photos by Adam Rogan and Parker Wolfe (courtesy of Station 1 Records), respectively
From Saturday morning farmers markets to music festivals and back again, 19-year-old singer-songwriter Lily DeTaeye is only getting started.
She straightens her posture as she walks up to the microphone. She slings her acoustic guitar around her shoulder and strums a few notes. Lily DeTaeye glances at the backing band behind her, something she hasn’t had to do much — it’s usually just her and her guitar. Satisfied everyone is ready, she looks out into the crowd at 80/35, the biggest annual music festival in Iowa.
It’s her first time on a stage this big, crammed between office buildings in the middle of Des Moines, her hometown. Only a handful of people in the audience are here to see her play. Most are waiting for better-known bands to take the stage. She’s got a lot of work to do.
“They’re here to see bigger bands,” she says, “so I have to pull them in.”
She learned to play guitar at 12, harmonica at 14 and picked up ukulele and piano along the way. Nowadays, she typically plays at farmers markets and local music festivals, but she’s broken into other markets — sometimes without being invited. She’s played in Central Park, San Francisco and Hawaii, “which means I literally stand in the middle of a farmer’s market with a ukulele and try to act like I belong there.”
But the big stage and backing band: That all came with DeTaeye signing her first record deal this past March with Station 1 Records, a nonprofit record label based in Des Moines. Its mission: “to support local talent, grow our creative industries and build a platform to showcase the incredible talent [Des Moines] has to offer on a national level.” DeTaeye more than fits the bill.
Sure, she’s still shy of turning 20. Much of her catalogue thus far appears to be equal parts optimism and introspection, with the occasional bit of anxiety thrown in for good measure. On her self-published debut, 2014’s Nothing to Say, she sounds like the 15 year old she was: someone excited to get the keys to the car and explore the world. But she also has a voice that demands attention. On “Barely Breathing,” a track she recorded with then-Station 1 artist MarKaus, she sounds weathered and intentional. DeTaeye carries a weight.
And her new EP, simply titled The EP, out this November, promises to be just as heavy — if only because an older, wiser DeTaeye knows when to bend and when to make demands.
“It’s great working with someone who’s flexible in terms of their approach to things,” says Tobi Parks, Executive Director of Station 1 Records. “So we’ve had a really good working relationship in the fact that she’s been able to take our feedback but also sometimes pushes back when she feels that it’s kind of gone too far.”
Thom Kutz, the Director of Operations at Station 1 Records, agrees with Parks in discussing DeTaeye’s talent and dedication. “She has an understanding of developing her craft that’s actually pretty unique,” Kutz says. “She knows to put the time in and do the work, and she doesn’t have a problem doing it. But in particular her songwriting process is wonderful. The way she has actually honed and crafted material is awesome.”
Most of the new music off the EP was written during DeTaeye’s freshman year of college. “There was a baby grand piano in my dorm building freshman year, so I wrote some songs on that,” she says. “I was just getting out of a relationship and I was away from my family for the first time. I was having new experiences.”
Like the one from 80/35 this past summer; after that performance, DeTaeye experienced what she considers one of the most rewarding moments of her career thus far. “There was a little boy who came up to me after 80/35 this year and said he saw me at the farmers market a couple years ago,” she says. “He said he has been learning ukulele since and had just started performing. It was just so cool.”
As the years go by, things might change for DeTaeye, but one thing will remain constant: her love for music. “More and more I find it’s the thing I come back to that makes me really, really happy,” she says. “As a songwriter I put a lot of my own thoughts into my music so to be able to share that with people and have people really resonate with my words and experiences that I’ve had is amazing.”