American Billie Eilish is one of the highlights of Laneway Festival’s line-up and she’s quite literally too cool for school.
INDIA HENDRIKSE: You come from a family of actors and musicians. Is performing quite a natural thing for you then?
BILLIE EILISH: Yeah for sure, it was never really a new thing because my family are so musical and artistic that it just went with us. My mum taught both me and my brother how to write songs and my dad taught me the basics of the piano and ukulele. My mum writes songs and acts, both my parents are actors; they met as actors, so everything is very artist-driven. When I was younger I’d be in plays and make my own little movies and edit them myself, so I always loved being on camera or being on stage in front of people, I was a complete attention whore. I love performing and I don’t get nervous, too, so it’s fun for me.
That would make it a lot easier. A lot of people seem to focus on your age… do you feel a lot older than your years?
You know, I don’t know how old I feel, but I don’t feel 14… 15! [laughs] I don’t even know my age. I don’t feel 15 but I don’t feel older or younger, I just feel like a person. I think age is so weird. The thing that’s really weird to me is how you have to be 18 or older to date someone who’s 18 or older, but if you’re 17 you can’t and it’s just a year, it’s so weird… like what even are rules?
I guess you’re living in this adult world now, aren’t you? How do you remain true to or connected to your age?
Well, I’ve always been home schooled so I think that’s what’s made me not act like a 15 year old per se, because if you’re home schooled and you go to a home school group, it’s all different ages. Whereas at school you’re in a grade with people your age and so you all grow up at the same speed basically and all learn everything at the same time. At home school I was always surrounded by people of different ages so it made me grow up as a person instead of just trying to be an age.
So do you feel like home school gave you and your brother more of an opportunity to embrace music in your spare time then?
Totally, oh my god. I think the main thing that I feel is I don’t have anything against school, but… school teaches you so many things and first of all you’re forced to learn them so that’s going to make you not want to do it. So much of school is memorising stuff to memorise it and not actually learning why it’s that way. So you memorise it and you never use it and then you forget it and I feel like it’s so much more important to think about the things you actually think are interesting and you want to learn about and then learn about them instead of wasting time on things you aren’t passionate about. With me and my brother, we really like music and for a while I danced a tonne and that’s been a huge part of my life and I used to train horses and ride horses because I wanted to. I’d think about stuff and be like, “I really want to learn about this” and my parents would be like, “okay, let’s learn about it”, and then take classes or lessons or whatever and it saved time rather than learning a bunch of stuff that you don’t want to learn about at all.
And with your music… why pop?
You know, I don’t like pop. To be honest, I don’t like pop and don’t think of myself as a pop singer at all. I’m mostly inspired by and listen to hip-hop and rap, alternative and old stuff. I think now there’s such a pop genre that’s super basic and just sounds like everything else and I just don’t feel like that’s me. A lot of my music, I try to make it not sound like one genre, because I don’t want it to be one genre. I don’t want to be, “oh this is a pop artist, this is an alternative artist, this is a hip-hop artist”, you should just make the music that you think is cool and whatever it ends up being, it ends up being. I would say I want to be more hip-hop I guess, that’s where it’s going.
Who are some of your main hip-hop influences?
There are so many, I could go on for so long, but I think like, Tyler, the Creator, Drake. The artists I listen to a lot are SoundCloud artists that I find before anyone knows of them really, I dig deep into SoundCloud. The artists I really like right now are Ski Mask the Slump God, LiL PEEP, Father, AmirObe… AmirObe are so cool… BROCKHAMPTON. I actually love Amy Winehouse so much, she is so dope, just that R&B/jazzy [sound], I think that is so cool. I love a bunch of old stuff and I love alternative stuff. I think it’s so lame when people are like, “I only like this kind of music”. Well, you’re missing out on so much good music.
You were discovered on SoundCloud. Do you feel like it’s given you a sense of autonomy over your music?
With SoundCloud anyone can upload anything and anybody can listen to anything and there’s no fee, there’s no going through anything, you just press “upload”. I think that’s so important especially because so many people want music to be them but they don’t necessarily have money or time.
Your style is very unique. Who are you inspired by?
I don’t have people that I try to dress like, I just have certain elements, you know? I try to dress the way that nobody dresses, like you see the way I dress and you’re like “what? I’ve never seen that in my life”. I’d say people that have inspired me would be Tyler, the Creator for one, Bloody Osiris is like one of my biggest inspirations, the dude Imran Potato on Instagram (@imran_potato), he’s dope. There’s this kid Leo Mandella, he’s just a 15-year-old kid who lives in London, he’s cool. I think even Rihanna has been amazing on every level forever.
In your music video for your song ‘Bellyache’, you wear an amazing boiler-suit-like yellow outfit. Where’s that from?
[Laughs]. It’s from my attic. My house is so small and one storey but we have an attic and it’s filled with crazy shit, so I went up there one time and I was looking through some random stuff and I found this yellow raincoat and I was like “ohhh that’s cool” and I pulled it out further and then there were overalls that went with it. I got super excited and wore it all the time and thought I’m gonna make this a thing.
What’s the dynamic of working with your brother professionally like?
It doesn’t really change a lot, we’ve always been really close. This whole music thing has just made us closer, I guess. We’ve always had a connection and gotten along really well and had the same feelings about different things and when we started writing it was so natural and I think it still is. He performs with me and we just have a lot of fun. People always assume that when you’re writing with someone you have to compromise as in you say something and they say something and then you both kind of agree on one thing, but that’s not true. One of us either wins or they don’t. We’re brother and sister so we don’t get offended if one of us doesn’t like the other one’s thing, it’s so much easier and saves so much time.
What do you hope to write about in the future?
You can write about anything. You can make up stuff, you can write about what you’ve gone through or your friend has gone through or what nobody’s gone through, you can just write about fictional stuff. That’s what I think is so cool about writing, you’re writing your own story and it doesn’t have to be real and it doesn’t have to be not real. It can be anything you want it to be and no one’s going to know.
Here’s the rest of the line-up for Laneway Festival 2018:
Aldous Harding (New Zealand)
Amy Shark (Australia)
Anderson . Paak and The Free Nationals (United States)
Baynk (New Zealand)
Connan Mockasin (New Zealand)
D. D. Dumbo (Australia)
Die! Die! Die! (New Zealand)
Father John Misty (United States)
Loyle Carner (United Kingdom)
Mac DeMarco (Canada)
Melodownz (New Zealand)
Moses Sumney (United States)
Polyester (New Zealand)
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (Australia)
(Sandy) Alex G (United States)
Slowdive (United Kingdom)
Sylvan Esso (United States)
The Internet (Untied States)
The War on Drugs (United States)
TOKiMONSTA (United States)
Unitone HI-FI (New Zealand)
Wolf Alice (United Kingdom)
Tickets go on sale to general public on Monday 18 September. See auckland.lanewayfestival.com/ for more info.