From Soundcloud to Superstar:
Yesterday night, Billie Eilish went home with 5 Grammy Awards – Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year, also winning an award for Best Pop Vocal Album. Not only does this make Billie the youngest solo performer to ever win Album of the Year, beating out Taylor Swift, but she is also the first woman and second person to win a combination of three of the Grammys she received last night, the last recipient being Christopher Cross in 1981. In 2017, DTK had the pleasure of interviewing 15 year old Billie Eilish, who was on her way to becoming the international sensation that she is now.
By Luisa Tarantino
It would be an understatement to say that since her debut, Bilie Eilish has had catastrophic success. Since releasing mega-popular “Ocean Eyes,” in 2015, Billie Eilish went on to become an international star after the release of her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? In just three short years, she effectively went from producing music in her bedroom with her collaborator, her brother, to being that artist you can’t avoid hearing on the radio, reaching billions of streams online. With songs and an aesthetic vision edging on dark and grotesque, Billie Eilish is far from some of the other bubble-gum popping artists of the mainstream. With a truly unique style and vision that shocks yet delights, Eilish proves that it takes someone with undeniable talent, maturity, and creative vision to be the sort of artist she is at such a young age. From soundcloud to superstar, Eilish’s career doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
In 2015, at just the age of 15, not long after she and her brother had posted “Ocean Eyes” on Soundcloud, DTK interviewed Bilie Eilish just as she was on the brink of stardom – of course, not knowing that the Eilish would be as huge as she is now. To celebrate Eilish’s Grammy wins, here’s a throwback to Eilish before superstardom. In the interview, she talks about her inspirations, fame, and working with her brother. Check out the interview below, written by Jason Gorber.
At only fifteen years of age, signer/songwriter Billie Eilish has already established herself at the forefront of indie pop music. From her viral smash “Ocean Eyes” to her release of the “Don’t Smile At Me” EP on Interscope, she’s quickly establishing herself as a literate performer, with a keen eye for crafting songs, amazing dance skills in concerts, and producing infectious slices of art-pop mastery.
DTK spoke exclusively to Eilish as she was heading out on her first North American tour.
I understand you began writing songs as soundtracks for your dance moves. How does your sense of movement shape the way you approach song writing? Dance has always been my way of expression. The way that I get things out, I go to dance. I always feel it all without having to deal with it. At the end of 2015, my teacher asked me if I would make a song so he could use it for a dance recital and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Having your friends dance to your own song, that’s just crazy! My brother had written this song, “Ocean Eyes,” and we kind of just fell in love with it.
So it was his song, but it spoke to you deeply. It’s weird to hear something from someone else’s brain that’s exactly what’s in your brain. We sat in his room and recorded it and it took two days to finish it. Since it was made for dancing, we just sat in my brother’s room and listened to what we had so far and kind of danced around, and felt like, what can you do here, can you dance to this part, can you move to this beat, etc.
Thus, making music and dance integral for your creative process. If you can’t dance to a song, then it’s not a song, you know? To this day, we make music to dance to, because that’s what I come from and that’s where music goes.
When listening to music, then, it’s the groove that you respond to, rather than the chord changes or lyrics? I would say it’s probably all of the above. I’m such a musical person and I love music. I cannot go a day without listening to music, that’s just how I’ve always been. The same with singing, it’s just all there, always. At the time when we were recording “Ocean Eyes,” I really liked Lapsley and Aurora and kind of softer stuff, but I also like Childish Gambino and Tyler the Creator. I mainly listen to a lot of rap and hip hop. That world, especially the lyrics in good rap, they say things that are actually really saying something. There’s also a lot mumble rap, and you can’t really understand anything, but it just sounds good, so you kind of move around. I like that too, but sometimes, people actually really get in there and get what they want to have said, said.
Do you also listen to old stuff? I listen to Peggy Lee a lot and Etta James. I love them and I really like Frank Sinatra. There’s a lot of old stuff that I really like and [that] really inspired me, like Amy Winehouse and all that.
Your track “Bellyache” mixes the organic, acoustic sounds like flamenco guitar with electronic beats. Does this kind of mixing speak to you? I think it’s cool to mix them because nobody really does. I don’t think you should limit yourself to the idea of genres or what type of song it is. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song.
Now that you’re becoming successful and world-renowned as a singer, are you concentrating only on the stuff that you are producing, or are you delving in and doing your own kind of music history? I work with my brother, he produces all of my stuff and he performs with me. Most of the stuff that’s out right now, it’s obviously part of me and something that I love, but I think I really want to open the door of hip hop, but in a different way.
Right, but are you nerding out on Spotify and finding all of these new styles that you think you could incorporate into your own music? Or are you trying to only focus on the stuff you’re writing? Oh dude, I listen to everything. I’m always listening to new music and old music and just music all around. You could write a song and then be, like, wow, this is great, and it’s already a song and that melody has already been used. So, I try to listen to everything, so that I get it all in, and I try to make something that isn’t any of that. I want to make something new. I don’t want to make something that’s already been made.
How big of a deal to you is it what your image is? As a dancer, we’re watching you, but how big of a deal is that, compared to somebody just listening to you in the middle of a playlist, responding to you strictly on musical grounds? Image is the most important thing to me because I am a really visual person and a visual artist. I think of myself as more of a visual artist than anything else, with music videos and artwork and what I wear and what I say and what I look like. I don’t really let anybody else control that, because I have such an exact way that I want everything. I think the image is a million percent important.
How much can you open yourself up to your fans on social media and how much of it just feels like it’s an extension of that performance?
I never like calling them the fans because they’re more of my family, you know? They’re more important than I am in any way, and I think they deserve, if anything, more than I’m getting, because I wouldn’t be anything without them. I try to talk to them as much as I possibly can, and especially at shows, I always go out and hang out with them and talk to them and just take pictures and whatever. And I try to answer as many DMs as I can and I like all the pictures I’m tagged in. At a certain point, it just gets too much and especially with talking to them, it’s like, I want to tell them everything, I want to tell them how I feel and I want them to tell me, and they trust me and they do tell me how they feel, but then I can’t really put my whole self out there. I try to give as much love to all of them as I possibly can, but I don’t know, it’s really hard to figure out the line.
Do you have friends around who are going to call you on your shit if you get too big?
I did. I had a group that was really the ones who were keeping me down to earth and making sure that nothing was going to my head, and that was really helpful. But, that group kind of turned to where it was at a point of we’re going to make fun of what you do and see if that makes it down to earth. It kind of went too far and it was all a weird misunderstanding, and they’re still my best friends, it’s just that there isn’t really a group of people that are supportive of me and yet keeping me down to earth. I mean, it’s really hard to be that person, to actually be supportive of your friend who you’ve always thought of as an equal and now they’re doing kind of bigger things. It’s really weird, and I completely understand it, it’s just that I do want some recognition from my friends that I’m doing well.
So is there some loneliness in getting success? Yeah, exactly.
How is then continuing to work with your brother? A lot of people would say they hate working with their sibling. My brother is my friend and always has been. Obviously, we don’t get along sometimes and we’ll argue about stuff. But working with him, we’re still best friends, and brother and sister. We have a really similar mindset, so a lot of the things I think, he’s thinking and we just kind of understand each other.
How much older is he than you? He’s 20 and I’m 15, so 4 1/2 years.
So, who do you fangirl about? I’ve always been a fan of artists and music. Some people don’t really care about the artists, they just care about, oh, I like that song, and I like this album. But for me, I’ve always been a fan of the artist as a whole. I don’t think of myself as an artist in the public eye. Because I’m such a fan of other artists, the idea that somebody could feel a way about me that I feel already about Drake, that’s just crazy to me.
Other than Drake who are some other people that you have adored, and what’s it like when you finally meet these heroes? I think it just makes you realize that they’re people. They’re human, they feel things. I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve known about since such a long time ago, especially people I’ve been a fan of and it’s weird because they’re people and you talk to them, and you’re looking at this person who’s just a person, but this is the person that’s changed your life, changed the way you think about things.
Who are some of these favourites? My favourite artist has been Tyler the Creator because he’s been the biggest influence. I’m listening to Brock Hampton, they’re fucking amazing; I’m friends with a couple of the guys in that, and I can’t even believe it, it’s insane. I really like this dude, Ski Mask the Slump God, really cool. I listen to a lot of Soundcloud, underground-ish people because I really like finding new stuff. There’s this girl, Seb Deliza, she’s so dope, and Race Remord, and Drake, and Amy Winehouse, and Little Izzy, Travis Scott. All over the place – different stuff!