Artist Interview: ill-ēsha

Ill Esha, born Elysha Zaide, is truly a pioneer when it comes to music production; in addition to being one of the only producers to simultaneously dj, sing and play live instruments, she’s also a badass female in an industry where women are underrepresented. The Vancouver-born producer is a guru at connecting with her fans and leading by example through her organic music and an extraordinary lifestyle of relinquished fear.

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Ill Esha released Sophomore LP “Open Heart Surgery” on Valentines Day this year, and it exemplifies the sheer diversity of her talents with its refined sound, heartfelt vocals, and experimental bassline flirtation. The LP leads the listener on a soundscaped storyline full of emotion, adventure and reflection.

I got the opportunity to catch up with Ill Esha at the Gravitas Recordings dual album release party for her and Austin’s local bass hero, Psymbionic at The Parish in Austin. I was left genuinely inspired by the eloquent and strong-minded electronic music producer, and can’t wait to continue to watch her flourish.

You released “Open Heart Surgery” on Valentines Day this year with the pay-want-you-want business model. Why do you choose to make your high quality music available by donation?

“That’s a new model that’s been coming up in the music scene that I like. Everyone is reaching out for music these days; downloading is a reality that most people do. If people feel strongly enough about the music then they will donate to it. The donation model connects the fans more directly to the artists.”

You were really busy this fall season, touring with Beats Antique, Bassnectar, and Big G; how did you even have time to write an album?

“This album (Open Heart Surgery) has been a special project, because it’s a collection of songs I’ve written over the last couple of years that aren’t festival bangers and that I wanted to save for emotional moments. Suddenly I realized that there are people who also feel this need to connect, and if I can connect with them then I’m doing something right. That’s what I’m trying to do: connect with those in between moments where you’re like I want to listen to something without necessarily melting my face off. It’s a little bit scary for me as someone who’s living in a world where bangers are released every week, but I think its part of being a human when you realize what you connect to and are inspired by, then go do those things.”

The Internet accessibility of music has changed the game; do you think that’s an advantage or disadvantage as a producer?

“That goes both ways. It can be harder to get your music out because there are so many releases on the Internet, but if you are able to make something that stands out then you can easily get it noticed out there. I think it raises the bar for everyone; if you do something, you have to do it professionally because there is so much stuff coming out.”

 Do you think that the mainstream saturation of EDM is an advantage for yourself as a producer?

“That’s also a mixed blessing. It’s easier to get your music an audience from people who may have not been interested in it before, but at the same time it also sets a precedent for what people expect. Overall, I think it’s a good thing because I have gotten more fans that I may not have before.”

 How would you describe your sound to someone who might be a little out of the loop?

“I usually go with organic electronic; I like to mix new sounds that have never been made before with sounds that are classic and have been heard plenty of times. I like to take traditional instruments like a piano, strings, drums and spread them across a new sound.”

What makes you so unique is that you’re not just out there spinning; you’re singing and playing live instruments. Was there a pivotal moment when you knew that music was your path?

“It’s funny, because I was always pulled into it from external sources. I wish everyone could have the kind of encouragement that I’ve had. I came into the rave scene at a pivotal moment when genres were being defined and people were starting to do their own thing, and now I look at it wonder why there aren’t more women and people of specific ages in there.”

 What advice do you have to aspiring producers?

“It’s a crazy thing to barrier yourself when you get out there; I say to just do whatever you want to do. A lot of people are measured by the Internet’s expectations these days, and it’s much harder to stand on your own and say ‘this is what I want to do and I’m going to do it’. I would encourage all people to do that, because you never know who’s listening. I’ve gotten letters from Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries that I’ve never been to and they say things like ‘I’m training for the army, or doing other huge things in life and I found your music.’ It’s so amazing when that happens. If you’re trying to fit into a certain formula then you’re always going to reach the same audience, but if you do your own thing you never know what’s going to come of it. It might be unsteady, but it’s more rewarding.”

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Back to something you mentioned earlier: why aren’t there more women in the industry…you are probably one of the only female producers that I know of, can you elaborate on that?

“I actually had conversations about this today with a lot of strong, intelligent females that I know. I think that, and this is all generalizing because I do know plenty of logical thinking females, women tend to learn more in relating to other people through metaphors and other things that haven’t even been explored yet. I want to be a proponent of moving things forward. Not to stereotype, but I have found in my teachings that relatability is the one thing missing. I truly believe that the world of production has not fully been explored in a relatable way; its been very linear, so I hope that in the future I can contribute to making that a possibility for all kinds of people who want to learn.

You’re breaking the mold yourself by getting out there, and you’ve been getting a ton of publicity lately. Do you think we’re going to start seeing more female producers?

“I hope so. It’s one of those things where people are afraid of discrimination, so they don’t want to differentiate between women and men, but I think that it needs to be said that there are generally different ways of teaching and learning that appeal to different types of people. It’s definitely a life goal of mine to provide a learning environment to all types of people who may be in disadvantaged situations. I want to provide people with an opportunity to learn in an environment that is respected to their own methods. Music is a great outlet, because there are so many different ways that people relate to things, whether it’s emotional, physical, or kinesthetic; it needs to be considered and I think that that sensitivity is something I can provide.

How do you think music can teach without that lecture attribute?

“I think the human form of expression is so limited by ourselves; its so limited by the things we experience and are told to us by society that we need. I would like to try to have a little bit of a hand in advocating that expressing yourself without limitations is subverting the medium; it’s telling ‘screw you’ to people who are wondering about it. So many people are worried about what filter they are going to go through; what genre they are going to be in. It may have been a difficult path, expressing myself, but at the end of the day I go to sleep at night knowing I did what I want to do, and there are some people that connected with it. I’m very lucky to be able to do what I want to do and have people appreciate it.” 

Your track “The Letter” on “Open Heart Surgery” is very heartfelt and deep, it sounds like you are talking to a younger version of yourself or a younger mentee. Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind that track?

“That was a track I wrote for myself to tell myself the things I wish I knew when I was 17 and breaking into production and through the barriers, and wanting to realize the things that I know now. Most people are afraid of what other people think, but if you can express yourself in a way that’s completely oblivious to the judgment of others then you’ve already won; you’ve already gotten to a stronger point than most people will in their entire life. I think if a lot of girls realized that its ok to go out there and do what they want, that its not only o.k., but its appreciated because people are looking for something new. Too many people are worried about what other people think and who’s judging, but instead they should just do what they want and see who listens.”

 Do you have anything else you want your fans to know about your music or yourself

“It’s time for women who approach me with the common proposition of ‘how can I do this, I wish I could do this’ to rephrase their language into ‘I can do this; I want to do this because this is who I am, and it’s beautiful because its me.’ That’s a scary thing to do and come to terms with, but if you feel it then do it.”

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