Hitting the shores of Port Macquarie for FOTSUN this month is one of Australia’s most iconic Hip Hop artists, Illy. FOCUS was able to catch him in between studio sessions in the States for a quick chat …
Hey Illy. You’ve had such a successful journey so far; give us some insight into where it all began …
I started writing music around 12/13, and it really just went from there. My first show was at 17; it’s been a pretty long trip.
Back then at that young age, who were your musical influences – the ones who first inspired you to get into Hip Hop? It was all the gangsta rap stuff coming out of America. I think a lot of kids or young teenagers gravitate towards that, because it’s rebellious and exciting, so my earlier influences were 2Pac, Biggie, NAS – all the real legendary dudes from that era.
How would you say your style has progressed since you first kicked off?
I’ve definitely become a bit more focused on writing songs as opposed to just rapping. I got my schooling in the underground Hip Hop scene in Australia, and where I’m at now is a very long way from that.
I write a lot more stuff that’s sung now. A lot of the most successful songs of mine are songs that are almost Pop songs; they have a big chorus that will have a singer on it, and I’m finding that the older I get, the more I’m enjoying writing those kinds of songs, because they’re a lot harder to write than Rap songs.
I think, to write a good song like that is a lot harder, for me at least; it’s a lot more of a challenge than to just write a verse. That’s kind of where a lot of my sound is changing, and it’s exciting for me.
I’ve called you up while you’re in the States; what are you doing over there?
I’m working on the next album actually; I’ve been basically in the studio flat-out for the last two weeks in New York, and I just got to LA around an hour ago. I have another week here, and then back home.
What’s the process behind writing an album for you?
Generally I’ll get in the studio with producers and work on beats – even if it’s a rough skeleton of the beat. I’ll then start working on the melody for the hook or a phrase, or even if it’s just a single word for the hook, and then I’ll build the hook up and then after that once there’s a topic there, I’ll then write the verses around that. Then it kind of goes back and forth, refining the beat, refining the lyrics, until it gets to the final version.
You’re one of the headliners for our coastal festival FOTSUN this year. What are you looking forward to the most?
Just getting back there. I haven’t been there for so long – I can’t even remember exactly when it was last, but it was ages ago. I think I’ve only been there once … So yeah, I’m really looking forward to it, because it’s kind of rare with the amount of touring we’ve done in the last couple of years that there’s been places we haven’t visited – and Port Macquarie’s one of them. I remember it fondly, so it should be cool.
Who are you bringing along to accompany your set?
It’s me, my drummer and my DJ. We have a bunch of friends on the bill, so we might try to work something cool out while we’re up there, I think.
What can we expect from your onstage vibe?
Depending where the album’s at, it might be one of the first times we play some new material. I don’t have any shows until FOTSUN from now, so it might be one of the first times we play the new songs live, which’ll be pretty exciting.
Tell us about this little venture, Friday Flips. Will you be performing some of these tracks at FOTSUN?
Yeah probably. At the moment we have one in the set, so I reckon we’ll probably keep that in there!
What has been the biggest highlight of your career to date?
There have been quite a few. Playing the one night stand was a pretty huge thing personally for me. Being over here at the moment – I love New York – it’s always a highlight, and I always feel really inspired to work on new music when I’m there. The last two years since Cinematic was released, it’s kind of been one highlight after the next, for which I feel very fortunate. I hope the next album is similar; it’s kind of hard to just pick one or two.
I just have some quick fun facts for you …
Your real name? Al.
Do you have any pets? No.
Favourite Food? Pizza.
What are you listening to at the moment? Right now I’m still listening to the Kendrick Lamar album and the Hermitude album.
Growing up, what did you really want to be? I really wanted to be a Palaeontologist.
Biggest fear? I’m not fond of spiders.
What’s on your bucket list? Getting this album done without going crazy.
Catch Illy at FOTSUN 11 – 12 December, Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park: www.fotsun.com