It’s difficult to avoid mentioning how young pop’s newest celebrated debutante is when headlines about her would read ‘Billie Eilish is Pop’s Most Impressive 15-Year-Old’. While her age is brought up in a complimentary manner – more often than not – Billie doesn’t always see it that way; “… of course a 30-year-old has gone through more than a 15-year-old … they’re more experienced in life than I am, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt things they felt,” she informs us. EP dont smile at me strengthens this conviction of hers as much – sure, the EP and song titles are stylised the way millennials are wont to spell on social media, but the relationship troubles of the record aren’t shackled by teenhood, it’s universal enough to even resonate with the same hypothetical 30-year-old.
Ahead of her first Southeast Asia show at Laneway Festival Singapore ’18, Billie Eilish speaks with JUICE about her predilection for going genre-less, the bane of being a young musician, and her “unspeakable” Twitter drafts.
Interview Rathika Sheila
Images Jack McKain/Laneway Festival Singapore
Were the songs on dont smile at me picked from your iPad or were they ones you wrote recently?
Um… I’d say it’s probably both. They were kinda just a collection of songs that we had – [which] me and my brother had written – and just kinda felt good about. It wasn’t really like we wrote them thinking we were only going to have them only on the EP, these were what we were feeling at the moment with what we wanna do [and] put in one project.
How did the curation process for that go?
Well, it was weird. It kind of just popped up in my head, cause like, usually I know exactly what I want, and how I want things to look, and what I want them to sound like and feel like, and you know, everything. So, one day, I just texted my brother and I was like, “Okay, these are the songs I want on the EP, I want them to be in this order, I want the EP cover to be this, I want the name to be dont smile at me and I want like all of ‘em to be lowercase except two songs being one uppercase and one without spaces,” and basically I just texted that to my brother and he was like, “Oh, okay.” (Laughs) So it was all pretty much just my mental, which it usually always is, which is cool. I mean, it’s like it always come with everything I make.
You mentioned songwriting was a way for you to express yourself. What happened during ‘ocean eyes’, like what were you thinking about while writing that…
Well, the thing about that song is that my brother actually wrote the song. But thing is, it’s weird to say that cause it doesn’t [mean that] it’s not my song because he wrote it, it’s still mine, like in my heart. You know what I mean? And like in my head, that song was exactly what I was going through at the time, which is a good question because even though I didn’t write it, it was almost like he wrote it from my thoughts, y’know? Because [at the time] I liked someone and there was a person in my life that had a huge effect on me and it was,… it was physical and mental and everything about that person kind of scared me a little bit in a good way, you know what I mean? Falling for someone is a really scary thing and it’s not necessarily fair. The chorus of ‘ocean eyes’ is “No fair,” like you know, I’ve never fallen from quiet this high and that I’m scared. So, it’s pretty accurate for everything I was feeling.
“I wouldn’t say that [songwriting] is my main passion, I think, because being an artiste as it is, is my passion.”
Is there a particular released track that was harder for you to write given the emotional toll it could have on you?
Well, to me personally, songwriting is… I wouldn’t say that it’s my main passion, I think, because being an artiste as it is, is my passion. [That] doesn’t mean that I hate writing music or that I hate anything. It’s like I like writing music, I like to sing, I like to perform, I like to, you know, record [music] and everything. And I’d just say that singing and actually performing the songs are really what I love to do – and you know, playing, coming up with melodies, and everything. But with lyrics… it’s like lyrics come to me kinda randomly, it’s either I will have not written something in a really long time and suddenly like tonnes and tonnes of things pop up into my head and I write like four songs in one sitting, or sometimes it’s like I just have an idea and I really want to build on it, and I want to create whatever. It really depends, honestly.
“I don’t like the idea of genres.”
How did you develop your current sound?
Hmm, I don’t even have a current sound – I guess it’s sort of a sound (laughs). I think, from the beginning, I just kind of wanted to make music that you wouldn’t really be able to say it’s one sort of a genre. I don’t like the idea of genres, because that puts [you] in a box, y’know what I mean? “That’s like, pop, so it’s a pop song.” So, for me, I just want to make music that I most currently like, and I’m just really fettered by hip hop and a lot of rap influences, so I kind of try to add that [to my sound]. But then I also have an alternative-like, ballad-almost type songs but with the trap and hip hop production. So yeah, I don’t know, I mean, I’m still working on my sound, like there will be a little change soon, y’know what I mean? Just cause I’m [still] growing
When you started, you put up your music on SoundCloud just for your friends to listen to and kind of for fun. Has your direction shifted since joining a record label, like have you added a business aspect to your sound? Or are you still focused completely on the artistic side of your music?
I mean, I’ve always been nothing but me, so even if had to be somewhere that was super fancy or serious, or business-y and whatever, I just don’t really care that much about changing who I am depending on where I am or who I’m with. Like, it just doesn’t do anything for me in my head. So, you know, sometimes I’m meeting with all those biggest people at the label and whatever, [and] I’d just kind of put my feet up on the table – not like in a superior way, it’s just that I feel comfortable with anyone, which is it’s good, because it’s like I like them and it shows they’re normal people. But I don’t know, I think my sound always stays the same, especially since I have the creative control over it, and the creative control over my whole look and everything.
Cool. So, people tend to emphasise how good someone is depending on what their age is. It happened with Michael Jackson, Rihanna, and a lot of other younger artistes. What’s the most eyeroll-worthy comment that you’ve been told regarding your age?
Oh jeez, like a good comment or a bad comment?
It could be both!
Um, I don’t know. I mean, it’s kind of like the only thing anyone ever says. Which makes sense, because if I weren’t young and – and I don’t know… I get it, if I were in their place, I would feel the same way and I guess it’s cool that I’m young. But dude, I don’t know why, but if there is like one thing, I think it’s just people really don’t believe me. Like sometimes they’ll just deny it. They’ll just be like, “No, you’re not, you’re actually not [your age.]” And I’m like, “Okay, well, ask the doctors who fucking delivered me out of my mom’s y’know.” (Laughs)
“Did you remember being 15? Shit sucks, dude.”
I see in a lot of interviews that most of the questions are still like how your age defines your talent? Personally for yourself, how do you think someone should be defined?
I don’t think that any of that defines any human being at all. And obviously in reality, of course a 30-year-old has gone through more than a 15-year-old. So, they’re more experienced in life than I am, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt things they felt. You can be any age and feel anything and want anything, you know I feel like people don’t realise how difficult it was being a teenager because it’s like, “Oh, you’re 15, what have you gone through that you can write about?” It’s like, are you fucking kidding me?! Did you remember being 15? Shit sucks, dude.
It’s an interesting world to manoeuvre through.
We saw your tweet about your drafts being unspeakable. Why is that? How bad is it?
Dude, it is pretty bad. It’s funny because my Twitter is pretty out there. I think you would agree. But the thing is that, it might be hard to realise or think about, because my [published] tweets are all like insane. But my drafts are basically me crossing every line possible, and I’d probably lose my career if I tweeted them, which I don’t, I have a brain, I don’t just tweet anything (laughs)
So if your drafts were turned into a book, what would the name of that book be?
Oh my god, uh, I’d say it would be called Don’t Read This, and then hashtag #YouWillBeOffended. There will be a hashtag in the title (laughs).
How important is social media to you in the age that we are in and how you distribute your music?
I mean, I gotta give it to you, the internet. I think I can’t say anything that’s like [the internet’s] bad, because I literally wouldn’t be where I am at all if it wasn’t for the internet. But I will say that I think the internet is a very, very dangerous place. Like really, really just everything could be ruined or everything could be way better. And it’s kind of just random honestly – it’s shitty because of that. But I don’t know, man, I think it’s a lot of that [but] a lot of good comes from the internet. I do think that people are around their phones way too much now, and even I’m on my phone a lot. It pisses me off cause what am I doing more important than, like, this right here? Because it’s like when you hang out with someone and you’re just texting someone else, you’re [still] just like, “Oh, I really want to hang out with you.” Well, if you were hanging with them and you would just be texting someone else, you won’t be hanging out with them. So what is the point? Why climb to the top and ruin everything on your way up if you’re just going to get up there and then everything’s going to be ruined. You know? But the internet is great!
“Not that I’m going to say that I’m never going to make a mistake and I’m never going to do something wrong. Obviously I’m going to and I have.”
How do you keep yourself grounded? If you already used social media and the internet to get to the top, how do you make sure that you don’t kind of become jaded from it?
I think I’ve just seen it so much. Not that I’m going to say that I’m never going to make a mistake and I’m never going to do something wrong. Obviously I’m going to and I have. I’m not going to deny that, but it’s like I think I’ve just seen people who do that and then not go anywhere and things are ruined. I know some people who maybe had a spotlight on them at one point and they were kind of just there [being] really, really brag-y. The thing is that, of course you’re going to be brag-y if something really cool happens, but there’s kind of a line between loving yourself and like bragging about how amazing you are – do you know what I mean? And being happy and supportive of yourself and your friends and not just, you know, climbing people. So, I don’t know, dude, it’s hard to keep yourself grounded at all. And I think I just really have a great family, especially my brother, and I think that’s what kept me here.
Last question, what should people who are going to see you next year at Laneway Festival Singapore ’18 be ready for?
Oh, damn, I think just a lot more content and get ready to see me everywhere!
Billie Eilish is set to perform at Laneway Festival Singapore ’18 on Saturday 27 January ’18 at The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.