As a child, Alyssa Coco would often sneak down to the dark basement of her Rochester, NY, home to quietly plunk the antique keys of a massive organ left behind by former residents. She did it so often, Alyssa eventually taught herself a few songs.
“You’d think [a kid] would find a basement terrifying,” she recalls, with shades of Wednesday Addams, “but I loved it.”
It wasn’t long before her parents – surprised yet supportive – signed Alyssa up for piano lessons. From there, not much kept her from the keys. She was, in a sense, obsessed.
“I was the kid that wanted to take lessons – my parents didn’t have to make me. It was actually the only thing I stuck with. From gymnastics and dance to violin, swimming, and soccer…everything came second to the piano.”
Later, however, Alyssa’s fixations burgeoned in a dark direction. Still in middle school, disturbing, intrusive thoughts plagued her. At one point, Alyssa feared she might physically hurt the family dog. That’s when her parents hooked her up with a therapist.
“The therapist told me I was ‘just depressed’ and simply instructed me to do things that made me happy. She was a professional, so I believed her. ‘Cool,’ I thought. ‘I’m just depressed. I guess it’ll go away. Right?’ Wrong.”
Alyssa’s obsessions not only transmuted, they ballooned. She became terrified she might hurt her family while sleepwalking. The fear was so real, she hid sharp objects from herself.
“When I finally became immune to [the fear about hurting my family], I obsessively questioned my sexuality, my religious beliefs, and my own mortality. I wasn’t in control anymore. I was consumed by my thoughts and my thoughts alone.”
A year after graduating high school, Alyssa was officially diagnosed with OCD by a different therapist and, in addition to treatment, began using music to mute unwelcome thoughts and regain control.
“More than ever, I embraced writing music and singing. It was my happier place. I could be alone, write dark songs, and then throw them away. I could play classical songs if I needed structure and discipline, or I could just stare at the painting above my upright piano and wonder what life would be like on that pictured beach. It was an escape…I really do believe music got me through my first wave of [diagnosed] OCD.”
Now, Alyssa Coco – performing as LYELL (pronounced “Lyle”) – is pumping out robust bops with bandmates Matt Merritt (guitar/co-writer) and Toussaint Lipton (drums). Her new four-song EP, YOU, packs a satisfying combination of angst and assertiveness, and even when the lyrics edge into uncertainty, LYELL sounds bold, claiming dominance over the issue at the core of each song.
Following the recent release of the EP’s titular track, SPIN caught up with LYELL to talk about the new collection of songs, how she manages her OCD within the music industry, and what she’s doing to raise awareness around her dreaded but all-too-common condition.
SPIN: Let’s start with the name LYELL. Where’d that come from?
LYELL: It was honestly just a name that I thought looked cool on paper at first, but eventually it became a place where I could be my true, authentic self.
What were you up to before your most recent EP?
My life has always been surrounded and fueled by music. Before this EP came out, I was very focused on writing for TV and film, which is a whole different world. I learned how to record and produce on my own during the pandemic with a very primitive setup, and got lucky with some syncs on shows like Teen Mom on MTV, a movie on Lifetime, Charmed, Heartland, and even a Hallmark Christmas movie.
Let’s talk about the EP…
Releasing it was one of the proudest musical moments of my life so far. Each song is so important and special to me, and my favorite changes daily.
Right now, I’d say “Potions” is my favorite. Maybe it’s because it was my first song, but it just embodies why I started LYELL in 2021. It was also very challenging to write and record vocally.
The chorus lyric, “I’m losing my mind,” over and over really summarizes how I felt at that point in my life. I was just very over the bullshit within the industry and all of the “standards.” I realize that’s not an original feeling, but there’s a reason that subject is such a muse for so many artists and songs.
“I’m Somebody Else” was the second song I wrote alongside some of my favorite writers like Kat Leon of Holy Wars. It’s a song about impostor syndrome and that nagging feeling you can’t get rid of. When Kat came up with the line “smile for the camera please, pretty little tragedies,” I knew it was the perfect follow-up to “Potions.”
“Eraser” was my heaviest song, and very much continues that barely-hanging-on narrative – it’s about being at the end of your rope. The chromatic la-la-las on the instrumental bridge were a way to make the listener feel the craziness and instability that inspired the song.
“YOU” was the last song and one of the most special because I got to collaborate with one of my favorite artists, Robert DeLong. The song was originally conceived in a writing session alongside my friend and artist Troi Irons, as well as Matt Merritt, after having a shitty experience in LA with a manager. The song turned into an angsty anthem, and Robert drove it home. Super proud of that one.
JT Daly produced the EP and really helped me create my sound. He’s insanely talented and has such an incredible ear. I’ve been a huge fan of his since his work with K.Flay.
You recently had an opportunity to tour with Mark Tremonti and Chris Daughtry. How did that come about?
One day in January, I received a text from Chris – I met him through a Rochester friend, Elvio Fernandes – explaining that his opener couldn’t do the tour anymore and asking if I’d be interested.
The tour started three and a half weeks after that call, and I had a lot of work to do. It was my first tour and it was going to be six weeks long. Within a few days of that call, I rented a 12-passenger van, routed the whole tour, booked all of the hotel rooms and Airbnb stays, made a budget, ordered merch, rehearsed, learned how to use in-ear monitors, and made it my mission to make myself and Chris proud.
Also, while it was an incredibly sad moment in time, Chris, Mark, and I were able to do a tribute to Taylor Hawkins the day after he passed. We performed [the] Foo Fighters’ song “My Hero.” It was a moment I’ll never forget.
How did the tour affect your OCD and anxiety?
My really debilitating waves of OCD come and go for no real reason. My recent therapist attributed the ebbs and flows to change. Even if it’s a good change in life, it can spark a fight-or-flight response. Knowing that that may be a trigger has helped me a bit.
She taught me how to acknowledge OCD thoughts versus real thoughts. Instead of being stuck on a thought for days or weeks, more often than not, I can say to myself, “This is an OCD thought. This isn’t real.” Giving it an identity has helped. It’s not gone, but it definitely helps.
Going into this tour, I was actually super nervous. The idea of traveling is one of my favorite things but is also quite a struggle as I have such a hard time with new and unfamiliar places.
Oftentimes, I’ll get so anxious in a new or unfamiliar place – like a hotel or restaurant – that I’ll actually experience displacement, or what I just found out is also called dissociation. It’s a very out-of-body experience. I’ve even asked my band members to get up and drive through the night because I’ve felt uncomfortable somewhere.
It’s rough, but speaking out about my fears and anxieties on my TikTok has made me realize how many people struggle with anxiety on their own level. It makes me feel less alone and less weird.
I love being on the road and I feel like this past tour really helped me. When I get on stage, all the little shit in life feels exactly that: small and unimportant. All of my fears and anxieties are on pause for a moment. I feel liberated. I feel empowered. I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
How are you using LYELL to raise awareness regarding OCD and anxiety in the industry?
When I first started experiencing symptoms of OCD and anxiety, I felt lost and embarrassed. I searched all over the internet trying to find someone going through some of the same things, someone having similar intrusive thoughts. It was hard to come by.
I told myself, as uncomfortable and vulnerable as it can be to talk about some of these things I’ve gone through, I know it can help someone. I don’t want anyone to feel the way I did when I was at my lowest and most scared.
That’s why I host TikTok-lives where the LYELLmafia – my loyal and loving fanbase – comes in, talks through things, empathizes, and listens to each other. It’s become a community of acceptance and positivity.