Teenage sensation Billie Eilish has taken the music world by storm — with an album recorded in her brother's bedroom.
The excitement surrounding Billie Eilish's emergence as a global star has been palpable, because she sounds unlike anyone else. The music on her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? goes against the grain of almost all current trends, apart from its big bass. The productions are sparse to a fault, the minimalist arrangements often decorated with Foley effects illustrating the dark lyrics. The biggest single from the album, 'Bad Guy' (analysed in SOS July 2019's Inside Track feature by mixer Rob Kinelski), features just one synth, a few bass tracks, and drums and vocals.
In a big departure from mainstream pop production, the album is almost devoid of high-frequency content and reverb, both in the arrangements and vocals. The latter alternate between the fairly natural and the heavily distorted, while the Auto‑Tune effect ubiquitous in modern urban music is audible here only on a couple of tracks. Equally striking are Billie Eilish's idiosyncratic, almost whispered vocal style and the distinctive visual imagery that surrounds her. To come up with something as unique, innovative and fully formed as When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? at the age of 17 seems miraculous. It turns out that hers is, in fact, only half the story.
The other half concerns Eilish's older brother Finneas O'Connell, who has produced all of Eilish's releases to date, co-written all songs with her, and in some cases written her songs alone. An example of the latter is the duo's breakthrough song 'Ocean Eyes', which they first uploaded to SoundCloud in 2015, when Eilish was still only 13 and Finneas 18. Apparently, their aim was purely to share the song with a dance teacher, so they had no great expectations. But the song went viral on social media, leading to major-label interest, and they signed to Darkroom/Interscope in 2016. Re-released in November of that year, 'Ocean Eyes' has since clocked up 115 million YouTube views.
Finneas and Eilish don't only work closely together in the studio, but also on stage — together with a drummer, the two are on a world tour for most of 2019. Given how inseparable the brother and sister are, one wonders why they opted to present Eilish as a solo artist, rather than operate as a duo or a band.
"It was a deliberate decision to present everything under Billie's name," Finneas says, "because I don't think duos do very well. I can't think of a duo that has become as successful as Billie in today's climate. There are many duos that I love, but the press doesn't really know what to do with a duo, and also, Billie is such an iconic-looking person, it felt right that it's her project. Of course, while we're not a duo, we also will never break up! If we were a duo, she would eventually put out a solo record, and then I'd put out a solo record. Instead we are both solo artists who make music together.
"She's very involved in all the music that I make, and I am obviously entirely involved in the music she makes. But her record is totally her creative vision. We make the music together, but she comes up with the album art and visual ideas, also for the live shows. For me that's one of many reasons why it is her music. When I produce her music, I make sure that she is her own artist, and does not sound like anyone else. When I work with another artist and produce them, it has to sound right for them, and I will never let them sound like Billie. I am not going to make my own music sound like hers either. I want her music to be totally unique, and I want to make sure my stuff is unique too. The only music that really is of value is music that does not sound like other music."
The siblings grew up in Los Angeles, in a rather bohemian household....