Interview: We sat down for a chat with Italian multi-instrumentalist Lili Refrain.

Words Letty Sharpe / Photos Ian Mc Donnell.

Lili Refrain is an Italian multi-instrumentalist based in Rome. She has
been making for this solo project since 2007. Lili combines blues, rock,
folk, psychedelia and metal genres to create her unique sound.

LS- Welcome to Ireland, how does it feel to be here?

LR- It’s my first time in Ireland I’m so happy to start from Dublin and start from this wonderful, incredible theatre and I feel really good.
We actually come yesterday, and we arrived yesterday morning with the ferry, so I see this beautiful sea and my first impact was this blue with the sky because we are so lucky that we found a wonderful day and
yesterday we explore a little of Dublin and we go for sure in a pub to take some beers and we enjoy a lot this city so nice and I see also how is warm and hospitality the people is really, really nice and wow it’s
something that you like a lot when you come from another country you know and yeah so nice [laughs]

LS- I’m glad you’re having a great experience over here. Your music is extremely haunting, how does the creative process for writing a song begin?

LR- Oh well um in my last album in particular the creating process was really different from my past because I start my project in 2007 and at the beginning I start only with my guitar and with loop station that is my main instrument I do loop in real time, so I don’t use pre-recorded tracks
or a computer and usually I composed during the night because the music for me is like a way to communicate something really deep and really private also and to share this energy. I usually don’t use words semantic words I mean and so all the things that I sing is invented and
with this first album that is called, ‘Mana’, for the first time I start to introduce percussion and also synthesizer for my first time and I started to write this album during the pandemic time because it was a moment of deep reflection for me, and I start to think about society and also
what’s happened to humanity in this moment and I try to answer to my big question of life with mana that means life force and so it’s also my personal, I try to spread the this energy also with other people yeah and yeah and these are album that speak about a lot of stuff also without
languages inside but yeah.

LS- That’s really cool that you don’t use proper words in your singing.

LR- Yeah, because you know when you use music is a language yeah and is a language that speak really, really deeper that any kind of other languages so I can use Italian or English or French, but this is a limit
because maybe there are some people that can’t understand what you what you are seeing but if you use the voice like an instrument just to evoke something maybe is more meaningful, yeah for me is more open is more universal and is also more deep because you can have book something that maybe you can start to cry when you feel some some music also without word and you don’t know why yeah but maybe there is something that touch really deep inside your strings, and this is the language of the music and I prefer these to semantic.

LS- Excellent answer, so who would your biggest musical influence be?

LR- Ah, this is a hard question to answer but I start to listen metal when I was a teenager and also when I was a child because my father listened a lot of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Santana and I feel these really. I was really attracted by the six strings yeah and so for the first time I start to learn by myself guitar at the age of 14 listen to Metallica and I was trying to reproduce the solo and their arpeggios my first song was ‘Fade To Black’, when I finally was be able to do the
whole song I was like, ‘Yeah!’, I feel like it’s this superpower with the guitar and I continue to listen a lot of metal stuff and I play also in metal band or always like a guitarist and then I start to listen a lot of classical
music also so, metal helped me to open my mind also to classical music because you know the virtuosity and maybe the neoclassical and Baroque way to play of some guitarist is a reflection of a classical music
and when I discover classical music something make like this yeah and yeah and I also listen a lot of electronic music but in always in a in a classical way so with this kind of composition and I really like the
minimalism also maybe this influence my use of repetition with the loop the loop station so I like them the music that uh entering my soul like a mantra you know yeah and so yeah I think that’s when I listen something that capture me and I can’t move I can’t speak because I completely inside that mood this is the music that Elisa and can be in whatever genre and now my I’m really in love with Swans that is this incredible band that I really love with all my heart and I think that for they influence me a lot with also to create this wall of sound i start with a super easy line and then become more bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger yeah.

LS- That’s also an excellent answer. How has the tour been so far with Eivor and Heilung as it started in October?

LR- Yeah, so, it’s amazing it’s absolutely amazing we start in October 2022, so this is actually the third month that we’re touring together is a super long tour and I met Heilung for the first time in Copenhagen in April 2022 was touring uh with my my solar project opening for The Devils Trade that is an incredible Hungarian songwriter and they was in the audience but nobody of us know this and I don’t recognize them immediately because I always saw them with all the custom and the makeup so in the real life I really don’t know what kind of face they are and they was really, really enthusiastic by about my concert they tell me a lot of wonderful stuff about my concert, and they tell me that they exactly was looking for this kind of energy and they proposed me to open their concert and my instant question was, ‘Oh are you in a band?’ and when I discovered that Heilung was Heilung I was like, ‘Oh my God are you joking with me!’, and so this is was the beginning of everything and I can’t imagine that this proposal can be true, and you know I feel you know totally state of grace with them because they are really lovely,
lovely people and we are exploring a lot of places in Europe and for example Ireland, is my first time that I I play in UK so for me is a is a continue discovery and journey in a journey and I’m learning really really a lot thanks to them, so I’m so I feel blessed you know.

LS- A really positive experience. Your voice is so unique, how do you keep it in shape?

LR- I don’t know [laughs] I really don’t know I work a lot with my voice. In the beginning I was really shy to use it so I prefer to hide myself behind the guitar was most more comfortable for me then I
realized that maybe using the voice was more direct I think that is the most powerful instrument that we have and with whom we communicate also so using the voice is something that arrive more deep that any kind of instrument for me and I start to try to use mine, but I never study
singing and I never study music in general so I try by myself when I when I feel that I’m sure that’s what I’m reproducing with my voice am able to make me feel the goosebump I know that is okay, it works, and
so, maybe I can communicate also something to other people but if I don’t feel this feeling it’s not right now. I have to wait and work better and so I try to um make my style with different kind of technique so I
take some technique from opera singing and but also from throat singing and also from the scream and I like really to fuse different kind of techniques and also different kind of music you know to express

LS- That’s really cool that your taking influence from the different styles. If you could collaborate with any musician dead or alive, who would it be?

LR- Wow oh I’d really love her with this composer that unfortunately leaves this world in 2006 called Gyorgy Ligeti, is an Hungarian composer that I really, really love and I don’t know I can be really glad
to meet him in some other universe and make something together can be wonderful, but also meet Tinariwen, Huun Huur Tu or Senyawa or the Bulgarian choir can be I think like an amazing experience that can be able to unite our energy together yeah I try a lot of inspiration from them yeah.

LS- They’re really unique picks. You released your 5 th album, ‘Mana’, during the pandemic, how was the recording process for that? Was it easy?

LR- No, absolutely not. It was really hard because at the beginning I started to record 8 different songs that I take and I put in the trash because I was sure that I already give this kind of energy
with,‘KAWAX’, my third album and so I try to don’t use the guitar for the first time because the guitar is absolutely my comfort zone and so I try to experiment a different path. So, I try to use the instrument that I introduced shyly with, ‘ULU’, that is my first album and I explore better the percussion also thanks to the study of taiko that is this Japanese drum that I studied with Rita Superbi, that is one of the best teachers that I met in my life and is a kind of drumming that unites the music with the martial arts and so it’s really amazing it’s a discipline I practice Kung Fu in my life and when I found that I go I feel oh the big passion of my life are united now you know he’s instrument and so it’s so amazing and the absolutely the influence of taiko is really present in this album because for the first time I start to rack a lot of percussions different kind of percussions, and this is the main character of this album in particular
together with the synthetiser and the voice for sure, but the guitar for the first time is the less character of my of my album and the process was really hard because you know, when you are in a in a new path
everything is new but you have also fear to make mistakes or so it requires a lot of time yeah and I have to thank my incredible super sound engineer that is Stefano Morabito, he helps me a lot in the production of this record and he became also my analyst during my, ‘Oh but maybe will be good if I do that’, and he was so, so important for the realization of this album and so yes, we take two years to record everything and yeah a lot of time it’s like a jester you know like when you have to bore
someone [laughs]

LS- The time paid off as this record is amazing. You have been making music for this project since 2007, what has made you stick with this project for so long?

LR- Because I love this. I really in love with what I do yeah this is my dream so I think that’s a be able to travel all around the world and be able to meet a lot of different culture and people and learn by this by this travel and this meeting also and make all these with the filter of music is something that is unique and I really feel that I married this kind of life because it’s always hard it’s not always easy you know because in a physical and psychological way you have to be really ready for this kind of life you are like a gypsy all over without a proper home you travel and maybe you sleep in a different beds with different places now for example in this tour we dream, we sleep in a in a bunk in a nightliner
altogether so you don’t have privacy at all likely I’m with lovely people, but you know can be and I have to bring them 80 kilo of gear every time and so it’s not so easy for the physical and also psychological you have a lot of stress too because you sleep less hour you can eat not so good sometimes and so this influence you. But I really, I am so in love when when I receive this this dialogue because you know music is a dialogue so for me is the best way to communicate what I feel and to communicate and share energy with people that tell me what they feel in back you know like a feedback so, it’s like yeah, I’m in love with this dialogue and I hope to do this for all the rest of my life if I can.

LS- 2022 has come to an end, did you have any favourite releases of last year or any you’re looking forward to this year?

LR- Favorite albums, okay I don’t know if is exactly in 2022 but okay yes I really adore Messa that is an Italian band that make, ‘Close’, that is is wonderful incredible album and I don’t know if it’s 2022 I have to
check it, but I I’m listening a lot of Huun Huur Tu and Tinariwen and Senyawa music that is a Senyawa in particular is a duo from Indonesia and they are so amazing. Is a singer that have this wonderful huge
techniques just in a voice and this wonderful man that build up by himself at this particular instrument that is like a percussion but on strings and he play like a Gamelan music I don’t know if you know this
this is a is a technique of percussion is like a melodic percussion but I really suggest you to listen Senyawa music, if you like metal you will love a lot because it’s traditional music with metal stuff and these ohh is
so amazing yeah.

LS- I’ll check them out for sure. As an experienced artist, do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start a solo project or just experiment with music?

LR- Enjoy, enjoy yeah I think that if you in general not only music but if you are in love with something you have to follow this path so don’t do boring stuff you have to have fun when you do something that you love and put inside or your all your effort all your energy because it deserve it and you deserve to put energy in a good way in into something that you really, really love I just suggest to spread this love energy with something that you really believe that is in your life and you want to have close to your life forever you know and yeah this is my suggestion put all your energy inside, and also when something is wrong don’t worry because we are not here to be perfect. We are here to live this lifein the best way that we can.

LS- that’s really great advice Lili thank you so much for joining me.

LR- Thank you, thank you.

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