A gap year can be an opportunity to start building anything from a nonprofit to a solid resume. For Lila Dubois (C '25), it was the time she needed to start a music career. “I was just working a couple of waitressing and tutoring jobs,” she says about her time off. “Since I wasn’t doing any school, I had a lot of time to do music, and that was really when I started to actually record things.” Her time creating music has resulted in a promising trio of singles made with friend Miles Tobel, and with a full–length release planned for the summer, she’s just getting started. Her mindset, which reconciles artistry and education, only adds to her impressive work.
Lila—a first–year College student from Los Angeles—cited Phoebe Bridgers, Jade Bird, and Lake Street Dive as lyrical influences and named Anderson .Paak as an inspiration for “more upbeat” music. She collaborates with Miles on vocals, songwriting, and production. “Normally, we’ll start out with one of us sending a melody, a riff, or writing a poem,” Lila explains. “Once we get a basic song structure down, we sit down and we’ll produce and record it.” She adds that the two occasionally sit together to think of lyrics, but joked that they “argue too much for that, most of the time.”
The duo met in Boston while attending summer courses at the Berklee College of Music. When they realized they were both from Los Angeles, they struck up a friendship that would yield three songs released over the course of 2021.
“Hold My Tongue,” the earliest of these releases, is a stirring folk duet about a crumbling relationship that swells with each verse. The ballad builds to an intense bridge that incorporates strings and percussion before closing out the song with a final chorus of just one piano and two voices. “I can feel something’s wrong / Before it even comes / Can’t put my finger on / Hold my tongue,” Lila and Miles sing.
Lila recalls the diligence it took to make her debut single, describing a total of five rewrites for the lyrics of “Hold My Tongue.” Writing three versions together and two on their own, Miles and Lila settled on a variation that satisfied both of them. “I like it so much more,” Lila says. “I found a copy of our original lyrics, and I [did] not like them.” According to Lila, there are a lot more drafts that are saved for her future songs.
Lila's next song, “eyeswideopen,” is more spacious and solemn than its predecessor. The song opens starkly with Lila's voice and a piano before giving way to sparse percussion, strings, and, this time, cavernous synths. The background offers a perfect complement to Lila's lyrics, detailing a dark drive home before wading into bed forlorn and restless.
The duo’s latest single, “Bones,” contains both their happiest writing and most haunting instrumentation. The song's lyrics employ bodily imagery—bones, lips, eyes—and a light nod to John Denver to paint a picture of laying in an empty field with someone who sees into your soul, and loves you for what they see. “[Miles] had this melody for a little while,” Lila says about “Bones,” which she wrote herself. “Since we write a lot of sad songs … we wanted to write a pure, happy love song.”
Lila has the unique challenge of having to balance her music career with her work in college, especially when she plans on a double major and works with the Penn Jazz Ensembles and the Penny Loafers. Instead of perceiving the two as huge responsibilities that compound each other, she sees them more as a dichotomy. “To me, they’re such separate spheres that one kind of gives relief to the other,” she explains. “Music is a really good reprise from the academic parts of the day.” She also gives credit to college life for influencing her creative process through time management, writing courses, and meeting new people. “It just makes you value it a lot more, getting to have that time and space for yourself. It makes you appreciate how important it is to create that time, especially when there’s so much else going on,” she says.
While she speaks of having a small setup (just a microphone and MIDI keyboard) in her dorm, she mainly works on music at home. During winter break, Lila and Miles recorded and nearly finished their upcoming album. They plan to release it over the summer so that they can perform shows in Los Angeles. Lila also quips about the album being “an excuse to have a big party.”
When asked about her ambitions with her music, Lila quickly responds, “I ask myself the same question.” She goes on: “Right now, I love to do it … and it connects me with people. I say I’ll just keep doing it until I don’t want to anymore. If it goes somewhere, it goes somewhere.”
Lila's view on the relationship between music and work can be an inspiring sentiment. When the final product of Lila and Miles' effort drops later this year, it might even serve as even more motivation for fellow Penn artists.