Talented musician, Ear wiggler and long time "The Simpsons" fan Eilish met up with Roxy to talk about Jazz, good venues and great times.
What first got you into music?
I started playing the violin when I was seven. I have no recollection of why - my parents were like, “We think it would be cool if you played an instrument” so I chose violin, which I did for about four years, alongside classical music training. It was fun but I didn't really like the exam side of it, so that didn't stick. I also did some Irish music sessions, but I kind of fell out of love with the violin over time.
I was watching lots of The Simpsons when I was a kid and loved Lisa so I started learning saxophone. Funnily enough I actually got to play with one of the people who does a lot of the saxophone parts on The Simpsons Eric Marienthal! It was a fun full circle kinda moment for me.
Who inspired you to make music?
One thing I love about Wellington, is that I've got so many great friends who write amazing music! Artists like Ruby Solly, Louisa Williamson, and Sophie Cooper are incredible inspiration. My friend Callum Passells from Auckland, I think he's incredibly talented. My other friend Bryn van Vliet writes really great Brazilian big band music which I love as well. I love the writing of Jake Baxendale and Callum Allardice. So everyone around me is writing this awesome music and that's inspiring to me.
So how would you describe the music that you typically create?
At the moment I'm working on a set of music for the Jazz Festival, which I haven't done before, so I'm a little bit stressed about it! I've written some music over the years, but have never officially presented them as a final piece. So at the moment what I'm wanting to write and focussing on writing is mainly jazz, with lots of different influences. I mean, I play jazz primarily so I don't stray too far from that, but it's not like traditional old school jazz, there's a few twists.
One of the things I really like about being a musician is that you can't help but carry all the stuff you've listened to, or the books you've read, or the people you've talked to - you can't help but have all of that reflected back in what you make.
Speaking of the Jazz festival, have you been involved in that before?
Yeah, I've been involved in the last few years of festivals - I think last year was the most full on - It was really fun but I I said yes to playing 14 gigs over 5 days and that was A LOT. Too many performances and not enough sleep time!
It's such a good week though, because you're working on this really fun project where there's over 100 gigs all over Wellington, and you're doing that with your best friends and people you really admire and are inspired by so it's awesome. I try really hard to see as much of the festival as I can and the good thing is often they hold late night jam sessions after everyone's gigs, so you can go to the bar and everyone can have a jam together. When they've had international acts, often those international players are at those events too, so you're playing alongside some of those iconic artists, which is an amazing opportunity!
What is your creative process like?
I think it's changed a lot over the years. For the first few years of learning Jazz at uni, I was just hanging on for dear life trying to get through recitals and play something that made sense to me, and fit within the course outline of what they wanted and needed me to do. But now, something I really like to do is transcribe music and try to develop my ears as much as I can because, like I said, I'm a baby in terms of writing my own music and presenting it to people.
I like learning other people's music, transcribing and training my ears as much as possible. That's the thing I really like about jazz; a lot of it is improvisation based, so you're trying to respond to something someone's playing and a lot of the time it's an experimentation for both the artist and the listener. It's really intriguing!
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
I feel like if I was able to collaborate with Stevie Wonder, I could die happy. Yeah, that would be amazing!
What is the most useless talent you have?
I'm really good at making my face look strange - I can flare my nostrils and I can wiggle my ears.I think I just spent a lot of time, especially in primary school not really paying a lot of attention to lessons and practicing that instead! I still get really frustrated that I can't cross my eyes - all my students tease me about it!
Do you sing in the shower? What songs?
I do sing in the shower, because I used to actually be quite a bad singer in terms of being able to pitch things in the right way, so i've had to practice that. I dont think I'm an amazing singer now, but at least I can sort out the correct pitch and key and carry a harmony. I always try to sing in the car because then I can be completely wrong and no one can hear me!
I don't know if there's specific songs that I sing, I do love the song “What a fool believes” by Michael McDonald, from the Doobie Brothers. I love the Doobie Brothers. So, actually, that'd be another amazing band to collaborate with!
Sometimes if I'm trying to write music, I have melodies that are in my head and then I will sing those as well.
Where have you performed? What are your favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
There's so many good venues in New Zealand - locally Rogue and Vagabond has been really supportive, it's great. Tuatara Third Eye, Hashigo Zake, and Moon Bar are some of my other faves. I used to love seeing gigs at Mighty Mighty as well, back in the day! We are definitely spoiled in Wellington for choice! Outside of Welly, the Turoa lodge in Ohakune is a venue i've played a few times this year, and they are so lovely. Whammy Bar in Auckland is cool, and I really enjoy being at Yot Club in Raglan ( we just played there the other week.) Of course, there’s the Mussel Inn in Golden bay which holds a special place in my heart as I went there a lot as a young person growing up in Nelson. There's so many more good venues, I could spend all day naming them!
What is your favourite song to perform?
I really like playing “Body and Soul” that old school jazz ballad. l love the melody and the chords, it's a jazz classic. Historically, Jazz is Black American music, and the artists at the time, a lot of them took inspiration from Broadway show tunes and musicals and totally revamped them and made them their own, and I think that history of oppressed people taking over something, messing with and having fun with it has a huge appeal.
One of the other things I love about learning old school jazz standards is that all the lyrics on them are so nice and so lovely and the way they originally wrote the chords and progressions kind of pull on your heartstrings a little bit. There's another song I really like, which I've never actually played at a gig but I listen to all the time, called “I wish you love”.
Basically the premise of the song is, we're not gonna be together, we're not right for each other, and it breaks my heart but I just want you to be happy and I want you to have love in your life. And (in my opinion) that sort of sentiment is often missing from modern music ( not all of the time, but quite often modern music lacks that depth of lyrics).
Which local musicians do you admire?
One of my favorite people in the whole world is Lisa Tomlins. She's done so much, she's a staple of the music community in Aotearoa and she's just so lovely, I really admire her. Vanessa Stacey's another one of those inspiring artists, and I really like Troy Kingi as well.Oh there's just too many! My friend Louisa Williamson is amazing. Olivia Campion is an incredible drummer. Jake Baxendale is awesome, he's a great multi instrumental artist who writes a lot of really cool music and curates the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra series, which runs on Monday nights at The Third Eye. It's a really cool project,and he does so much other good stuff for the community. Chris Buckland is another one, he runs the events at Rogue & Vagabond, he's just got all these amazing skills. And he's been so good at reorganizing things for all the gigs that have been postponed because of lockdown.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
I've got to say the funniest best advice I've been given was by my mum. She's awesome. She's a very creative person. When I was home with her last she just turned to me and said “You know Eilish; there's no rules in life, I mean, don't kill anyone, but there's no rules.” And that really resonated with me because we often can overthink everything all the time, and feel societal pressure to be a certain thing, to do a certain thing. But there are no rules! As long as you're trying to be happy and trying your best to be kind to other people then that's the best thing you can do.
What’s next for you?
Oh man. There's some exciting things coming up! I'm going to be doing some touring over the summer with some cool people which I'm very excited about! I’ll be spending new years with Dr. Reknaw at Resolution Festival in Auckland. I'm also heading to Great Barrier Island with Raw Collective to play, which is super cool, i've never been there so am really looking forward to that - I don't know what to expect so its all really exciting!
We’re releasing an album shortly also as Dr. Reknaw, - we got the funding needed so we were able to go into Surgery Studios with Lee Prebble to record the album which is coming out soon; I can't wait to share it!
Find out more about Eilish here: