Bubble-gummy singles, a relentless touring schedule, and a viral TikTok tune helped pave the way for last year’s Honeymoon, the debut LP from Chicago indie-rock outfit Beach Bunny. The album, a crunchy, hyper-caffeinated ode to turn-of-your-20s romance and doe-eyed yearning, delivered upon the band’s budding promise, but there was one problem: It arrived just as COVID-19 began coursing through the country. The year Beach Bunny was supposed to tour the world (and make its TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live) was instead spent quarantining in Chicago.
Beach Bunny frontperson Lili Trifilio and her bandmates—guitarist Matt Henkels, bassist Anthony Vaccaro, and drummer Jon Alvarado—made the most of their unexpected downtime, however. On Friday, the band drops The Blame Game, a new EP conceived and recorded in lockdown. As you can hear in lead single “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used),” these new tracks shake off the dreamy melancholy of Honeymoon with songs that reckon with self-imposed guilt and toxic relationships.
Trifilio also used her time in isolation to learn the basics of production, which resulted in the birth of a solo project, Tiger Lili. In September, she dropped her first single under the moniker, the cinematic “Lightning,” and says there’s more to come this year. Ahead of the band’s rescheduled Kimmel performance on January 13, Trifilio spoke to The A.V. Club about embracing creation in lockdown, the character she’s created with Beach Bunny, and the absolute freedom afforded by her solo work.
The A.V. Club: Honeymoon dropped roughly a month before COVID-19 lockdowns swept throughout the world. I imagine your 2020 ended up looking a lot different than you expected.
Lili Trifilio: Yeah, we definitely had a lot of touring plans that got canceled. A lot of festivals got canceled. Pretty much everything you can imagine got canceled. There was a big creative shift as the boys and I were in isolation. A lot of writing in solitude. We didn’t have an EP lined up at all. We were just planning on promoting the album. So I guess that came out of it.
AVC: You’ve said on Twitter that Grimes was a big influence on The Blame Game.
LT: I was watching her interviews and was like, wow, I really relate with a lot of things she’s saying as an artist. I don’t really know if [her music] came into play with the Beach Bunny sound, but she was talking a lot about how she locks herself up in a room for weeks on end and lets herself experience boredom and craziness and stuff like that and then all the ideas just sort of flesh out. With corona going on, I was like, this is very comparable. And I think I was just kind of embracing that as an artist; coop yourself up in the room and let the songs come out whenever they could.
AVC: Thematically, the EP bucks against feelings of guilt that arise from societal pressure rather than actual culpability. Did those ideas emerge organically during the writing process?
LT: I think I got lucky with this one, in that I was just feeling very passionate, probably as a result of some of the corona angst, so a lot of the songs and lyrics did come out pretty organically. But I really love when things are cohesive, like visually and sonically. I think all of my favorite albums are, at least in some way, concept albums.
AVC: Would you characterize Honeymoon as a concept album?
LT: I feel like Honeymoon is about the entering and exiting of the honeymoon stage. There’s bummer songs, but there’s a couple happy ones—if you listen to it from the top down, it goes from sad to happy, and if you listen to it backwards it goes from happy to sad. I think with the next album I want to be a little bit more intentional, because Honeymoon sometimes feels like a collection of random songs I have, which is okay.
AVC: You wrote on Twitter that “being sad is so 2019.” Is that an attitude you’d associate with your new music?
LT: Yeah, definitely. I feel like maybe just my outlook on relationships, which is something that I typically write about, has shifted to where I can’t really see myself resonating with feeling super-insecure in relationships anymore. I feel like—as of late, at least—if people have those red flags, I usually get out of there, whereas before I would kind of stay in toxic environments. I’m hoping to cover more topics outside of romantic situations because I feel like some of my favorite songs, like “Prom Queen” and “The Blame Game,” are about experiences outside that stuff.
AVC: Let’s talk about your new side project, Tiger Lili. Was that born out of your boredom in lockdown?
LT: I was just making beats for fun—and, like I said, watching a lot of Grimes interviews [being] like, “Wow, she’s so cool.” Like, it would be so neat to learn how to do all the technical stuff, because you see that in the studio but I have no idea what those buttons do. So it was just for fun, but then I made a couple tracks and I was showing people and they went, you should just put this out. But I was like, this does not feel like Beach Bunny. I would feel weird hijacking that just to be like, look, I’m a producer now.
AVC: How would you say this work deviates from what you’re trying to do with Beach Bunny?
LT: I think my goal for this side project was just to give a home to all the songs that don’t work with Beach Bunny. I wanted to give myself a place that didn’t have any sort of restraints. So, if the next thing I make is just an instrumental track or if it’s something way different than the first single, they can all just coexist and not—I don’t want to say taint the Beach Bunny discography, but I just like how everything sounds really cohesive there. And then I guess [Tiger Lili] will be a bunch of random stuff.
AVC: Have you seen any themes or stylistic choices organically emerge from the songs you’ve been putting together?
LT: I feel like sonically there’s a lot of synths, but also a folk influence? Which is really random, because I hardly listen to folk. There’s also a lot of storytelling that’s not from my perspective. I’m just kind of writing random made-up fantasy situations, whereas Beach Bunny is very much me pouring my heart out. I’m hoping with the side project I can just give any kind of storytelling or type of expression a place to live. Also, if I wanted to collab with other producers, that would be a good place for those songs to live. I’m just still really picky with Beach Bunny, I guess.
AVC: How so? Is there a specific aesthetic you’re trying to maintain with Beach Bunny?
LT: As authentic as Beach Bunny is to myself, it is to an extent a little bit of a character. Every time I’m singing about my emotions, they’re super exaggerated. And there’s a color palette we stick with. And I sort of wear the same outfits in our music videos and onstage. So it’s like a character, and I worry if I strayed too far from that it would be inauthentic or something. [Laughs] I don’t know, I think it’s just a me problem.
AVC: What’s the first thing Beach Bunny, as a band, wants to do when lockdown lifts and we can return to some sense of normalcy?
LT: Oh, man. I mean, I think we want be playing some shows or some festivals. That’s the thing we all miss the most. Even if the country was half open I think we’d want to spend time together working on the next album. We haven’t been having band practices or anything because cases in Chicago are so high. Just getting back to the basics of, like, jamming—that’s something I think we all took for granted and are really longing for.