︎ INTERVIEW: ILIRA
Following the release of her single and music video for Do It Yourself, in which Swiss-born singer-songwriter ILIRA portrays the iconic Disney Princess, Cortex sat down with the glitter-pop musician to talk music tastes, her take on the music industry in Switzerland, Albania and Germany and being the next Britney Spears. While she films the music video for her next single, which will be her first breakup song, you are cordially invited to discover the mind of ILIRA and her bubblegum universe below.
I'm ILIRA and I do glitter urban pop.
Can you tell me more about what glitter urban pop is?
My music is very bubblegum, it sounds very fun. But if you listen closely, you can see very emotional and intimate parts in it. They don't seem sad in the beginning when you listen to the song because I cover my emotions in glitter. So, you have to look twice to see the story behind this bubblegum, glittery vibe. That’s my music.
How did you get into this bubblegum universe?
I don't know, actually. I always loved pop music since Britney Spears. I’ve always enjoyed it. I think I’ve always wanted to be the next Britney and I love this kind of music.
Tell me more about you and your life story.
I was born and raised in Switzerland. But my parents are from Kosovo and Albania. 20 years later, I moved to Berlin because some famous rapper found me on Instagram and a little piece of my snippets, my songs snippets. Then, he flew me to Berlin and I started a new life there. And since then, I’ve been living there.
How long has it been?
Three years. I love Berlin. It fits very well with me, my personality and my music. It's very different from Switzerland, it’s very loud and colourful. There are a lot of people with crazy stories and backgrounds. It’s very different and loud and that's what I love. It's never silent and never boring.
Is that how Switzerland was?
Yeah. This is what I love and enjoy about Berlin. I found so many people to do music with. And that’s what was missing in Switzerland.
Which part of Switzerland specifically are you from?
Bern, the capital city.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on my next singles. I'm going to have a tour and I'm going to have an EP. But I'm still finishing all my singles. I want to have a lot of music before I go on tour and I release my EP. So these are the plans, featurings, new songs for this summer, for the winter, I want to plan everything. I'm a perfectionist.
Can you tell me more about what inspires you for all these different songs?
My inspiration comes from my past, to when I started listening to a lot of music, especially 90s music. I still listen to it. I still listen to Britney. I still listen to Christina, the old Christina and Nirvana. I love Nirvana. I love metal music and rock music too. That's where I get my inspiration for melodies, crazy melodies from the guitar. I still listen to old music. I think it's very important for my art, to listen to a lot of music. And I want to be honest, I'm not very connected to the current music because I feel like things are copied and recycled like a hundred time. That’s why I go back to the roots and I listened to the music when it just started getting very special, unique.
Can you walk me through your writing process?
I go to the studio and I have my personal songwriter Jaro with me. He’s the best person because he's my best friend, my manager and my writer. And he knows me so well. He knows everything about me, my past, all my feelings and all the shit I've been through. So he comes up with ideas and sometimes I come up with ideas. And then we start doing melodies. After that, we’ll do the lyrics over it. And then, we’ll do an “autotune session”. We call it the “autotune session,” that means that we record all the melodies, random melodies on the beat, and then we cut off the best parts. We then figure out which part is the hook, which part is the verse. And we read the lyrics and record it again. So we have our own plan and concept on how to write a song. I love it the most, being in the studio is my favourite part.
Yeah, of course. I would love to go on tour. I can't wait, I'm so nervous about it. I think it's one of the best parts of being an artist, but I still feel like in a studio you can be yourself. You can do whatever you want to do. You can just be you and not put on a show or be funny and loud. I can be an extrovert but also an introvert. So my introvert personality likes the studio part. And my extrovert personality likes the stage.
You were saying how some of your songs explores stories from your past, how do you deal with it when performing?
To be honest, I feel like it's very liberating. It's very liberating singing my songs and my history to people because I feel like I’m letting go in that moment. I feel like all the people can take my pain away while they are listening to my music. It's so weird. It's like an energy connection or whatever. But I lost people and by singing and having people know my story, I feel less heavy in my heart. It's just very liberating.
Would you say that this is a therapeutic moment?
Yeah, it is. Absolutely. I think almost every artist feels the same about it. That's why we're doing music, you know?
Do you remember a specific time when you realised you wanted to get into music?
Yeah definitely, it's crazy. It was when my mom came back from work and she bought this Britney Spears CD for me. I was very young, I was six years old and she gave it to me. I was listening to it and I was like "how the fuck can people create this?" It's so crazy. How can a human being create such a great thing with such great melodies, lyrics, put it together and make this out of it? And I felt like I wanted to be the new Britney, not the exact Britney but I wanted to do this style of music.
Is Britney still an inspiration for you today?
Of course, I’d love to have a feature with her. She's a big inspiration. Her story is very crazy and it's still very inspiring because she lived everything before the other artists. And you can see how the history went. You can see how music can destroy you sometimes and how the music business can destroy you. She was a good example of it. Since then, I think people are more aware of it. I feel like she was a good example. I still love her.
You mentioned how much you love the old Britney. Do you still like her and the stuff she does now?
She has definitely evolved.
In a good way for you? In an inspiring way?
Yeah, of course. I love her voice. She has such a unique voice. I mean a lot of people make fun of it, but I think it's so special to have a voice like that. If you hear her voice, you know it's Britney. Nobody could replace that voice. That's what I love about her.
Is that something you'd want people to recognise?
Of course. I think this makes an artist. I think this is very important and it’s way more important to have a unique voice in this century. It's more about the character over voice. There are many voices I like hearing, they are so smooth. I love them.
Can you give me some examples?
For example, Arianna, I love her voice. She's very smooth, angelic and breathy and that's what I love about it. Sometimes I like rough voices from bands or whatever like System of a Down or Kurt Cobain for example. I like this cracky voice and it's very unique. It makes an artist.
How'd you go about finding new music?
As I told you before it gets very hard for me to find new and special music because I feel like everything is getting more and more recycled. Like a lot of melodies, I’ve heard them a hundred times. And a lot of lyrics, I’ve heard them a hundred times. So I like to go back to the old music. For example, Lady Gaga’s FAME album, all the Britney’s stuff and all the nineties stuff, Destiny's Child. It was so good. They had concepts and I feel like today the music gets more and more conversational, which can be very good. But I love concepts. I love songs which have crazy melodies and crazy themes. The thing I do now is pretty much what I want to hear.
Are you happy doing your music now or do you wish to have done it in the 90s if you could?
I’ve thought a lot about it to be honest. I spoke with a lot of musician friends about it and I feel like 10 years ago, it was way more special to be famous because it was very hard to know the right people to meet them and become famous. While now you can just release music and somebody could find you. I feel like you can get famous really quickly and easily. Nowadays, there are a lot of musicians and a lot of output because of the Internet of course.
Is that a good thing?
I don't know. I think both. I think it's a curse and a blessing. I'm very happy to be born now cause I feel like I have a chance like everybody else too. And if I was born in the 90s, I don't know if I’d ever had a chance to get a record deal or to meet my songwriter. So I'm very happy to be honest.
How was your big break? Can you tell me about it?
Suddenly I had this famous rapper following me on Instagram when I had 200 followers. It was so random. I had pictures with my cat and my family. I was not special at all, seriously. And he asked me about my music and I didn't have anything at that time. Back then, I didn't know where to go and record something. So I bought a beat online and then I sang pop melodies over that trap beat, which I bought for $500. It’s very expensive for one week, but I didn't know where to get music. So I did it and then I gave it to him. I was like ‘yeah, I got it for a very long time, just listen to it.’ I gave it to him and he was going crazy about it and he was like ‘you should come to Berlin, I want to sign you and everything.’ Everything seemed so surreal. But it was the happiest moment for me and my career because I got the chance to go to Berlin and meet the right people and get a record deal and stuff like that. So it all happened overnight. It was just crazy. I was always waiting for that moment. I was always so sad about being home. I didn't know where to meet the right people. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to do covers. I like doing covers, but I didn't want it to be that cover girl, that cover singer. So I was very, very sad. And suddenly he wrote me and he was like, you should come to Berlin.
Can you tell me more about the music scene in Switzerland? Did you ever have any opportunities there?
I'm pretty sure there is a music business. There are very good musicians and talented people. I'm sure about it, I met them. But the business is not as expanded as the business in the UK, America or Germany. It’s not the same. You don't have much chances to get into the business. It's very hard for young people to find other musicians. It's very hard to do pop music there. You only have jazz music, classic music. There are not many schools who support young pop artists. So I was very sad about it. I just lost hope. I didn't know what to do. I was very desperate and then suddenly, my luck came overnight.
Would you ever considered going back to try and change that in any way?
I wish I could, I really do. I really want to reach that standard as an artist where people listen to me and where people think what I say is important. And I would love to change something about the music industry there.
So what's the story behind your latest single?
Do It Yourself was born when me and my songwriter were just fucked up by everyone. And we're always doing things. I'm always doing things by myself. I'm a perfectionist, I'm paranoid. I don't want to let people do my things. So I always do everything by myself and this is basically me, that’s why we called the song DIY. The song is a sort of anthem for female independency. We can be powerful ourselves. We don't need a man to save us. We can do it by ourselves. Women, nowadays, are so independent and work their asses off. Sometimes they are both dads and moms at home. I think a lot of things are changing.
Is this one of the themes you like to explore in your songs?
This is me definitely. I feel like girls should be singing more openly. And I feel like so many female artists are still afraid to get judged by the world because of being too feminists. This is what I want to change. I want to shock people with titles like Get Off My Dick or Do It Yourself. I don't need a man to save me, watch me fight, stuff like that. I want to shock people. I want to show people that men and women are going to be equal and that we are all very strong. We do a lot of things. I mean we raise children, we go to work. We do everything. We achieve our dreams and it's so crazy what we do. And this is what I want to show the world that we don't need anybody. We're strong as fuck.
And you don't need anybody as well?
Actually yeah. I have a boyfriend, but it's okay. Of course you need somebody. But I'm independent. If he goes away, I'm not going to die.
Tell me more about your roots. Have they inspired you in any way?
My Albanian roots, yes. They are very important for my music. It influenced my melodies. We have a lot of crazy, weird melodies going up and down. We have weird guitars and stuff like that. Albanian music is very emotional, very open. It's not just conversational, it's goes very deep and it's very poetic. And I think that's why I am very emotional sometimes in my songs and very direct and honest.
I'm not afraid to tell the truth and be open with my inner feelings and deepest thoughts. I think that comes from the Albanian music culture too.
Did you listen to Albanian music growing up?
I still do. I love it. I just feel at home when I listen to it and I get inspired. The melodies are crazy. And I also used to listen to music from the Middle Eastern, not just Albania and Kosovo. It’s so inspiring, there are so many crazy melodies and great singers. I want to get my inspiration from everywhere, no matter if it's rock music, metal music or Middle Eastern music, I don’t care.
Would you ever live and do music in Albania or Kosovo?
I used to live in Albania for a year and I went many times for music. When I was young, I did Albanian pop music and I went many times there for shows. But I found out that it's very easy to get famous there. You just have to pay the right people and it was not a real business where you have to convince people that you're good. So I stopped going there. I left the Albanian music industry because it was not a challenge for me. But I still love my country, I'd like to live there someday when I'm old.
Do you see yourself staying in Berlin for a bit? Or would you see yourself going somewhere else?
I figured out that I don't want to stay in one place. I need change to still be alive, otherwise I go crazy. I want to have many apartments in many places and travel all the time.
So what’s the next place do you think?
I love the UK, to be honest. It was always my dream to move to the UK. I feel like this country is so crazy and so loud and has a lot of great music. I love drum and bass for example. I love it very much. And I love the rock music, Arctic Monkeys and stuff like that but also Rudimental. I love this culture. I love everything about it here. Maybe I'm going to move to the UK. I don't know. Let's see what happens.
Interview by NOUR HASSAINE
Photography & graphic design by GEORGE VICARY
Production by BENJI REEVES