Sometimes life just happens, and in-turn we have to learn how to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with the high high’s and the low low’s. It’s something that can really teach you so much about yourself, and through embracing the timing of everything you can really step into your own personal evolution. This is the foundational mantra that ILLY’s sixth studio album ‘The Space Between was built around.
Coming off an extensive run of touring after the release of ‘Two Degrees’, the Melbourne based rapper was ready to continue his creative flow with a very distinct vision in mind. But as he started working on the songs and started to experience a few shifts in his personal life, the music began to change and evolve too. Stepping out of his comfort zone he began to go into sessions with new collaborators, and travel by himself to embrace the possibilities that awaited him. From there the album began to take form within sharing this story of change, evolution and timing.
Collaborating with G Flip, Wrabel, Carla Wehbe, WAAX, Robinson and Guy Sebastian, he has steered toward the heavier pop interpolation that he experimented with on ‘Two Degrees’. With big anthemic hooks, and even a few ballads sprinkled throughout, this album showcases a new side to ILLY that is not only a rapper but also a singer-songwriter. But don’t let that fool you because he can still spit bars amongst the best of them, it’s just now he’s wanting to show more diversity and clear a path for more experimentation.
I recently chatted to ILLY about the creative and stylistic processes behind ‘The Space Between’, the pop influence that has ultimately shaped this record, as well as reflected on some of the big collaborations that are featured. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: ’No Feelings’ featuring Carla Wehbe is a song that immediately stands out on ‘The Space Between’ with its ideology on short relationships. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?
ILLY: I was in Helsinki working with Joonas Angeria and Tiina Vainikainen, and it was my first time in Scandinavia and actually my first session there. We were in this old apartment styled building, and there was this huge ceiling, big window panes, and it was me and Tiina on a couch and Joonas on the producer desk in front of us with the windows just behind him. There was a blizzard blowing, and I had just gone from Melbourne summer to there and that contrast of moments one of my fond memories of the creation of this track.
From there I brought the track back to Australia and gave it to Styalz Fuefo and Nic Martin to work on, and then Carla came on pretty late in the piece. The song had already been written, produced, and then re-produced. I hadn’t really heard of Carla before but Liam Quinn who does my vocals up in Sydney mentioned her, and I listened to her and was just like “holy shit, she’s incredible”.
I really look back to that first session in Helsinki and think about how I was sitting there in board shorts while there was a blizzard blowing outside and just being like “man, this is some cool shit I’ve never seen before”.
TB: You open the album with ‘Wave’ which you’ve described is something you’ve done to remind people that you can still spit bars. Is this something you feel like you need to maybe prove harder now because of the refined pop interpolation of your sound?
I: I don’t feel like I need to prove it to anyone, as I’ve proven myself enough. But I like to remind people because it’s the truth. I grew up in the Hip Hop scene, and there’s not many people specifically in Australian Hip Hop who have played more shows, have more experience, and have a better track record than me. So I don’t feel like I really need to prove anything, but it’s just fun.
People see the pop songwriting as a weakness but I really see my versatility and ability to stand out of my lane as my biggest strength. I don’t consider myself as strictly a rapper or a Hip Hop artist, and I haven’t been that since at least ‘Two Degrees, but you never lose that skill. I’m not saying that I’m the greatest, because Im not the most technical rapper, and that’s something that never interested me. I’ve always been more of a vibe dude instead of a technical dude.
There are people who always have a go at me for doing the big pop hooks, but that’s what interests me, it’s what I like doing, and it’s what challenges me the most. I wanted to bring all of that sentiment into ‘Wave’, and I wanted to start the album in that spot so we could then unpack and go in so many different directions.
TB: A song that really captivates the whole messaging and emotions of the record is ‘Loose Ends’ with G Flip, and personally I feel like there is a bit of a brotherly relationship lyrically and sonically with the title track ‘The Space Between’. Do you see or feel any of those type of sonical/lyrical relationships on this album?
I: Yeah, that’s interesting you say that. I’ve never considered the connection between those two, but there is definitely that nostalgia to both of them with the looking back element. I’ve always thought ‘Loose Ends’ and ‘Mirror’ have a connection because they’re not written about the exact same relationship, but ‘Mirror’ is about the immediate aftermath of a relationship falling apart. And ‘Loose Ends’ is with a bit of time and distance between a relationship ending and the perspective you get from that space. So I feel like those two songs could actually be written about the same relationship, just at different points.
‘Race To The Bottom’ and ‘Lean On Me’ could be too, and same as ‘Race To The Bottom’ and the title track ‘The Space Between’ with being in the middle of a dark place and getting the perspective on the other side of being thankful of it happening. The whole message of that song is gratitude for everything as it all gets us to this point.
TB: ’I, Myself & Me’ is a song that just embraces the sort of person you are, and sometimes how you just do need some space from everyone. My favourite lyric is “Red alert every day like a disaster imminent. This is for those sharing their head with their harshest critic”. What is your favourite lyric from the song?
I: “I’m always in the wars, it’s the cure and the cause. If the mind is a weapon, mine a double-edged sword”, I think that one is pretty cool. Going back to what we were saying about not wanting to be this crazy rapper, but I think that line is saying a lot in a really cool way. It’s something you would hear on a Jay Z track.
I think both those verses on ‘I, Myself & Me’ are really sick. You’re packing a lot into a really short amount of time. There’s a lot of style in them, and I really like it. And it was actually a super last minute addition to that album as M-Phazes hit me up when the album was basically done as he had this beat that he was working on with someone else but they didn’t do a good job, so he wanted to give it to me to add to the album. I think the song add so much to this album as it’s something that wasn’t there before. It’s a real Hip-Hop joint and gives the record a lot more texture.
TB: You collaborated with G Flip, Wrabel, Carla Wehbe, WAAX, Robinson and Guy Sebastian on this record. What was the most unexpected collaboration from a session you had that maybe you went in with different expectations?
I: I don’t think there were any that the end result was particularly different than what I expected because there is a lot of thought process that goes into who is going to feature on these songs, and I hold a pretty high standard for them. There were a few different people who demo’d the hooks and it just wasn’t right. It’s hard because sometimes I ask my friends to give it a shot and then I have to tell them that I’m not vibing it.
So everyone that is on the album I expected to kill it. I would never tell a singer how to do their job as I can’t do their job, but I had a couple of notes of what I wanted going into it and everyone just delivered that.
TB: I was really surprised about WAAX being on the record, as that’s a crossover I didn’t expect to happen at all.
I: That and the Guy Sebastian track are the two collaborations that nobody saw coming the most. But yeah the WAXX track was really cool. I demo all of these tracks by myself with my producer way before they get in the hands of whoever is going to feature on them, and WAXX were definitely one of the ones that added the most. Because it wasn’t just Maz singing, it was the whole band doing guitars parts etc. So the demo of ‘Cheap Seats’ before WAXX got on compared to the demo where they jump on is so dramatically different with the different textures and layers.
TB: It’s been five years between records for you, so what was something you learnt about yourself as an artist and the direction you want to head in from releasing ‘Two Degrees’ and extensively touring it that has affected the creative process of ‘The Space Between’?
I: Well I mean I just had more time to write, to think, to reflect, and be introspective. I don’t know if that taught me anything new, but it definitely gave me more to write about. What I did learn was that if I give myself enough time, don’t party too hard, and allow myself to be creative then I’m more resilient than I was four years ago.
I’m also better working out of my comfort zone than I was four years ago. Like during the ‘Two Degrees’ writing sessions I was working with a lot of people that I had worked with in the past, where as on this album I was doing demos and sessions all over the place with different people, and was on my own without M-Phazes on as an executive producer.
TB: This record is all about the change and the effects of time which is impacted by everything you’ve experienced over the past five years. After finishing ‘Two Degrees’ did you have any different visions or expectations for what this record would be before it shifted into this concept of time and evolution?
I: Yeah, we actually rewrote this record three times, so this is the third reiteration of what this album was going to be. There is a lot more depth to it than what there was originally. We started this record off the back of ‘Two Degrees’ which I toured for 12 months after it was out on top of also touring it for 6 months before it came out. But during that time I was still working and doing sessions overseas in-between spaces on the tour, so that was just going to be a continuation of where ‘Two Degrees’ was sonically and lyrically. There wasn’t stylistically very much difference, I was working a lot with the same people, and was still in that same mindset and sound. So that was initially what it was going to be, but where it has ended up being is an evolution.
There was a lot more time in-between records than I predicted, so there was more life stuff to talk about. I feel like this is less of a rap album than it would have been otherwise. ‘Two Degrees’ definitely had a pop sound on some tracks, but there was also rap on all tracks, whereas this record is a lot more diverse. Like, ‘Mirror’ is a fucking ballad, and ‘Race To The Bottom’ is pretty much a ballad too. There’s definitely more influences outside of rap and hip-hop on this album than what would have originally been.
‘The Space Between’ is out now!