The Stage – Lily Bethke

An exclusive interview with The Smoky Nights former lead singer Lily Bethke 

The best art almost seems to create itself, and it is my belief that the true legends are those who have  mastered the most important art of all – vulnerability. The openness to inspiration when it hits.

When I was running late to my interview with Lily Bethke at Irrational Kitchen, she assured me that my tardiness was actually a good thing because inspiration was hitting hard; she was in the middle of writing a song. If you’re reading this as a creative, you might understand the sense of urgency when inspiration arrives – an idea demands our full attention through a combination of curiosity (as if the created thing  already exists and we are simply following its lead), a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out –  like it might run faster than we can catch it), and a type of high; it demands vulnerability.


I asked Lily about her own creative process, “When it feels right in your soul when you’re singing, you don’t have to sit there and be like, oh we’re doing this song again,” she said. ” I want to sing it with my soul and everything in me.”

For years Lily has been chasing open moments of inspiration with the band we all know and love, The Smoky Nights.  She said she’ll always be grateful for the knowledge and experience she gained from playing in the group, but something was missing. “It became not fun anymore and it was just a job,” she explained. “And music should never be a job.”  


It’s safe to say that if Cookeville had music ratings, The Smoky Nights would be at the top.  They are interwoven into the fabric of our community and have been an integral part of shaping the area’s music scene. So, while the announcement of their disbanding came as a shock, it was no surprise when half of Cookeville showed up to say goodbye to The Smoky Nights at 37 Cedar Restaurant & Bar.


While Cookeville won’t be the same without Lily’s vocals and Anthony’s harmonies echoing down Broad and Cedar, a  familiar voice will still be heard around the WestSide. “This girl isn’t giving up!,” Lily exclaimed. And, with Nashville so close, our star is staying right here in Cookeville.  


Having homebase settled, Lily and former Smoky Nights band member, Stephanie, plan on touring the country, trying out new sounds on fresh audiences. “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh I did this many shows or that many shows in a year…’ But were they great shows?” She shared, “Were they my best performance? Did you love doing that every single time?” As an advocate for authenticity, this made me smile.  


Lily intends to lean into her own sound. “I have so many songs that I have written personally that just didn’t fit the The Smoky Nights,” she said. “I want to be creative with my music as much as I can and put my heart and soul into it. But when I have to be conformed into writing for an upbeat, fun, high energy band, I don’t always want to write songs like that. I love upbeat songs, but I like to write slow songs like ‘Power.’ That song was very vulnerable to write.”


As her tour commences, Lily is planning on developing a new brand for herself. If you’re already following The Smoky Nights on social media, don’t go anywhere. The name and face will change, but Lily plans on rebranding the page to match her new musical identity.


She admitted she’s going to feel more unguarded writing and singing on her own, but she’s also excited.  “People haven’t really heard Lily,” she said. “They’ve heard The Smoky Nights. I’m so excited to show everyone my true ability just to sing by myself.” 


While exploring genre, she said she’s leaning toward country but she’s not promising anything. Interestingly enough, the iconic Stevie Nicks, who Lily is often compared to, said if she wasn’t a rock singer, she would be a country singer. I personally would love a fresh sound like Lily’s in what feels to me like an over commercialized genre these days. Lily also stated she’ll continue playing the mandolin, but wants to focus on her vocals more than anything.  


The decision to pursue a career in music often doesn’t feel like a choice. It’s who you are, and it’s clear who Lily Bethke is. When I asked her why she writes, she recalled being 16 years old, having a myriad of emotions and wanting to deal with them healthily. The only way she could do this was through writing. She said, “They didn’t even have to be my emotions. They could have been my friend’s emotions. That’s how I write some of my songs – from someone else’s point of view. I feel that way. I feel for them. So then I write about it.” She continued, “But there are songs like Power and Supernova. Those came with the lyrics.  Those were my personal feelings. And I don’t always want to tap into my personal feelings but when I allow myself to be that vulnerable and emotional and aware, that like, ‘hey, just listen to yourself, listen to your feelings and just let it out’, it just….comes out.”  


Lily Bethke is a go-getter. And she’s going to get it. She has proven herself as a vocalist and a writer for a band, but now she’s writing for one person, herself. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely lean into that.


– written by Jill Stalnaker, photos by Joseph Wilson & Hailey Allen

1 Comment

  1. Archie

    The Voice!!!


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