In February 2015, the Black Lillies seemed poised to sail through the recording process of their fourth studio album. They had studio time booked, a GRAMMY award-winning producer lined up, a string of high-energy sold-out shows in their wake, and a fan-funding campaign that surpassed its goal. There were only two problems: first, on the eve of the band’s first pre-production session, two veteran members announced that they were moving on to pursue other interests. And second, the band only had three songs ready to go — nowhere near enough for a full-length album.
Determined to live up to the band’s “always expanding and evolving” (Vanity Fair) nature, hard-touring front man Cruz Contreras was unwilling to lose any ground in the face of these challenges. With deadlines looming, a well-timed snowstorm afforded Contreras the opportunity to hunker down in a basement-level studio to re-group and get to work penning 10 songs for the roots, country and soul-inspired ‘Hard To Please,’ out Friday, Oct. 2 via Attack Monkey/Thirty Tigers.
Such focused writing sessions were new for Contreras, whose previous songs were all written as inspiration struck. In fact, the process of creating ‘Hard to Please’ afforded the band several new experiences. It marked their first time bringing in an outside producer, GRAMMY award-winning Ryan Hewitt (Avett Brothers, Johnny Cash, The Red Hot Chili Peppers). Recording outside of their hometown for the first time, the band set up camp in Nashville at the historic House of Blues Studio D.
It also exemplifies an expansion for Contreras, who learned to rely a little more upon his remaining band members – calling in an assist from drummer Bowman Townsend while writing the title track and even handing lead vocal reins over to Trisha Gene Brady for the appropriately titled song “The First Time.”
A last-minute decision to bring in new players for the recording session, rather than rely on the two departing members, paid off: the incredible chemistry between the three remaining band members and bassist Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses), pedal steel player Matt Smith (Amy Ray, Shannon Whitworth, The Honeycutters) and 20-year-old Nashville guitar phenom Daniel Donato resulted in studio magic.
With additional contributions from an array of guest musicians, ‘Hard To Please’ illustrates the band’s diversity both sonically and instrumentally, seamlessly mixing saxophones, trumpets and trombones with steel guitars, banjos and mandolin.
Enthused by the expansion of their musical family and inspired to incorporate the album’s lush depth of instrumentation, The Black Lillies expanded their touring outfit as well. The band is now a six-piece featuring multi-instrumentalists Sam Quinn (the everybodyfields), Mike Seal (Jeff Sipe Trio, Larkin Poe) and Jonathan Keeney (Robinella).
Hailed as “buzzworthy, genre-mashing roots music” by Rolling Stone Country and praised everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to Entertainment Weekly, The Black Lillies’ eclectic sound is reflected their raucous live show, which prompted NPR’s Ann Powers to name them a “top pick” at SXSW 2014. It has also earned them festival slots from Bonnaroo to Stagecoach, as well as the honor of playing The Grand Ole Opry more than any other independent band in history.
‘Hard To Please’ follows the band’s 2013 ‘Runaway Freeway Blues’ album, which climbed the Billboard country charts, landed on more than a dozen “Best-Of” lists, and dominated Americana radio, spending a whopping three months in the Top 5.
Fall tour dates will be announced in the coming weeks. For more on The Black Lillies, please visit theblacklillies.com.
‘Hard To Please’ track List:
1. Hard to Please
2. That’s the Way it Goes Down
4. The First Time
5. Bound to Roam
8. 40 Days
9. Broken Shore