Photo by Forestt Strong LaFave
by Meggie Gates
Beach Bunny takes the stage in a hue of pink. Lili Trifilio, the lead singer, adjusts her mic and turns to the audience with an aura of cool, brandishing a one of a kind crème colored electric guitar with a light blue patterned pickguard. As she adjusts her mic, the rest of the band fills in behind her, Jon Alvarado on drums, Matt Henkels on guitar, and Aidan Cada on bass, all of them new additions following a Battle of the Bands show in Elgin, Illinois the summer of 2017. Vocals pour out of Lili like waves on Lake Michigan and the crowd roars, gathered at the feet of their surf rock princess.
I fell in love with Beach Bunny faster than my last boyfriend. Having my heart crushed in January, my friend insisted I go to their concert. It had been a month of crying and the need to move on was apparent. I bring this up the minute I meet Lili, hoping she doesn’t remember how much I rambled about my breakup seven months prior. “Oh yeah, I remember you guys.” I reiterate how much the lyrics, “Sometimes I wonder how life would be, if you had stayed for February,” ripped my soul apart. “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” She laughs.
“More people relate to February than I did. A lot of people told me that fit their timeline,” Lili tells me. Putting a timeline on the breakup process is a specialty of Beach Bunny’s. Their music hones in on specificities you may not have noticed before, concentrating on seasonal feelings. With this, the sadness becomes more visceral. No longer a cloud hanging out of reach, but more a snowflake you catch on your fingertips. Her earliest EP, Pool Party, categorizes the vulnerable safety net of summer. Lili explores the track July with such intensity, it’s as if you can feel the world melting through the sky. The authenticity of new feelings, the excitement of blossoming relationships, all of it uniquely explored only to be shattered with the reality of Crybaby.
You reach February and nothing is simple anymore.
“I didn’t know how to express my feelings and that was Animalism. I did solo music for two and a half years and then around Crybaby I was really in my emo girl phase.”
As Lili’s music grows, so does she. There’s an understood maturity she carries herself that is envious. She makes art for catharsis, not spite. Unlike most indie pop breakup songs, where the object of desire is typically villainized, her care and compassion for the subject of her songs is incredibly apparent. “We were still good friends through the breakup. There was a time when we didn’t talk and then we became friends and now we’re in a relationship again.” Breakups are hard on both ends, and she has a deep understanding of this. “With Crybaby I was stressed because I knew the person I was no longer with would hear the songs and it was such a direct message. Even today, I’m like oh, I’m sorry about that.”
The days of Crybaby have certainly shaped Lili. Songs about crushes ghosting her are relatively in the past now that she understands relationships are not a longwinded game of hide and seek. “All the people I went for before were a challenge and the person I ended up dating, and am still dating, was someone that it was very mutual with. After that I was like, oh, this is what a relationship should be. It shouldn’t be like ‘I have to fight for this person’, it should just be easy.” This stark contrast in understanding the complexity of relationships, positioned against the hardships of her music, is soothing. “There are some people who are so incompatible realistically, but sometimes you just don’t care.” I tell my friends this constantly, but the practice of putting it in to action is hard. Confidence is hard.
The feeling to prove yourself to someone who’s not worth it sometimes feels like the only thing that’s worth it.
Prom Queen, off Beach Bunny’s new EP, digs deep in to these feelings of insecurity. Screaming around to it in my bedroom, I couldn’t help but laugh at how much the line, “I never looked good in mom jeans/Wish I, was like you, blue-eyed blondie, perfect body” reminded me of days spent comparing myself to my ex boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, a roundabout carousel ride I bring Lili on regardless of talking about my breakup too many times now (three). It constantly feels like no matter what you do, there’s always someone better out there; the ideal woman now more accessible than ever with Photoshop. “With social media, there’s so much pressure to be perfect. The person online isn’t even real. How are you supposed to look up to this model that’s airbrushed?” I ask Lili how the internet might affect young women today and what they can do to avoid this hell trap. “If you’re going to do any comparison, compare your present self to your past self. Don’t compare yourself to other people.”
Maneuvering the complexity of relationships is ground Lili often covers. It is a well-established mold she has laid out in tracks prior, which makes the release of Prom Queen so enticing. Exploring breakups is still there but now, the corners are sharper. Instead of asking, “if you love me why can’t we be together?” like Lili does on Jenny, the question is now, “are we something that’s worth saving?” Her confident voice is strong and passionate. Gone are days of Animalism where Lili nurtured the listener with her soft, vulnerable voice. The contrast can be mapped by her significant remastering of 6 Weeks. “I’m not constrained to this box of sad girl anthems. I can write other songs and people will like them. I got more confidence in my writing abilities and it’s been cool with the higher production and bringing the boys on.”
Beach Bunny’s new EP further explores other themes peppered throughout the band’s history. Shoegazer, a song off Pool Party, first introduces Lili’s fear of growing old, “You’ve been feeling alone since you turned 21/ and the older you grow the more you come undone/ your life has just begun.” This adolescent feeling of loneliness finds a more mature friend in Adulting, a track off Prom Queen. Now on the cusp of graduation, Lili admits to me she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. This sentiment is mirrored back when she sings “the older I get, seems like the less that I know/Trying to be more than, ever before/It’s hard adulting.”
Existentialism has always been something Lili has grappled with. “I have an extreme fear of dying. I think about it very frequently. Turning 22 and having friends with birthdays coming up, I’m kind of freaking out. It’s my last year of college, what am I going to do with my life?” For being so young, the fear of growing older is obvious when Lili talks about her future and her family. “2017 was hard because my grandpa passed away and my brother ended up in the hospital. It was the hardest year of my life.”
Though time feels like an enemy, Lili understands that healing begins as the clock ticks. It’s a part of growing up and moving on from people and pain. “I look back and I know why it (2017) was sad but I can’t even put myself in that mindset anymore.” Despite Beach Bunny’s success, Lili has an acute understanding of what she expects from herself in the future. She is at a place artistically where she can grant herself liberty to relax. Beach Bunny’s listeners will continue to support her. It’s evident in the fact, at 22, she is touring with one of her favorite bands and about to play Riot Fest. As opposed to an interview she gave last January, where she talks about big goals she has, she’s now giving herself the luxury of enjoying life instead of burning out. “I still want to make a ton of time for friends, family, and a relationship. Even though music is my life and my dream, I don’t want it to become the only thing I do. Imagine becoming so successful that you lose everyone on the way up.”
She looks around the colorful back porch and picks a bench to sit on for pictures. I don’t ask her about touring with Remo Drive because the energy she carries herself with says it all. Excited. Nervous. Proud. As a plane flies overhead, I decide this is one of my favorite days of summer. Hanging with a woman so young and powerful, with everything before her and so much behind. “Focus on gratitude.” She tells me as we wrap up our interview. I fight the urge to ask her advice on my past relationship, again (four). “When you get existential and think about the loss of time and childhood, you lose focus on appreciating everything you have. Living in the moment is so important.”
The passage of time can hold the greatest treasures and the worst heartbreak. It can be the start of a magical journey or a terrible end. It’s never stopping, and neither is Lili.
Her life has just begun.