Two Degrees: The ILLY Interview

On Friday, Australian MC ILLY released his 5th studio album Two Degrees, produced by long-time friend and Grammy-winning producer M-Phazes (Eminem, Kimbra, Meg Mac). Asides from being nominated for six 2016 ARIA awards, we recently discovered but some of the reasons why Illy has so little to be angry about these days.

TGW: Tell us about your working relationship with M-Phazes throughout the recording process? 

I: M-Phazes Executive Produced both this album and my last one, as well as being heavily involved in the 3 albums before that. We’ve got a long-standing work relationship, and have been friends for about ten years or so. He’s a genius. I think he’s the best producer in the country – of any genre- by a distance. I think we both bring the best out in each other. Sometimes we butt heads though, we don’t hold any punches if we think the other is doing something not up to scratch. But we’re mates enough, and have enough history that I think I speak for both of us in saying that we know when we’re doing each other’s heads in!  What we come up with at the end is always better for it and yeah, I always raise my game, I only up my shit when I work with Phizzle.

TGW: Sometimes a few deep breaths, maybe a walk around the block – a small break from a heated discussion can fix everything, just with everyone, you know?

I: Yeah exactly, and he was DJing with me for 5 or 6 years when I was touring.  Just me and him, not the whole crew… so we’ve had a lot of very close quarters for a long time and yeah, we have that sort of relationship where if one person needs to shut up, they get told to shut the fuck up pretty quickly.

TGW: I saw that your album launch shows have all sold out. Is that exciting when you’re about to launch those intimate shows, and they sell out pretty quickly? Does it reassure you? 

I: Yeah, it was really cool. We’ll have the big tour, the proper album tour, coming next year.  I’m just that impatient and that excited playing these songs that I didn’t want to wait that long, so we just whipped up very small cap rooms (in capital cities). I don’t think I’ve played a room the size of the one in Melbourne in 6 or 7 years? Maybe 8? They’re not going to be these big bill shows, there are just going to be the people that, if the tickets go one sale at 9am, they’re there buying the tickets at 9am.

TGW: Is there any one city that you’re most looking forward to presenting your new stuff in?

I: Well for these shows… being from Melbourne, the Melbourne show’s gonna be a lot of fun but I think, when we start playing the proper album tour next year we’re gonna have a good time everywhere we go. I hope.

TGW: How did Vera Blue come to sing on Papercuts, the single that went on to earn double platinum status in Australia? 

I: With Vera, I was at a wedding of a close friend of mine, a musician who’s been involved a lot in my albums prior to Two Degrees, and Vera’s manager was there. We were at the reception, we were peeled off – he was showing me some music, and I was showing him some of my songs… I had the Papercuts demo with me singing the hook – I write the stuff and then I get people to sing it. Yeah, he showed me Vera’s stuff, which I’d heard, but I didn’t realise he was managing her. From there I was like, “yeah, I think she’d be great for it”, and we agreed to sleep on it and speak the next day. When we woke up it was still a good idea, so I sent it off to Vera and she hit back saying she loved it. Within a week I pulled up to Sydney and she blessed the track, and obviously absolutely killed it.

“Within a week [of Vera Blue hearing Papercuts] I pulled up to Sydney and she blessed the track, and obviously absolutely killed it.”

TGW: Vera Blue’s actually also having a huge year, and the song went double platinum, so that was obviously a great decision.

I: Yeah I mean, she’s incredible – her voice, her range is really something else, so I think she’s going to have a very big few years to come.      

TGW: And your next single Catch 22 features the vocals of Anne-Marie of Rudimental? 

Well, with Anne-Marie being based in London… I’ve met some of the Rudimental crew before and when Alarm first came out, I mean, I’m no guru or anything but I’m pretty good at picking songs that are gonna go on and do really well. The first time I heard Alarm, I thought that’s going to be a hit.  As soon as I heard it, we had Catch 22 and I knew it was a long shot but thought it’d be great to reach out. She heard the track and loved it, and it went from there. Watch it here:

TGW: Congratulations on being nominated for six ARIA Awards this year, including Best Male Artist for Papercuts. Are the ARIAS a big party night for you? I don’t have to publish whatever you tell me next.

I: Yeah no they definitely are. You can print that.

TGW: What will you do if you win all six awards? What will you actually do?

I: Well, I know I won’t. But, if I win all six awards… I’ll… I dunno… I’ll definitely drop off the map for probably a month. I’ll miss some important dates….[laughs] but I’ll be having a good time.

 “If I win all six [ARIA] awards… I’ll definitely drop off the map for probably a month. I’ll miss some important dates….[laughs] but I’ll be having a good time”.

TGW: In your bio it’s written that you’re well known for your humor and story telling in your music. I was wondering if you actually see yourself that way, or if it’s just you naturally coming across? 

I: I definitely didn’t write that bio. I don’t know. I don’t know about the humour or the storytelling. Like, I guess that’s for other people to make the call on. I just try and make music that I would like to listen to, if it wasn’t music that I made.

TGW: It is really easy to listen to. I think whoever wrote that is talking about a contrast to hardcore rap, or something? It kind of swings along and it’s quite light?

I: Yeah definitely I, um, have very little to be mad about. I’m not trying to be angry like I may have been on earlier stuff, but even then I’m not going too hard on that sort of stuff. With this album in particular, I’m trying to move away from a strictly hip hop sound.  There’s elements of electronic, a lot of elements of pop – with me and Phazes having confidence from the success of the last album and Tightrope – to pursue this direction of writing, focusing on the songwriting more than the rap.  And going in to it, I just wanted to make it sound like an Illy album, not necessarily fitting a genre. I’m really happy and I am very proud of it. I think it’s by far the best thing I’ve done. I’m in the best spot creatively that I’ve ever been.

“With this album in particular, I’m trying to move away from a strictly hip hop sound.  There’s elements of electronic, and a lot of pop. I just try and make music that I would like to listen to, if it wasn’t music that I made myself.”

TGW: Do you see the natural connection between music and style? 

I: Yeah of course. I think it’s probably one of the most easy connections to make. You can pick a kid whose into hip hop or a kid who’s into hardcore metal …yeah you can tell who’s NOT into music. {LOL} The dudes that aren’t dressed…good.

TGW: Do you have a stylist, or do you just do your own thing and wear brands that you like?

I: It’s just me, generally. But if we have a photoshoot or something like for the album, I’ll get someone else so I have a 2nd opinion, but I don’t walk around styled by someone else. Nah.

TGW: What is your current style obsession? Trainers, bomber jackets, caps?

I: Actually, I have all three of those. The bomber jacket thing is kind of new. I’ve been getting in to some nicer jackets, which kinda sucks because we’re going in to no jacket weather for 5 or 6 months. I’m not a sneaker head but I definitely have a pretty good collection and hats, I definitely have a LOT of them as well. So yeah, the standard ILLY thing is black jeans, sneakers, white t shirt and a hat TGW …and a bomber jacket. I: Yes, and a bomber jacket in the cooler months.

“The standard ILLY thing: black jeans, sneakers, white t-shirt, hat.”

TGW: What are some of your closet favourite songs?

I: Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. Oh geez… I’d say Hold On, We’re Going Home by Drake, but I actually just love that song any time of day.

TGW: Bad Boy or Deathrow Records?

I: Deathrow. But…. Biggie’s Biggie. Growing up though it was always Deathrow. I was a huge West Coast fan.

TGW: Some people believe being happy can stifle your creativity? 

I: No, no I don’t think so. I think being happy can… I think some of the greatest music can come from heartache or pain or whatever, but you can still make good music when you’re happy. To not be happy with the music – to ache over whether it’s good enough, that’s my trade off, I try and be a happy person generally. I do my head in constantly for months and months and years – that’s kind of how I work it.

TGW: Ahh that’s where M-Phazes comes in handy? Telling you when it’s time to stop and put it down?

I: He doesn’t help! He’s as bad as me. But it’s never being satisfied, never being complacent. Yeah, I think it works well.

So, do we.

ILLY’s new album Two Degrees is out now. Buy it here.

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Edited by Tania Ogier

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