Lily’s leading lady

Gabbi Green is more than a senior in Annenberg studying communication; she is the topliner of Los Angeles-based of Lily Waters, a band with genre-bending sound. | Photo courtesy of Red Heart Media.

With its soulful, gritty sound, local band Lily Waters plays music as eclectic as Los Angeles itself.

 The band is fronted by lead vocalist Gabbi Green, a senior majoring in communication. Green, an L.A. native, started playing the keyboard and cello in elementary school. She transitioned to singing and playing the guitar in high school, a time when going to shows all over the city made Green a master of the city’s public transportation. 

“I write a lot of my songs on public transport because I’m taking it all the time,” Green said of her songwriting process. “I’ll sing into my phone sometimes, just an idea. Or I’ll just be playing a guitar and sing something with my guitar. But those ideas will surface even after a few years, like I’ll actually make them a song with my band.”

Green’s musical talents have only grown from her early days of teaching herself the guitar. Since the band’s formation in 2017, Lily Waters has performed at a range of venues including the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to iconic L.A. venues like The Smell and Lodge Room. 

“We’ve been getting very fortunate with shows and playing big stages,” Green said, highlighting her love of performing live.

Along with Green, the band includes Robert Cifuentes on lead guitar, Danny Deleon on drums and Seamus Blackwell on bass.

Cifuentes and Green write Lily Waters’ music together, creating a sound that is a distinct blend of blues, rock, country pop, jazz, indie and psychedelic rock. Lily Waters’ genre-breaking style makes its music accessible to everyone; people from various generations and backgrounds can enjoy their killer live shows and their evident love of sound.

 The band’s name comes from Green’s own journey with mental health. At 12 years old, she wrote a diary-like book where “Lily” was someone who she imagined herself becoming after overcoming a period of depression. “Waters” comes from the serene, calm imagery of running water and is also a nod to blues musician Muddy Waters, a key influence for the band. 

“Performing as Lily Waters is very empowering for me,” Green said. “I’ve been told that I make people cry, you know, from my voice, and there’s just nothing like [hearing] that. It’s nice to inspire other people knowing that I’ve been inspired by musicians my whole life.”

 Green said playing to crowds of all ages is among one of the band’s favorite aspects of performing, citing a show at the Trancas Country Market in Malibu last fall. 

 “There was a lawn and a bunch of families with their kids setting up lawn chairs, and all these little kids running around while we were playing, which was kind of scary because they were sometimes running through where we were playing,” Green said. “At the end, it was so cute because all these little girls came up and wanted me to autograph stuff for them, and I just put like, ‘Keep rocking’ and ‘Rock on.’ I hope they all become little rock stars.”

Other recent shows include a performance at Tommy’s Place, a live music venue on campus, on Feb. 28. The band was joined by other USC musicians, including Tippy Balady, Ellie Williams and Cordelia.

“[Green] has this very raw and authentic voice,” said Amy Altman, a sophomore majoring in journalism who attended the show. “She engages with her audience really well. She checks in with the audience but also is just such a captivating stage performer.”

 The band signed with Lolipop Records in December 2019, paving the way for an exciting year; with upcoming singles and music videos, including a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Lily Waters’ identity as an up-and-coming L.A. powerhouse is evidence of the band’s unbeatable work ethic. 

Lily Waters is performing at a free concert at the Mayfair Hotel Mar. 19. The band will be joined by USC alumnus and musician McCall Kimball, who graduated from Thornton’s popular music program.

“I’m excited because I’m going to be playing some new songs off of a project that is coming out in a couple months,” Kimball said, mentioning her upcoming single, “Disaster.” “It’ll be fun to hear everything [Lily Waters] is doing.”

Putting in long hours, Green balances being a full-time student with touring, recording and her on-campus job with Trojan Event Services. 

“I’m a hustler, that’s a key word I like,” Green said. 

Green’s enthusiasm for music keeps her going, whether she is performing with Lily Waters or playing in Billy Changer, another band she is a part of. Cifuentes, the guitarist in Lily Waters, is the lead vocalist in Billy Changer, with Green on guitar, keys and vocals. With influences in new wave music, Billy Changer’s debut album was released in 2014.

“I feel like some people can’t be kept away from [music],” Green said. “I think I’m gonna be doing this for a long time. I’m fully set on ‘making it,’ whatever that means. I just want to be able to sustain myself from it, honestly, but also to inspire other people.”