Melbourne band I’lls didn’t expect the one track they’d put up on Soundcloud to be heard by many people – let alone get them a booking at one of Australia’s biggest festivals. Simon, Hamish and Dan, who originally created the band as an escape from uni homework, had already picked up a cult following before releasing their first EP ‘Thread’ with their particular intricate jazz inspired sounds and heady vocals. Alongside the premiere of the latest I’lls track ‘Speak Low’, we sat down with the band over milkshakes to talk about their forthcoming EP ‘A Warm Reception’, collaborating with visual artists and seeing dodgy jazz players in Northcote.
Photography by Sebastian Petrovski.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about who you guys are and what you’ve been up to lately?
Simon: We’re uni friends from the sticks that like to make music.
Dan: We’re into jazz –
Hamish: We’re the outcasts of jazz. Jazz rogues.
Simon: Dan’s on guitar, Hamish is on synth and keys, I do vocals and we all do electronic sounds.
Where did it first start?
Dan: We’ve been around for about two years now.
Simon: We got together in a uni break, to practice jazz at Dan’s place. But because Dan didn’t have any instruments, Hamish brought his synth and I brought my laptop to do electronic drums – and it sounded like funny jazz at first.
Dan: Even with the first EP, we didn’t know what we wanted to make, that’s why it’s all over the place. We’re starting to get an idea now of what sound we’re going for.
You guys have drawn comparisons with the likes of Radiohead and Portishead – where these inspirations for you?
Dan: They weren’t necessarily an influence on the first EP, but we’re definitely big fans of them.
Hamish: Maybe not so much Portishead as an influence, but I’m a huge fan of anything involving Geoff Barrow – his beats, his side projects. That Horrors album he produced.
Dan: And we’re big fans of Radiohead.
Simon: [Laughs.] Not that much! We never listen to them…
What’s the live set-up between you guys?
Simon: I suppose the difference with us is that a lot of electronic acts when they take it to the stage play with a lot of backing tracks, and there’s a lot going on within the computer equipment. But with us, we didn’t really know how to do that.
Dan: And we didn’t really want to do that.
Simon: Well, we didn’t know at first, but know we know we don’t want to do that.
Dan: Especially because we’re all jazz-trained, that’s not really how we approach a live set.
Simon: We try and play everything live and have an interaction between us. Not just slaving to the computer.
What kind of gigs did you go to? Do you think the people you saw live affected how you play?
Hamish: The first shows I’ve ever saw were mostly live jazz gigs. From like 13 to 15, you can’t really go to large concerts, so for me it was mostly going to Northcote and seeing a live jazz player. Who was probably rubbish, but at that age, I thought he was a genius.
Dan: I think we all know how we want to play live: we like a smaller setting, so we can communicate with each other.
Simon: I think when you see a band, you like to see what they’re doing up there. It’s not about the people, but what they’re doing.
Hamish: It’s not like we want to see some virtuoso taking it apart or anything – just not some guy on a computer. We want to see something actually happening.
Dan: Although, a lot of those guys can make it work.
Things moved pretty quickly for you guys. Your first EP Thread was well received, and you were playing Parklife after only one show. Were you surprised by the success of that?
Dan: I was working at some pizza shop and some guy called me and was like ‘Do you want to play Parklife?’ I was like ‘I dunno, man, I think one of us is away this weekend, we’ll call you back.’ [Laughs.]
Hamish: We’d only put out one single at that stage – we thought he was joking. It was crazy.
Simon: Hamish and I were in other bands too, and the other ones we were more serious about.
What was the response like to the Thread EP? Were you expecting it at all?
Dan: We were just comparing that single release to now, and it seems a little bit of a bigger deal. With the first we were just like ‘Should we? Yeah, let’s put this up.’
Hamish: We played a lot of shows and there was a surprising amount of people that were interested.
Simon: A lot of music blogs picked it up, too.
You seem to have a very laid back approach to promotion. Do you think it was simply the music spoke for itself?
Hamish: I just think we really knew what to do. We just put it out and it went well so we thought we’d make some more music. We don’t want to be known for the first release really, because it’s… dodgy as… [Laughs.]
Dan: Oh, it’s hilarious. It’s just funny to look back at it.
Hamish: So many things we’d do differently!
Dan: I wouldn’t ram anything down anybody’s throats promotion-wise, especially my music.
Hamish: You’d like to think the music will do well on it’s own.
I’ve spoken to a lot of electronic musicians that say the process of writing music alone can get quite lonely. How does the dynamic of a group work?
Simon: It’s all 33.33% each.
Hamish: I think it could get quite lonely, just you making music by yourself. I’d hate to be just a bedroom beatmaker. God, you’d be bored. No one questioning you, no one saying ‘That’s shit’ – you’d just think you were a genius all the time.
Dan: I’d be so much happier, I think.
Simon: We couldn’t get a track finished without each other. We’ve all set out to make a track by ourselves and failed at it.
Hamish: If you have someone introducing something new to you all the time, it becomes more interesting. If it’s just you, you kind of end up doing a really B-grade covers of what you like, with three people you have different tastes. Obviously there are some bands that you both like, but not always. And that’s cool – it’s what makes music interesting. You can hear that with some bands. You’re like ‘Oh you sound like…’ I can think of a few off the top of my head. I’d prefer not to mention them though.
You said in an interview in 2011 that you think that there is no market for electronica here in Australia. Do you still feel the same way?
Hamish: I think it’s definitely a different scene here now.
Dan: Everything’s done on the internet now, so you don’t necessarily have to move overseas.
Hamish: There’s a lot more electronic music that people really like. Two years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to name any Australian electronic music that was popular, here or overseas. Now, there’s everyone.
Dan: We’ll see how long it lasts. It’s probably a fad.
How do you find the scene now?
Hamish: Everyone should quit their bitching about the Australian music scene.
Simon: It still sometimes seems that the scene has that thing still, where musicians are only noteworthy here when they’ve become big overseas. There are lots of musicians that have been very supportive of us, Chet Faker for one.
Dan: If you’re talking about just other musicians it’s very supportive. But it’s hard to stand out in this industry.
Hamish: It’s still the fact that, until someone overseas likes you, you don’t mean shit over here.
Dan: There are labels now, like Yes Please! and Astral People who are looking for more experimental stuff. Record labels now can sign artists without having to put any money into them because everything is self-produced. There’s not physical releases like CDs – it’s just an internet release. That’s the beauty of the internet now. You don’t have to move overseas, you don’t have to have a label. It’s nice to have one, but it’s not necessary.
Plans Only Drawn was premiered on Triple J, what are your thoughts on radio’s effect on the music scene in Aus?
Dan: No comment. [Laughs.] I’m not the biggest fan of the radio. There are some good shows on the Js – Sound Lab – and Triple R and PBS and FBI have some good late night shows.
Do you feel that despite the online thing, radio still holds all the cards for what does well in Australia then?
Simon: Not all, but definitely some.
Hamish: I’m not a big listener. The sad thing is, these days, that it’s not that likely you’ll hear something on the radio that you’ve never heard and you’ll go home and download it. Maybe I don’t understand it. I mean, I have friends that live on the radio.
Did you hear your single premiere?
Hamish: We did – it was weird hearing your music on radio. It was nice.
Can you guys tell me about how the video for Plans Only Drawn came about – and do you think that having a particular aesthetic is important for musicians?
Simon: I’ve had that idea of projecting our faces on other faces for a while. We played around with a lot of things, and we got a really great projection artist [Thomas Russell] to work on it with us.
Hamish: All for four minutes!
Dan: It was really stressful. I mean, we’re not video makers, Simon’s not bad with a camera, but from the start to finish, it’s a big job getting a video done.
You guys seem to have a specific aesthetic with your music too. Do you think that’s important for musicians these days?
Simon: I think anything works these days it can be anything. People will always read into what you do.
Hamish: There are some artists whose aesthetic is half of the package. All those musicians on labels like Ghostly – graphic designer musicians – the electronic music seems to be apart of that. For us though, it’s definitely the music foremost.
You guys have collaborated with a few local artists, how do you find collaborating?
Simon: It’s a lot more light-hearted than when we’re working alone.
Hamish: It’s really interesting working with other musicians and seeing how they go about something. There’s stuff that other people do and you’re like ‘That’s awesome! I would have never thought of that!’ You’re always learning.
Dan: I guess it’s another pull on the band. It’s interesting having more people to listen to what you’re making, another set of ears to send it to.
Hamish: We’ve made so many great friends. We’ve met so many great people.
Dan: Like before, when you asked if it was received well, that’s the good part to us.
Hamish: Really interesting people and fucking weirdos. People that stay up all night on Ableton until 4.00 am.
So you’ve released the first single now from the new EP – what can we expect from A Warm Reception?
Hamish: It’s definitely a more together EP than the first one.
Simon: It ties in with a lot of moving around. A lot of it’s about me moving overseas and making big life decisions.
Dan: The title, that Hamish came up with, is more about our first record and how we’ve been received. The EP is much more focused than the last, in terms of songwriting.
Simon: It took us a long time, six months until we’d written the first track and months of stressing out and getting everything together.
Do you think a full album is in the works after this?
Hamish: It’s looking good, it’s looking OK. I wouldn’t imagine this year. Maybe a single at the end of the year.
And what are the hopes for the future for I’lls?
Hamish: I think as long as it’s still fun and fulfilling. Do something you actually give a fuck about, and good things will come. It’s not about the tightest single and the loudest bass –
Dan: If you stop enjoying it, there’s no point, really. If we could tour internationally, that would be amazing but I think we just want to keep making good music.
Any last words?
Simon: [Laughs.] Give the EP a chance!
Hamish: We don’t care about the money, just listen to it.
Dan: Or give us money. That would be nice. We worked hard on it!