Interview: Ilias

ilias portrait 2

Hi Ilias, tell me a little about where you grew up, your first memories of hearing music, and what music you listened to growing up?

I grew up in many places: Brazil, Algeria, France, and Indonesia before moving to Australia a few years back. I think my first memories of music are of my mum listening to and loving the Bee Gees very early. I remember being into guitars quite early too. Movies played a big part of my life as a six year-old; I used to watch The Blues Brothers over and over and I remember wondering why John Lee Hooker was in the movie but not on the soundtrack! What kind of six year-old worry about that? Tim Burton’s Batman soundtrack by Prince – I wore that tape out, and I was also obsessed with Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and was hooked on Ennio Morricone’s score for this movie when I was seven or eight. I was probably way too young to be watching that movie!

On your debut album, Somewhere In Time, you wrote, played, and recorded everything yourself, taking several years to do so. Tell me about your writing and recording process; is it something you enjoy or something that can prove difficult?

Writing music is a fairly natural process; I love music and see sounds as colours when I hear it. Music is a refuge, it comes to me at night in dreams sometimes, and it’s always in me. Lyrics are a completely different and fairly excruciating process. Making words fit a melody while still having impact and meaning is the biggest challenge. I read that Burt Bacharach used to obsess for weeks over one syllable fitting one particular note, so I am glad life’s also tough for true geniuses like him. He’s so smooth, I love Burt! I also seem to have a habit of taking ten years to complete certain songs, like ‘Loving You’ or ‘Regret’ from last year’s EP. I wrote those lyrics in 2003 but then I rewrote the melody last year. The demos were sung with a French accent back then!

All recording for this album was done alone. I used various approaches, but I mostly tried to adopt a hypnotic/trance-like state of mind when it came to what was captured. The stuff you hear in old soul/R&B, blues & jazz records, the mysterious aspects of improvisation, how fresh it sounds decades later – that’s what inspires me. It’s something that is seriously lacking in modern music. My songs were composed, but all the guitar solos, bass, piano parts, weird noises, and some of the vocals were improvised on the record. You can really hear that improvisational, jazz/blues inspired approach on ‘If I See You’ and ‘September Memory’.

Which artists have had an influence on your music?

My biggest influences as a singer are Smokey Robinson and Dionne Warwick; their voices are pure magic. I also love ’60s vocal groups like The Ronettes, The Temptations, The Miracles, and The Delfonics. Growing up, my favourite artist was Prince; I dug his guitar playing, his productions, general craziness, and bad attitude. The idea to produce everything and play all the instruments myself for my album is pure Prince madness. Prince and I are not on speaking terms anymore however, I am just hoping he picks up the phone and asks me to produce his next album. Do it, Prince!

From a compositional point of view, I really love & study the music of Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Brazilian greats like Tom Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and Caetano Veloso. I am fascinated by the musical connections linking these specific artists. You can hear that influence on ‘Never Utter The Word Never’, ‘Sometimes I Wonder’, and mostly on my acoustic 2012 EP Somewhere Down The Road. As a young guitarist, I was a huge fan of John Frusciante, Johnny Marr, Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, and Radiohead, but my heart will always belong to underappreciated soul/R&B/jazz cats and Motown guitarists like Robert White, Marv Tarplin, and Wah Wah Watson. My favourite jazz guitar player will always be Wes Montgomery. His playing was pure, effortless, unsurpassed genius – another smooth cat!

How does it feel to have your album finished and in the public domain after all that time?

It’s a strange feeling, and it will always be. These songs are so personal and I guess only I know the true meaning and inspirations behind them. It’s a thrill however, when people give me their interpretation of a song, and how much it means to them. I love that.

What has the reaction to your album been like so far?

The album has received praise from a few journalists, mostly overseas and here at home to some extent. It’s been mostly lauded for the originality and uniqueness of it’s sound and compositions, as well as instrumental and vocal prowess. I wish more people could hear it, but being independent & alone, it’s a tough task in today’s overcrowded music market. The album has quite a few complex musical layers and is very different to what’s being put out there today; I think it takes some time to grow on you. People have a fairly short attention span today so it’s a challenge. Still, it seems that most people who take the time to listen to it, end up really falling in love with it, to the point of addiction! I hope it gets discovered by more people in the future. It’s an album that needs to be listened really loud or in the dark, with eyes closed and a good pair of headphones. And also a box of Kleenex!

What is the most prized guitar you own? And which would you like to own the most?

I have a big Gibson acoustic that I got from Texas last year that I love, and a twelve-string Rickenbacker from Brighton, England, but my Gretsch White Falcon is probably my most prized axe. I remember watching ‘Going Inside’ by John Frusciante and Vincent Gallo on MTV back in the day, seeing that wonderful guitar and telling my uncle, one day she’ll be mine! The Gretsch guitar is all over the album and the artwork. It’s a great sounding and inspiring instrument. It can go from jazzy, smooth, and delicate to a rocky growl and rip your ears off. I really love how crystal clear it sounds on ‘Regret’. I still dream of owning a Gibson L5-CES; also known as the king of jazz guitars, but with a starting price of $US10 000, I better become quite famous before I can afford that one. I’m willing to accept all donations!

If you could share a stage with one artist, living or dead, who would it be?

Well, I’ve already shared a stage with Neil Finn of Crowded House twice and he was pretty high on the list. I’ve also been on stage with Prince on French TV when I was 18, but that was just dancing. I am thinking of a beautiful voice; Aaliyah, God rest her soul. If I could also hook up with Minneapolis funk masters The Time, that would be one hell of a jam session. I would just be shaking my money maker all night! In my dream band I’d have James Jamerson (Motown) on bass, and Hal Blaine (Phil Spector, The Beach Boys) on drums. On guitars would be Teenie Hodges (Al Green) and Spanky Alford (D’Angelo/The Roots), and on piano I’d have Lisa Coleman (Prince & The Revolution) with Lisa Germano on keys/violin/vocals. I will also steal Maxwell’s amazing backup singer Latina Webb, and you have the grooviest band ever assembled. It would totally work!

How do you rate the current scene in Australia for musicians like you? What could be done to improve it, if anything?

I am probably the worst person to ask this question. I don’t belong in any scene here. I guess I am just happy doing my own thing musically and being a reclusive freak. Personally, I am not a fan of the macho posturing in some of music out there nowadays. Perhaps it would also be great if new acts spent a few more years honing their skills and discovering and learning about great music before stepping into the spotlight so quickly. There is great energy in some of the music out there today, but I sometimes can’t help but feel that it lacks a bit of musical sophistication and a feminine touch.

What are your plans for the future? Any gigs or recordings in the pipeline?

In the distant future, I would love to step more into a strictly producer role, or even write for a great woman’s voice like Feist. In fact, I am on the way to New York now, where I will produce the next Mary J Blige record (in my dreams!) Movie soundtracks are something I am also interested in working on. In the immediate future, I would like to play select music industry showcases and festivals, both here and overseas. I am looking for a label or management, so I can focus fully on creation and recording. Any special gigs, events, future plans will be announced on my Facebook ( and Bandcamp ( Peace.

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