16 Sep 2017

Billie Eilish: 15 year old pop prodigy on fiction and family

From RNZ Music, 2:05 pm on 16 September 2017

15 Year old Billie Eilish's debut is full of high drama storytelling, leaving listeners struggling to decipher fact from fiction. The Los Angeles native has just been in New Zealand, and will return for Laneway Festival next January.

Billie Eilish with Kate Robertson

Billie Eilish with Kate Robertson Photo: Kate Robertson

“I’ve just finished crying, which is the stupidest thing in the world. I’m missing music festivals and won’t get to mosh, which is heartbreaking for me”.

15-year-old Billie Eilish has been crying because her European tour dates were moved forward, meaning she’ll miss Tyler The Creator’s ‘Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival’.

It’s a moment that reminds you of being a teenager and feeling every emotion as if it were the most overwhelming thing you’ll ever experience.

It’s Billie’s ability to capture the intensity of these feelings in her music that has turned heads across the globe.

She first broke onto the scene late last year after ‘Ocean Eyes’, a song she co-wrote with her brother Finneas, gained traction on Soundcloud almost overnight.

It was only ever meant for her dance teacher’s ears, but very quickly became something much bigger.

“We put it out in the middle of the night on a Wednesday. It hit 1000 really fast which at the time seemed like so many people ...We thought we’d made it.

“It all went over my head. I don’t know how you’re supposed to take stuff like that in.”

Older brother Finneas O'Connell is her main collaborator. You may recognise him from the last season of TV musical Glee, in which he played the part of Alistair.

Both members of the LA Children’s Chorus since they were little, the pair officially began working on shared projects when Billie was 13 and Finneas 17.

It’s a partnership Billie values far more than any co-writes with other artists, and one that ultimately creates space for more honest music.

“We’ve always been siblings so of course we fight and disagree, but with working together it gives a more real effect. If he thinks something isn’t great he’s probably right.

"Sometimes it’s annoying, but mostly you can say no and you don’t have to tiptoe.”

Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell

Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell Photo: Tamara Muth-King

“What we both agree on is if you can play a song acoustic and it sounds good, it’s a real song. So many songs are good because of the production and the elements that are not the song.

If you played them acoustically they wouldn’t be a song at all, so we’ve kind of always lived by that rule, our own little made up rule.”

Her debut EP dont smile at me is rich with high drama storytelling, and takes listeners on a journey she hopes will leave them struggling to decipher fact from fiction.

It’s a perfectly balanced eight tracks, but we don’t talk much about the production because for Eilish, lyrics are the most important element of a great song.

“Words are more powerful than some noises. Noises won’t last long. Lyrics are so important and people don’t realise that.”

“What makes a song last is real content from a mind that is thinking a little bit harder about certain things. A lot of artists don’t really think that hard.

"You can do anything with songwriting so why do the same thing everyone else is doing?”

Despite the success of ‘Ocean Eyes’ and ‘Bellyache’, Eilish says she’s most proud of ‘idontwannabeyouanymore’, one of the few songs based on her own experiences.

“It’s about not wanting to be you anymore, and everyone goes through that. If you say you don’t you’re a liar.”

“I go through a lot of depression and I know other people do too, but I have an outlet that so many people don’t. If you have that inside of you and can’t get it out what do you do?

"I feel like I write so that people can think of it as theirs. If my song is exactly about your life right now then it is - I don’t even want to say that it’s mine because it’s yours.”

Billie Eilish will play Auckland’s Laneway Festival on January 29.