Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MerleFest Spotlight: The Black Lillies

With the 2015 MerleFest Music Festival starting tomorrow, The Triangle Beat would like to conclude our MerleFest Spotlights with yet another artist you should get to know at this year's festivities.  The Black Lillies, based out of Knoxville, TN., will be returning to the Wilkes Community College campus after making their festival debut in 2013.  Cruz Contreras and The Black Lillies originally got their start in 2007 with the release of their debut album, Whiskey Angels.  What was seemingly created as an opportunity for Cruz to hash out the realities of previous experiences, The Black Lillies have since embraced the opportunities that have been presented since Whiskey Angels.  Moving forward from their original album, The Black Lillies have managed to share their unique blend of folk/country music with many audiences across the country, highlighted by performing on some of the largest festival stages, such as Bonnaroo and South by Southwest.

The Triangle Beat was fortunate to catch a moment with lead singer, Cruz Contreras, as the band was in the process of recording and producing their newest album.  Check out what Cruz had to say about the band's anticipation of returning to MerleFest and the exciting things in the near future for the band:

The Triangle Beat: What has the current recording process been like for your upcoming album?

Cruz Contreras:  It has been a really great process for us this time around.  We have remained committed to doing this independently from the beginning and it is nice to know that we can be successful in making records the way we want them to be.  It has also been an opportunity for us to keep our fans in the know as we continue this process, whether it is through social media or blogs, we have a lot of people that are helping us maintain that connection to the people that support our music.  That is something we feel very passionate about as well.

The Triangle Beat: In regards to the new album, what was the main focus for this album and are there any differences from the previous albums that you've released?

Cruz Contreras: I would say there is definitely a progression of sound.  A common theme from previous albums would be that I wrote the songs on this album and Tricia and I are the lead vocalists still, so you'll still hear the same voices.  A major difference will be that we recorded the album live.  We recorded all 11 songs over 4 days in the House of Blues in Nashville, so I feel like we were able to capture live energy on this record that reflects who we are as a band and the energy you'd expect from one of our performances.  I feel like we have been able to take our time with the production and purpose for the album.  The time really allowed for us to make this record sound the way we wanted.

The Triangle Beat: When do you anticipate releasing that album?

Cruz Contreras:  We are going to release the new album in October, but if fans want to get their hands on the album a bit earlier then there are opportunities to do so through the Pledge Music campaign.

The Triangle Beat: As you mentioned, The Black Lillies are using a different approach to recording a record in that it is being funded through Pledge Music.  What made you decide to explore that opportunity for the newest record?

Cruz Contreras: It is interesting in the progression of more and more musicians using opportunities like Pledge Music and Kickstarter to fund their projects, but again I think that it provides an opportunity to include fans in the process.  We realize that there is a lot of follow through in getting to release a new album and that is a commitment that we have made all along in that we want our fans to play a role in what success we may have.

The Triangle Beat: In having played at MerleFest before, can you speak to the meaning of getting asked to play at this year's festival?

Cruz Contreras: The tradition of the festival, the Watson family with Doc and Merle, those are my roots.  I mean I grew up learning to play acoustic music and as an artist there was no one better to emulate as a musician than Doc Watson. In that regard, there isn't a festival that is a greater honor to play for me than MerleFest.

The Triangle Beat: You mentioned your musical roots, what influence does growing up in Tennessee have on the style of music that The Black Lillies make?

Cruz Contreras: The musical heritage of Tennessee has been a huge influence.  You know I've spent most of my life here, growing up in middle Tennessee and then going on to study music at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  If you think about all of the musical hubs from Nashville, to Memphis, to Knoxville, to Muscle Shoals, to Chattanooga and the different styles of music that the state represents, in that sense growing up in Tennessee has just been a huge blessing to the type of music we hope to create.

The Triangle Beat: In closing, I know that The Black Lillies have undergone some changes to the band lineup and for many folks at MerleFest it may be their first time hearing your music.  Who will be featured in the band this weekend?

Cruz Contreras:  The lineup will include myself and Trisha Brady in addition to our drummer Bowman Townshend.  Sam Quinn will be on bass, a Knoxville guy that is in the band, Everybody Fields.  On guitar will be Megan McCormick who plays for Jenny Lewis, and our pedal steal player will be Matt Smith out of Asheville, NC.  You'll also be able to see Matt play on Thursday with The Honeycutters.

Be sure to stick around on Sunday of MerleFest and include The Black Lillies as a part of your plans.  You can see The Black Lillies performing on the Americana stage from 2:00-2:45 PM on Sunday afternoon. Tickets for this year's MerleFest Music Festival are still available for purchase by visiting

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