Meet Lauren Eylise, A Standout Performer From The 2020 Tiny Desk Contest

Aug 23, 2020
Originally published on September 3, 2020 11:24 am

This year's Tiny Desk Contest wrapped up at the beginning of August with the announcement of our winner, Linda Diaz, and her song "Green Tea Ice Cream." But NPR Music's panel of judges saw over 6000 entries from around the country, and there was more than one incredible submission.

One of those standout entries was from Lauren Eylise, who submitted her original song "Peaks and Valleys." She wrote the song several years ago after she faced an unplanned pregnancy while trying to launch her music career in New York City; it's an ode to the tough decisions she had to make and the struggles that make us who we are.

"We need the sunshine and the rain to grow," Eylise says. "And I think that song is where I find a lot of strength."

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke to Lauren Eylise about filming her entry video in a Black-owned coffee shop in Cincinnati, learning to love music from her grandfather and the church choir and about what she hopes for her music career in the future.

"My hope is really just that I can continue to create soul-stirring music that inspires people to do a little more than they did yesterday, to live a little more, to love a little more," she says. "I think that life — it's a journey that not everyone feels equipped to navigate, and I think that that's OK. I think we beat ourselves up about that, but I think that music is a beautiful guiding force. I can only hope and pray that I can be an usher, to some degree, on a much larger scale."

Listen in the audio player above and watch the video for her Tiny Desk Contest submission below.

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LINDA DIAZ: (Singing) Cherries in the spring, long walks, summer nights, green tea, ice cream.


That's Linda Diaz, who won this year's Tiny Desk Contest. But imagine being a judge for NPR Music with some 6,000 entries from across the country. How do you choose? Well, over the next couple of months on WEEKEND EDITION, we'll highlight a few standout entries. One of those entries is from Lauren Eylise. This is her song "Peaks And Valleys."


LAUREN EYLISE: (Singing) They're ain't no savior to save me from you, you, you, you, you. They're ain't no temple to hide all my truth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gorgeous. Lauren Eylise joins us now from Cincinnati. Welcome to the program.

EYLISE: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I understand this song came to you several years ago when you were first trying to launch a musical career. What happened?

EYLISE: To be frank, I popped up pregnant. I had just moved to New York City...


EYLISE: ...Post-graduation. I was about two and a half years in. And I was faced with a lot of tough decisions. That song was kind of born out of that.


EYLISE: (Singing) One day, I'll set them ablaze. Every illusion and every mistake goes up in flames.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Peaks And Valleys" - I mean, are those the sort of highs and lows of that decision and just, you know, life in general?

EYLISE: Absolutely. I believe that the song began with that situation. But it's become a sort of ode to all of the peaks and valleys in my life and different aspects and experiences. And I think that it speaks to the peaks and valleys in the lives of others, as well. You know, we need the sunshine and the rain to grow. That's my favorite saying right there. And I think that that song is where I find a lot of strength, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Especially now, right? There's a meme going around, people talking about the corona-coaster. One day, you're sort of happily baking banana bread. And then the next day, you're crying into a bottle of gin at breakfast - not me. I choose vodka.

EYLISE: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that what "Peaks And Valleys" feels like to you these days?

EYLISE: Absolutely. That's so funny. I actually made a vegan banana bread a couple of weeks ago.


EYLISE: And, like, the week after, I told myself, I'm going to do this once a week.


EYLISE: The week after, I was like, nah. We got to go over to bourbon now. I'm getting stressed. (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I remember - yeah - at the beginning of all this, I was like, I'm going to be doing yoga every day, meditation.

EYLISE: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And now it's like, oh, my God. Can I put on pants today?

EYLISE: It's a time. It's definitely a time. But I do think that it's tough. But we can find a lot of light and a lot of inspiration and a lot of growth.


EYLISE: (Singing) Round and around and around, I go all in my head. Yeah, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You recorded this song in a Cincinnati coffee shop. Why was that space important to you?

EYLISE: Ooh. So BlaCK Coffee is the name of the coffee shop. It's Black-owned. And it is a cornerstone for our community here. It really has become a place where, whether you're corporate or creative, different people of different backgrounds - it was a gathering place. And even now, they're still pushing through to really connect with community and make sure people are taken care of in every way. And so that meant a lot to me. And for me, the culture - you know, I think it's so important to uplift our culture, to be able to celebrate it because it's so important. It's been such a driving force for our peaks and our valleys as a community. So that space - it means a lot to me. It really does.


EYLISE: (Singing) Racing my thoughts - I reveal my own heart. It's a shame.

I'm a vocalist first. I started singing when I was 2 years old. It's very important for me to make sure that shines. So you see I've got, like, five background singers, I think - might be six of us that day. I think it's important to have vocalists that I love and that I'm moved by because there's a certain energy when you get a group of singers together. It's just an energy that you can't replicate. You can't make it up.


EYLISE: (Singing) And there ain't temple to...

Nine is when I think I joined the church choir. But I was too young.


EYLISE: So I got kicked out (laughter). But I still kept singing. I taught myself to play the piano about 13. And then I picked up the guitar and taught myself that part of my life. My grandfather was a pastor. May he rest in peace. And he was sort of like a prince. He played everything. He was a vocalist. And I've always loved music. It's my second language.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's your hope for the next peak in your career? Where do you want to go with your music?

DIAZ: Oh, man. God willing, I'm internationally touring in the next few years. And my hope is really just that I can continue to create soul-stirring music that inspires people to do a little more than they did yesterday, to live a little more, to love a little more. I think that life - it's a journey that not everyone feels equipped to navigate. And I think that's OK. I think we beat ourselves up about that. But I think that music is a beautiful guiding force. And I can only hope and pray that, you know, I can be an usher to some degree on a much larger scale. So hopefully, I go platinum and sell some albums and tour after COVID, you know (laughter)?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After COVID - that is a prayer for all of us.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lauren Eylise - you can see her Tiny Desk Contest entry "Peaks And Valleys" on our website Thank you very much for speaking with us.

EYLISE: Thank you so much for having me. Have a beautiful day.


EYLISE: (Singing) There ain't no savior to... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.