Harmonies, harmonicas, and homework: the life of Lily DeTaeye

The student and singer/songwriter is recording with Des Moines’ Station 1 Records.

Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

Referred to by some as a “real-life Hannah Montana,” Lily DeTaeye is in fact living the best of both worlds. On weekdays, she can be found in the EPB writing, but on the weekends, she practices her songwriting, guitar, ukulele, piano, and harmonica in the recording studio.

Station 1 Records picked up DeTaeye in 2016 just before she came to the University of Iowa. Her future managers, Tobi and Tom, approached her at 80/35, a music festival, with an offer for a recording contract. The Des Moines native said she felt at a disadvantage, but she is optimistic standing out in the music industry as an Iowan. She said she wrestled with the decision for a semester before deciding music was too important to her to leave behind, regardless of the challenges. She decided to tackle both and signed a contract that January.

“It isn’t unrealistic, but you have to work your ass off,” DeTaeye said. “Like anything, you can make money as a musician. There’s no guarantees you’re going to be Ariana Grande, but maybe that’s not what you want anyway. You just have to work for it, and something will happen.”

The UI junior is pursuing a degree in creative writing, with a minor in theater and certificate in arts entrepreneurship. Her professors have all supported her music career and have helped her incorporate it into her studies, she said. While other students in her major often pursue writing novels or poetry, DeTaeye uses her learning to enhance her lyrics.

After signing the contract, DeTaeye recorded her latest collaboration with rapper Markaus, “Barely Breathing,” the same day. Her featured hook in the song showcases her steady vocals. The song is the one of the first capturing a shift in DeTaeye’s sound from folk-pop to alternative blues-rock, she said. The 21-year-old has performed since she was 13, but she said she felt as though it was time to grow her musical style. Her managers reinforce and encourage this in her, telling her no one wants a stagnant star.

“I think I had this mental block about what people are going to think if I grow up,” DeTaeye said. “[My managers] are there to be like, ‘You’re going to change … at the end of the day, if you’re making music and feel good about it, that’s all that’s going to matter.’”

DeTaeye’s upcoming album will showcase her changing sound and a slew of songs concerning women’s empowerment and mental health. The sound is inspired in part by the Black Keys and Brandi Carlile, she said. The album is tentatively titled Bite Back. Not unlike her strawberry wrist tattoo, DeTaeye’s songs feature imagery of food and consumption to illustrate a story about mental health, being a woman, and biting back.

“[Mental health] has been a big thing that I’ve been learning how to publicly say, which is really freeing,” DeTaeye said. “The songs are a little more edgy for this record.”

As a woman in the music industry today, she said, she feels valued and well-treated by her managers and is grateful to have one of them be a woman. They are honest with her about the often-unrealistic expectations that may be placed upon her. They have conversations about safety while touring, how people will judge her lyrics and photos, and what that all means for her as an artist. DeTaeye was the first female artist Station 1 Records signed.

“As far as living up to my expectations, they beat them,” DeTaeye said. “… I really do feel completely listened to, so it’s good.”

DeTaeye’s new album will, tentatively, drop in the fall.