Tony Cummings talked to Manchester's LILY-JO about music, self-worth and her grandma
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Tony: One of the pressures that face many independent artists find is that they don't have that support structure like a manager or an administrator. Do you have any helpers?
Lily-Jo: I do actually. I've built a little team around myself, pretty much a freelance team. I've got someone who is looking after my bookings and publishing, I've got a girl who's looking after my press, I've got a personal assistant who is helping to administrate my touring and on the road bookings. I've also got a few volunteers at the The Lily-Jo Project helping me write blogs and make sure posts go out on a weekly basis. I'm developing my own team really.
Tony: Tell me some more about the The Lily-Jo Project.
Lily-Jo: Before I got into music more seriously I was a counsellor in a GP practice seeing people on a one-to-one basis who were suffering from mental health issues. I spent six years doing that and I got loads of experience - I did over one thousand counselling hours. At my first Big Church Day Out, I had a queue of people wanting to talk to me and they said "Thank you very much for what you said on the stage about mental health." Really I hadn't said a lot, all I'd said is that I had worked as a counsellor and mentioned that my song 'Take Me Back' was about how God can heal you and get you out of situations you may be facing that are to do with mental health. People were divulging things to me that were really quite deep and probably shouldn't have been in that moment when all I had was two minutes with them. I felt like I should develop something that was more permanent where I could converse with people online. So I created the online platform called The Lily-Jo Project that has information, top tips and advice on the more common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, childhood trauma and loss. On it there's loads of stories of people overcoming their issues who are now living free and better. I blog as well, so there's always fresh content coming out, like expert advice from myself and also my supervisor who I worked with for many years. It's a really good online platform for anyone struggling. It's www.thelilyjoproject.com.
Tony: Fantastic, that really does sound good. Now tell me a little bit about some of the songs on 'Unstoppable'.
Lily-Jo: Track one is all about stepping out of place and taking bold risks. Personally, I found that journaling really helped and journaling through songwriting is so therapeutic. It's all really about myself stepping out and for anyone else out there wanting to step out and make bold and courageous moves, that song is for you. Another song is called "Beautiful Scars" which sounds a bit controversial but actually it's about our scars and the things in our lives that are hard, the things that we've had to overcome and turned into something beautiful and can become our biggest strengths. Track four, "Unstoppable", the one I wrote with Philippa Hannah, is all about living your best life and how actually stuff isn't impossible, you're unstoppable and you're taking full manageable steps towards your goal. That's something I've really tried to do myself. I always ask myself "Today, what can I do?" I trained in music and performing arts when I was 16 years old and that was 19 years ago. But now that I am doing what I've always dreamed of doing and in that time it's been about more manageable goals, making sure that I'm keeping myself fit and healthy, making sure that I'm building my character through daily devotions like listening to others and serving others. It's a long journey, it's not overnight success in any shape or form - it's through small and manageable steps. It's about taking the steps to living your best possible life, it's about asking yourself what is it in your life that you actually really, really want to do and how can you work towards that. I've actually started a life coaching stream for the The Lily-Jo Project. I see people all the time who have got big goals and big dreams and I walk them step-by-step to creating their ideal life.
Tony: Looking back on your previous releases, I would probably say that your "Good Enough" single is my favourite. Do you have a particular favourite song that you'd still feel happy to sing now?
Lily-Jo: Yeah, I'm performing at festivals all over the summer and I'll be playing songs that include songs off of all my releases. They all mean so much to me, they were all written for someone and there's still a strong message in each song. Recently I was thinking whether I would drop any songs from the set but really, all of them mean a lot. I haven't actually made an album yet so when you add them all together it makes a long album. I think "Need To Know"' was really important for me, it's all about talking to women, making them know they're really worthy. I've actually developed a whole merch range around that song. I really wanted people to know they're worthy, unique and accepted; it's a really strong song. "Good Enough" is really important to me. I was told that I'd never make it, that my voice wasn't good enough, but there's people out there who did believe in me and I want them to know that they helped me overcome that self-doubt. That's what this year is really about for me, overcoming that self-doubt and challenging the voices in my head that say "you can't do this2 and just saying "you know what, I'm trying, and I am good enough and somebody will like it." It's all about just keeping to make music for those people who do like it. I'd like to say that to anyone out there, if you've got a dream or something that you're working towards, just keep going and do it for the one, do it for the two, do it for the people who actually like it.
Tony: Final question, tell me about your jazz singing grandmother.
Lily-Jo: Well, as you know, Lily-Jo is my stage name. My nana was called Lily Jones and she was a jazz singer and pianist and she used to tour back in the day with my Grandad on the drums. When she died I found a song book at her house with all her hymns that she used to sing all written out and on the front it had her signature and I've always loved her signature. My logo is her actual signature, my graphic designer was able to lift it. But my real name is Joanne.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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