ICON: Congratulations on your new album The Space Between! This album has been four years in the making now. What challenges did you come up against with this project?
Illy: “A lot happens in four years of your life, y’know? There’s been a lot of stuff in my personal life to deal with and then to crystallise what you want to say and how you want to talk about that, and you grow up. I’m more grown-up than I was on the last album and trying to make something that people who have supported you for this long will care about and connect with, and being authentic even if that means being a bit more vulnerable than in the past. I don’t know if ‘challenging’ is the right word but it’s definitely been at times daunting.
“If you’re going to expect people to give a shit then you’ve got to kind of put yourself out there, right?”
Yeah definitely, and what did you learn about yourself in that time?
I: “I learnt that as long as I don’t party too hard, I’m more resilient than I gave myself credit for in the past. I definitely learnt that you need to treat yourself a little bit softly at times. Whatever place that is in my head, it can go good and bad and I’ve learnt to try and give myself a bit of slack more than I had in the past and I think that that’s a good lesson. Forgiveness and allowing yourself to not be perfect, for me, has been really important. No one is ever going to be perfect so it’s like, the quicker you can grasp that and just be ok with it, the happier your life’s going to be.”
You arrived in the music scene in 2009. How has hip hop locally changed in that time?
I: “Massively. when I put my first album out it was becoming quite mainstream but it was still niche, it was still very much an outsider. There was also a cultural cringe where people didn’t rap from Australia and that still exists but I think it’s come full circle now. No matter where your influence has come from there’s kids here that are rapping in American accents, there’s kids here that are rapping in Australian accents, there’s kids here that are rapping in whatever country they’re originally from – rapping with accents that reflect that and it’s more diverse than ever, it’s more exciting than ever.
It sucks that this year’s been so affected by COVID because it’s meant that a lot of the kids at the start of their career haven’t been able to tour or play shows and, I mean, it’s been hard for me not being able to play shows, but the kids that would have had their big breakout this year or being able to form the communities that really prop you up and get your career off the ground….
“It’s exciting even being a veteran of it and it’s still a trip to see it go from strength to strength.”
As you mentioned, touring is off the cards at least for a little while. How else have fans been able to connect with you and your music during this time?
I: “I mean, to a degree you’d have to ask them. I’ve tried to stay online and do a few bits and pieces, a few songs and covers last year. I’m pretty active on my socials but there were times last year when i just wasn’t feeling it… But I found that a lot of people last year were going back through the back catalogue and… I think the phrase is comfort listening or something? Some crazy hacky term, but people were just going back through old songs of mine and really reconnecting with them.”
How does it feel that it’s almost here, it’s finally out?
I: “It’s amazing. It’s been the longest time between albums for me, ever, and a lot went into it. There were a lot of points where it just didn’t feel like it was going to see the light of day or it was never going to be good enough. I think it’s still a little bit surreal and it’s definitely more relief than anything at the moment, but I think once people hear it and it stops being mine and it becomes everyone’s.”
Talk to me about the inspiration surrounding the album. Where do you look to or who do you look to when creating your music?
I: “The inspirations were mainly just what was going on in my life. I had relationships end, I had friendships kind of fall apart, I had people that I really love and care about pass away. I had really good times. The last album didn’t set the world on fire but it definitely changed my life. So there were amazing highs and really hectic lows… All of that is what ended up making this album and it’s why I say it’s my most personal album but it wasn’t a conscious effort to do that.”
Definitely. In a 2019 interview you said ‘I never want to do a collaboration where I tell someone how to sing.’ What was the process for the collaborations on this album?
I: “I basically had most of their hooks written myself and there were a couple that were co-written with a dude called Romans. So basically, the collaborations were in two parts. There was me, a producer, and a top line would come up with the song, sometimes years before the features would make the song complete and then the process of pitching it.
So I’d listen to the demo which was inevitably me singing between poorly and passably, and I’d pitch that to the people who I thought could do a much better job than me … I would never ever tell any of them how to sing because they all are far better trained and far more capable than me. But I think they were able to hear my demos and take away from that what I was trying to achieve and then achieve it.”
Lastly, what do you hope people take from your new album?
I: “I hope that they connect with it. I think that there’s a lot to connect with. It’s obviously written from my perspective but I feel like a lot of what’s being touched on in the album whether it’s insecurities, or loss, or just growing up, or having gratitude, or feeling like you’re a fuck-up, I feel like they’re themes that people have all experienced. I love this album and I’m proud of it so that’s all you can ask for really.”
‘The Space Between’ is out now. For more from the artists, visit here.