Lily Hansen, 29, originally from Chicago, moved to Nashville in 2012.
Growing up in a creative atmosphere, Lily started writing when she was 18. In college, she worked as a journalist and as an art critic for her school newspaper.
Graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2010, she said her experiences in the city were polarizing.
“It’s amazing, but then you get a dose of reality early on,” she said. “I had an interesting upbringing because both of my parents are artists. My mom is a makeup artist, and my dad was a cartoonist, a musician, and a writer.”
Lily spent her childhood going to herb festivals, séances, art gallery openings, and seeing her dad play blues music on the Southside. She said she wasn’t sheltered from anything but said her parents did an excellent job of making sure she was still a kid.
“It was creative,” she said of that time. “I remember drawing, writing, and playing every instrument. Interestingly enough, now I crave being around noncreative types. From people that I date to people that I socialize with, I want to be around business and finance people because I’ve done the creative thing. I need more practical and real world experience, and I’m starting to get that balance.”
Lily Hansen is the author of a book entitled Word of Mouth Nashville Conversations, a collection of Q&A interviews with artists, entrepreneurs, and leaders from all over the city.
WORDS of MOUTH CONVERSATION: NASHVILLE
When Lily first started freelance writing, she realized her favorite part of putting together a profile was the interview.
“Honestly, I didn’t even want to write the damn piece most of the time. I’m secretly very lazy but no one ever believes me,” she said. “So when I started my book I realized hey, I can do whatever I want to do so I’m going to do an entire book of interviews because why not?”
Lily said it was a modern way of transferring information to a generation whose attention span seems to decrease by the second. Plus most of the time, as she tells all her subjects, she could not describe an emotion or experience better than they could in their own words.
One day she decided that freelance writing wasn’t inspiring her as much as it used to—it was time to do something on her own.
“Being someone who loved reading books and loved coffee table books and has been a collector of them as far as my wallet can afford for a long time, I said let’s do a book.”
In 2013, she began working on the project that would eventually become Word of Mouth Nashville Conversations, and in July of 2015, the book was released.
Lily said she started by haphazardly gathering interviews and photos as she went along.
“It was an experiment. I thought, let’s just see if anyone will take me seriously. I wasn’t established here, and I didn’t have any clout here besides a few cover stories I did for local magazines. When I started, I had a paragraph that essentially said, ‘Hey, I’m Lily. Will you talk to me?’” she said. “While I was a relative stranger to these folks clearly I presented something that resonated with them.”
Now looking back on the whole process, she said one of the best things was having a team that believed in her.
“At the heart of everything I do, it’s all about collaboration and support. To have people there that not only cheer you on but also lift you up is helpful and so important.”
MENTORSHIP and FUTURE PROJECTS
Getting started on the book, right away Lily had a stroke of good luck of people who kept saying yes to her. One after another she became addicted to doing interviews.
In hindsight, she realizes the people she interviewed acted as mentors with their conversations being unintentionally mini-mentorship sessions.
“I loved connecting with people. I loved being able to ask people whatever I wanted. I liked being able to ask for guidance, and it was something I needed.”
At the end of last year, Lily changed the name of her project dropping “Nashville” out of the title.
“I started putting content up there from Chicago, Atlanta and a few other places I have traveled. I wanted to make it this umbrella so that I could go to any city in the world and have a conservation with someone.”
Admitting to being hesitant at first, Lily said now she’s getting started on another book.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should. I’m someone that if something comes up over and over again, I’ll just naturally gravitate toward it because why not? Life is hard. If you can make it easier then sure.”
During the process of deciding to do another book, Lily had to take a step back and tell herself to stop being selfish. She said if there was a demand then maybe she was meant to do this and maybe it had less to do with her own artistic aspirations and more with her contributing to something.
Cataloging interviews over the last year, she said the next book is halfway done.
Last year, she started the Word of Mouth Conversation blog.
“The blog started because someone told me one day, ‘You need a blog.’ I said no I don’t. I’m a writer and not a blogger. But they were a lot more successful than me, so I listened and, in fact, they were right.”
Lily said she needed a blog to keep from getting bored over the last year when she was in between projects. Now, she publishes once a week on the Word of Conversations blog.
“If I’m trying to do anything, I’m trying to rip the veneer off the polite, Southern hospitality way of behaving. It’s with all due respect to the culture. I’m a foreigner in a strange land. I’m not trying to change things here. I have the utmost respect for the way things are here. I funded that whole book by myself from bartending and serving. I’ve put out a piece a week for a year out of my dime, paying photographers. I’m looking to get what I want which is to get real with people.”
At the core of it I love people, psychology and capturing a city in real time.
CHICAGO to NASHVILLE
“We moved to Nashville for many reasons why I think a lot of people do. We were burned out on the big city life that was too expensive with too much competition. I know I could make stuff happen here quickly because it’s a small town and it’s easy to network in,” she said.
Upon first arrival in the summer of 2012 with a boyfriend, she said she didn’t think much of the city at first.
“At the time, I was living in Bellevue and had never spent time in a strip mall suburb,” said the true city girl. “The first four months were terrible. I didn’t know how to drive, and I was stuck out in there with no sidewalks. It was insane.”
Lily took a couple of driving lessons, got her license and ended up getting a job a Mafiaoza’s. She said she forced herself to get out and hang out at coffee shops to meet people.
Being the journalist that she is, Lily said she looked at her move as a way to figure out what was happening here.
“And over four years what happened was that I became integrated into the community by doing interviews and realizing that a lot of people loved what I was doing and helped me in supporting it,” she said.
Two years ago, Lily thought about moving away but said this project and claiming the title of a biographer made her stay.
“I know that I need to explore this city as deep as it will allow me to or whenever my interest wanes. I’m not someone who could ever fake it,” she said.
“There’s something admirable and sexy with sticking with something, especially in this world we live in driven by social media, Tinder swipes, and how everyone is always on to the next big thing. Maybe it’s my ego but I pride myself on that, and this feels right.”
Lily said she doesn’t consider anything else in Nashville to be competition because what she is doing is so unique to her. She said at the end of the day, it’s important for artists to support each other because everyone has their own skill set, drive, and passion.
In a few weeks Lily and Vanderbilt University will be co-curating and art exhibition inspired by her book.
Without giving away too much information, the exhibition will span a year long and will focus on community and collaboration.
Lily said at the time of constructing the book, the atmosphere of collaboration was very much like a team and a family who all believed in the same thing and had the same vision.
“When the book came out, and we had our big launch party at Imogene + Willie, I thought, wow, all these people are not only rooting me on but their rooting this amazing and supportive community of Nashville on.”
Lily said Nashville is different than most cities in the world. In her mind, Nashville has isolated itself in a good way from the rest of the every man for himself world.
“Whatever this city had done to create this incubator, Amen, and keep doing it. Nashville is such a positive place to live.”
Lily said the growth on Nashville is great and it is what ultimately happens to the right cities, but she did express some concerns.
She called the affordable housing essential and not fair to the artists who were the ones that made the city attractive in the first place. Right now, she lives in the Ryman Loft, an intentionally affordable housing complex just south of downtown.
“It’s a community full of other artists,” she said. “It’s nice to be somewhere where I can be myself and be real and where other artists can genuinely empathize with you because they’ve gone through the same thing.”
She said if people want to save the city from becoming just a bunch of cosmopolitan LA, New York, and Chicago transplants then the city is going to have to come up with a solution for one of the most pressing issues. She also called on developers to put their greed away and think about what is better for the world as a whole.
Lily said what matters most to her right now is her happiness, success, her family, creativity, and then doing good for the world.
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