The first time I ever saw Lily DeTaeye, she was a child.
I don't mean that condescendingly: she was barely 16, a junior in high school. She was just this slip of a girl, sitting in Plain Talk Books with her guitar, ready to wow the world.
That was 2014. DeTaeye had been tapped by the Des Moines Music Coalition to play that year's Little BIG Fest, making her one of the youngest -- if not THE youngest -- performer in the event's history. She had recorded an EP all on her own a year before, and came into that November pop-up set at Plain Talk armed with those handful of original songs, and a desire to be heard.
"That EP was basically just my dad and I," DeTaeye recalled, sitting outside of Smokey Row on a drizzley, early October morning. "We went into Sonic Factory, and I just kind of laid down these songs that I'd been writing. There wasn't anything to them, it was just me playing."
15-year old DeTaeye was not the biggest singer around. She was clearly a solid, capable vocalist, but there were bolder, stronger voices in the city, to be sure. But what was plainly evident from the moment she first opened her mouth to sing was that this girl was Something Special. There was a level of honesty in DeTaeye's songwriting that is largely unheard of in someone so young. She's a brilliant young woman, that much is obvious from talking to her. But a perusal of her songs will reveal a person who was remarkably self-aware. Those early songs were not trying to unveil any deep mysteries to the world; she wasn't reaching too far. These aren't songs from a little girl walking around in her mother's high heels, they're the simple, honest thoughts of a young woman looking in the mirror. And that is what I remember about first hearing Lily DeTaeye.
Fast forward. The shy, humble-to-a-fault, 16 year old girl is now a woman on the cusp of her 20th birthday, and ready to release her second EP. Her voice has grown with her: DeTaeye's songs -- even the thoughtful ones -- remain hopelessly, steadfastly upbeat, but her vocals are fuller now; a little more brass on the high end and a bit more weight on the bottom. But the thing that hasn't changed, is that honesty. DeTaeye writes from her head as much as from her heart, which gives her songs intellectual clarity and emotional honesty in equal parts. It's a mix that is extremely difficult to get right; many artists never fully get there, or never even try in the first place. I can not blame them.
Much like DeTaeye the woman and artist, the songs on her new EP have grown as well. This is owed in no small part to the guiding hand of her label, Station 1 Records. The small, Des Moines-based, non-profit outfit has signed a diverse cabal of Iowa-based artists, and DeTaeye is the latest of the bunch. They have helped flesh out the songs that DeTaeye had already written, and served as a sounding board for the new ones she was working on. They also gave her a backing band and, in doing so, added a whole new dimension to DeTaeye's music.
People who are familiar with DeTaeye's previous work will notice the difference almost immediately on the EP. Or, to be more precise, exactly 88 seconds into the song "Shoulda Known Better."
The song begins with an almost painfully twee piano hook, quickly joined by DeTaeye's vocals. The first verse teases out what's coming: you can hear the drums as DeTaeye sings; you catch a hint of strings underneath everything about 30 seconds in. But at the 1:28 mark, just a hiccup shy of the song's midway point, everything changes. When the chorus begins, the strings explode to the forefront as DeTaeye's voice climbs up to the highest points of the song. And just like that, like stepping through a curtain into a spotlight, Lily DeTaeye arrives.
"There's something about having the energy of other people on stage with you," DeTaeye said of having other musicians playing on her songs. "It was terrifying playing with them the first time. I've only ever been a solo artist, so I just have to keep time with myself usually. But it was so cool to be able to share this music with them."
Now, on Friday the 13th, DeTaeye gets to share that music with everyone. Much like the 16 year old I first met, The EP is just a wisp of a thing: four songs, taking up less than 16 minutes of your time. But DeTaeye is worth every second she asks for.
"I was always really afraid that if I talked about my music, people would think I was bragging," DeTaeye said of her teen years. "I was super self-conscious of the fact that I don't go to a regular job."
"But you know what? This is my job," she continued. "I come home, and I do this every weekend, and I'm working really hard at it. I'm confident now in the fact that I can call myself a musician and songwriter and I'm not nervous about it anymore."
Lily DeTaeye's release show for "The EP" is Friday, October 13 at the Des Moines Social Club's Kum and Go Theater.