INTERVIEW: Eilish Gilligan

Over the past couple of years Eilish Gilligan has been impressing listeners with an experimentally charged alt-pop soundscape. Exploring the DIY attributes that make up her sound, her songs have always balanced a big theatrical production with a vulnerable heart. Tracks like ’S.M.F.Y.’ and ‘Patterns’ have become anthems in their own right within her discography, and truly set the bar for what else was to follow. Through collaborating with producers like Japanese Wallpaper, her sound continued to grow and get even more creative, and Gilligan started to want to dive into more of the production side herself. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting her originally scheduled big alt-pop EP on hold, the Melbourne based singer-songwriter decided to dive into her creativity and produce an EP completely on her own. The finished product is the raw ‘Hospital’. which sonically sits in the same realm as Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’. It’s honest, heartbreaking, raw, captivating and emotively beautiful. 

I recently chatted to Eilish Gilligan about the reason why she wanted to create a very vulnerable and intimate body of work as her debut offering, as well as explored the creative processes behind the songs ‘October, December’, ‘Hospital’ and ‘Calling Me Out’. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut EP ‘Hospital’ is a very vulnerable and honest collection of tracks that hears you having your own ‘Folklore’ moment of introspection. What was it about these particular tracks and this moment in your life that made you feel like it was the right time to artistically reveal a body of work like this?

EILISH GILLIGAN: You know what’s so funny, I was already working on this EP before ‘folklore’ came out, so I was like…me and Taylor… same powerful brain…*laughs*. In all honesty, I always knew an EP like this would be coming. Piano is my bread and butter, it’s the first thing I turn to when I go to write even the biggest of pop bangers. 

I had a couple of the songs already. Like, ‘October, December’ was written in the same universe and time as ’S.M.F.Y’, ‘The Pull’ and ‘Patterns’. But some of them were BRAND new. I was trying my hand at producing a song from start to finish, and when I realised I could do that, I was like, well why shouldn’t I try doing a whole EP? 

This year was turned upside down completely at this point. The borders were closed which meant I couldn’t get to Sydney to finish another EP I’m working on, which just delayed everything SO much, so I thought what better time than now to do a project that only needs me? 

TB: It’s sonically a lot more stripped back and blatantly vulnerable compared to ’S.M.F.Y’, ‘Patterns’, ‘Someone Else’ and ‘I Just Wanna Look At You’ that instead had quite a theatrical pop production. When you first started producing these songs with the EP in mind, did you find yourself going down the path of how you would normally sonically build up a track?

EG: I think I have pretty funny taste as a producer, probably because I’m largely self-taught and quite unapologetic about what I like and what I don’t. I am not afraid to do funny things, or work around problems in an unconventional way in order to get something sounding how I want it to sound. 

I knew I wanted this EP to feature piano, because that truly is a side of my practice that is so overwhelmingly large but honestly does not get seen by many at all, ever! So I knew it had to have piano. But I also wanted to explore textures and arrangements that I had always loved in other music in my own music. For example, all the orchestral stuff on the EP. I loved the drama of that in Noah and The Whale’s album ‘The First Days of Spring’, in particular, and I wanted to see what that would sound like with my voice, my piano and my production. 

TB: Reflecting back on those previous singles, did any of them ever feel like they belonged or would co-exist on an EP together? Or did they all feel like standalone introductory singles to you that paved the beginnings of this journey? 

EG: Oh good question! I’ve literally never thought about it. I’m quite clinical when it comes to the mechanics of releasing something. I think realistically, you have to be, because so much of releasing music just comes down to money and timing. That being said, truthfully it never made sense timing-wise or financially for me to do an EP with some of my other singles. Plus, I feel like there’s an edge to each of them that makes them more ‘only children’ than songs that could co-exist with others *laughs*. The thing about this EP is that these songs are meant to sit next to each other quietly, possibly in some kind of waiting room or church. Could you imagine trying to make ’S.M.F.Y.’ and ‘The Pull’ sit next to each other? It would be chaos *laughs*.

TB: ’October, December’ is an emotionally heartbreaking song that immediately stands out on the EP. Can you explain how this song creatively came together? 

EG: Oh God. I’m so proud of this song, but I feel so sorry for the girl who wrote it who was a very broken, very sad, very lost version of me. I wish I could tell her that everything was going to get…well, not better straight away, a fair bit worse first but THEN it will get better *laughs*. I wrote this song around the time I wrote ’S.M.F.Y.’, ‘Patterns’ and ‘The Pull’, as well as a bunch of others that will never see the light of day.  So I was really just going through a series of both catharsis and analysis. I had never experienced anything like what I was experiencing at that time in my life, and it was so difficult and I was SO obsessed with time and the passage of time and how slow it can be when you’re heartbroken. You can hear me grappling with the last three months of the year on The Pull and October, December, as well as on another unreleased track called ‘The Time Will Pass Either Way’. 

TB: Another song that stands out is the EP closer, ’Hospital’. This track hears you proclaiming that you can’t be a hospital for someone all the time to help fix them as sometimes you’re the one that needs fixing. The lyric that stands out to me the most is; “And you don’t ask for help from anyone else, and I don’t ask for help”. So what is your fave lyric from the song?

EG: Omg I love that lyric too! I literally just went through this song’s lyrics on Twitch and pointed out that one in combination with the vocal melody there, as one of my faves. I love how sing-song it feels, and it sounds like an endless cycle of no-one asking for help, which is what it can be like, when you’re trying to look out for someone who is struggling with their mental health. 

TB: ‘Calling Me Out’ is a cinematically beautiful song that is really built around the intimate lyric; “It’s Christmas. The one day that I don’t want to do this”. When you were writing this song did it feel like a cathartic release of emotions, or did it feel quite heavy and emotional to relive that memory? 

EG: It’s weird because I actually wrote that song quite a long time after that confrontation was resolved which was sometime in the summer after Christmas. I suppose it was still on my mind, because my little brain was whirring and trying to figure out what I could have said in that moment to stand up for myself, and I also desperately wanted to NOT land myself in a situation like that again. Tumbling the memory over in my head again and again, trying to figure out what I did to land in that confrontation, was what led me to writing that song once the dust had settled. 

TB: ’When You Are Well’ reflects on the complexities of mental health, and 2020 has been an exceptionally hard year on everyone. You are based in Melbourne which has undoubtedly had the strictest lockdown in Australia, so how have you tried to make sure you look after your mental health during this time? 

EG: Oh goodness, ’tried’ is definitely the operative word here. During the first lockdown back in March, it felt a lot easier to look after mental health stuff because everyone was in it together, the restrictions weren’t as strict, and no one really knew how bad COVID was or would get. The Melbourne stage 4 lockdown was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I understand why we did it, and I’m so glad to do my part to keep the community safe, but just because you support the lockdown doesn’t make it any easier. 

There was a time in the middle there where it felt endless. Time stretched out into nothing but I felt no ounce of creativity, I hadn’t seen or even spoken to a friend in weeks. I live with my family, but thankfully they were able to work so I was just alone in the house all the time with no respite. It is not a fun way to live. I tried to meditate, I re-read ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ by Ryan Holiday, and I held on for dear life to any kind of schedule that would get me up and about and doing things like teaching, Twitch, marking, writing, ANYTHING. It did help! 

TB: What song on the EP took the longest to hone and articulate its sound, and why? 

EG: ‘Calling Me Out’ took me AGES to figure out, and I really cannot figure out why! I think there was something about the way I played the piano in the demo that filled so much space that it was impossible to produce around, if that makes sense. So I had to remove the piano completely and start again just with the accapella vocal, which was really difficult. It took about 5-6 different passes before I got the vibe right. 

TB: From streaming on Twitch and interacting with a global audience in a very live way, how has this altered your thoughts or process within your creative artistry? 

EG: Omg big but great question. I absolutely LOVE streaming on Twitch, and I love watching content creators on Twitch equally as much. To me, that’s the thing about Twitch, you need to interact as a viewer as much as you stream if not more so that you understand how the community works because it’s so different to anything else. It’s the future! I think it just makes me feel very honoured to stream on Twitch, because the level of respect for content creators on the platform is really high. After feeling a touch jaded towards the music industry as a whole over the last 12 months or so, it was so refreshing to embrace a new platform and feel as though the community were embracing me. 

TB: One thing in particular that you have been doing on Twitch is going through the creative process of demo’s which is really interesting because you’re immediately getting people’s thoughts on them. So by doing this, have any structures, lyrics or production changed on any tracks? 

EG: I mean I do think it’s an interesting vibe to create live on the stream. I really enjoy doing it, and ‘Flesh’ was actually like 80% done on the stream which I think is really cool and special for the people who were there watching. I don’t think I really make any different decisions while I’m live, at least, none that I’m aware of. I don’t take production notes from the chat, it’s more like, “hey, watch me make this thing and we’ll chat about Drag Race while I’m doing it” kinda thing. But I think there is something about being ‘on’ while you’re creating like that. It keeps you on your toes, and as you’re creating, you’re explaining what you’re doing to the chat, so you are justifying your decisions as you go, which solidifies them in a cool way. 

‘Hospital’ is out now!

Tickets to Eilish Gilligan’s headline Melbourne show on January 7 at The Corner are available HERE