lilith ai is the british singer marrying queen latifah and riot grrrl
London singer-songwriter Lilith Ai has one of those voices that could make reading instruction manuals sound like reciting poetry. It's soulful, gritty, hazy, and yet piercing as hell: "Hey man don't bother me / My pocket knife's real sharp you see," she breathes on the track "Riot" off the emotive pro-women Riot EP she released at the end of last year. Comprising just four songs, the EP is muscular even its succinctness. But for those wanting more, there's also the 148-page Riot Grrrl-inspired color comic book the singer-songwriter-illustrator dropped alongside it.
"I've always liked drawing little comic book strips and wanted to make a kind of 'Riot Grrrl' fanzine to go with the EP as I find the Riot Grrrl movement really inspiring," explains Lilith. "I'd started work on it last January when my mate Georgia was moving house, I was helping her unpack and saw these really beautiful photos. I asked who had taken them and she said she had and got out a bunch of old binders full of all these wicked snaps she had done."
Her mate Georgia is the model Georgia May Jagger, and the 148-page graphic novel she modestly calls a "fanzine" only scratches the surface of the many stories Lilith has left to tell. As we exclusively preview her new cover of Queen Latifah's early 90s pro-women anthem "U.N.I.T.Y.," which will appear on the Riot EP Deluxe reissue slated to drop April 15 on Lo Recordings, we chat to Lilith about music, mean girls, and why supporting other women is more important than ever.
I've just listened to your Queen Latifah cover about 20 times. Have you always been influenced by her?
I have actually. My older brother used to play it, and my mom used to play it when I was a kid. I always felt like she had a lot to say, and I loved the storytelling aspect of her songwriting. It was just a really good song.
Did you see her on Michelle Obama's panel at SXSW with Missy Elliot? Missy said Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, and MC Lyte influenced her in becoming an MC, and they mentioned "U.N.I.T.Y."
Did they?! I haven't seen it yet. I'll definitely look that up on YouTube.
Who else has inspired your sound over the years?
I've always been inspired by storytelling in songs. People like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, PJ Harvey — people who I've always thought had a lot to say. I also like crazy guitar sounds — like Sonic Youth and Pavement.
Was there any particular experience that made you want to start the Riot Grrrl-inspired 'Fight Like a Girl' music collective with Skinny Girl Diet?
It was actually some females who were negative about other girls, and that really affected me. Some girl would be on stage and other girls would criticize her outfit, you know what I mean? Just criticizing her as a woman. Some girls that I know are models, and we'll just be sitting on the bus and something thinks it's her right to be judging that person and saying mean shit about that person. At the same time, I saw that guys were helping each other and supporting each other, while girls were just cutting each other down and stepping on each other.
Do you think it's because there are fewer women in the top ranks of music?
I've never thought about it like but I think that could definitely be a reason. Guys don't have to get so worried. They had these festival posters in the UK — I don't know if they had them in America — but they took all the bands' names off the posters if they didn't have at least one female member in them. There were, like, one or two bands left on the whole poster. It's so bad. Me and my mates were like, "You know what, we should not do that — we should get together and support each other and be open to other people's music." It can be little things, like if someone calls me to book a gig and I can't do that day, I'll think of one of my girlfriends who can.
What is the collective working on at the moment?
We're working on putting out a mixtape along with another color fanzine. Then we're also working on organizing some club nights and stuff. We were doing a night at this coffee house in London, but everyone got really busy over the winter period so we're going to bring that back in the summer. I might come over to New York too and see what's going on over there.
You were living here for a while, is that right?
Yeah, I was living in Queens for the longest while. I stayed in the Lower East Side for a bit, then I found this apartment in Queens, in Sunnyside. I wanted to do music, and I heard it was really magical there. I was living on pretty much no money for a while, then it just caught up for me and I needed to get home. I had a really good time and I definitely grew up more than I ever would have done if I stayed in London. It's really expensive [in London] so people end up living at home for a longer time. When I came back I literally couldn't go back home because my mind had expanded so much. I just couldn't live under my parents' roof, so I lived in a car for a while, and charged my phone in Starbucks. I put a lot of that experience into my music.
Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Will Eckersley