This Saturday, April 22, ArtRat Gallery is proud to welcome music architect/artist activist LILEL for this free event!

"Born and raised in Southwest Michigan, LILEL continues to create genres such as 'smooth rhythm' and 'ElecktroBoX.' With his dance moves and five-octave range, he seeks to shift the culture while singing from the soul and keeping it groovy!"

Ahead of his show, ArtRat talked with LILEL about his inspirations, his process, and what Grand Rapids will experience Saturday night. 

You have a following in northwest Indiana, close to where you're from. What’s special about that part of the state? 

LILEL performing at ArtRat Gallery.

Northwest Indiana is a place full of outcasts — a cesspool of outcasts! Punk heads, outsiders, creatives: It's a hidden gem, but at the same time a dirty drug. I’m an outsider myself — I’m very eccentric! 

And recently, you’ve been driving up to Grand Rapids to perform. What kind of experience has that been for you?

First thing is, it's pretty big. It gives me big city vibes! I feel like it’s prepared me to go to other big cities — I know what it feels like, you know? Right. I'm learning the scientific formula of the seniors in GR. Coming from northwest Indiana, it showed me that there's there's multiple different so-called scenes. There's some people that might just want to come to ArtRat, or are intertwined with ArtRat and other venues, that I hope will come. 

Let’s talk about your style. You’ve mentioned the ‘70s as an influence — is this music you feel like you grew up listening to? Where do you draw your musical inspiration from? Because it's so different from anything else that's out there right now.

LILEL with a mixing board.

OK, I like this question. Because it comes down to identification, right? If we think about it — and this is with all due respect to any genre in the world — there's people out here that create stuff that we don’t even know the names to, but they want to tie it down to a certain genre to help gatekeeping. 

For me, I say I've been inspired, and still I’m inspired by, the ancestors. This thick mustache on my face is inspired by Frank Zappa and James Brown. So that's how the mustache was inspired — and I can't wait till it grows even thicker!

Of course, I'll say ‘70s music, psychedelic music … See, it's always hard for me, I cannot. It's gonna be in categories. Because I get inspired by engineers. I get inspired by singers. I'm inspired by dancers. Yeah. I'm what you would call a jack of all trades, but I'm a master of many, because I've identified myself and expressed myself within these different categories. I've been able to go back in time to where my ancestors thrived, and to get a little piece of their skills and I just bring with me, while still having originality.

For me, it's always a rhythm. My music is not too hard on the bass and not too light. So that's why I created this genre called Smooth Rhythm. 

I would describe your music as boundaryless. It’s like you’re taking the spice of every category — and it’s like a firecracker. It’s just awesome! 

LILEL in hat, playing keyboard.

There's a difference between being inspired and worshipping something. When you're inspired by something, you're gonna utilize it. “OK — I want to take a little bit of this and take a little bit of this, and shake it up.” But also, let me still learn how to have my own individuality. When I see 1970s 1960s 1950s, I'm like, “OK, I like this, let me understand the scientific formula.” But also, “OK, those things I might use, but those I'm not going to use — let me bend them and do things that they were not designed to do. “

Do you always make your beats first and then write your lyrics after? What’s that process for you? 

For me, at first, I had a lot of ideas, but I couldn't write what was in my head. So I said, “OK, let me pick a formula on how to make a beat and break everything down, strip everything down. And then later on, let's see what happens.” And at first, I’d just do a sample bass like, and then I got some drums. And whatever I made, the lyrics would come afterwards.

LILEL in profile at microphone.

Then it moved to sample based. COVID time, I was dead broke, and I spent all my stimulus money on instruments! I spent this money on synthesizers. I care about food — because I had to eat — but I had a different budget for that. But all my stimmy money went to instruments and equipment.

After that, then I was able to do sample-based, play something on top of it. I could do whatever; I switched up. After I got those synthesizers, then I was able to understand what type of instrument was in my brain, then I can do both. I can have the lyrics in front of me and then make the beat. So I could do both. It took me two years to do that.

Okay, so we talked about the music side of it. What about the lyrical side? Do you draw your inspiration from somewhere like life? Experience? What is your creative process for your lyrics?

My lyrics come from truth. Truth! I allow myself to have an imagination, but my lyrics come from true events or something that I'm trying to figure out. I can make a song about anything, even if it might seem like the most basic thing, and you'll never think that I'm talking about it. What you see right here in this interview is the same you see outside of the interview. Some people when they compose, they put on an act and they put on the hat. And then it comes off later on. Right? For me, the hat is always on. Yeah, because I can't stop.

What do you hope the audience will get from your ArtRat event? 

LILEL performing at 106 Gallery.

I want to bring independence, I want to show aspiring artists that you don't have to wait on anybody to give you a shot. You know, you manifest those, they will come. But you can have your own show, you don't just have to just collaborate with artists, you can have your own solo show, and promote it. And I inspire people to actually learn what marketing is. It's not just just upload and hope and wish people come to the show I'm showcasing.

My goal this year, and it's happening, is about manifestation: that GR will know who LILEL is by the end of this year. 

On April 22, I am in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, right? It will be a blast! Come enjoy the rocket ship. Because once you open the door and get into this rocket ship, once we go up, you can't go back down till I say this thing is gonna land. Once I get started with this rocket ship, it's on.