INTERVIEW: Eilish Gilligan

From the very beginning, Eilish Gilligan has always had a very theatrical and vulnerable take on pop music. The Melbourne based singer-songwriter started sharing her vision in 2016 when she uploaded ‘Here,’ and from there she began building these immersive soundscapes that were heavily soaked in synths and big pop hooks. As she prepared for the release of her debut EP on the back of opening for SAFIA on their national tour, the world went into lockdown. With her tour and release plans on hold, she began writing a new EP which was a completely different creative journey. 

‘Hospital’ became a stripped back affair soaked in piano, raw energy, and emotional tenderness, and it surprisingly became her debut EP. But what this beautifully did was highlight Gilligan’s raw talent and emotional assertiveness that shines through her songwriting and production. But in her back pocket she had a big expansive pop EP ready to share with the world, and now it’s time.

‘First One To Leave The Party’ is a perfect representation of the artist Eilish Gilligan wants to be. Curated by immaculately introspective tracks brought together by honest emotion and dreamy pop hooks, she showcases her experimental and grand pop vision that is inspired by the likes of Bleachers, LCD Soundsystem and Taylor Swift. Taking the listener through a journey of heartbreak and finding her feet again, this cathartic release will have you walking down the path of self-reflection with her.

I recently chatted to Eilish Gilligan about the playful pop foundations behind her new EP ‘First One To Leave The Party’, explored the contrast between her vulnerable debut EP ‘Hospital’ and this collection of tracks, and discussed the creative process behind songs like ‘When You Forget Me’ and ‘It’s Not You, It’s Not Me’. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your new EP ‘First One To Leave The Party’ follows in the footsteps of the ultra vulnerable ‘Hospital’, and hears the experimental pop side of Eilish asserting herself into the sonical narrative. So what did you explicitly want this EP to capture compared to ‘Hospital’? 

EILISH GILLIGAN: There was a time last year where I was working on both of the EP’s at the same time and I always referred them to as the “piano EP” and the “pop EP” before I had names for them. In my head they’ve always been very seperate. They’re obviously both me, but they were very much like a ‘folklore’ and ‘Lover’ thing, if that was how Taylor Swift looked at those two records. 

I always wanted this to be a huge pop moment with big shiny production. Since SOPHIE passed away, I’ve had her as my phone background to remind me about why I love music because I really loved the way she thought about music. She had this quote, which I’m going to paraphrase, about her process which is like; “I’ve never really been interested in having severe vulnerability in music, but I am interested in finding the shiniest and brightest sounds”. I kept thinking about that every time I would unlock my phone and that’s what I was trying to go with through this big pop EP. The ‘Hospital’ EP was super understated, delicate, fragile and stark, and this EP is totally opposite of that. 

TB: Are these songs that have been written in the present moment, or are they ones you’ve been holding onto? Because you do have quite the back catalog of unreleased material you’ve been performing since ’S.M.F.Y’.

EG: I reckon all of these songs were written between October 2019 and March 2020. It’s kinda present, although, I’ve been doing a retrospective over all the lyrics in the lead up to this release and I was realising just how long ago it was since I wrote ‘When You Forget Me’ in particular. I would say it was February 2020 when I wrote that. And all my diary entries from around that time are so interesting as I was so fixated about something that I haven’t thought about in over a year. 

It’s weird because no one has heard these songs so it feels super fresh to other people, but to me I don’t even think about that thing anymore. But I guess I have to now *laughs*. 

TB: Well because right now you’re in love and in a really happy relationship, so is it weird releasing an EP that is heavily soaked in heartbreak? 

EG: You can hear that I was clearly going through “IT’ when you listen to this EP, can’t you? *laughs*. Between listening to these old songs and now rehearsing for live shows and playing songs on Twitch and sorting through those feelings, to then also looking at my real life where I’m in a relationship where I’m really happy, it makes you realise that you knew the relationship you were in the time was wrong; the one where you wrote all these songs about and had all this turmoil. But until you’re happy within yourself and/or happy with another person, you don’t actually realise it 100%. You start to see the full picture of perspective and hindsight of what was actually going badly in that prior relationship. And without that prior knowledge then I wouldn’t be able to write these songs. So I’m glad it took a long time for me to get there, but it is really interesting to look back on those songs, diary entries, and poetry and think “if only you could see what I know now, you wouldn’t have to have all this pain. It’s okay that this relationship didn’t work out because it wasn’t supposed to work out”. 

TB: ’When You Forget Me’ is a song that immediately stands out on this EP with its pulsating production and its beautifully honest lyrics about moving on from someone. Can you explain the creative process behind this track? 

EG: I’m so proud of that song because I wrote it completely by myself. It feels like something I could have never written with another person because it is so personal. There are some many different ways that you can read that song. I have played it a couple of times on Twitch before and everyone has been like “oh my god, that song is so sad. It’s so sweet. I’m crying”. But I’ve always read it as a very bitter and angry song. The singer is kinda sarcastic and there’s an edge to it as she’s watching this recent ex move on and living their life. And she is kinda sarcastically saying “I hope the memory of me doesn’t bother you, it clearly doesn’t”. So I’ve always read it as a very hysterical song. So I think stripped back it does sound like another sad Eilish track, but when you add the element of performance to it then you will get a whole new understanding of the stories there. 

I was listening to a lot of LCD Soundsystem at the time, so you can definitely hear those influences on this track specifically with the extended outro. It’s very cathartic and expressive, I think. 

TB: “When you forget me, I hope it comes easily. I hope a scolding hot shower, a 4 hour nap does the job” is a lyric that made me go oooft that hurt, but also felt quite therapeutic as you really seem like you want the best for this other person? 

EG: Yeah, it’s a weird war. It’s that feeling where your ex is with a new person and you’re like “I’m glad their happy as they’re not a bad person, but I hope I cross my mind and they get sad”. And then you’re like “no I don’t, that’s a mean to think”. And then you’re like, “No, I do hope that” *laughs*. 

TB: What is the weirdest thing that has happened that has helped you get over someone in the past? 

EG: That’s actually a really good question! It’s not super weird but there was a really brief period of time where I was on dating apps between my current boyfriend and my ex. That is a whole thing in itself. But when you’re having a conversation with somebody on a dating app that is going really well and it kinda ends up going nowhere and you feel disappointed about that, then I think that’s a really good indicator that you’re getting over somebody. It’s also usually really unexpected when you feel like that too. 

TB: ’It’s Not You, It’s Not Me’ begins as this real intimate moment about losing the spark with someone and it turns into a bit of a Lorde meets Robyn celebration of realising it’s none of your faults that it’s over. When you listen to this track back now, what emotions overcome you? 

EG: I find that song really liberating. I wrote it after I broke up with somebody. The original producer of that song is Gab Strum (Japanese Wallpaper), and we did a really beautiful sketch of it on that day. I took it to him and I was like “let’s work on this” and he was like “what is this Eilish?” and I was like “Oh, I broke up with so-and-so yesterday, so this is that” and he was like “oh” *laughs*. 

It feels like capturing a magic potion when something so personal can be captured so intimately, quickly and closely. I then took it to Dave Haddad who produced the rest of the EP and he produced it up from the sketch that Gab and I created. When I listen back to it now I feel so proud. I think that’s the closest marriage of my piano roots and my big synth pop tendencies. If you were ever going to try make a track that brought ‘Hospital’ and ‘First One To Leave The Party’ together then it would be that song. 

TB: The title track ‘First One To Leave The Party’ is a guitar led track that feels like a nostalgic early 2000’s Avril Lavigne track meets Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’ era. So what specifically sonically inspiring you for this track?

EG: I wrote that song with Gab and Alex Lahey, and it was the day that Grimes’ album ‘Miss Anthropocene’ had come out, and we were really struggling finding creative inspiration. So someone suggested we put some music on and asked what everyone was loving at the moment so I showed everyone ‘Delete Forever’. And from there we decided that we were writing a 2000’s graduation pop song. It was just perfect. The guitar is still the original guitar from the demo, and it was recorded on an iPhone, and it just has that perfect organic crunch to it that is so evocative and beautiful. 

TB: Talking about leaving parties early, has there been a big party or industry event that you’ve left early because it was actually quite lame? 

EG: *Laughs* yes! There’s always this big expectation that artists are big partiers and drinkers, but I could not be further from that. Obviously the EP is called ‘First One To Leave The Party’ and that is not a lie. I’m usually one of the first ones to leave and head home to go to bed or watch Lego Masters *laughs*. 

I really struggle with it sometimes as I’m kinda like, “you’re only young once, you should really get out there and have a fun time. You never know when a global pandemic is going to shut everything down”. But I am just a huge introvert. I think BIGSOUND is one of the biggest memories of not embracing a party lifestyle in the industry. 

TB: You do a lot of Twitch streams where you dissect your music, workshop songwriting and explain the creative process quite deeply behind them. Has there been any examples of songs on this EP that were heavily impacted from one of these streams, or maybe a realisation you had while working on another song in this way? 

EG: That’s a good question! I think I did more of the ‘Hospital’ EP on Twitch as this one was more one I was keeping in my back pocket while ‘Hospital’ was having its run last year. But my Twitch followers have known about this EP for a very long time as I have always talked about them in the two contrasts. So I think there is a lot of awareness of this EP coming up, but no one has heard anything. Whereas with ‘Hospital’ I had shown everything online from writing the songs, to producing them, and I showed every iteration of every song live. So for this one I actually get the joy of surprising everyone. 

TB: You are bringing this EP to the live stage for some headline shows in Sydney and Melbourne. With this EP being contrastingly quite different to ‘Hospital’, are there any songs from ‘Hospital’ that you are thinking of experimenting sonically to give a different energy for the live show? 

EG: This is probably something I should’ve considered more seriously as I’ve just done rehearsals for a show I’m doing on release day. It’s been so interesting negotiating the new live set with all the new music that I’ve somehow accumulated over lockdowns as between regular shows I’ve written and released 2 EP’s. I have so much music now, but a lot of it is so different, so there’s a lot of tricky manoeuvring. I think I’ve found the right balance at this stage, but it would be really cool to re-envision one of the ‘Hospital’ songs to a more pop sonic. 

‘First One To Leave The Party’ is out now!

Eilish Gilligan Tour Dates

Saturday 18 September – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne 

Saturday 25 September – Waywards At The Bank, Sydney