When Knoxville’s The Black Lillies announced their new album Stranger To Me a month back, there was one song specifically that fans were anticipating would be included. “Earthquake,” an intimate and stripped-down ballad, was originally written around the time their previous album, Hard to Please, had been released some three years ago. Almost instantly, it was part of the band’s live set. Lead vocalist Cruz Contreras says it was “the first song that we absolutely knew had to be on this album.”
Much like the stripped-down pause and cool down it serves in the middle of their live show, “Earthquake’s” presence on Stranger To Me is very much the same. Built around a simple acoustic guitar melody and stellar harmony vocals, “Earthquake” is as straightforward and uncomplicated as can be. The strength and beauty are found in that clean and elegant simplicity.
“‘Earthquake’ was written at 9,000 feet above the town of Crested Butte, Colo.,” Contreras tells Wide Open Country. “On the edge of wilderness and surrounded by shooting stars—OK, a little dramatic, but totally true—’Earthquake’ was inspired by dear friends of mine and their relationship. They’ve faced the challenges of war-induced PTSD and found that unconditional love and commitment can heal any such wounds.”
In essence, “Earthquake” is a pledge to another. As Contreras and company sing throughout—band members Dustin Schaefer, Sam Quinn and Bowman Townsend—they’ve been through the ups and downs of life. There’s been one thing that remains steady throughout—the unconditional love and support from another.
“There’s a beauty in this world, it can break your heart in two. But there’s no other way to say, you just know what to do,” sings Contreras before rolling back into the hearty harmony-laden chorus. There’s a campfire glow found on “Earthquake.” You feel the surrounding darkness pressing at times, but you’re constantly reminded of the warmth of a flickering fire warding off the chill.
The Americana outfit recorded Stranger To Me with producer Jamie Candiloro at Echo Mountain Studios located in Asheville, N.C. The bulk of the album’s material came from The Sprinter Sessions, a Facebook Live video series where they presented new songs on a weekly basis. With roughly 30 songs to choose from, it was a challenging, but healthy endeavor for the band. Typically, they would play the songs for the first time
“We honed the new harmonies and sound on the road,” says Contreras. “Our live show has informed our recorded sound. Night to night, we would showcase up to a dozen songs that didn’t yet exist on recordings during our live performances. That allowed us to keep working through and building these songs and gave audiences a peek at what was going on.”
During their time off the road, they would have band retreats at a funky mid-century mansion in the hills of East Tennessee to hone in on what exactly the songs, the album and the band were going to be pushing forward. Contreras says he’s never been “part of a more rigorous, thorough, inspired and accountable creative process with a band.”
In turn, The Black Lillies have created a trim and refined album built around gorgeous harmonies, slick and crisp electric guitars, and sprawling and robust keys. As found on previous albums (Whiskey Angel, 100 Miles of Wreckage, Runaway Freeway Blues and Hard to Please), Contreras delivers sharply written narratives that draw from the raw emotions of the human condition.
Stranger To Me will be released on September 28 via Attack Monkey Productions and Thirty Tigers. You can pre-order the album here. The Black Lillies will embark on a 16-week tour that kicks off in Nashville on August 29. For more dates and information, check out the band’s official site here.
Stranger To Me Tracklist:
1. “Ten Years”
2. “Midnight Stranger”
4. “Out of the Blue”
5. “Don’t Be Afraid”
6. “No Other Way”
7. “Joy and Misery”
9. “Ice Museum”
10. “River Rolls”
11. “Third Place”
12. “Snakes and Telephones”
13. “Someday, Sometime”