When breakthrough country star Lily Rose kicked off her momentous year with the fitting single, “Overnight Sensation,” she warned that the tune was “as country as [she’ll] ever be.” The Georgia native’s seven-song debut project, Stronger Than I Am confirms her expansive soundscape. The project features her 2019 viral career kick-starter “Villian” and brings her listeners up to speed on what they can expect from her promising future as a pioneering artist.
Released October 1, via Big Loud Records / Back Blocks Music and Republic Records, the project was primarily produced by the sought-after Joey Moi, with the help of Matthew Morrisey and Julian Bunetta. A diligent team of dear friends and frequent collaborators encouraged Rose to push genre bounds further into R&B and pop while delving into the delivery of raw, honest lyricism that situates her well within the country music world.
“I’m sitting here, just shaking my head just at the overwhelming, feeling that I have from being able to work with these people,” Rose tells American Songwriter about her new project. “I’ve been really lucky that all the stars have aligned—my dream label, my dream producer, dream co-writers—and all of them felt a mutual appreciation for me back so we can work together.”
She says being in the studio with Moi made her appreciate and listen to music differently. “Hearing the things that he says to the players in there, like Derek Wells, David Cohen, some of the best players in Nashville, and decipher what the exact thing is going to be after we’ve tried two hours worth of guitar parts, I’ve gotten to see firsthand why he is the best producer in Nashville,” says Rose. “And why he has had all the success that he has. He made the songs cohesive. They’re all very individual songs when you listen to him separately. But I think all together—the acoustic guitar, the wall of sound that we’re creating, while also bringing the hip hop and country elements both to it—is pretty special.”
Naming this project that encapsulates such dexterity was no easy task. Although it does not serve as the title, “Villian” is the first song listeners will hear as they play the album in its carefully selected order. “I’m a big fan of playing projects top to bottom when I hear them first because I understand the art behind it,” Rose says. Opening the album with “Villian” is emblematic of her climb. Since she dropped it on TikTok in December 2019, the song became the center of the wild year that followed. Rose adds, “I’ll always think back on that time as ‘The Villain Chapter’—it was just this undeniable hit.”
While piecing the project together, Rose approached the VP of marketing at Big Loud, Candice Watkins, with another idea. “I was like, ‘Hey, there’s something about ‘Stronger Than I Am’ that encompasses what I want my introductory project to be,” she recalls. “I hadn’t even gotten my vocal on it yet, but what Joey did with that song itself really solidified everything the project is—which is county music.”
Written by Griffen Palmer and Geoff Warburton, the title track is the most twang-tinged piece of the project. But Rose does not perceive sonic bounds surrounding the country genre. Instead, she acknowledges the legacy of storytelling that threads through even the most modern means of making country music.
“It’s all rooted back to the songwriting,” says Rose.“ I’m a huge fan of pop and rap, but the more I listened to it and I study it, the more I realize how little the lyric matters—it’s all melody. What always brings me back to country music, is knowing what we go through as songwriters to curate brilliant hooks and great songs. And because of that, I have to stay in this format. I love it. I think the craft is unlike any other genre.”
With credit to the writers, she describes the title track as beholding “every little element of what makes country music so special.” She continues, citing “sadness, drinking, and full of hooks on the end of it.” Rose continues, adding, “ I love a good full band show, and I love partying, you can hear that. And I do that with the six other songs. But there’s something about just me with my guitar, and telling stories like ‘Stronger Than I Am.’ And that’s why I gravitate to cutting songs like that because that’s my favorite part of this entire job is getting to strip it down to plain old country music.”
“Whole Lotta Hometowns” is uniquely country in its lyrical content and contains production nods to the more traditional influences that led her to the genre in the first place. But she insists that each track holds its own sentiment and purpose within the collection. She says, “it’s not all about being in love. It’s not all about breakups. It’s not all about drinking or hometowns. They’re just seven different stories that I’m really proud to tell and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Stronger Than I Am” is one of only three from the seven-song collection that she did not write. She is first and foremost a songwriter and recognizes the strength of the Nashville songwriting community while holding high expectations of the songs she records. What pushed her into artistry is the magnetism of stage performance. So beyond the stories she selected to share, these seven songs all meet the underlying criteria of elements that translate well into a live set. “That’s how we tell the story to the fans in person,” says Rose. “And each one of them, it’s done in very different yet cohesive ways.”
The common denominator of each of the songs—outside cuts or her own work—is stories she felt she could tell well. She further considers the cadence of a song and if it sounds like something she would write. “If I’m being honest, these outside cuts are better than anything I would write.”
The first time she heard “Remind Me Of You” she was awed by Sam Hunt’s dynamic approach to the demo. Hunt—who co-wrote the track with Corey Crowder, Ernest Keith Smith, and Ryan Vojtesak—has been an inspiration to Rose as a trailblazing artist. “He is making his own lane, and I’m trying to do the same,” she says. “I heard that song, and I was like, ‘Dang, there’s so much swag in this that I’ve never heard a female bring to the table in this format before.‘ So I’m really stoked that I get to do that.”
Lyrically, she feels the story is important to expand representation within the genre. As an openly gay artist entrenched in the Nashville scene, the message, as written by men, remained intact to stay true to herself. The pronouns of the song recorded by a female artist make it broadly resonant with anyone who has struggled to get over an ex-lover, no matter who they are.
Girl you were all that I wanted and that’s why falling in love with her is so hard to do // She don’t remind me of you, Rose raps through one of the most hip-hop-leaning tracks on the project.
Similarly, “I Don’t Smoke”—penned by Daniel Gerard Breland, Lalo Guzman, and Michael Tyler—contains pop elements that enhance Rose’s live performance with further opportunities to connect with her audience. She adds, “I’m really proud to be able to use that songwriting, but pull from those other genres when it comes to the production.”
At the center of Stronger Than I Am is a connection created only through fervent authenticity. “I think as long as the song integrity is through the roof, I will not have too tough of a time trying to trailblaze,” Rose concludes. “In my opinion, that’s how you change hearts is with good, undeniable songs.”
Rose will embark on Chris Lane’s Fill Them Boots Tour this fall through early 2022. Tickets and more information are available on her website.
Listen to Stronger Than I Am, here.
Photo Credit: John Shearer