by Mia Hughes
Beach Bunny’s Lili Trifilio is a romantic – she thinks. “I try to be,” Trifilio laughs over the phone, where she’s speaking from the band’s hometown of Chicago. I ask because, at the time of our conversation in early February, the band’s debut album Honeymoon is set to be released in a week; on Valentine’s Day.
From that information, and from the lovestruck preceding singles ‘Dream Boy’ and ‘Cloud 9’ (in which Trifilio sings, “When he loves me, I feel like I’m floating / When he calls me pretty, I feel like somebody”), one might assume that she spends this album basking in the glory of love. But in reality – just like love itself – it’s a little more complicated than that.
“[The album] is about the honeymoon phase in a relationship – some of the feelings that come when you enter that phase and you have the rose-coloured glasses, and then when you also exit the phase and problems start arising,” she says. “It is easy when you’re going through hard times to kind of become jaded to love. I think I was trying to cover both dimensions of that throughout the album. Because at certain times it’s easy to fantasise about love, but it’s also pretty easy to get bogged down by it.”
All of the angst that comes with romance and relationships is not glossed over; it’s given just as much attention as the joyful parts. ‘Ms California’, for example, deals with jealousy over a crush who loves someone else, with Trifilio singing, “I love your voice but hate the way you talk of her persistently”. ‘April’, meanwhile, sees her long for someone who is pulling away: “I wanna be everything you wanted / But oftentimes, I just get forgotten”. These painful feelings can be ugly to wrestle with, but Trifilio’s delivery is perfectly heartfelt.
The record follows a string of EPs, spanning 2015 to 2018; Trifilio feels that this first full-length represents a step up for Beach Bunny in a number of ways. “Although I’m happy with the early songs – they’re fine – I definitely think as a songwriter I’ve matured, and as a band, we’ve all gotten way better at our instruments. And also just knowing how to jam together, which is important. ‘Cause at the beginning the sound wasn’t as cohesive as it is now. And then as a person,” she adds, “I’ve gotten better at being a little bit more assertive, whereas before I was definitely a pushover.”
Honeymoon, recorded at Chicago’s famous Electrical Audio, marked Beach Bunny’s first experience in a real studio. Despite being the young band’s debut, its release was hotly anticipated in a way that few artists see at this early stage of their career. Since Trifilio formed it as a solo bedroom project at the beginning of college in 2015 – and as a full band two years later in order to play at a Battle of the Bands – they have become one of the US indie scene’s most exciting buzz bands, slowly building the potential that was unleashed with this record.
That’s something that began in the Chicago basement scene. “We played house shows every weekend, and there was a super strong community aspect of everyone coming to each other’s shows,” Trifilio says. Still, as they advanced through the Chicago indie stratosphere, they continued to build their reputation with relentless touring, accompanying big scene names such as PUP, Remo Drive and Field Medic. That allowed them to foster not just their recognition as a band, but their relationships within the band too. “It’s moved us up from just being close friends to more of a family dynamic. And it teaches you how to have patience with each other, and communicate better when problems arise. At the end of the day, we’re all business partners and best friends, so knowing how to function together is super important.”
Another huge boost came in a less traditional form: ‘Prom Queen’, a single from their 2018 EP of the same name, became a viral hit on the video platform TikTok, racking up millions of streams along with it. The track, which deals with body image and self-love, brought with it a completely new audience for the band. “I think before that happened our audience was mostly punk kids and indie-pop kids. But now, especially headlining shows, the front row is usually younger girls. I’m assuming they’re from the internet.” For Trifilio, that newfound young audience makes for a certain sense of responsibility. “I definitely feel like I need to step into some kind of role model role. I don’t think I would change myself dramatically for that, but it is very touching when especially younger kids say that somehow the songs helped them get through something, whether it was relationship trouble or body issues or anything like that. There’s been quite a few people at shows that have said that [‘Prom Queen’] kind of flipped a switch, as far as how they perceived their own body image or what steps they took to get out. Which is always crazy, it makes me cry every time.
“There was this moment on our last tour. Right after the show, this girl – she was just waiting back for forever. And she came up to me and just started crying, and she was like, ‘Hey, you probably don’t know, but you changed my life. I had such a bad eating disorder, and I heard ‘Prom Queen’, and it made me go get help.’ I’ve struggled with that kind of stuff too, so I could relate to what she was going through. It was very touching.”
Before the release of Honeymoon, Beach Bunny signed to indie champions Mom + Pop Music, home to Courtney Barnett, Sleater-Kinney and FIDLAR, amongst others. “They seem like very trustworthy, kind-hearted people, and not just super business-focused,” Trifilio says. “It seems like creativity and art is very valued.” They were also announced, pre-pandemic, for this year’s Coachella and Shaky Knees Festival, as well as their first tour of UK and Europe. “Sometimes people might not know my name, but they’ll see me on the street or something and just yell ‘Beach Bunny!’. And I think maybe people that I meet for the first time might have a certain perception of me, just from being in the band. So it affects my life on a daily basis.”
But even as the band’s success ramps up, it becomes clear throughout our conversation that Trifilio is ready to handle it. “I think as a band, there’s a high priority on making our own decisions, and forming that community aspect, as opposed to people that get signed immediately and just jump into the whole business side of things. [We know] who we are as a band; what our brand is and what our values are. We still have those.
“I don’t think I have any particular goals in mind, but I just hope that we can keep this exponential growth rate, and I’m open to whatever happens.”