When Becca Bisque and Julie Gussaroff met at a music party in Colorado, it was the beginning of what is now a powerhouse string band. “Becca was looking to work with someone who was more expansive and creative,” says Julie. “She had just started writing songs. I was doing singer-songwriter stuff, and she accompanied me on viola.” The two thought it would be cool to have a band. “Finding that kind of musical connection isn’t easy to do. We began using our skills to write and grow together.”
And have they ever grown! The Sweet Lillies were founded officially six years ago when Dustin Rohleder joined the group. The band is now comprised of Julie on bass, Becca on vocals, Dustin on guitar, and the band’s newest addition, Jones Maynard, on percussion.
“The band Jones was playing with fell apart during Covid, and we were looking for a drummer, so it worked out great for all of us,” says Julie. “Jones is a talented, young and hungry drummer from Atlanta, and we have really enjoyed having him on board.”
Luckily, The Sweet Lillies persevered through the Covid pandemic, despite Julie falling ill with the virus early on. “We opened for Sam Bush at the Gothic Theatre. I’ll never forget we played ‘Insane in the Membrane,’ and it was really cool. Then I went down the next day and was sick for the next couple of months with Covid.” Julie was very sick, and her bandmates came in to take care of her. Within weeks gigs began canceling due to the pandemic, which worked out well for The Sweet Lillies, as Julie was too ill to tour. “But we kept rehearsing,” she said. “I would stand up with my bass and rehearse, then go right back to bed. I think we came back stronger because of it.”
The Sweet Lillies put out regular videos on YouTube during the pandemic. “That kept us going,” says Julie. She also credits their manager, Erwin Schemankewitz. “He stood by us during the entire pandemic. He was so loyal – he held space for us and just held us. We were without work, but so was he. We truly trust each other, and that relationship will last the rest of our lives.”
Becca and Julie came up with the name of the band. “The Sweet Lillies reflects that the band is driven by women,” explains Julie. “We wanted to convey color and beauty, and the fact that two women started and created this project. We asked the men in the band if they are uncomfortable with the name, and they said, ‘Not at all.’ We believe the name is authentic and easy to remember. Plus, it looks lovely on a poster.”
Songs by The Sweet Lillies convey the world around them. “The world is a crazy place,” muses Julie. “It seems things are coming to a head.” The band members come from very diverse backgrounds. “I grew up in New York in middle-income housing in Chelsea (before it was gentrified), and my parents were both social justice activists. Dustin grew up on a generational walnut farm. He was the first in his family to leave the farm to pursue his own path. That’s where the song ‘18 Wheels’ comes from.”
That single was released in the spring and uses a tractor/trailer driver as a metaphor to tell the story of a man’s journey as a lone wolf in search of his own life. The animated music video of the song features a man walking through a fantastic fantasy world as he searches for what life has to offer.
The song is one of twelve songs on their latest album, Equality, released June 2. The album, produced by Chris Pandolfi of the Infamous Stringdusters, has a strong social justice slant.
“We believe all people deserve the same treatment and rights,” Julie says. “There is a direct relationship from childhood to the world around me. As a child, I walked out my front door to see homeless people suffering. That left a strong mark.” Chris contributed to the album as well.
Like most bands, The Sweet Lillies have evolved over the years.
“We went from being a noon set on a Sunday kind of band to a late-night set on Saturday band. We are more of a ragey, party, fun band, and we are an original band, as we do primarily original music. We love the music culture in Colorado, with bands like Leftover Salmon. We have had the opportunity to play with so many great artists, and we love the collaborative nature of the music here.” Julie says in the beginning, they were all strong songwriters with a folk music slant. “We always brought in artists as well, as we had a banjo on just about every song. As we have evolved, we are leaning toward a more heavy-hitting drum sound. And Becca is a powerful rapper with a strong ability to combine spoken word with music. There are actually three rap songs on our new album.”
Julie says the band is in the process of writing songs for their fifth album. “We are a full-time four-piece band now.” Keep an eye out for The Sweet Lillies. They are making a strong mark in the music world.