and wildly funny individual, breezing through each subject at hand and always appearing to find light.
Lydiah isn’t a songwriter as much as a storyteller. Perhaps this was inevitable. Her love of poetry, lyricists such as Joni Mitchell, art and film combine with her delicate musicality to create a sound that feels familiar, and utterly enchanting.
Born and bred in the city, Lydiah is a 19 year old singer-songwriter with a seemingly other-worldly ability to conjure material out of just about any circumstance. “I began writing poetry at a young age,” she says. “I always sang at school too – choir, and musical theatre. But I started playing guitar at 14. I was really ill for two and a half years, and in that time I wasn’t in school, so I didn’t have anything to do. As soon as I mastered the guitar, I started writing. I was in my own little world, and I just got everything out. All of those poems I was writing just grew into songs.”
She played these songs alone in her room, not allowing anyone in her circle to hear them. Fast forward a year and she entered a song she had written called Peter Pan into a competition, and ended up winning. This was the confidence boost she needed to start taking her talent seriously.
She jokes about how never paid much attention to pop radio, and instead grew up listening to “a lot of Coldplay” with her dad. But her real influences were the storytellers.
Listening to her music, the obvious connection to make was to Joni Mitchell, to which Lydiah concurs. “She doesn’t seem to be that well known in my generation. I didn’t listen to her much until more recently. I bought an album of hers that came out later in life called Both Sides Now. She reinterpreted some of her older material on there, and if you listen to her first record and then that one, it is as if her career has come full circle. It gives everything such a cinematic scope”.
This is true also of her visual representation, a sort of “Woodstock folk” that matches her music beautifully. When linked to her soundcloud page, we were immediately faced with a striking image that she tells us was art nouveau, before listing a series of words that summed up her feelings on it, and how she feels it complements her music; “whimsical, hippy-ish, greek mythology, fantasy, free spirited”.
But she also cites Damien Rice, who she respects for his blunt lyricism and that “all of his songs are from personal experience. He’s really raw and just says what he is thinking.” When we first meet, we bond over a shared love of Bruce Springsteen, one of the archetypal storytellers in rock & roll. But when I ask her to cite her greatest influence, she takes a sharp turn into the unknown.
“There is a guy called Keaton Henson. I find him endearing because he’s this off the grid singer-songwriter. But he has anxiety to the point where he rarely plays shows. I can’t express it – his lyrics proper hit you. His music is very orchestral, and his voice is quite fragile. It is as if every single time he’s on the verge of tears.”
Given this, plus her fascination with the cinematic scale of people like Springsteen and Mitchell, it should come as no surprise that she takes almost as much inspiration from film and television as she does from music.
Lydiah can never truly tell what will spur on her creativity, as she found out when watching the American version of the TV show Shameless; “Every single character has a different personality and storyline. It fit in with my dark aesthetic. I found it quite interesting to pull from their emotions, and I got a good song out of it in the end called You Are Not Your Father. The show is about a family where the dad is an alcoholic, the mum is hardly ever there, they don’t have parental figure. The eldest doesn’t want to become an alcoholic like his dad. There was a scene where he was drinking and had a realisation. It was quite upsetting, but I can draw from that. In the end, wrote that song, as if to say ‘You don’t have to go the same route’”.
She laughs about how her mum makes fun of the fact that she wrote the song because of Shameless. But, Lydiah can draw incredible material from anywhere. For example, Siren Call was written after one of her regular visits to the Walker Art Gallery. “I try to take inspiration from anywhere,” she tells me. “My phone is full of ideas.”
If there is one song that Lydiah seems most proud of, it is Black Dog. It practically summarises everything she wants to achieve through her art. Not just leaving her work open to different perceptions – something she confesses that she “strives for” – but the subjects she most wants to tackle.
“I have suffered a lot with depression and anxiety,” she confesses. “I’m quite a bubbly person, and if you don’t know me, you maybe wouldn’t understand that. I was writing because I was isolated, and I wanted to express how I was feeling. That was a big turning point for me. I thought ‘Actually, I could use this to help myself, and other people’. I have had mates who have listened to my songs, and told that I had vocalised something that they couldn’t say.
“Black Dog is one of those. It is quite dark. It isn’t just ‘I’m depressed’, but there is a subtle sadness running through it. I think it is so important to be open about these things.”
Lydiah became aware of the LIMF Academy through an Instagram post last year. She applied, and didn’t think much about it.
This year, however, she took it far more seriously, and cited some other projects she had been on as part of her motivation.
“I did the Levis Project with Liverpool Sound City,” she explains. “I knew we’d get industry advice, but I didn’t realise the extent and scale in terms of people coming in from publishers, studio engineers, small seminars. It was useful to get that information straight from someone who knows. A lot of it was rap, Loyle Carner was leading the project. I was nervous about how that applied to me to begin with, but then I realised that rappers are storytellers as well, so it was interesting to collaborate.”
That project ended with a huge performance immediately preceding Carner’s headline set on the main stage at the Sound City festival itself – an acclaimed performance to a packed crowd on New Bird Street. “I was so nervous, walking up the steps, but once I got into it, I thought ‘This is it, this is what I want to do’. And to see everybody else on the project and how far they’ve come too. You don’t necessarily think you’ll get anything out of these things, but it was actually really useful.”
She has also immersed herself into the Liverpool music scene, supporting established local acts such as Emilio Pinchi and former Coral man Lee Southall, as well as national touring acts like Prom Queen. She has also appeared at festivals such as Shout About It and won songwriting competitions with organisations such as Liverpool acoustic.
But she is most proud of a successful charity event she organised herself at 81 Renshaw, headlined by locally based prodigy XamVolo. The show was in support of the mental health charity Mind, a cause that is obviously close to her heart.
This says as much about her as any of her music, as does the unassuming answer we receive when we ask what kind of career she wants; “It would be nice to support myself and have this as my job, rather than this and another job. Just make a living out of what I love.”
It sounds incredibly realistic.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “Realism is important. Be real with yourself.”
Lydiah plays Liverpool International Music Festival on Sunday 21st July. Tickets are available now.