Gabbie De Baron scores an interview with one of Auckland’s best up-and-coming artists, and a student of UOA to boot, the mononymous Ilena.
Ugh, Ilena! When I watched her gig at the Whammy Backroom all I can say is: divine. Her stage presence transforms her into a celestial being. Her voice is clean and crisp. Her music tickles eardrums with the way both her words and voice have claws of their own… It’s visceral and only makes you long for more.
What are you studying at UOA?
I’m studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts conjoint with a BA: majoring in English and screen production!
I went to your gig and I really enjoyed it! Were they all original songs that you all wrote?
Yeah. I produce my own songs and write the lyrics and everything, myself.
What form of art did you start with first, and how did the others follow – I know you do film and visual art?
They’re all kinda enmeshed from the very beginning… When I was younger I used to do singing lessons and speech and drama… but songwriting and music-making just segues everything I’m interested in. It has the visual aspect. But then writing is really the center of everything. Even in my art practice, I often include writing in some aspects. And I started writing poems when I was six; I was published in this magazine, Tall Poppies magazine, in year five. So poetry’s always been my “big thing”. Music just cemented all of that because it involves singing and performing, especially writing.
How does your songwriting process go?
I’m actively trying to experiment with my songwriting process right now because most of the time I’m just writing poetry and they’re kind of in latent, lyric form: They rhyme. They’re in 4-line stanzas, that’s why I see it as latent lyrics… I just start knit-picking from different sections of poetry… and it kind of becomes a song from that… but the principal feeling of the song usually depends on whatever I’m feeling on that day… It works like that: like a puzzle, interlocking type thing. But I’m trying to change that and see how I can start completely with a soundscape and try to come up with words from there, trying not to intellectualise meaning into it! But still let them have worth yet be simple and interpretable.
Yeah, I can see that your words are very intimate but also very intricate with how you weave both the words and the sound… My personal favorite was ‘Máiréad’,
‘Máiréad’ was such an interesting song ‘cause it’s the first one I wrote outside of myself. That one was specifically written after I’ve gone to Ireland for the first time. I’ve got a lot of family there but I’ve never been there, but my mom wanted me to go there and set foot in Ireland for once. It was weird too because it was like “coming home” but not – because it’s a lot like England, which is where I’m from but then it still had that unfamiliarity… like the family I met there. I met my great uncle and this was the first time I met him, he was dying of cancer, and my second cousin, Máiréad, she was just talking about her mother – we were just talking about death, and this great uncle of mine was just looking at us and he said “ why do we have to get old?” and that’s something I put in the song.
You use really unique layers when it comes to sound, you even used eggshells in one song, what inspires you to use these unique elements of sound?
Yeah, that’s ‘Tide To Swim Behind’! but yeah. A lot of people have described it like that! That I do have a very distinct sound and I find it kind of the percussive aspect: just enmeshing that with the grammar of my sentences. I don’t know, right now I’ve got a strange relationship with my music… Like right now I am very much so experimenting and finding what I do want to sound like… And I like that process.
Any musical influences?
Very much so, female artists who work in the same mode; like Grimes who does the album art and the sound… Also Björk, FKA Twigs, and The Japanese House. All these female artists who are very singular and just quite figurehead-artist-types.
What do you hope people get from your music?
I mean, it’s strange. Music is such a cathartic thing you do for yourself, so I’ve never really thought about that question. I haven’t really thought about what other people get from it, but I hope they get a sense of the catharsis.
Any new music to watchout for?
See, it’s a bit of a sporadic thing. I’ve got a lot of singles just floating in the Soundcloud ether (@ilena-shadbolt), but hopefully something at the end of the year.