Maui girl Lily Meola is a true tour de force. She’s cuter than Taylor Swift and has a voice that could hold it’s own in a sing-off with Aretha. She’s collaborated with Willie Nelson and counts Michael Buble as a fan. At just 20 years old, her star is rising fast and shows no sign of slowing down.
You’ve been performing since you were pretty young, when did you first realize that music was your thing? Around what age did you start booking gigs and really going for it?
Throughout my life, singing has always been something I’ve loved and done. I started booking gigs and playing around Maui nine years ago [at age 11]. I have had so many incredible experiences and met some amazing people. I can’t even imagine what my life would’ve been like without singing the past nine years.
Was it always really obvious to you that singing was your true calling, or have you dallied with any other interests?
You know when you’re a little kid and you picture what you’re going to be when you “grow up”? It was always something to do with performing for me. I have other passions, like jewelry making, hairdressing, designing and painting, but it’s singing that keeps me sane.
What style did you start off with, and have you gone through any major changes style-wise? Tell us a little about the evolution of your sound.
My mom has amazing taste in music so I grew up listening to a medley of Ella Fitzgerald, Neil Young, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell and a whole bunch of others. At the beginning of my career, I saw myself starting out with music like Michael Buble and Ella, but as I’ve grown I’ve drifted to more of my own sound. I’m working on an album now and I’m not sure what the outcome is going to be so it’s hard to say [where my sound is headed].
Who are some of your musical influences?
I have so many influences and people I admire, but these days I’m really inspired by the sound track to the new surf movie Attractive Distractions; awesome artists like Manchester Orchestra, Meg Myers, Lukas Nelson and Elliphant. I love all types of music and find them all inspiring in different ways.
How do you think growing up in Maui shaped your sound?
Growing up on Maui is something I treasure. I can’t imagine having grown up anywhere else. The island life is wild yet sweet. The unconditional love and support from the community is unlike anywhere I’ve been.
Do you have any advice for aspiring songbirds? Any really big Dos or Don’ts?
Always make sure you’re having fun in whatever you choose to do. It’s not as easy as you think! It takes a lot of hard work, creativity, and guts. Always stay true to yourself.
I know Willie Nelson is a frequent visitor to Maui, was it at a performance there that you guys met? How did you two first hook up?
I have known the Nelsons for quite a while but not really well. Willie’s wife Annie brought him to a couple of my shows a few years back. I used to perform regularly in a little outdoor cafe in Paia called Cafe Des Amis. After one of my performances there, Willie sat in and sang “Crazy” with me. He handed me a piece of paper with a couple songs on it and said, ‘let me know if you’d like to record one of these with me’. Since then the Nelsons have taken me in as one of their own and have taught me so much. I owe them so many thank you’s for believing in me.
You’ve traveled all over and “seen the scene” in so many places. LA, Austin, Nashville… how do you think these more well-known music scenes compare to the one here in Hawai’i? What’s the best part about traveling to these places?
I’ve actually have never been to Nashville. I am hoping I’ll only have to say that for little bit longer cause it’s definitely a place I’d love to visit. I love to travel, the traveling that I’ve been able to do so far has been amazing. I love almost every bit of it– besides the flying. Traveling with Willie on his bus has been such a great experience. I love meeting new, inspiring people, and seeing such a love of music.
You’ve done Farm Aid for two years now, what was your experience like there?
I’ve performed at Farm Aid [the nonprofit founded by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young 28 years ago to help small farmers keep their land] the past two years and hope to be part of this amazing event for the rest of my life. It’s such a great cause and it’s really cool to see so many people come out and support it. The world needs more Farm Aids!
What was it like collaborating with Willie Nelson on “Will You Remember Mine”? Was anything especially unnerving about performing with someone who is so iconic, or did it seem pretty natural?
Everything with Willie has been great, I’ve always felt very comfortable on stage with him and his amazing band. They are a bunch of genuinely kind people and I feel so lucky for each opportunity I get to play with them.
There’s not too much information out there about you and your life, what do you want people to know about you? Give us Lily in three sentences.
Growing up I had a strangely large pig collection. I’m in love with flowers. Rather than one sweet tooth I’ve got a whole mouth full.
As a Maui girl, what do you miss most when you’re traveling on the mainland? What’s the first thing you do when you get back home?
When I’m gone I miss my family, my boyfriend and my dog Baloo. First thing I like to do when I get home is take a dip at Ho’okipa.
It’s obviously easier to “get discovered” and pursue a music career on the mainland, is that something you’ve considered, given all of the success you’ve had as a Hawai’i based artist? Or, in other words, do you see yourself staying here and pursuing singing or following the music where it takes you?
Well, Maui will always be my home, but wherever my music takes me, I’ll go!
Where do you see yourself in five years? Or rather, what would the dream be, five years down the road?
As far as the future goes, I’ll be happy wherever my music takes me, as long as I’m singing a lot and having fun!