Here at CelebMix we love highlighting talented unsigned artists. We feature a lot of your favourite mainstream acts, but there are so many brilliant unsigned acts out there for you to check out. Last time, we introduced you to David Mark Bulley. For this edition of Unsigned Artist of the Week, we’re featuring Abby Lyons, an American singer-songwriter, composer, pianist, and ukulele player.
Abby Lyons is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts with a degree in Music Composition. Currently living in Los Angeles, she works as a music store employee and ukulele teacher in addition to being a singer-songwriter. She describes her music as “insightful, snappy pop” and often accompanies her vocals with cheerful ukulele tracks and piano melodies.
Her songwriting is personal yet relatable, and she’s never afraid to throw in a bit of sass- particularly on her original ‘Your Girlfriend Would Hate This Song’. She also shows off her sweet, romantic side on tracks like ‘I Wanna Marry You’ and vulnerability in songs such as ‘This Story Again’. Her work can be best described as:
[music] you would probably enjoy if you are into insightful lyrics, engaging stories, and feelings.
One of Abby’s breakthroughs was a song she wrote called ‘Nightmare in the Morning’. The song was featured in an animated video of the same name, and was awarded a Staff Pick on Vimeo. She also co-wrote and recorded a song called ‘The Routine’ for another animation posted on Vimeo. While in LA, she recorded a beautiful song at Capitol Records by the name of ‘Send Me Off To Sea’, which was included on the CalArts Jazz CD.
In 2016, Abby performed live at the Troubadour with her band for the CalArts Soundstream. She played two of her original songs: ”Your Girlfriend Would Hate This Song’ and ‘I Left A Man’. The performance showcased the same confidence and quality vocals evident in the recordings of her songs- so we can’t wait to see more live gigs from her!
Abby frequently posts short ukulele and piano covers on her Instagram (her ukulele rendition of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Superbass‘ is well worth a listen, especially for the clever lyric changes!) She also occasionally posts original songs on YouTube. One of our absolute favourites is her song called ‘Gardener’. The combination of Abby’s uplifting harmonies, the cheery ukulele tune, and the bright sunshine in the video emphasize the simple message in the song about returning to nature.
In addition to her music, Abby is also a talented visual artist. Her Instagram is sprinkled with multiple bright, cartoon-style illustrations- many of them themed around her music. We have to say, we’re big fans of her art style!
Currently, Abby is about to release her debut, self-titled album. She started a campaign on Kickstarter over a year and a half ago and has since been putting her efforts into perfecting the 10-track album. She documented the entire process through posts and photos on her website and Instagram.
It’s fascinating to see the entire process and evolution of her album. On her first album journey, Abby has sketched concepts for album art, posed for photoshoots, made original songs for Kickstarter donators, and so much more. It’s clear that Abby has worked tirelessly on countless aspects of the album and has been involved in every step of the way- from songwriting to singing to producing.
We got a chance to catch up with Abby before the release of her debut album on May 26th, 2017. We talked about her musical influences, making her debut album, future plans, and more! Read our full interview below.
Tell us a bit about the process of creating your debut album. What were the most challenging and most exciting parts?
I loved putting this album together, but I don’t think I knew what I was getting into at all! Having never done it before, there were definitely a lot of surprises along the way.
I think the most challenging and scary part of the process was launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. It was a nerve-racking experience, and I was full of doubt in the beginning. I was worried about whether or not people would support it and I definitely didn’t want to come off as a pest. In the end, the experience was overwhelmingly positive!
The most exciting part of this process was being able to collaborate with my incredibly talented friends. My former roommate took on the graphic design for the album and incorporated all these amazing watercolor paintings. The photographer is someone whose work I’ve admired for a long time. My boyfriend engineered and mixed the record, and is probably the only person who could have put up with me! This album really marks a time in my life, partly from the stories told in the songs, but also because of the people who put it together with me!
What is your favourite lyric that you’ve written for the album?
I never wanna hurt you, babe
Just tryin’ to un-shirt you, babe
I love seeing people’s reactions when I sing these lines! I think people see me as being pretty sweet and wholesome, so this always surprises them! Haha!
You also produced the songs on this album. How does that fit into your songwriting process?
Arranging my songs for interesting instrumentations is one of my favorite parts of the songwriting process. As a classical musician, I grew up playing in orchestras and living in that “complex” musical world. I’ve always loved the simplicity of popular music as well. I admire the people who bring these worlds together, like George Martin on the Beatles, Rufus Wainwright, and Sulfjan Stevens, to name a few.
Figuring out what kind of sounds I can bring together to create the right moods and textures is really fun for me! After I write a song, I’ll listen to it in my head and imagine what kind of world it should live in. I think arranging them myself is something that makes my music unique!
Who are some of your musical influences and dream collaborations?
Well, one of my most significant musical influences is my mom. She is a singer and teacher, so growing up I heard her singing a lot around the house. For me, her voice is definitely, like, the ideal.
In terms of songwriting, I think I owe a lot to Taylor Swift. She’s an extraordinary storyteller, and she’s the reason I picked up the guitar again. Also, Sara Bareilles is such a role model for me, because wow! Another girl with brown hair who plays the piano and is a bit sarcastic?? Her stories and lyrics are incredible, and I want to write a musical after hearing ‘Waitress’.
My dream collaboration right now is definitely Dodie Clark. I recently discovered her and I am in awe of her singing and songwriting! She’s absolutely delightful and I think I could learn a bunch from her.
What have been some standout moments for you as an artist so far?
I have done some cool things recently. I got to record a song of mine at Capitol Records for the CalArts Jazz CD. I performed at the Troubadour with my band for the CalArts Soundstream. I also wrote a song called, ‘Nightmare in the Morning’, for an animation that got popular on Vimeo. These have definitely been shining lights and encouraging steps for me!
But a super life changing moment for me and my confidence happened at my 6th-grade talent show. I was singing ‘Reflection’ from Mulan with my mom accompanying me on the piano. The crowd was all 6-8th-grade students and they were honestly a pretty misbehaved audience. They talked through the first verse as I sang, and after the chorus, they started clapping, but in a way that was to try to get me off the stage.
That just made me more determined. Shoulders back, I powered through the second verse, and by the time I got to the bridge, the crowd was finally hushed. When I got to the high notes in the chorus (I was singing the Christina Aguilera version) the crowd started cheering like crazy! At the end of the song, I received a standing ovation (from middle schoolers, the rudest kids ever)!! It was like a Susan Boyle moment. That was a turning point for my self-belief, and I still get all jittery thinking about it!
What do you hope to achieve as an artist in the next year?
This year, I’m going to write my next album, look for a record deal or grant, go on tour, put up more content on YouTube, and make money from my original music! (That’s the dream.)
I’m also going to be working on my relationship with my art, so that it doesn’t get to be about just wanting to be famous, comparing myself with other people, or even about money (haha there isn’t any money). Above all, I want to make sure that my art is doing good in people’s lives, and hopefully I’ll see that a bit more. A friend of mine recently messaged me to say, “Thank you for sharing your beautiful music with the world! Artists like you are making the world a happier place, one song at a time.” If I could measure my success in comments like that, oh my goodness, would that be fulfilling!
Music goals!! ??? It's taken me a while to be honest about what I want to do, because of what people would think. A few years ago I was at a party talking to one of my mom's friends. He asked what I was going to do, and I told him, "I'm going to be a songwriter." He laughed super loud and said flat out, "No, you're not." It was exactly what I was afraid people would think, and what my own brain had been telling me so long. ??? Tbh I don't think it was that moment that made me realize it, but it's okay for people to think my goals are crazy. I'm just glad I'm brave enough to tell them to people now! ??? This post was inspired by @angryseagullnoises's art goals!! I know you were curious if your art inspired anyone else to draw, so here you go!! Thanks, this was a super fun project. ? Ps. My crazy talented animator friends! Remember me when you're working disney, I'll write you the best songs ever!! ?? . . . #sketchbook #goals #pencilcolors #selfportrait #illustration #art #singersongwriter #pop #folk #abbylyons
Quickfire time! What was the first concert you went to?
Remember I mentioned my mom was a singer? My first concert was probably hearing her as the soloist in Handel’s ‘Messiah’!
Favourite song on your album?
‘No More Heartbreak’ :)
Any advice for your younger self?
Keep drawing. Also someday you will be a master of the boys so don’t worry about that.
Does pineapple belong on a pizza?
Haha! Pineapple and pizza are just okay-ish, I’m not a big fan! But I sure have plenty of weird food habits, so by all means!
If you have to pick one: ukulele or piano?
Oh no! Okay, well, if I had to pick, it would be piano. I love ukulele, but piano is my lobster. <3
We’d like to thank Abby for taking the time to answer our questions and congratulate her on the release of her debut album. Abby Lyons’ self-titled album is now available to pre-order on iTunes and will be out on May 26th, 2017. Physical copies are also available for purchase.
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