MONTEREY SONGWRITER Lillie Lemon launches her next national tour this Friday evening at Pierce Ranch Vineyards tasting room on Wave Street in Monterey. The gig gets underway at 8pm. It’s the first of 19 shows booked so far, from California through the Southwest and Texas, then up through the Midwest, though that number may actually double before she returns home. “We’ll be gone until July at least,” she told me. “We’re planning to hit the East Coast for the first time in May and June.”
Lemon and her partner, known by the stage name Erica Wobbles, are an indie electro-pop duo that uses synthesizers with live vocal looping and processing. If you’re new to this rapidly expanding technology, click the first of the two videos below, California Drifting, to watch and hear the two at work building a track. They say Lemon’s songs and Wobbles’ electronics “build crescendos and a unique hybrid of acoustic and electric sounds.” (Bass drop ‘wobble’ is a characteristic in electronic and dubstep music.)
She and he bring their distinctive talents together in a contrasting but complementary partnership. Hers are writing songs, singing, designing costumes and booking gigs. His are a deep background in music training, including classical, making instrumental arrangements of her songs and a mastery of contemporary musical electronics. They both have a keen eye for what’s possible. She calls their work together “experimental and wildly gratifying.”
In the photos and ‘official’ video of Stardust—the second video below—Lemon wears windmill blades on her back. They’re symbolic of her Midwest origins where, as she says, her songs are “heavily influenced by the flux of the seasons and often substantial in lyrical content.” Though born in Southern California, her memories of growing up were formed in Idaho, Illinois and Wisconsin. “I was a writing major in college, with an emphasis on creative fiction,” she says. “I found myself writing post-apocalyptic stories.” That’s when she started writing songs. “I picked up a buddy’s guitar, learned some chords and wrote badly.” She graduated from Lakeland College in Sheboygan in 2010.
“When you’re writing fiction you have to write many drafts,” she says. “Song writing and fiction are opposite. I sit at the piano or pick up my guitar. The lyrics are very spontaneous.” For song lyrics, “I do very little editing.” She counts on Erica—Eric Rowe—to give her songs musical form and shape. “I do reaching. He does production.” She adds, “I’m a vessel for the kind of music that he wants to create. He’s really into synthesizers. I had all these bare-bone songs.”
After college, Lemon flirted with joining the Peace Corps, but it wasn’t a good fit at the time. Still she wanted to provide service and instead joined AmeriCorps. With California Dreamin’ in the back of her mind, and despite being terrified of earthquakes, she arrived in Salinas as a literacy tutor. “I actually wrote California Drifting before I came here.”
Lillie Lemon and Erica Wobbles began working together in 2013. So far they’ve produced two full albums and a shorter EP (extended play.) “They cover a lot of genres,” says Lemon. Wobbles adds, “The CD comes with a booklet. Each song has its own page, with lyrics or a journal entry, in a literary format.”
Lemon says, “Working that closely with someone, hours every day, woodshedding music, chipping away, we found we were like-minded about stuff. It’s a really good partnership.”
Lemon and Wobbles put a premium on production values, both in music and appearance. “I don’t play guitar on stage anymore,” Lemon says. “I sing and play a little vocal synthesizer.” While working for the NSA at Monterey’s Naval Postgraduate School she did a lot of calendar bookings. “But it was trial and error to find out how to do it for booking our gigs. It’s gotten a lot more natural. I think we sound and appear skilled at making a strong first impression. My stage presence has changed a little. The more we played the more comfortable I became.”
Wobbles—Eric—comes from a music-loving family on the Monterey Peninsula. “My parents raised me in music.” Growing up he played viola and bassoon and piano. “Around 18 I joined my first band. I got by on my good ear.” He studied music theory with John Anderson and Sal Ferrantelli and piano with Barney Hulse at Monterey Peninsula College. “I got better on the keyboard, then that band dissolved when I was 20.” That’s when he went pro, with cover bands, in night clubs, churches and weddings. “I was a young kid in a band of professional musicians who were 20 years older.” Once he got into electronica, “I wanted to play my own music. For a while I was playing a lot of other people’s music that I didn’t want to play.” Computer technology was also a big part of his early years. “I grew up with computers. My dad taught me how to do electrical work and I did a lot of programming. I couldn’t do this music if I wasn’t computer literate.” (His parents run a box-office ticketing business with a worldwide clientele.)
Now full time musicians, when they are not touring, Rowe plays locally acoustic piano at a church and/or directs a choir. “Lillie and I could tour with just an acoustic piano but it’s not what makes us unique.” Exactly. They are ramping up and expanding. Lemon says they have their sights set on touring Europe.
Photos by Allison Kendall APK Photography