Emerge Music + Impact Conference is created and produced by ABP Media’s parent company, A Beautiful Perspective. Leading up to the conference, we’re featuring some of the musicians and speakers who’ll be performing in Las Vegas this November.
Go ahead and judge her. Billie Eilish doesn’t mind. In fact, the 15-year-old singer craves your judgement, good or bad, though lately it’s all been pretty good for the Los Angeles native.
Eilish, whose hazy pop noir traffics in introspective murderers and the unfairness of love, has been living an artistic fairy tale of late. After posting debut single “Ocean Eyes” to SoundCloud for her dance teacher in November 2015, the petite teenager with gray blonde hair and ice blue eyes watched as the track erupted, earning attention from music discovery platform Hillydilly and praise from DJ/producer Zane Lowe. Today, that mesmerizing song has been streamed more than 13 million times on Spotify, and Eilish is signed to Interscope.
“I don’t know how someone’s supposed to process that,” says Eilish, who grew up studying dance and singing with the Los Angeles Children’s Choir.
Processed or not, the pop star-in-progress is moving forward. She’s polishing her debut EP, produced with older brother and writing partner Finneas O’Connell, and getting ready to go on tour, which will bring her to Las Vegas this November for ABP’s first ever Emerge Music + Impact Conference. For now, though, Eilish is just sitting on the bean bag chair in her bedroom, musing over her sound, proclaiming her hatred for bananas and vowing that she doesn’t actually kill people.
You’ve been living the music industry dream of putting something out in the world and having the world respond in a big way. How do you process this whole experience?
Dude, it’s crazy. I don’t really know how to describe it. You can’t see it all happen, because most of it’s on the internet. It’s almost like it’s not happening, and then you see something, and you’re like, “Oh, a million people are watching me right now. That’s cool.”
Has your creative process changed?
I mainly work with my brother, so a lot of the time we’ll be writing together. We’re always making new things. I really trust his opinion and he trusts mine. It’s kind of a great team thing, because he’s my brother and I’ve known him my whole life. I can be honest with him. Instead of being like, “Oh yeah, well, I don’t know, maybe not this,” I can just be like, “No. That’s horrible. Change it.” I can just be honest. It’s great.
Do you guys fight?
I don’t know how you can be a sibling and not argue. I find it so weird when there are siblings who don’t fight at all. Of course we fight, and of course we disagree on stuff, because you have to do that so you can get to the good parts of that kind of relationship.
As you’re working on your EP and putting out more songs, do you feel like you’re experimenting with a Billie Eilish sound?
I still think I’m creating it. Honestly, I know that having a sound is kind of a thing, but what I think is really cool with artists is if they have kind of a sound and you hear their voice and you know it’s their voice, but I think it’s really cool when artists put out songs that sound completely different from what they normally sound like, because it shows a bigger range. If you can go all the way to the other side of the music and whatever, I think that’s really impressive.
You’re sort of doing that with your lyrics too. On “Bellyache” you adopt the perspective of a self-aware murderer. How do you find your characters?
You don’t have to write a song about exactly what you’re going through at the time. You can make stuff up, or you can pretend, or you can do whatever you want. That’s what’s so great about songwriting is you can kind of write about anything you want at all. So yes, “Bellyache” is fictional, what a surprise. I have a lot of songs that are very weird, but they’re coming from a place I’ve never been. I don’t kill people, obviously. And I don’t steal money from people.
As a young woman in music, do you feel like people are surprised that you’re writing from the perspective of a psychopath?
They are! Isn’t that crazy? It’s a little surprising. I mean, I’d probably be a little surprised if a 15-year-old girl was writing about killing people. It’s a little shocking.
You describe yourself as a visual artist. When you’re working on a song do you have a visual associated with it?
I have synesthesia. You think of a color when you see a word or you smell something when you see a certain thing. So with songs and production and even clothing, when I’m making music and when I’m writing and singing, I kind of subconsciously imagine a color, or a landscape or some type of visual element is in my head.
Is this what you want to be when you grow up?
I think. I’m at kind of a point where it’s hard to think about really. I love music and I love writing and I love singing and I love performing and I love all of it. I kind of always wanted to have that be what I did, and here I am doing it, which is crazy.
What’s been the weirdest part of experiencing fame so far?
I think all of it’s pretty weird. Especially when people do recognize me. It’s like, I’m nobody. Why do you even care? It’s really weird because I know from being a fan of other people when you see someone that you really admire, it’s like: “Oh my god, look at that person over there. We have to go and take a bunch of secretive pictures of them.” But it’s like, they’re nobody. On the inside, nobody is anybody. It’s just really weird to be on the other side of that.
For people at any age, putting yourself out there in a public way can be intimidating When you put out a new song, are you ever worried about how people will react to it?
Luckily, I love being judged, so any judgement of any kind I’m really pumped about. Which is very strange. Nobody should feel like that, but I do. I don’t really know what it is, but I like getting in people’s heads whether it be a good or bad thought. I don’t care if you think I look bad or you don’t like me. You’re still thinking about me, and I’m going around in your head. A lot of people are just so afraid of what other people think, which is just so stupid. You are you and nobody else is you and you’re not anybody else. Anyone could think anything about anything. Also, I could lie. I could be like, “Oh I love bananas,” or “Oh I hate bananas.” And no one would even know if I was right or I was wrong. Which is such a weird way of putting it and I don’t even know why I used that …
Do you like bananas?
(Laughs) I don’t like bananas at all! I just wish people would not care so much and just do whatever, because you’re going to be left with you, not them. Do what makes you the happiest.