Q & A: Illy

With his fourth album about to drop and a successful 2013 coming to a close, The Dwarf chatted with Illy about making music, idolising Hilltop Hoods, and paving the way for young hip hop artists wanting to break into the industry.

The Dwarf: I’m pretty stoked I get to talk to you today, after hearing that Like a Version that you did – it was pretty amazing.

Illy: Thanks.

The Dwarf: Happy Ausmusic Month!

Illy: Yeah, to you too…happy Ausmusic Month to all!

The Dwarf: You’re the first Aussie hip hop act to be asked back for a second Like a Version. That must be a pretty big honour?

Illy: Definitely, yeah, I was pretty surprised, especially launching Ausmusic Month… a real honour. …I’m happy that it’s been received quite well so far and…hopefully I can get back a third time in the next five years!

The Dwarf: People are saying that it’s the best Like a Version ever. The response is so positive…so well done!

Illy: Thanks, yeah, it was pretty hectic, I got told about it like eleven days ago…so it’s a really, really quick turnaround and there’s been a lot of missing out on sleep, so I’m really looking forward to going out this weekend and having a good one, and then just spending the next week sleeping.

The Dwarf: What made you choose the songs that you chose?

Well, obviously it’s the launch of Ausmusic Month so they had to be Australian songs, so, Silverchair with Tomorrow…Silverchair were discovered by Triple J through their Unearthed equivalent back in the day, so, the first song was about young people and starting their music careers. The second part was Nosebleed Section – Hilltop Hoods because that’s obviously my genre and that’s one of the songs that inspired me to start taking music seriously and…also it’s obviously about live music, which is hugely important to Australian artists and the music culture. Part three was storytelling, which wasTo Her Door by Paul Kelly, which is, in my opinion, probably the best…song with a story, that’s ever been written, and again, storytelling is a huge part of Australian music. The last one was Flume –On Top because Flume’s been probably the biggest artist in the country in the last twelve months and it was paying respect to the right now, the here and now in Australian music. So everything had a little bit of a story behind it and I kind of tried to rap about it as well.

The Dwarf: Let’s talk about your new record label, OneTwo. What made you decide to branch out into the business side of things?

Illy: Well, I’ve always been interested in it. I was off my contract and I was sort of looking at where to go, and I’ve always had my mind on setting up my own label, and, yeah, it sort of just came about that the circumstance was right for it…I’ve learnt a lot since I started releasing music professionally and I’m looking forward to giving it a crack and trying my hand at overseeing it and taking on a new role with my music, which I’m pretty excited about, to be fair.

The Dwarf: Are you finding it rewarding to be able to be interacting in this sort of A&R role with new talent and giving young artists opportunities – like Allday and such?

Illy: Yeah, I am, I think I’ve had a lot of experience in music and I can help young people who…I was in their position not too long ago…it’s definitely something that I’m excited about, the label isn’t just to release my own music, it’s to sign acts and create a new outlet for young people to look up to and want to be a part of. It’s pretty exciting, and I think Allday is representative of that next generation of Australian hip hop artists because the young people…he means a lot to them, and he’s sort of their artist, really…teenagers feel like they discovered Allday…which is great, because they did, and he’s a very exciting artist to be working with.

The Dwarf: The first major release on OneTwo is gonna be your new record Cinematic, which drops next week…can you tell me a bit about this album and where you think your music is at, at the moment?

Illy: Yeah. Its executive-produced by M-Phazes, it features Hilltop Hoods, Drapht, Daniel Merriweather, Ahren Stringer from Amity Affliction, and a whole bunch of others…I think it’s my best album…I’m definitely the most developed as an artist on this album, out of any of the albums that I’ve made, and I’ve really sort of I feel like I’ve pushed the envelope and pushed the boundaries of what I was comfortable with, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone a little bit on this album at times and I’m just really, really excited to have it out now, because I’ve been holding on to it for a while and it’s really time for other people to have a listen to it so I can kind of let go of it a little bit.

The Dwarf: I’ve had a listen to it today and it actually blew my mind. I don’t normally get into stuff on the first listen but I really like it. I’m really excited for it to be released so I can listen to it all the time.

Illy: Awesome, thanks heaps…I’m just starting to get the first feedback on it from like people who are interviewing or whatever and it’s all been pretty positive, so I’m getting excited, the nerves are starting to turn into excitement, which is pretty cool.

The Dwarf: We’ve already talked about the artists you worked with - quite a wide variety. How did these collaborations come about – did you write the songs and then identify a suitable artist, or did you work on the songs with them, or a bit of both…?

Illy: Yeah…it really varied from song to song…I knew at the start of making the album that…the only two rap artists or acts that I wanted [were] Drapht and Hilltops…so I hit them up before anything, and we sort of worked on the tracks together, decided on beats together etc. With the singers, a lot of them I had written the songs and I went to them because I knew the particular vocal that I wanted, that I had in mind, and then obviously with the Amity track, that was their song originally, and I kind of just took it from them – with their permission, of course. So yeah, it varied from track to track, really.

The Dwarf: How does it feel to be working with guys like Hilltop Hoods and Drapht – they’ve been in the industry for quite some time and I imagine you probably looked up to them when you were younger?

Illy: Of course, of course!

The Dwarf: And now they’re kind of your peers - you’re kind of on the same level as them?

Illy: Well, I’m not on the same level, but definitely they’re friends of mine. I think that everyone of my generation grew up sort of looking up to them – rightfully so, as the standard-bearers – like, ten years ago, one of the first hip hop gigs I went to was a Hoods show, and I got a fake ID and got snuck in…so to be ten years later, on a track with them, ON MY ALBUM, is fucking insane. It’s something I’m really, really proud of, and the fact that the track has come out so well, and you know, Suffa told me the other day, he’s like ‘I would happily have this on a Hoods album,’ so for him to be saying that is just…really, really, really cool…it’s pretty crazy, its definitely one of the biggest honours I’ve had in my career.

The Dwarf: Lots of young MCs are now idolizing you and looking to you for inspiration, so how does that feel, being on the other side of it as well?

Illy: It feels good, and I think that’s sort of part of why I’ve set up OneTwo, I’m in a position where I’ve got a responsibility to help out the next [generation]– the same as others helped out, other people who came before me, and I’m in a position where I’m able to do that now, so, it feels great, it’s a privilege and it’s also a responsibility…You always want to leave something in a better state than when you found it, so…it feels really good, but I know that there’s that bit of duty on my part as well, that I’m trying to set in motion.

The Dwarf: In the space of not much more than a year, you will have released two albums, started your own record label, toured Australia, played a few shows overseas, and played one of the best Like a Version of all time. How do you feel, Illy?

Illy: Tired!...Nah, I feel really good! I’m really excited to see what comes next, you know, this Like a Version thing only happened a few hours ago andCinematic’s not even out yet. It’s been a lot of work up until now, and I’m really excited for Cinematic to come out. I’m gonna take a little bit of time off between now and the next album, I think. I’ve really sort of pushed myself, and not…burnt myself out, but I’ve definitely used up a lot of my creative energy in the last year and I need a little bit of down time to get it back, and I thinkCinematic is gonna be able to hopefully have some legs in it so that I can enjoy that album and enjoy people enjoying it for a little while before I get back to work on the fifth album.

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