Toronto’s Tilsen creates infectious pop jams that explore real love–the highs and lows, the ecstasy and the pain. “I spend a lot of time reflecting on my life and my relationships,” she notes. “I sort of document my thoughts and feelings in my lyrics.” Her music is powerful, optimistic and strikingly honest. She’s written with some of Canada’s top songwriters through the Songwriters Association of Canada and has shared the stage with artists like BANNERS, Scott Helman and Shawn Hook, and has collaborated with artists like Mike Tompkins and Ryan O’Shaughnessy.
We chatted with her this week.
SDTC: Describe your dream vacation/getaway scenario:
Tilsen: A dream scenario for me would be to spend a few weeks writing with my favourite songwriters in Paris (I love Paris!) Then, follow that with a week to unplug in the South of France and just relax and swim with my friends. I love being near water and it’s hard to get me out of it. I’ll stay in till my skin gets all pruny. If I could hang out with some animals in the process, that would be ace.
Who/what is commanding a lot of attention in your life lately?
Firstly, I’ve been working on my live show lots lately.
Secondly, my wardrobe! I’m collecting some really fun outfits in my ever expanding closet. There will be many posts of photo evidence soon!
What have you learned about yourself in the past year?
I’ve learned that as an adult, I really love to dance. I felt too self-conscious to enjoy it when I was a teenager but now I find it really fun. I’ve been taking lessons. I think it’s a beautiful art form and also really love to watch it being performed.
What is a fun little-known fact about you?
My star sign is Scorpio. Also – I did the 16 personality types test recently and apparently I am an ENFJ.
What book/film/show have you connected with recently, and what about it appeals to you?
“The Favourite” is my new favourite movie. I can’t stop thinking about it. Of course the Victorian aesthetic is right up my alley, but I love how they used that time period as the stage for a contemporary film. It’s a tragicomedy, which takes you through a full range of emotions. It has incredible performances from the lead actresses who play ferocious females. It’s a movie that portrays women in their full complexity and captures the tragedy of power structures that have always existed.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’ve had the wrong people telling me what could go wrong if I released music independently or the wrong way; telling me I needed them in order to be successful or making false promises. I would often get slowed down or my plans would grind to a halt when someone who didn’t have good intentions offered their help. Then, energy was lost trying to get away from those circumstances. At the beginning I really didn’t know much about the industry but as time passed, I learned a lot. I had to remind myself that I can make my own decisions and to ignore the negativity. I also made a promise to myself to only work with goodhearted people that were passionate about my vision. I think finishing and releasing music independently and then having a positive reaction to that affirmed that I was right and I can trust my instincts. I’m so grateful that I have found a team now where I can say that everyone in it are not only talented but incredible humans.
What is your motto at the moment?
I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if I’m scared. If I want something, I tell myself to do it anyway. Life really is too short to let fear stop you from taking risks for what you love. One day we all die, so what’s the hold up?
Any goals/plans for the summer?
This summer I want to spend as much time writing and rehearsing as I can. I hope to get up to my parent’s cabin at least once, and be outside as much as possible. My goal is to do that without going into debt.
What are the qualities you like least and most about your parents?
I love that my parents love in such a healthy way. I had an idyllic early childhood thanks to them and I’m endlessly grateful. They are very expressive in their love, are super supportive and brave. When they fight, it makes me laugh because they’re nice to each other, even when they’re mad. They taught me what kind of love to expect from friends and partners. You’d have to search pretty hard to find anything you didn’t like about my parents, I think they are angels on earth.
Rewind five years. What advice would you give yourself?
I would tell myself to trust my instincts. They’re never wrong. Don’t get stuck in catastrophic thinking. It’s useful to think about the worst case scenario so you can work to avoid it, but then turn your focus to the best case and figure out ways to get there. People with bad intentions will try to make you think they know better than you, but they don’t. Pursuing music is going to suck for a while. Just remember to spend quality time with the people you love as much as possible. Remind them you love them often.
What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
I couldn’t say, but on the subject of bravery – I think it takes courage to speak up for yourself and others when you could face judgement or ridicule. I really value that in people.
What childhood memory makes you laugh out loud?
I laugh when I think about when I dressed up my little brother in my purple princess dress, witch wig and my mom’s high heels. I got him to ring the doorbell and pretend he was a little girl named Jane. I thought we could trick my parents, but of course we didn’t fool them.
What unnecessary object would you love to own?
I would love to have a weighted blanket. I like to feel all snuggled up when I sleep, but they’re mad expensive so I can’t justify buying one.
What tip, technique or hack has made your life better in the past year?
HUDABEAUTY desert dusk eyeshadow palette. Game changer.
What issue do you wish people took more seriously?
The climate crisis.
What outfit makes you feel the most you?
I feel very ME in when I’m wearing white, especially wearing my corset.
Who/what has surprised you lately, and how?
I’m really happily surprised that they’re serving plant-based burgers at Tim Hortons and A&W and that they taste so much like meat. I’m vegetarian and I’m really happy they’re making veggie options that meat eaters can even enjoy.
When you look back on your life, are you at where you thought you’d be by now?
I think when we are kids, we think that adults have everything figured out and we’re just going to suddenly understand everything when we get older. Well… that didn’t happen! I’m not where I thought I would be when I was little, but that’s okay.
Fave spot in Toronto?
I love the St. Lawrence Market and Kensington Market.