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British singer's career takes a path through Lawrenceville

| Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Oli Deakin
Lyla Foy
Oli Deakin
Mike Mulhern and Lyla Foy

Having spent years scouring the L.A. club scene as a scout for big-name record labels, it doesn't take Mike Mulhern long to know what he likes. When he heard British singer-songwriter Lyla Foy's ethereal sound and intimate lyrics, he was sure he wanted to work with her.

“I absolutely love her voice and the clever way she says things,” says Mulhern, a Pittsburgh boomeranger who now lives in Lawrenceville. “I appreciate very strong personalities, and she's as strong as they come. Most musicians are the complete opposite of that.”

Mulhern is now U.S. manager for Foy, the latest artist to sign with Sub Pop. The Seattle-based label is infamous for signing Nirvana in the late 1980s.

“It has a timeless feel to it,” Mulhern says of Foy's music. “She really is more of an old soul.”

After a three-year stint working with major West Coast labels in Los Angeles, Bethel Park-native Mulhern moved back to Pittsburgh when he decided to pursue management. Now, he spends his time working with booking agents, overseeing artwork and social media, planning the next year with the label, in general, “day-to-day creative stuff.”

Foy, a singer, writer and producer from London, began writing music when she started recording demos in her bedroom — “a therapeutic kind of thing,” Mulhern says.

She released her first single, “Magazine,” with Black Cab Sessions, which signed her as the first act on their label, BCS Records. From there, she signed a worldwide deal for her “Shoestring” EP with Big Picnic Records. Her deal with Sub Pop is for three records.

Because her music is so intimate, Foy admits that being in the spotlight can be a bit of a challenge.

“It is hard sometimes, and I struggle with stage fright,” she says. “But I love the challenge, and when you can get a whole room of people on your side, listening to your little tale of woe, that's a wonderful thing!”

Foy tends to start her writing process when practicing on her guitar, then works on a laptop to record instruments to create the song's mood and structure.

“Always music first, then lyrics,” she says. “It's like I have a million lyrics stored up, but I need to write the music to unlock the words.”

Sasha Morgan, Sub Pop A&R representative, says she was impressed at Foy's involvement in every aspect of song creation.

“She writes, she records and mixes them,” Morgan says. “She plays a huge part in the process.”

Even more impressive to Morgan is Foy's sound.

“It's minimalistic and kind of haunting,” Morgan says. “She has a very good way of structuring songs. They're quiet, haunting pop songs.”

Foy's first release with Sub Pop is a limited-edition 7-inch vinyl record, available for order online. Her next full album will debut in the spring and will showcase a sound that's “developed quite a bit from previous releases,” she says.

“I've been experimenting with lots of vintage instruments, and the tracks are more layered than ever. But I, certainly, stay true to my sound, and the melodies and lyrics are still the most important thing.”

Mulhern says Foy is “maturing into a bigger sound,” with her new work, helped by the addition of a drummer to her band. For his work with Foy, Mulhern says her strong vision allows him to be “much less producer guy.”

“With most acts, I start with them sending me rough demos of new song ideas and force them to write as many songs as possible and then offer a lot of in-depth thoughts that sometimes get put into action,” he says. “With Lyla, it's much more about reminding her about songs I love that maybe she forgot about a little bit, and suggesting some things here and there.”

That approach is ideal for the artist.

“Mike is an amazing manager,” Foy says. “He's really supportive and lets me realize my ideas and makes them a reality.”

Details: www.lylafoy.com

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