Billie Eilish has been busy. In the last two months, she has booked her first tour across North America (which is now almost completely sold out), released her debut EP (which met with wide praise for its production, precocious writing, and sublime vocals); and she's even had a doughnut named after her in her home city of L.A. Eilish is a teenage sensation, sensational in part because her wise words are reflective of a soul that has seen and done so much more than seems possible for her young years. In fact EARMILK are so impressed with Eilish's music that we're hailing her a pop prodigy-to-be, and consequently we decided to interview her as the first musician of our "Artist to Watch" series. EARMILK sat down to talk to Eilish about her passion for dance, her creative process, and how baring her soul on the internet changed her life.
EARMILK: How old were you when you started writing songs?
Billie Eilish: I was eleven. I started seriously writing when I was eleven, but the first song I ever wrote was when I was five. It was about falling into a hole. And it was good, I loved it!
EM: You're also a dancer, right?
BE: Yes, I am also a dancer.
EM: Were you always going to be a singer and a songwriter, or did you have a shift from dance to singing?
BE: Not at all, it was so normal. I didn't think about writing songs. I had a lot of things to say and I was twelve, so I played some chords and sang them. I did it because I felt like I needed to. And then Ocean Eyes happened.
"Ocean Eyes" didn't pop into existence in a way that was particularly extraordinary. The extraordinary thing here is that people of any age and from any walk of life can create something beautiful out of nothing but abstract feeling. And the extraordinary thing about the music industry is that anyone can access the tools to produce great music and release it to the world. These people who feel so much and have so much to say can pick up their laptops and make art. Eilish's brother, Finneas O'Connell, is nineteen years old at the moment. Since its release, he has produced and co-written most of Eilish's material.
EM: How did Ocean eyes come about?
BE: My brother came into my room and said "I wrote this song" and I was like, "I know, I've heard it, I live right next to you!" The crazy thing was that "Ocean Eyes" was exactly what I was feeling. It was like my brother went into my head and wrote a song from my thoughts. A few days later I was at dance – I used to be on the competitive team – and my dance teacher asked me to stay after class. He asked me to write a song and produce it so he could use it for a dance. And I thought that it was such a cool idea, to have myself and my friends dance to a song I wrote. I asked him if he had any specific sound in mind and he mentioned a song we'd done a routine to previously, it's called "Station" by Lapsley. I actually love that song, so I went and recorded "Ocean Eyes" with "Station" in mind. Songs are meant to be danced to. We produced the song based on lyrical and contemporary dance. I basically sat in my brother's room and moved to the song, and then we posted it on Soundcloud so we could send the link to my teacher and my friends and overnight it kind of grew. I've never actually talked about that moment until now!
EM: That's interesting, I found out about "Ocean Eyes" because my fifteen-year-old sister found it on Soundcloud and played it for me.
BE: Soundcloud is the best!
EM: I know! I always stumble on the best things on that site.
BE: I would be nothing at all without Soundcloud. And the idea that it might go out of business makes me want to die! Soundcloud is what gives so many artists their breaks, because anybody anywhere can release music to the world.
EM: Who came up with the concept for the dance video for Ocean Eyes?
BE: The dance video for "Ocean Eyes" was actually choreographed by the teacher who asked me to produce the song. So it all links up. I think it was my manager Danny's idea to have the video be the choreography from this teacher who essentially made it all possible, which is really cool! And I've been dancing with those people in the video for years.
EM: What else do you like to do in your spare time?
BE: I'm huge into fashion and designing clothes, that's what I do! I just make my own stuff. It takes a lot of work, so I haven't done it in a while. I'll find clothes and cut them up, make them into something else, or I'll take shoelaces off shoes and cut the shoes up. I just try to find crazy clothes. I haven't gone to a store to buy clothes in forever. I seem to either thrift or buy really expensive designer wear, because I like to wear things you can't just go buy. It's ironic because it's either really cheap or hugely expensive. I really want a clothing line!
EM: Please start a clothing line, Billie! I noticed that the EP has a lot of old R&B and jazz vibes to it, and I really want to touch on "idontwannabeyouanymore". Can you tell me a little about how that song came to be?
BE: That song is the most special to me on the EP, because it's straight from myself. The whole song is supposed to be singing to yourself in a reflection. It came about while we were writing "COPYCAT", which is obviously about a person doing exactly what you do. "idontwannabeyouanymore" actually has the same chords as the bridge of "COPYCAT" because we wrote them as the same song. So the idea was to write a song completely opposite to "COPYCAT". I go through a lot of depression, I have for most of my life, and I know so many people have the same issues as I do and most people don't have a way of expressing that. They keep it inside them and are hurt by themselves, and I want to have music that people can listen to. If I write a song that you feel like you relate to, and when you hear it you go "that's my song" – it's yours! With "idontwannabeyouanymore", I just want people to know they can feel that way and not be alone. That song is very deep in me. And the production is very R&B and it has that 1, 2, 3 rhythm, almost like a ballroom dance. But I didn't want it to be overproduced. I wanted it to be simple and intimate. There's a lot of tension and release in that song.
EM: How excited are you to be going on tour?
BE: Oh, dude! I'm going to all these places I've never been before and I've never dreamed of going, because I don't have the budget for that! But to be able to have the thing you love taking you to all these places, and to have people there who already know you and love you is the best feeling! When I do shows I try to interact with each fan, or as many as possible because they're what got me to this place in my life. I don't even like to call them fans, that's weird. They're my family – I've got family all over the world.
EM: What has been the most wild thing that has happened to you since "Ocean Eyes" blew up? Has there been a standout crazy experience?
BE: There's been a lot, and I feel like some of them are kind of embarrassing. Artists that I think are cool even knowing who I am, and being a fan of me really gets me .. This is weird because we're kind of homies now, but I'm a huge fan of rap and hip hop and I love Denzel Curry. A while ago I was talking about features on songs and said "what if we got Denzel Curry to do a feature" and somebody said "yeah we can try to make that happen". Denzel wanted me to go to his studio to meet him, and I was so nervous I could die, but I've never clicked with someone so fast. Now we FaceTime all the time, we've become real friends. And we made two songs in four hours. I didn't feel nervous at all.