Lily Kershaw writes serious, introspective music but doesn't take herself seriously. There's a sweet heart pumping and a radiant soul glowing inside the body double of a 22-year-old Valley Girl.
Her songwriting is witty, charming and passionate, and she is all that and more while discussing her musical introduction to the world in the form of Midnight in the Garden, her precious debut album for Nettwerk Records that officially dropped at 12 o'clock high on September 24.
Chatting on the phone from her home in Los Angeles the day before taking off for France, where her song "As It Seems" has taken off after overseas viewers finally heard it on the 2012 finale of Criminal Minds, Kershaw is friendly, funny and playful. The somber nature of most of her lyrics unveil emotional depth and compassion, but don't tell the whole L.A. story behind a peppy, unpretentious, budding artist who loves to laugh.
What Kershaw is most serious about these days is making a "sustained" career of this songwriting thing, even though she has dabbled in acting, screenwriting and moviemaking.
Those interests could reemerge at some point, but right now Kershaw wants to focus on this artistic endeavor, appreciative that her recent record deal with Nettwerk allows her complete creative control.
"I started writing music when I was about 13 but I don't think I really realized that it had taken over my life and I couldn't stop myself from writing and it was probably something I was gonna have to do as a career because I couldn't do anything else," Kershaw says. "The fact that it took over my life and it's my heart and I'm protective of myself and I'm protective of the way that I express myself" were reasons that were "paramount" in her decision to begin Nettwerking.
That might be the business side of Kershaw talking but the personal side is upbeat, happy-go-lucky and ingratiating, even ready, willing and able to poke fun at herself. She does like to use the word like a lot, and dots her conversation with plenty of them while ending sentences with just as many verbal exclamation points.
While watching this likable and lovely Lily grow, consider these 10 germinating seeds of truth that will make you adore the Flower Girl Next Door even more.
1. Will her feet fit into Paul Simon shoes?
Signing with Nettwerk meant joining a label that has had a reputation for developing great singer-songwriters.
Kershaw laughs when that's pointed out to her.
"Yeah, they really have. Good ol' Sarah McLachlan."
Asked if as a youngster she was a fan of the Canadian songbird (Lily was 2 in 1993 when McLachlan broke through with Fumbling Towards Ecstasy), Kershaw was candidly refreshing.
"I definitely loved her song 'Angel.' I remember that being a song I flipped over as a kid and thinking, 'That's what music should sound like.' But I wouldn't, like, buy her records. I don't know if I should say that, but ... I was more like (into) Paul Simon, like, a folk chick."
Her long-term goal is "to write music for the rest of my life and I want to sing stories," and she admires "anyone who's still putting out records 40 years later," like Simon and Bonnie Raitt.
"I like the idea of following someone for a lifetime."
2. "Good Girl" or "Miss Behavior"?
Since she says her material is practically 100 percent "pretty painfully autobiographical," Kershaw is asked to explain the songs "Trouble" (I'm more trouble than I'm worth) and "Good Girl" (Good girls aren't suppose to misbehave / I'm not a good girl anyway).
The disarming laugh, heard umpteen times over the course of a 40-minute interview, provides proof that Kershaw knows how to keep her life in perspective, even during hard times.
" 'Trouble,' actually, I wrote it as a bit tongue in cheek," she says. "But I definitely think there was a period of time where I was going through a phase where no one was going to penetrate my heart, my life, no one was going to get close."
Writing "Good Girl" after turning 21, Kershaw offers, "You know, it's hard to figure out, I don't know, at least for me it's been an interesting journey to figure out who ... like I'm a woman now. It's such a weird thing. Like who is this person and what is she expected to do and be like? And then who is she really?
"Maybe 'Good Girl' was a little like ... it's a good little catchphrase, a catch-all for 'I'm not just this one thing that you think of.' Because, if you think about it, we're all ... the people you sleep next to at night even is like a far greater mystery than we'll ever understand."
3. What's trapped in her closet?
That's where Kershaw's cassette recorder is buried, along with untold numbers of songs still waiting to be released. She owes Nettwerk two more records, but believes they are already written and "sitting in my closet."
Nine years after her heartfelt poem was composed during the time of 9/11, that's where she found the makings of "Ashes Like Snow," another beautiful ballad from Midnight in the Garden that got a sneak preview on Criminal Minds' Season 8 finale. (See the official video below.)
Asked what kind of recorder she used, Kershaw realized the same one she had as a kid is still in her closet and started an unsuccessful search to find it while talking on the phone.
Having since graduated to Apple voice memos and GarageBand (with so much material that she had to get another laptop), Kershaw says, "I'll still sometimes leave it by my bed at night just in case. ... Up until a few years ago I'd just sing things into it as I woke up and there was something playing in my head."
After stockpiling material that was filling up her closet, Kershaw finally decided, "I probably should give in to this and make it like a career because otherwise I'm just writing songs up in my room and they're just gonna sit here forever."
Kershaw says that under the guidance of producer John Fields, she recorded a song a day for 14 days for the album, starting last September at Studio Wishbone in North Hollywood. Thirteen made the final cut.
"In retrospect, I would have liked more time," she adds, but envisions continuing at breakneck speed (for a musician) in the foreseeable future, believing she has a record a year in her.
"I would totally do that."
4. Is it time to meet the parents?
Preparing for life on the road, Kershaw decided to move back into her family's home to re-establish roots.
"My parents are lovely people," she says, but doesn't want to give up much more other than disclosing they are musical and artistic. "I don't know if they want me to talk about them. ... I think they're very proud of me and they're a bit private."
5. When does a name take on biblical proportions?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin ...
"We're not religious," Kershaw points out, "but I think my mother liked the idea of naming her daughter something that was like, 'You are as good as you are. Don't worry about it. You're a good human being. Be kind to people.' Like, 'You're perfect as you are. Don't go freaking out and changing things about yourself.' "
Thirteen years of living in L.A. (ages 5 to 14 were spent in New York) makes those ideals all the more challenging.
"It's nice to remember that your worth is not external," she adds. "You have to have intrinsic gratification in what you do and who you work hard to become. Like, I don't know, I have a little bit of a thing against a lot of what is culturally accepted in Los Angeles."
Road rage on the freeways might be one example, but Kershaw takes the thought beyond when drivers go mad.
"We're only as good as how we treat each other, you guys. Let's all be nice on the road," she implores. "I just think that it's important to remember that who you know doesn't matter, what you do doesn't matter. Who you are (is what) really matters."
6. Who's the real Me, Myself and I Don't Know?
It didn't seem like a trick question, basically just the Twitter equivalent of taking a quick selfie to serve as an Instagram introduction: How would you describe yourself in a sentence?
"Oh my gosh," Kershaw says, not resisting the urge to laugh. "Probably, uh, one who writes music. It's the funniest thing ever. A human being writing music? I don't know. That's the worst sentence ever."
Asked if she ever had to similarly sum herself up at school, Kershaw kept laughing.
"No. Have you?"
Back in old school, that was almost as mandatory as handing in a paper detailing "What I did on my summer vacation." But that was then.
"I don't think that I went to a good school then," Kershaw said jokingly, having attended PPAS (Professional Performing Arts High School) in New York before going to LACHSA (L.A. County High School of the Arts) when she and her family returned to the West Coast. "And even then it was probably, like, something very weird and different."
With several acting gigs, she was home-schooled her senior year, then went to Glendale Community College -- briefly.
"Oh my God, I didn't graduate," she says, feigning disappointment. "But I'm hoping everything works out fine." (laughs)
7. Why is a guitar so instrumental?
Before teaming up with Nicki Loranger and Amanda Witman, who she calls the "magical women" of Vector Management, Kershaw said there was no one developing her musical skill set. So she enrolled herself in DIY university.
"I should've probably taken some lessons. I would be a lot better," the self-taught guitarist says self-deprecatingly. "Maybe I'd be a much better songwriter."
She slowly learned the acoustic guitar -- one chord at a time. Out of a chord grew a song, then a songbook.
"I'd been singing since I could probably talk," Kershaw recalls. "Yeah, and I don't think (as an early teen) I liked the sound of my voice at the time. I didn't understand why it didn't sound like people on the radio. And I thought to myself, 'Well, if I write songs, maybe then people will want to listen because I'll be telling interesting stories.' "
Adding to her musical arsenal, Kershaw tinkered with a Les Paul Gibson electric, and likes to rock out with it, but only in her room. She plays "a bit of piano" and strums the banjo guitar on "Bathed In Blue." The ukulele is "so immediately rewarding," and is utilized on "Tokyo" to scold a castoff:
I'm not into your quirky pretension
You pretend to play a ukulele /
Don't even mention if you're gonna call
She was thrilled to try some "basic, basic drumming" on "Saved," and hopes to drum up the courage to eventually break out the kick drum in concert. Just as long as it has a low, bass sound.
"I hate any treble on drumming. It drives me nuts," she confesses, preferring anything that "brings like a nice, little anchoring melancholy."
8. What's inside Criminal Minds?
Kershaw not only landed songs on two episodes of the popular CBS show, but also was only 17 when she played prostitute and kidnap victim Kelly Shane in the two-hour Season 4 finale "To Hell ... And Back" (listed as Episodes 25 and 26).
Her character ("I look frightening") survived, according to Special Agent Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner's dramatic voiceover: "Kelly Shane will go home and try to recover, to reconnect with her family but she'll never be a child again." But don't expect Kershaw's role to return to life. "There are some Criminal Minds fans who talk about (her appearance) quite often," she says. "I just think it's funny."
Even acting is on the back burner. "It would have to be something, like, with friends," all of whom are in the business, she reveals. "Something that we all really care about and are super-excited and passionate about."
9. Why wait to play it cool?
Kershaw will complete a residency on September 30 at L.A.'s Hotel Cafe, which has launched the careers of previous pop guests such as Lenka ("We All Grow Up" could be the companion piece to the Australian's "The Show") and Meiko. Instead of sitting in the audience, being onstage has to be a satisfying but surreal experience.
"I remember all my cool friends in high school that had fake IDs, they were always, like, going to the Hotel Cafe," she says. "But in my mind, it was always a really cool, sacred spot. And I was like, 'I forbid myself from going there,' until I was 21."
Right after her 21st birthday, Kershaw went there to see FM Radio, fronted by another actress/musician, Schuyler Fisk, who's the daughter of Sissy Spacek.
With utter delight, Kershaw squeals about Fisk. "She's a really wonderful songwriter. And I met her that night."
So the fact that Kershaw performed there a year after going inside for the first time as a fan "was really a nice, little full circle moment. And then (Fisk) ended up listening to my music and telling me she really liked it."
10. Ready for your close-up?
If she ever decided to write it, Kershaw already has a working title ready for a screenplay about her life, up until this point anyway: Lily on the Loose.
Of course, she giggles after getting asked to come up with that on the spot, even supplying a short imaginary intro: Stories that you wouldn't believe in Los Angeles ... but I'll tell them to you anyway.
Sounds like a tale worth reading.
"I know, right? It's funny," she says, as bubbly as ever. "I would definitely, more so than acting, I'd definitely like in the next few years to get a screenplay optioned and maybe have a friend direct it. I think it would be so much fun. Or at least cool to tell some crazy stories."
With plenty of exclamation points included.
Lily Kershaw publicity photos by Harper Smith (above right) and Ben Fee (above left).
See Lily Kershaw's official music video for "As It Seems":