Interview with Abby Lyons: She’s Sugar, Spice, and a Classical-Pop Splice

Are you looking for a fresh voice or some relatable lyrics on your playlist? Maybe a joyful ukulele tune or a sappy love song to brighten up your dreary day? Then you need to meet Abby Lyons, an American singer-songwriter, composer, pianist, and ukulele player. 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 her side hustle: pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter. She describes her music as full of “insightful lyrics, engaging stories, and feelings” and often accompanies her vocals with cheerful ukulele tracks and piano melodies. Her songwriting is personal yet relatable, characterized by healthy doses of sugary sweetness and balanced out by tinges of her “tell-it-like-it-is” attitude. In addition to her music, Lyons is also a talented visual artist. Her Instagram is sprinkled with several colourful, cartoon-style illustrations- many of them themed around her music.

One of Lyons’ first musical breakthroughs was a song she wrote called “Nightmare in the Morning”, which was featured in an animated video of the same name and awarded a Staff Pick on Vimeo. She also co-wrote and recorded a song called “The Routine” for another Vimeo animation. While still in school, she recorded a hauntingly beautiful song at Capitol Records by the name of “Send Me Off To Sea”, which was included on the CalArts Jazz CD.

While Lyons appreciates these recent milestones that brought her success, a turning point in her career as a musician happened early on, during a sixth-grade talent show. During our interview, she recalls singing a song from Mulan to a rather disrespectful audience of middle-school kids. “That just made me more determined,” says Lyons, recounting how she powered through the song until the crowd fell silent, and how she earned herself a standing ovation at the end. “It was like a Susan Boyle moment. That was a turning point for my self-belief.”

Since then, Lyons has honed her performance skills. In 2016, she performed with her band at the Troubadour, a hub for singer-songwriters in L.A. She showcased 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. However, most of her performances now take place on the Internet.

Lyons frequently posts short ukulele and piano covers on her Instagram (her ukulele rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Superbass” is well worth a listen for the clever lyric changes). She also occasionally dips her toes into the world of YouTube, posting original songs and covers on her channel. One standout is an original song called “Gardener”. The combination of Lyons’ uplifting harmonies, the cheery ukulele tune, and the bright sunshine in the video emphasize the simple message in the song about returning to nature. Lyons tells us that expanding her audience on YouTube and posting more content on the platform is one of her main goals for the future. It’s a smart move given the number of major acts who have launched their careers by posting videos on the website, ranging from Justin Bieber to Alessia Cara to Tori Kelly.

Lyons describes the genre of her music as “insightful, snappy pop”. Her originals thus far are a bright collection of introspective songs that fans of Dodie Clark, Tessa Violet, Lauren Aquilina, and similar artists would enjoy. Lyons cites Clark, a musician with roots on YouTube, as one of her dream collaborations. “I am in awe of her singing and songwriting,” she says. It isn’t difficult to see the similarities between the two- from their perky personas to the vibrant aesthetics of their branding to their reliance on ukulele and piano as foundations for their songs.

The sound of Lyons’ music today is heavily influenced by her classical background. “I grew up playing in orchestras and living in that ‘complex’ musical world,” says Lyons. Having also been drawn to the accessibility of pop music, she admires producers who succeed in merging the classical and pop spheres, citing George Martin, Rufus Wainwright, and Sulfjan Stevens as a few of her inspirations. Another musical influence is Taylor Swift, who Lyons calls “an extraordinary storyteller”. She also relates to “Love Song” songstress Sara Bareilles, who’s “another girl with brown hair who plays the piano and is a bit sarcastic,” as described by Lyons.

Currently, Lyons is gearing up to release her debut, self-titled album. She started a campaign on Kickstarter over a year and a half ago in an attempt to fund the album. Initially, she had concerns about whether the campaign would be successful. “It was a nerve-racking experience, and I was full of doubt in the beginning,” says Lyons. However, she managed to surpass her goal of raising $2,500 and concluded the campaign with 71 supporters pledging a total of $3,700.

Since then, Lyons has been putting her efforts into perfecting the 10-track album. The entire process was documented through posts and photos on her website and Instagram. By sharing the evolution of her album, it’s evident that Lyons worked tirelessly on countless aspects of the album and has been involved in every step of the way- from songwriting to recording to producing. Lyons tells us that this personal touch makes her music unique. “Arranging my songs for interesting instrumentations is one of my favorite parts of the songwriting process,” says Lyons. After writing a song, she has fun trying to  “create the right mood and textures” with the instrumentation. This is evident in her album, which uses a wide variety of instruments to create unique arrangements that Lyons describes as “classical-pop fusion”. Lyons plays the piano on several tracks and the string family makes frequent occurrences- namely the ukulele, violin, and cello.

The album also does a spectacular job of highlighting the range and versatility of Lyon’s voice. She soars with confidence on “Regrets”, and harmonizes effortlessly on tunes such as “No More Heartbreak” and “I Still Love You”.  The piano ballad “It’s so Easy to Fall in Love” shows her vulnerability, but she returns to her exuberant persona with hints of sarcasm on “I Left a Man” and “Your Girlfriend Would Hate This Song”. You also can’t miss Abby’s incredible songwriting talent across the board- from the clever couplets in “I Wanna Marry You” to the beautiful metaphors in “Winter” and “Little Robin”. Abby’s journey is only beginning with this album, she has already created a distinct sound for herself and began to carve her own path as an artist. This is a diverse collection of songs that showcases the best of her vocal, songwriting, and producing abilities.

What’s next for Lyons 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!” She seems to have several concrete goals and a clearly defined vision of who she wants to be as an artist. But she hasn’t sacrificed the authenticity and relatability that characterizes her music. “Above all,” says Lyons, “I want to make sure that my art is doing good in people’s lives.”

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 purchaseCheck out Abby’s website here and keep up to date with her on social media: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Soundcloud | Patreon

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Written by Annemarie Cutruzzola

Canadian arts & culture writer and journalism student.