“I would’ve been crazy so long ago if it wasn’t for music. That’s my escape right there,” says local R&B songstress Lilly Aviana in a mid-morning phone interview with the Houston Press. Early enough in the day for many-a-musician's standard, Aviana starts her day discussing the inspiration behind her full length effort Late Bloom, a long awaited labor of love she says she’s been carefully crafting for the last two years.
Late Bloom is a gripping, visceral breakup narrative that chronicles the ups and downs of a toxic relationship and its subsequent dissolution. Sonically, it fuses R&B, hip hop, and soul; lyrically, it tackles themes of honesty, growth, and change. Aviana’s sensuous, scorned vocal performances plant themselves deep into the record’s earthy aesthetic. If Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Amy Winehouse had a jam session inside the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Aviana would fit right in.
Aviana says that after her most recent relationship, a combination of pent-up anger, sadness, and love ignited the long road of writing and re-writing, citing her own experiences (and those of others around her) as inspiration for the set.
“A lot of the songs are based on my life but also I take bits and pieces of things that my friends have told me or experiences that they’ve been through. I try to just grab everything that people have felt and I just try to reflect that in the music and make sure that I’m, you know, I’m catching that emotion so people can really feel that.”
Memorable early take “Seasons” finds Aviana asking to stay in touch with an ex over minimal, simmering production navigating its own high and low tides.
“I was really trying to illuminate that there are some relationships with people that don’t always have to end on a bad note. We can still be cool, we can still keep in touch, like, I still want to keep in touch with you even if this doesn’t work out, you know what I mean? So that’s what I was really trying to illuminate, because I’ve had relationships where I’ve dated someone and things didn’t work out. Nothing ever ended in malice though, we were able to still be cool. If I see you I’m still going to say 'What’s up?' Or like, maybe we can go out on a date again. Who knows?”
On album highlight “Black Jasmine,” a song she says is about domestic violence, a vulnerable Aviana throws some of the record’s thorniest lyrics at an abusive lover: “Fuck this pain and fuck you too / What’s most of me ain’t half of you.”
“I don’t have to take this pain anymore. I’ve always been enough. I’ve always been more than enough for you,” she says, referencing the striking lyric. “I’ve just always been a better person due to the way that you’ve treated me, you know what I mean? What I dealt with – putting up with whatever you put me through – was something that you could never put yourself through.”
Set closer “Growing Pains” breathes a sigh of relief as Aviana transcends inflicted grievances into gratitude, thanking her family for their love; her ex, for their son (who bookends the song with spoken interludes).
“I literally had to cut myself open again for those songs and really experience all that pain that I went through, really making yourself vulnerable on a track,” she says of “Growing Pains” and “Black Jasmine.” “Those are my babies right there.”
Since its release, Aviana says that people have told her that they have cried listening to her songs. “Which is good. Which is a response that I actually really wanted,” she says.
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Earlier this summer, Aviana found herself in tears at her sold out AvantGarden performance as the audience sang the lyrics to other cuts like “Waterlilies” and “Selfish.”
When asked how she felt in that moment: “I just let it happen, I started crying, I’m not going to lie,” she says, laughing. “I’m just going to let it happen. This is how I feel, y’all. Y’all are fuckin’ amazing. And I’m just going to cry onstage.”
You can catch Lilly Aviana upstairs at Axelrad on Friday, September 13 as part of Bounce & Turn’s Texas Rap Party. Free, 21+, 8 p.m. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lillyaviana. Stream Late Bloom below: