Settling is not a word in Lila Forde’s vocabulary; she won’t settle on a genre and won’t settle for mediocre. The 22-year-old gifted artist and senior majoring in music released her new EP, “In Another Life,” on Jan. 15.
“In Another Life” strings six dreamy tunes together culminating in a “protagonist of an indie movie” fantasy. Forde describes her own sound as jazz with a pop sensibility.
“It’s really groove-based,” Forde said. “It’s harmony-heavy like a complex jazz harmony but not super intellectual heady cerebral like jazz can often be.”
The EP’s opening song immediately shows off Forde’s innate ability to play with the rules. A cacophony of angelic sopranos whistles the listener into a unique rollercoaster of sound.
“Get in your body,” Forde said. “Don’t think too much; just put it on and let it take you where it’s going to take you. The goal of this record is to take people wherever they want to go in their moments in their everyday lives.”
The Seattle native was born into music. Her mother is a classical pianist, and music has been a pillar in her life since day one.
“In high school, I started getting really into jazz, playing a lot of jazz and meeting new people,” Forde said. “I knew that I wanted to pursue music in college; there wasn’t anything else, and there was nothing else that felt natural to me.”
Forde has thrived at USC and has enjoyed the faculty’s guidance immensely.
“I came to USC knowing that my voice, and my original style was in me somewhere, but I hadn’t really discovered it or developed it yet,” Forde said. “I’ve grown so much. Looking back on when I was a freshman, I have learned from so many professors and my peers as well.”
Forde was a member of USC Thorton’s Afro-Latin American Jazz ensemble her junior year where she met professor Aaron Serfaty. The ensemble includes a horn, rhythm, bass and percussion sections. Forde was one of the vocalists in the chorus. After working together, Serfaty and Forde now have a close student-teacher bond.
“It’s a different genre and realm of rhythmic and musical vocabulary that I really wasn’t used to,” Forde said. “Aaron is a really special teacher, and he really pushes you and I feel like I got so much out of that ensemble, even though I’m still scratching the surface of what I can learn from that type of music. That class really influenced how I write, how I play and how I listen.”
Serfaty noted Forde is a brilliant student, and he was dazzled by her abilities. On one occasion, Serfaty let Forde lead the class and was highly impressed with her talent to communicate with the band.
“She was very effective directing the band,” Serfaty said. “[That’s] not common. She has a very clear vision of what she wants the music to sound like, and she’s able to communicate it very clearly to the band. I wasn’t able to do that until I was in my 30s.”
During his time teaching music at the Thornton School of Music, Serfaty is continuously amazed by the level of talent he gets to teach.
“The level of talent that we’re attracting keeps getting better and better,” Serfaty said. “They keep me on my toes. I have to be ready for them because they’re really fantastic. Lila is an absolute standout from her class.”
Serfaty played percussion on track four of “In Another Life,” “Woah (Song For You),” a masterful tribute to the art of percussion. Forde’s silk and buttery vocals combined with a striking sound of Serfaty’s playing. The song even includes a moment of graceful smooth jazz pause.
“My opinion [on the EP] is really biased because I love her. I have been listening to these tunes for a while,” Serfaty said. “It’s wonderful! She worked with another student of mine, Spencer Lemann and he’s fantastic as well.”
Spencer Lemann, a senior in the USC Thornton jazz studies program, met Forde in a freshman music theory class. The two now live together with a crop of various Thornton classmates. After being friends and roommates, the duo now click and work together well.
Lemann and Forde write together often, and he helped engineer and produce her EP. Lemann has a studio set up in his room and the two began recording during the beginning of the pandemic.
“Having such a talented buddy of mine trust me to translate her vision of her music up to this point into a product it’s just really amazing,” Lemann said. “I really thank Lila for the opportunity to work with her on it.”
Beyond being friends, Lemann enjoys Forde’s work as an artist.
“What I look for in music, generally, is honesty,” Lemann said. “I think Lila’s music is very honest. Nothing is contrived. She puts a lot of attention into arrangement and lyric choices. She’s not bending her ideas or accessibility. It’s just truly expressive music.”
After creating the EP, Forde has moved on musically and artistically evolved.
“Since I released the EP, I was like, ‘Oh these songs are good and people do love these songs,’” Forde said. “Even though I’m not necessarily in the same place I was when I wrote them.”
“In Another Life” is currently available to stream everywhere and for sale on Bandcamp.