Love is a muse for many artists, but few of them navigate its complexities with such vibrancy quite like Hilz.
On her latest EP Lie In Grey, the Meanjin-based singer-songwriter dives head-first into the finicky grey areas of romance, as underscored by a clear affinity for pop and powerhouse vocal work.
So feverish was our response to the project that we simply had to catch up with Hilz for the full rundown on her artistry, the genesis of Lie In Grey, and the importance of “showmanship and storytelling.”
Catch our full interview with Hilz below, and scroll down to listen to her latest EP Lie In Grey.
HAPPY: What are you up to today?
HILZ: Today I made my radio debut on 4ZZZ with my brother and co-writer, Al. We were there to promote my new EP ‘Lie in Grey’.
Later on we will be meeting with some creatives for our next music video which is for the track ‘Seen’. So far a pretty cool and creative day, but followed later by my ‘muggle job’ tonight which is teaching reformer pilates.
HAPPY: Tell us about where you are from? What’s the scene like in your neck of the woods?
HILZ: I grew up on the northside of Brisbane. Because Brissy is a bit smaller than Sydney or Melbourne it has an undeserved reputation of lagging behind culturally, but there’s a real intimacy about the Brisbane scene.
Every muso seems to know each other! There is a heap of hot talent and things happening all the time, particularly in the venues we’ve been playing the last few months.
HAPPY: Describe an average day?
HILZ: On working days I am either up early instructing or attending a pilates class, or on that 9-5 grind in my reception job. But when I’m not working to pay the bills, I try to spend my time creatively!
Al and I use our Fridays to either write, rehearse or, as we’ve done for most Friday afternoons this year, work in the studio with our producer Levi creating new music.
HAPPY: You’ve had an extensive background in musical theatre before venturing into original music. How did that theatrical experience influence your approach to songwriting and performing?
HILZ: On stage it’s all about two things: showmanship and storytelling.
With showmanship it’s often the little things like introducing the band, bantering with the crowd, organising the set so the show has a clear direction to it and then of course giving absolutely everything to the performance. In musical theatre, the storytelling is a key component of the performance.
During my training, I learnt the importance of conveying a story to my audience, matching the words I sing with my tone and articulation, but also through facial expressions, gestures and postures to enhance these emotions.
These skills are all particularly important in the musical theatre realm. Having said that, whilst I’m grateful for this experience building the ‘technical stuff’, I try not to overthink it, and instead embrace my desire to just get out there and rock it.
HAPPY: Your debut single, ‘Circles,’ was released last October. Can you share the story behind the song and what it represents for you as an artist?
HILZ: Circles sows the seeds of the main theme of the EP, which is the ambiguous nature of the ‘situationship’. In Circles, the track follows two people who are stuck in the thrilling yet confusing cycle of seeing each other and falling out again.
Both hindered by insecurities and past traumas, they are unable to surrender to the fear of vulnerability and securely commit to one another.
They begin intimately, then move to alienation, then back to intimacy for it to probably happen all over again. Quite literally, in the arc of the song they come full circle.
HAPPY: ‘All I Ever Wanted’ was your second single, which dropped in May 2023. How does this new release differ from your debut, and what themes or emotions does it explore?
HILZ: All I Ever Wanted is a song grounded a bit more in reality; there are some very specific lyrics in there like ‘you tell me all you want to do is jam but you won’t pick up your guitar’ that may seem odd, but are basically verbatim descriptions of real moments. Sometimes only the very detailed will do.
Al and I have argued about the Lorde lyric in Green Light, ‘she thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar’. I always thought it was silly but he thinks it’s brilliant.
The other new step in AIEW is an attempt to explore an electronic rather than fully acoustic sound ala Circles; the former has proven pretty hard to replicate live so we rework it a bit during gigs.
HAPPY: Collaborating with local producers Levi Russell and Adrian Carroll, you’ve created two distinct sounds for your music. How did these collaborations shape the sonic landscape of your debut EP, ‘Lie In Grey’?
HILZ: We learnt pretty quickly that the recording process is really only the beginning stage of creating music.
We were both pretty new to it so weren’t quite sure what to expect, but are always happy to explore new directions and use different influences. Some tracks we had recorded and had to figure out how to play live; others we had the opposite problem.
However the music develops, you find yourself shaped by the forces around you – Adrian has an enormous NASA-style mixing desk so Lie in Grey we started as an acoustic process, and it ended up sounding like ‘Taxiride’.
Levi’s a drummer and Pro Tools master, so as we developed ‘Seen’ in his home studio it came to sound like Major Lazer.
HAPPY: The EP delves into the grey areas of relationships. What inspired you to explore this theme, and how does it manifest in your songwriting?
HILZ: These are songs from a different time where Al and I were both single, sad and perhaps a little wounded from experiences with people who didn’t reciprocate what we were feeling.
It transpires that spite is an incredibly potent motivator for creativity. Now we both have partners so some love songs will surely be next.
HAPPY: Can you tell us about your creative process when writing music with your brother Al, who handles the keyboard and bass duties in the band?
HILZ: The two of us have been making music together for a long time – together in the school band, playing weddings, doing impromptu karaoke at family Christmas – but never in a formal capacity until the Hilz project came to life in 2020.
It’s a great dynamic, because as siblings you can be brutally honest and even if you argue you can’t hold onto a grudge for any amount of time, because you’re just so familiar with each other.
We both happen to find co-writing much easier than working alone. Usually one of us will have some seed of an idea, and by consensus we’ll try to turn that into a verse or chorus and see what structure naturally emerges.
I am more connected to melodic and vocal ideas, whereas Al tends to focus more on chords and the form.
HAPPY: You draw inspiration from contemporary artists like Kimbra, Maggie Rogers, and HAIM. In what ways do these influences manifest in your sound, and how do you make it your own?
HILZ: Kimbra has been a huge influence for a very long time; her first album ‘Vows’ was the first major thing that both Al and I shared a real passion for.
I am drawn to people that treat their voice like an instrument and that is what I try to do when performing. You can sing the same note so many different ways, creating such different sounds and textures – I think that’s what makes a great vocalist.
HAPPY: Your EP launch at ‘It’s Still A Secret’ is just around the corner. What can fans expect from the live experience, and how does performing your own original music compare to your previous experiences in musical theatre?
HILZ: The thing people always compliment us on are the live vocal harmonies! We are obsessive about them and it really makes the songs sparkle.
But in terms of singing original music, I’d say the experience is much more vulnerable. Because these are my words it’s a much more personal thing.
I do think the musical theatre training has given me confidence on stage to connect with the stories of the songs, along with letting go and having fun!
HAPPY: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of your music career? Are there particular milestones or goals you’re aiming to achieve?
HILZ: We joke (kind of) about performing at the 2032 Olympics Opening Ceremony. Watch this space…
But seriously, we would just love to keep making music and keep exploring the Brisbane music scene, building a fan base, writing new material and enjoying the journey. It would be great to take our music on the road but one step at a time!
HAPPY: Lastly, what makes you happy?
HILZ: Literally so many things! I am so privileged to live the life I do.
Whether it’s singing my own songs and being on stage, writing with my brother Al, being active, or spending time with my amazing family and friends, all of the above contributes to my happiness and mental wellbeing.