Interview: Illy

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Australia might be a 13 hour flight away, but the continent is quickly rising to the peak of the music industry. Flume is one of EDM’s youngest and most skilled producers; Chet Faker, the new-wave R&B crooner from Melbourne, is making his rotation on radio. Tame Impala, the critically-acclaimed psychedelic rockers from Perth, are considered one of the best new bands in the world, and on pop radio– to our dismay– Iggy Azalea is establishing a cautious hold. But there’s even more than that to Australia. The country has it’s own unique hip hop scene, and Illy is one of its standards.


As Illy describes it, Australian hip hop has all the benefits of the American variety, but has filtered out the “posturing” that has become all too common in the genre. Instead of playing the desperado, Illy is about as genuine and casual a guy you can find in this line of work.

His music is laced with his laid back, carefree flow, which has the loose panache of a buddy giving a toast at a summer barbecue. His beats juggle strings, guitars, scratches, and piano loops with a simple aesthetic straight from the early 90s, and his unpretentious, down to earth persona is evident in every bar. Illy is free of posturing; he doesn’t claim to be anything more than a man who loves hip hop, and the result is stronger because of it.

Man, you are so on time. Like, to the minute.

That’s how we roll over here, man.

Canadian efficiency!

The true north, strong, free, and efficient. My first question; what’s happening right now?

I just got off the phone with my manager, and I’m talking with you about Canadian efficiency. I’m having a good time, in general.

Your last album, Cinematic, reached #4 in Australia; looking back on that album, how did the process feel?

Actually making the album took around a year, but I had tracks on that album going back for years. We’re only just finishing the last round of shows from that album this month, so it’s really a 14 month album cycle—it’s been a long, long cycle, way longer than anything I’ve experienced before. We did like 70 shows last year. It’s been intense, but it’s been absolutely unreal. It’s felt like I’m picking off all my goals, one after another. And then I’m obviously coming to Canada in like a month! It’s the gift that keeps giving, man.

You are always touring—like, everywhere. Does it ever get tiring?

It does, but at the same time it’s beyond even a first world problem. It’s nothing to complain about, but it can get really grueling. In the depths of the cycle, we did 18 shows in 20 days, which for Australia is really crazy—bands never tour that heavy here. But we’re suckers for it and we love doing it, so we’re just happy to do it.

That record was also the first released on your own label—how did that process differ compared to working through another label?

It’s just more responsibility, man. There’s no one to point a finger at if somebody fucks up. It’s a good thing, really; it makes you step your shit up and just be in charge. Working by myself with the people who were involved in making the album gave me a lot of responsibility… the burden was on me to deliver. Some people don’t really like that, but I’m someone who works well under pressure, and I think the result shows that.

About a decade ago, you went to see a Hilltop Hoods show using a fake ID, and now you’ve toured and done songs with them; what’s the feeling of seeing an idol suddenly become a peer?

It’s been a trip. They’re some of my real close mates now, we’ve known each other for a few years—it’s just really cool. They’re legends here; their music is so important to Australia, and touring with them is just another thing that got ticked off my life list.

Your first show in Canada is soon; how do you feel about it?

I’m so psyched! I’ve been to Canada when I was much younger as a kid, but I have friends who have toured there and who have said nothing but amazing things. I’m really just so psyched; it’s something I’ve been aiming at for a long time.

Just to warn you, Victoria can be a bit of a party town assuming UVic represents.

I’m hoping for it! It’s my first time touring North America, so I really just hope they come out and see what it’s all about!

One thing about Canada is that we don’t know much about Aussie Hip-Hop except for…well….Iggy Azalea

Ha!

So, what is Aussie hip-hop all about? What makes it unique?

The essentials of it is that all the positive parts of hip hop have translated really well over here, and a lot of the more bullshit things—the tough-guy posturing and all that—didn’t really wash here. When you go to a hip-hop show out here, you need to be getting right into it. There’s no room for wallflowers, it’s about having a good time. And as for Iggy Azalea, I wouldn’t claim her as our own. I think she’s the product of a very different kind of hip hop compared to what we are about. As for people coming to the shows, I know they might not know what to expect, but I’m pretty confident they’ll leave having a good time.

Now you know how we feel about Bieber. But we are seeing an Australian invasion recently—yourself, Flume, Chet Faker, Tame Impala all being part of it. What do you think has caused this huge wave of Australian artists?

Australian music has really been going hard for the last few years, and Flume and Tame Impala are definitely our top exports. There’s just a really rich local culture of music here—we’re so far away from everybody that we always support our own, and the people that are touring constantly are really local artists as opposed to just internationals. That might be a part of it—they play so much here that they become truly experienced and ready to take on the rest of the world.

As you do begin to move out of Australia, are there any collaborations you’re looking at abroad?

I just finished my album cycle, so there’s nothing yet—but in a few months ask me again.

I think I’ll take you up on that! A fun question now; most artists play under some truly horrendous names when they start performing. What’s the worst name you’ve ever performed under?

I started out as Ill Al, but then it turned out there’s an old school dude in America named Ill Al Skratch, so it’s been Illy ever since—I’ve only ever gone by those two names.

My final question: what’s next on that list of yours?

Get these shows down, start working on my next album, and keep doing this music thing for as long as humanly possible.

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