When I heard that one of my favourite Aussie Hip Hop artists was coming to Coffs, I jumped at the chance to interview him. To promote the release of his forthcoming third studio album, Bring It Back, ILLY is about to embark on a national tour, which involves a gig in Coffs. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with ILLY to talk about his new album, his inspirations and his move towards a more organic Hip Hop sound.
You’ve been on the Aussie Hip Hop scene for a while now. What do you think was the defining moment in your career, where you really thought, “Wow … I’ve made it”?
There’ve been a few, I guess; thankfully they keep happening! Probably the first one would have been when I got my first album pack from the presses, then the first time I heard one of my tracks on Triple J, then the first time I got to headline my own tour.
You mentioned Triple J. They’re obviously a great platform for launching the careers of a lot of Australian artists, and you personally have had a few hits on the Hottest 100 over the years. So how do you think the station has helped you?
They’re pretty vital to how well the Australian music scene in general is doing, I think. They’ve been really supportive of me. I grew up listening to them, and they have really backed me over the last few years. They’ve definitely played a massive part in my career, particularly with being able to tour; because they’re a national broadcaster, they hit everybody. So they’ve been really important to me.
And you got to do a ‘Like A Version’ with them as well! What was that like?
That was a few years ago now, but we got asked to go on there in the early days. Did a Pixies cover, Where’s My Mind. It went pretty well … I stayed up all night the night before freaking out that what I was doing didn’t make any sense. But thankfully, people dug it!
Well, it’s on my playlist!
On the new album we’ve actually got Where’s My Mind Part 2, which is pretty much the same thing, just taking all the beats from Aussie Hip Hop songs from the last 3 years and making a new song out of them.
Oh, that’s exciting! So let’s talk about the new album now … Bring It Back is your third album; how does it differ from your first two releases?
It definitely has a lot more of the traditional Hip Hop sound to it. There’s no sung choruses, other than stuff that I’ve done myself. There’s a lot more DJ cuts, scratches, and it’s a much more traditional Hip Hop sounding album from what I’m sort of known for. It started out as a passion project … I was just recording some tracks in between albums, we’re working on the follow up from The Chase at the moment as well, but then it started to take shape and the tracks kept piling up.
So I thought we’ve probably got enough here to make quite a good album, so we ended up putting The Chase sequel on hold and we got stuck into Bring It Back … and that’s how it came about.
What was it like actually writing that album then, in between other things?
It was a lot of fun. Because it was done without the intention to begin with of releasing it as an album, it was just writing for the sake of writing. On The Chase I didn’t have any guest verses, and on this one there’s a sh*tload. Half the bloody Aussie Hip Hop scene are on the record! It was a lot of fun getting everyone involved and being able to work with a lot of mates, which I don’t usually do. I usually stick to a small circle of people, so it was a really different recording process.
Simply summed up, it was sort of stepping out of my comfort zone, but stepping totally into my comfort zone as well. It was good.
You mentioned that you got to work with a few artists. Obviously on The Chase you collaborated with Owl Eyes, and on the new album you’ve worked with the likes of Pez, which is pretty cool. What’s it like collaborating with such awesome artists?
It’s a blessing, really. I’m very fortunate to be able to do it. A lot of the dudes that are on Bring It Back are some of my favourites in the country, whether that’s producers or emcees. I’m stoked they think highly enough of me to lend me their voices! Everyone brings their own style to the table, so it’s a more communal approach to making music, which is definitely something new for me … and it’s awesome!
So who are some of the artists and bands that you’ve drawn inspiration from over the years to create your own music?
On the Aussie Hip Hop scene, definitely Hilltop Hoods, Drapht, Bliss n Eso … I’ve definitely taken a lot from them both personally, or just from watching how they go about doing what they do. Closer to home there’s M-Phazes, my DJ and one of my best mates. He’s a constant source of inspiration, just because of his work ethic and his talent. I’m very lucky to be surrounded with mates and people whom I can find inspiration from almost constantly.
We have a pretty awesome Hip Hop scene in Australia, don’t we?
We really do. It’s going to be interesting … I don’t know if people from overseas would be open to it. There’s definitely the skill and the quality there, it’s just sort of, I guess, the right songs, but I think there’s potential there.
I was watching an interview on TV recently with Will.I.Am. He was talking about how he came up with his rap name, and it got me thinking … what’s the story behind ILLY?
I don’t have a good story at all! In all the years that I’ve been asked, I haven’t even just made one up … I might have to do that! But my name is Alasdair, and my little sister used to call me Ally. Then my friends as we were teenagers started calling me ILLY, and that’s it! (Laughs.) It’s just my nickname … there’s absolutely no cool story. But I like that, because it meant that when I was starting out, I didn’t come up with something like MC F-ing Legend or some awful name that I’d have to change!
You’re about to tour the country with Bring It Back. What are some of the tracks of this album that you can’t wait to perform live?
The next single, the one with Pez, I’m really looking forward to doing that. Hopefully we’ll be able to get him to some of the shows. Heard It All, the first single, I’ve done that twice now, but both times it was before they’d played it on radio … so no one knew it, but now people do; so I’m really looking forward to that one. And just a few of the more really different sounding tracks from what I’m known for. I think they’re going to go down really well … they’re really energetic, and I’m confident that the set is going to be one of our best.
Now I must admit that The Chase is one of my favourite Aussie Hip Hop albums, so PLEASE tell me that there’s going to be some of the old favourites in there as well …?
Of course! We’re going to throw a few of those Friday Flips in, we’re going to throw in a handful of tracks off the new album, and then all the hits, mate!
You’re stopping at Coffs Harbour on the tour. Have you been here before?
Actually, I came up for a holiday in January this year. We stayed about 10 minutes north of the town in a caravan/camping park, and we had one of the huts right on the beach. It was awesome. So I have been up there, but not for shows. We went to the Bluejuice gig while we were up there, and we got kicked out … that was awesome! I think that was at the venue we’re playing at this time, so I’m really looking forward to going back … and hopefully not getting kicked out!
Hopefully not! We’d be a little disappointed if you didn’t show up! Ha ha!
(Laughs.) Yeah, get kicked out of my own gig! That would suck! It’s been a few years since that’s happened … ha ha!
So what are you looking forward to about the regional shows?
It’s always good playing them, because people really appreciate you going. They’re not always as big as some of the capital city ones, but I’ve found some of my favourite places in the country are the regional shows, because the crowds just really appreciate you being there. I don’t understand why more acts don’t do more extensive regional shows. People need live music all over the place, not just in the capitals, so we do what we can about it.
Now I’ve got one final question for you … if you could have dinner with anyone at all, dead or alive, who would it be?
I dunno … Winston Churchill? He’d be pretty good. I mean, there’s the obvious ones like Jay-Z or someone, but Winston Churchill’s a pretty awesome dude. He ended a war … and he was a pisshead! Some of his quotes when he was drunk are amazing! So I reckon he’d be good value!
Perhaps you and him could get kicked out of the pub together!
Exactly! Ha ha! It’d be an awesome dinner, then an awesome night out afterwards!
Thanks so much ILLY. Good luck with the tour.
Interview by Kim Gould.
This story was published in issue 23 of the Coffs Coast Focus