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Lillie Mae on Taking Chances

This blue-grass songstress opens up about working with Jack White, shopping on a discount and new music

With a precious pixie cut, mixed-metal jewelry adorning her hands and a raspy southern drawl, Lillie Mae is anything but ordinary. Her deep voice is somewhat surprising coming from such a small body, but it totally complements her badass personality. “Someone complimented me on my dress earlier and I was like, ‘I guarantee I’m the cheapest dressed mother fu**er in this place,'” she tells me after I unapologetically gushed over her eclectic style. Mae just performed an afternoon set at Boston Calling Music Festival where she says she had a blast. “I was totally feeding off the wonderful, positive energy around me,” she says. “I wish every gig was at a festival.” She tells me about a dream she has of setting up a tent in a field, staying for five days with food, drink and free performances. “It could run on donations! Who knows..,” she drifts off. The idea is whimsical and free-spirited, which feels very much like Mae.

Lillie Mae

Lillie Mae

Mae got her start musically within a family group, before they disbanded and she joined Jack White on tour. While on tour, Mae formed a strong bond with White and she began to share some of her solo music with him. White then offered to produce Mae’s first full-length studio album and she turned it down. “I had this controlling boyfriend at the time and I ended up passing up Jack’s offer,” she says with a regretful sigh.

Two years later, with the controlling boyfriend out of the picture, Mae reached out to White one last time. She tells me she was sitting in her breaking down pick-up truck in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Alabama before playing a small gig. “I was just praying they’d pay me in cash so I could make it home. When I got paid in cash, I drove 16 hours home to Illinois. I stopped at Jack’s house on the way and dropped off a letter,” she says. The letter to Jack White was Mae putting all of her pride aside and recognizing that she had been offered an amazing opportunity and had passed it up. She tells me that she poured herself into the letter, begging him to see that she had been in a rough place in life.

Lillie Mae’s first full-length album, Forever and Then Some was produced by Jack White and released on his record label Third Man Records in 2017. “There’s so much heart in it. I was not doing the best at the time and I just thank God it was captured within this album,” Mae says of the album. There’s something really admirable about an artist who can take chances, and Mae says she knew she had nothing to lose by sending Jack White a letter. Now, as she looks to creating new music, she says she’s excited for it to be different. “Less blue grass, a little dark, but still me,” she says of new music due out later this year. In the meantime, we can hold on to the dream of Lillie Mae starting her own festival in a field filled with good food, friends and music.