With a DIY sound emerging through piano based hooks and synth layered production, Eilish Gilligan has made herself a newcomer you really should get excited about. The Melbourne based singer-songwriter sonically takes influence from the likes of Jack Antonoff to Lorde to even drag queens and has built this aesthetically pleasing collection of moody and honest tracks. Her breakthrough single ’S.M.F.Y’ heard her receive massive Triple J rotation and has now raked in over 225,000 streams on Spotify alone. Her follow up single ‘Patterns’ hears her introducing a more pop influenced production that saw her touring the country alongside Mallrat for her massive sold out tour. In doing so she has won over a legion of new fans that helped her sell out some of her first ever headline shows.
Eilish Gilligan recently performed at BigSound in Brisbane where she premiered new music and showcased her energetic and emotional live show. While she was in town for the festival I sat down with her to chat about her unconventional song structures, the importance of mental health awareness in the music industry and her slightly bizarre but amazing single artwork. Check it out;
TB: Your new single ‘Patterns’ hears you experimenting with a bolder pop polish whilst still holding onto a slightly unconventional song structure. What inspired you to sonically go towards this polished sound?
EG: I don’t specifically go into the production of a song with the idea that “this time I’m going to do this” but I think I was just following where I think it should have gone. There are moments in the song that I’ve taken influence from things I was listening to at the time. Like the guitar in the chorus is quite a new thing I’m interested in at the moment which is funny because it’s.. guitar *laughs*. But I’ve never used it before because I’m a pianist and I make computer music. So as soon as I was like “omg we can put guitar in this chorus to lift it”, It was like a drug. I was obsessed with making it more distorted and do a pick up in the chorus and everyone around me was laughing cause they are like “this girl has never heard a guitar in her whole life” *laughs*. So I think little things like that influenced the song in so many different ways.
TB: Because I feel like your music is kind of on the lines of the “MySpace” era with how experimental it is…
EG: OMG True! *laughs* I feel like there is actually something in comparison with my music and being able to customise your MySpace page, have a theme song and have a glitter cursor *laughs*. I love that!
TB: Both Patterns and S.M.F.Y have these little electronic production breakdowns at the end. Is that a sound you want to experiment with more?
EG: I’m so obsessed with Bleachers and I was in particular with ’S.M.F.Y’ and I feel like that build up right up into that explosive moment was very Bleachers-esq. But while I do think take a lot of inspiration from that I also had just finished a song that was going to have a big outro and it was going to be massive but then I flipped it and turned it into a orchestral, meditative and repetitive outro instead. Like I said before, I’m not really going out to do a specific thing, I’m just trying to get into that flow state and listen to what the music wants instead of what I think.
TB: So I’m just gonna say it, ’S.M.F.Y’ is a pretty magical song. The lyrics are so empowering and heartbreaking whilst telling a honest story love and loss. Diving in emotionally deep into one of your past relationships and then making it public must be pretty daunting as a songwriter. So, how do you allow yourself to be so vulnerable to write this honest?
EG: I actually went through a little crisis of confidence before that song came out because I knew it was the best thing I had ever did and I was quite confident in that understanding but I think I was overthinking if this decision was right. And I think a lot of artists would go through that to be that vulnerable. But the way I consolidated it with myself was that it’s really important to be vulnerable as people won’t feel with you or connect with you if you’re not. And there is actually a bit of a pressure to be vulnerable as a female artist as everyone expects you to talk about your personal experiences.
TB: Your debut EP is “coming soon” but what can we actually expect from this release? How are you wanting to sonically grow as an artist with this release?
EG: Literally been “coming soon” for like forever *laughs*. So the tracklist has changed about 5 times now and there is many reasons behind that. But I was meant to release an EP at the end of last year and it got moved around because I wrote better songs. And I was going to bring one out at the end of this year but then that’s got moved around too because of the same reason. It is also so expensive to put out an EP so I’m just having fun releasing singles instead and that’s what a lot of industry people around me have encouraged me to do as well because it really is a “single driven market” at the moment. Bit I can say that I will have a new single out by the end of this year!
TB: With your releases so far you’ve been pretty honest and open. What would you say has been your most vulnerable moment as a songwriter. Is it an un-released track? And what is the lyric in particular?
EG: I think ‘Patterns’ is the saddest song I’ve ever written and that’s saying something because I’ve written a lot of sad songs *laughs*. I was in such a bad place when I wrote that song and the lyrics are quite simple but those rhetorical questions were actual questions I was asking myself. “Will I ever get better?” is the saddest thing I’ve ever said because I was genuinely asking as I never thought I would. And yeah, I have written a lot of sad songs but those lyrics just perfectly sum up that misery.
TB: Something I have noticed that you are very passionate about on social media is mental health awareness and specifically in the music industry. As someone who works full time in the business side of the industry as well as creatively as an artist how do you make sure you have the right balance and what do you do to make sure you are looking after yourself? Because it is so important.
EG: I am so grateful to work in this industry but sometimes it is so difficult to work in an industry where you have to constantly assert your value to people who are constantly devaluing you. I think that’s an accurate summary of everyone who works in this industry from agents, labels, session musicians, sound engineers to even media. We are constantly having to prove ourselves to people and if you’re not in a very good place then that’s a really difficult thing to do. I think that is a big reason as to why we see some big problems and mental health issues in the music industry.
Like I haven’t had a “day off” in a year *laughs*. But it’s on a case by case basis because I know personally that I work really well under a high level of stress. I think for the past 8 months I have been above my good threshold level of stress and that’s sustainable for a small amount of time and I worry sometimes when that time period wraps up because I can’t see my work load getting smaller any time soon. But I think everyone feels like that sometimes in whatever industry they are in. But sometimes all you need to do is roster yourself a RDO and abide by it but it is so hard.
TB: From the release of ‘Here’ and ‘Creature Of Habit’ to ’S.M.F.Y’ and ‘Patterns’ you have grown so much sonically and lyrically. But what would you say is the biggest thing you have learnt about yourself as an artist so far?
EG: Thank you! I think I’ve just become a better communicator from my brain to the keyboard, from the keyboard to the computer and from the computer to the producers and engineers to Spotify *laughs* I’m just better at communicating what I want. I’m still really proud of ‘Here’ and ‘Creature Of Habit’ but I do think i have grown a lot.
TB: Now, you are also a massive fan of Drag Queens. So do you think drag music has influenced your new electronic sound a bit?
EG: The most inspiring thing about drag to me is the artistry, the looks, the make up and the performance. Like I cannot speak more highly of drag performers because they are the most badass bitches. They put their bodies through hell to put on an amazing show. And no one can turn up a party like a drag queen can. I sincerely take a lot of inspiration from that into my live performance. My pre-show ritual is, I sit there and listen to ‘Into You’ by Ariana Grande and watch Miz Cracker videos and that Alyssa and Tatiana lip-sync from Rupual’s Drag Race and then I’m ready to go *laughs*. But I do think they are really underrated as artists, even with the current popularity of Rupaul’s Drag Race.
TB: From the very beginning you have had a very visual element to your music, from your photoshoots, to your costumes and even just your visual storytelling. So when you’re writing and recording, how much of your creative and thought process is being related to the visual aspect and cohesiveness of the messages you want people to get from your music?
EG: That’s a good question! Well, we usually know what animal we are going to use next for our artwork photos but with those images the colour palette really informs me of how I feel about the song. Like ‘Patterns’ is very green to me, Creature Of Habit’ used to be orange but now it’s kind orangey-pink, ‘The Feeling’ is grey and ’S.M.F.Y’ is blue. And there’s something about those photos that are really hyper-real and I think that’s reflected in the music with my lyrical content.
TB: So I know you can’t tell me what the next animal will be but can you tell me what the next colour palette is going to be?
EG: White! *laughs* White with a little splash of something else…
TB: So tell me about these single artwork photoshoots because for each one so far you have had a really unique concept that has featured a strange and cool animal. Have they all been live? And have you had any funny or weird experiences whilst shooting these?
EG: As you can imagine, yes! With the frogs they were all live and they were so beautiful and easy to work with. But we did shoot some other live animals on the same day and some of those photos are now on the cutting room floor as they just didn’t work. I had a bad run in with a brush tailed possum and a kookaburra who I just didn’t get along with. It was so sweet but it kept pecking at the corner of my glasses and I was just thinking “omg I’m going to lose an eyeball” *laughs*.
This is real tea! I can’t believe I’m telling you this *laughs*. The only live animal we’ve used in the single artworks is the frogs, the rest have been fake.
TB: Your songs have a very empowerful and vulnerable edge to them. So what would you like to say to females who are scared to be themselves or are confused with the current state of the world?
EG: It is really hard for anyone who isn’t a CIS white male to work in this industry and this world. It’s a very murky piece of advice to give because I feel like I come from such a position of privellage but take care of yourself.
TB: Your single S.M.F.Y has raked in over 225,000 streams on Spotify alone, which is an incredible feat. How do you comprehend as an independent artist that there is that many people listening to your songs? What’s your favourite thing about being an independent artist at the moment?
EG: The thing that is crazy about that is that it’s all thanks to my addition to being played on Triple J. They changed my whole life. It changed everything! If I think of myself this time last year, I was a completely different person and a different artist. It’s scary but it’s a good scary. I look at the number and I’m like “wow that’s a lot of listeners” but numbers isn’t everything. What’s more special to me is whenever I see strangers at my show or when people come up to me after shows and speak to me about my music and I’m like “how are we related?” *laughs*. Because for so long it was just my family and friends who heard my music and now it’s crazy that so many other people are hearing it.
TB: Let’s play a little game where you answer these questions with the first thing that comes to mind.
TB: Most people think I…
EG: That’s hard! I think most people think I’m not funny but then I think I am *laughs*
TB: If I could form a supergroup with any other band or artist it would be…
EG: Jack Antonoff, Lorde, St Vincent and Brandon Flowers. And lets throw in Katya and Trixie Mattel to just do random things on stage *laughs*.
TB: The emoji the best describes me is…
EG: The one that’s rolling it’s eyes because I can roll my eyes into the back of my head *laughs*.
My pump up song is….
EG: ‘Into You’ by Ariana Grande.
TB: If I could have any superpower it would be…
Eilish Gilligan will be joining Olympia on her Australian tour this October. You can catch the two at the following dates;
Sat 13 October – Jive – Adelaide
Thu 18 October – Northcote Social Club – Melbourne
Fri 19 October – Northcote Social Club – Melbourne *Sold Out*
Sat 20 October – Lansdowne Hotel – Sydney
Sat 27 October – Black Bear Lodge – Brisbane