Black Lillies: a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll

by DGO Web Administrator

Bands have a tendency to latch onto areas where they’ve made fans. Play a festival, wow the crowd, sell some merchandise, and make a mental note that the area on the map where you just played is a place where business is good. It’s how bands build their fanbase, organize tour routes, and focus on areas that will sustain their musical career.

Southwest Colorado is one such area for The Black Lillies, the Knoxville, Tennessee-based band that’s returning to Durango’s Henry Strater Theatre on August 2.

The shows The Black Lillies have played in the past have been sell-out affairs, thanks to regional festival appearances that have boosted their popularity.

“I think the festivals certainly help. You make a block of fans right off the bat. But you ultimately you decide who your fans are,” said guitar player and vocalist Cruz Contreras. “If you make music or you’re an artist, you’re putting out a part of your personality and the type of person you are. I think people who can relate to that will check out your music and continue to follow you. I think there’s a kindred-ness for us in the band, the music, the mentality of it, and people in the region there we speak to each other.”

The music and the growing fanbase have taken the band from coast to coast, but they’ve found the music they make really resonates with what Contreras refers to as “mountain areas” – areas with people whose lifestyle is similar to that of the band members, a work hard, play hard mentality fans can relate to.

“We’re from the Smoky Mountains, and there is a lot of outdoor stuff, a lot of similarities to the Four Corners area,” said Contreras. “People love music, to be active, love to dance, and drink, and party, and that’s something we all have in common. It’s not the most complicated equation, but it works. It’s a lot of fun. It makes you feel alive and happy, and that’s why we do it. It gives us the opportunity to do what we love doing, and that’s make music. It is a simple equation but at the same time, we do push ourselves musically to always improve, evolve, change, and discover the next thing. We’re in a really great phase right now where we’re discovering and developing our sound. We’re pushing 10 years. We write, arrange, and sing, and we work hard at it.”

Contreras’ admission of discovering and developing the sound this far into their decade-long career comes after a handful of band member changes. It’s an honest admission from a band unafraid to experiment with a sound that at its core is Americana, which remains an ambiguous term with a definition that can change from week to week. With their forthcoming record, “Stranger to Me,” recorded at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, the band will continue its sound of loose alt-country, aggressive folk, and cosmic-American rock music.

Contreras, who in interviews is a straight-shooter, keeps it simple, saying that the band is made up of all good things that get thrown under the rock and jam umbrella.

“People ask us ten times a day what kind of music we play, and I just say ‘rock and roll.’ Most of the guys say we play rock and roll, and it’s more of a rock outfit now,” said Contreras. “Electric bass, electric guitars, drums, and three-part harmonies. I grew up playing country music, and that’s part of my voice and my sensibilities. We’re stretching things out, too. We’ll write the 3-minute song, tightly arranged, but then can stretch them out to 10-minute jams. So to me, it’s a rock and roll country jam band.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].

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