Lily Konigsberg is a well-known figure in the Brooklyn alternative scene. As one-third of punk trio Palberta, she released a new album last month, titled Palberta5000. It is only a small part of the total oeuvre of this hyper-productive producer and musician. Konigsberg released a trio of EPs last year, each of which forms a wonderfully scattered midpoint between experiment and hit-sensitive melody.
Written by: Jasper Willems
As soon as I have reached with Konigsberg, she never misses a moment to hype me up for her next project. “Do you know the band Water From My Eyes?” she asks. “I'm working a lot with Nate (Amos, ed.) these days. We're recording a lot of covers right now, so I often send him a list of songs I like to sing.” And she likes to sing, by the way. Several times during the conversation, Konigsberg starts singing well-known pop hits out of nowhere, simply because it feels right. Belters, that's what they call it in America. Her biggest inspiration is Ariana Grande and she claims to know everything - down to the smallest, most insignificant facts - about her.
Konigsberg's enthusiasm is very contagious. Given her background as a DIY musician who has taken the whiplashes of the music industry several times, you would think that the cynicism has crept in by now. However, all her projects have a common denominator: they all sound like Konigsberg has the greatest fun in the making and writing process. Her latest solo EP It’s Just Like All The Clouds unsuspectingly jumps from slightly bored coming-of-age indie pop to Arthur Russell-esque avant-house. Republicans For Bernie, the latest EP from Lily and Horn Horse – her project with musician Matt Norman – combines crafty PC Music-esque pop with modern jazz arrangements. About the politically oriented title, Konigsberg says: “It sounds a bit like a joke, but during our tour with Of Montreal - just before the pandemic hit - Bernie Sanders was still campaigning for the presidency. We asked for donations during the shows, so Bernie kind of became the theme of that tour.”
Pop hits in front of the mirror
Towards the end of the year there was another release in the form of LILY/LUCY, a new living room pop project between Konigsberg and producer Cooper B Handy (Lucy). Almost all the songs on Laugh Now Cry L8r sound like big pop hits that have stuck in the stage where you are still frolicking in front of the mirror with a hairbrush in your hand. Meanwhile, Lucy and Lily cunningly show how talented they are as songwriters and producers. 'Spider Song' sounds a bit like a Yaeji production, while 'The Last Banger' explores the minimal acid techno angle. Yet it also retains the charm of kids who just mess around a bit to see what remains to stick. Lucy plays the clumsy dork who musters the courage to declare his love, while Lily takes on the role of the girl who is leading the poor boy on.
In reality, the opposite applies. Konigsberg accidentally stumbled upon Lucy's work through Facebook and over the years they became buddies who regularly shared each other's music. During the lockdown there was finally an initiative to record something together. “Cooper is a bit shy by nature, but I immediately thought he was a genius songwriter. He came to my house and it took us a total of two days to compose all the songs. When singing, one of us had to leave the room every time. We both have a lot in common in terms of music taste and method. We just couldn't promote the record, so we released it on a small label (Good Flavor, ed.).”
Konigsberg's impulsive urge to jump from project to project sometimes gets her into difficult waters within the interests of the industry. That was also the reason why a nice record like Laugh Now Cry L8r was a bit overshadowed. “There's been a lot of music released in my life that didn't attract enough audiences. That's somehow a symptom of growing up in a DIY circuit: you develop a natural aversion to the corporate part of the music world. Many of my friends are people that famous musicians are fans of, but the fans of those famous musicians have no idea who we are. Or they know who we are and they suddenly copy our shit. Some are picked up by more famous musicians to collaborate and then get screwed a few times. So for me it's about gathering like-minded people whom I can trust to make sure everything runs smoothly. Without it it won't happen. But… I want to be a pop star, so at some point I'm going to have to figure out a way to handle all of this.”
With such a statement you would almost call Konigsberg naive, but the artistic path she has already traveled is too long for that. She genuinely seems to have a lot of self-confidence in her own abilities, positive and stubborn to go for the highest achievable. Her music often has something childlike; it already sounds fun and poppy before it takes on just the right shape or structure. Songs often clock below the two-minute mark, with at least one hook that you actually want to hear again right away. With that in mind, it makes sense that Konigsberg has considered herself a musician since she was two years old.
“I'm not lying,” she says without laughing. “My father remembered a song I wrote when I was floating in a Florida swimming pool and I still remember it. It was recorded on tape; my father made a small tape recording of it. Soon after, I became obsessed with music. My father is a painter, my mother a graphic designer. They are not musically inclined, they cannot sing or hold a rhythm. But the fact that they were so creative gave me the space to learn music. I took drum lessons and guitar lessons, but never for very long. I learned the minimum of what I needed to know.”
After seeing a show by Liz Phair, Konigsberg got the confirmation she was looking for. “I loved her music when I was too young to listen to her records because her music is very dirty. Liz Phair was not a natural artist in the beginning; she's really clumsy. So I thought, I'm not at all awkward and clumsy, in fact, I'm pretty good on stage. While Liz Phair is really really good at what she does. I immediately thought: I can do this! It confirmed everything for me and the following week I performed with my band at the time. That definitely shaped me.
Palberta is the first band with which Konigsberg has caused an international furore: since 2015 the band has already released five(!) records. According to her, her band members Nina Ryser and Ani-Ivry Block are completely different kinds of musicians and there is a special chemistry between the three. In Palberta they still find a vehicle in which everyone can creatively get their own way without getting in the other's way. During shows, the band members switch instruments several times: the more chaotic and fun the creative process, the better the music often gets. For Konigsberg, Palberta is more about the process and the mutual friendship than the end result. “Palberta's music, to be honest, isn't the kind of music I would have written on my own. We all write together in the same space. That is always very interesting. In Palberta we all have the same taste in music, but also a lot of different things that we like in terms of sound. It just kind of becomes incoherent on its own and I just learned to embrace that aspect of it.”
Playing across each other
It's hard not to grin when you listen to records where Konigsberg has been involved. The audacity to switch from style to style without sacrificing the core of the song is an achievement in itself. Remarkably enough, if Konigsberg can enter into a dialogue with an opponent with her own composition, she likes to work alongside the other. She did that with Lucy on the vocals on Laugh Now Cry L8r, but also with Matt Norman, the horn player with whom she founded Lily and Horn Horse.
“Matt and I met in 2016, and he played horn on some of my own songs at the time. I was still in university. It worked very well. We went on a DIY tour together and people really liked it. The project is very similar to the one with Lucy in the sense that Matt makes something, and then I respond with a song of my own. We also wrote a few songs together, but that's rare. Lily and Horn Horse is an exchange.” ‘Flat Crazy’ sounds a bit like it was written for a SpongeBob Squarepant episode, but the lyrics seem to refer without irony to the polarization going on in America right now. On the album Lily on Horn Horse, Konigsberg follows up Norman's wonderfully funny 'PVC Pipes' with the fragile piano song 'I Only Lose Because I'm Lame'.
Konigsberg says her lyrics are often melancholic in nature; that is why she wants to create a contrast with her frenzied productions. “A lot of my lyrics are extremely dark, but I like it's nice to dress everything up with a nice melody.” Like many musicians during the pandemic, Konigsberg lacks the breeding ground and social aspect of playing live. Yet she also sees opportunities at this time to approach her career – which has so far been typified by the desire for distraction and adventure – to be a little more concentrated so that she can reach more people. “I want to make people happy and keep distracting them for the rest of their lives. I too have suffered from mental health problems and depression in my life. I want people to feel better when such things happen. Even if it is only temporary."
Palberta’s new album Palberta5000 is out now on Wharf Cat Records. Follow Lily Konigsberg and Lily and Horn Horse via Bandcamp. Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.