Change, reformation, and growth lie at the heart of Illy’s sixth record. Anthemic and nuanced, The Space Between opens up the artist in his entirety.
This past year has been riddled with change. Whether for good or bad, the fluidity of normality has forced us to look on our lives and our place in it with a renewed clarity. On his latest album, Illy puts this transformation to a beat.
We sat down with the artist for a chat about his collaborations, the momentum of life, and the novelty of seated punk shows.
HAPPY: How have you been?
ILLY: Good yeah, album’s out tomorrow so it’s happy days.
HAPPY: Oh sweet, that’s exciting. Are you nervous for it? Excited?
ILLY: I’m more relieved than anything, because it’s been so long coming. It’s been four years since the last one.
HAPPY: Yeah, I bet. Everything about The Space Between is so personal and moving. Congrats on it.
ILLY: Thank you.
HAPPY: Why was it important for you to open yourself up to fans in this way?
ILLY: It wasn’t a conscious decision. Like I said, it’s been four years, a lot of life happens in that amount of time. I’ve definitely grown up. There were a lot of things that happened and you know, this is my sixth album. I’m not a new artist, I’m not able to ride a wave of hype. The people that have supported me for long enough, if I want them to still be interested in what I have to say, it has to be authentic and it has to be something with substance. Beyond wanting them to be interested, some people have been supporting me over ten years. They deserve that. They deserve for it to be something good so I was like well, I can either make a jewelry record or I can do something from the heart and really dig a bit deeper than I have in the past. I think I’m at a point in my life where I have enough skills as a songwriter to articulate it well. And just because a jewelry record from Illy would sound terrible, so yeah.
HAPPY: Well you’ve said that the album revolves around change, how so?
ILLY: Well, I mean The Space Between… literally between albums but also, you know, in that time there were relationships that fell apart, friendships that fell apart, I’ve had people that I love pass away. I’ve also had some great highs, like the last record didn’t set the world on fire but, you know, it changed my life. Everything kind of changes and life is just constantly changing, you know? You’re never the same person from year to year I don’t think. I think that just getting to a point in my life and my career where I’m able to have a perspective, I’ve been around long enough to know that and recognise that, and appreciate it. I think that’s why it informed this album so much.
HAPPY: Yeah totally. Has change been something that you’ve had to particularly grapple with throughout your life?
ILLY: I mean, yes, but no more than anyone. Who doesn’t have a constantly evolving life, right? I mean, it’s kind of unrelated, but my little sister is about to have a kid and her life is about to change dramatically. She got married last year and there’s some changes that are crazy like that. I guess I’m still kind of tripping on that, because I just spoke to my sister before I spoke to you. But like, things are constantly changing and everyone’s circumstances are constantly changing. I think just the older you get, the more you appreciate the good stuff, you know?
HAPPY: Yeah totally, did you just find out she was going to have a baby before this?
ILLY: [Laughs] No, no. I found out a while ago but I haven’t spoken to her for a little bit. So she’s just on the front of my mind.
HAPPY: [Laughs] Okay cool, I was going to be like, wow you might need some time to process but you’re right back into it.
ILLY: [Laughs] Yeah, just a consummate professional. Nah, she’s due in like a month so if she was just surprising me now with it I’d be like oh what the fuck, where have you been for the last eight months?
HAPPY: [Laughs] Well, when it comes to the sonic of the album, you pretty much are just pounding out anthem after anthem. It’s so great. Could you break down the songwriting process for us a little bit?
ILLY: Generally how it goes, how it always works is I’ll get in with a producer and sometimes I’ll have an idea in advance. Other times something will come to me, based on the melodies they play. Sometimes I’ll be involved in the chord progressions to start the session and something will come. You kind of build up something in the room, hopefully you can get to something. A track like Mirror, for instance, the hook was basically done in that first session and never changed. Then there’s other times, like Lean on Me, where the song changed multiple times before we even settled on a beat. It can vary from track to track, but generally what will happen is I’ll go in a room with someone, with an idea. Or make something up in there, and they’ll make the music. I’ll write the lyrics and the melody and then we kind of, over the coming months, will go back and forward until we get it to somewhere where it’s pretty much finished. Then, if it needs a singer, that’s a whole other process of me going and begging my more talented friends to help me out.
HAPPY: I was going to ask, because one of my favourite tracks on the album was Cheap Seats. I know that you’ve played with genres in the past, but it was so interesting to hear you blend WAAX’s influence into yours.
ILLY: Yeah, I mean I love those guys. I didn’t know them really before Cheap Seats happened. I knew their music, but I didn’t know them personally. So, Cheap Seats had been written in Sweden with me and a couple of Swedish producers. I had it for a while and the demo was great, but it was very rough and I didn’t really know anyone from that world. But I knew WAAX and I knew Maz’s vocals. They’re just so unique and so sick. The track needed a little bit more authenticity and, you know, the guys in the band are adding their guitar lines on the song as well. It beefed it up and it really gave it a level of authenticity and just made it feel realer. Yeah, they killed it and it just turns out they’re like some of the best people as well.
HAPPY: Totally, have you ever wanted to bring a bit of a punk influence into your music?
ILLY: I mean, I don’t think I have enough tattoos.
HAPPY: [Laughs] I mean, there’s always time.
ILLY: [Laughs] It would take a lot of time to get that many tattoos. I love seeing the energy of those shows. I got to see WAAX before, I don’t know what month it would have been, maybe October last year? So there were still heavy restrictions. But they had a show go ahead at The Tivoli in Brisbane and it was a seated show. I was like, I don’t know how the fuck I’m going to do a hip-hop show with seated crowds and I really don’t know how they’re going to do a hardcore show with seated crowds. So me and the person I was with, were just at the back of the room watching. It was hilarious because they were killing the show and it was people seated just thrashing about while they’re on stage. Then, every so often, someone would get carried away and stand up, and you’d see the security guard run over and tell them to go down. And as soon as they put one person down, at the other end of the room, someone would jump up and start. It’s like whack a mole for the security guards. It was sick [laughs]. Their energy is great, but I’ll stay as a hip hop artist. I think that’s what I excel at.
HAPPY: Yeah totally. Well, 2021’s already gotten off to an amazing start for Aussie hip-hop. You’re about to drop a new album, The Kid Laroi is killing it over in LA. What are you most excited about going into this year?
ILLY: I’m really excited about shows coming back. I think that’s the main thing, you know, as a touring artist. I mean, 99% of Australian musicians function off playing live and, as far as a job, it’s crucial. But beyond that, the biggest thing about last year was not being able to tour and missing playing shows. It makes your creative spark basically disappear when you can’t have that interaction with the people that support you. I feel pretty positive. I mean, it changes from week to week at the moment, but I feel pretty positive that like by mid-year, we’ll hopefully be out of the woods, or at least getting there. So that’s what I’m really looking forward to, just getting back out on the road. Even a regional tour, playing like shitty RSL’s to a couple of hundred people with a bad sound system and shitty lighting. I can’t wait to do that. I can’t wait.
HAPPY: Totally, congrats again on the album!
ILLY: I appreciate it, thank you.
Grab your copy of The Space Between here