“In 'Cinematic', I tried to push my songwriting, and [went] out on a limb and experimented with sound as much as I could,” Illy says. “I feel like ‘Two Degrees’ is carrying on in that tradition. After the success and the support for 'Cinematic', it gave me a lot of confidence I didn’t have previously to go in that direction and see what comes from it.”
Featuring fly tracks such as ‘Catch 22' (feat. Anne-Marie), ‘Papercuts' (feat. Vera Blue), and the Hottest 100 charting favourite filthy-mouthed ‘Swear Jar’, ‘Two Degrees’ is a genre-bending, fast-paced, infectious record. Produced by Grammy-winning producer M-Phazes (Eminem, Kimbra, Meg Mac), it’s no wonder the album jumps from strength to strength.
In 2013, Illy left Obese Records after his third album ‘Bring It Back’ won ‘Best Urban Album’ at the ARIA Awards. After establishing ONETWO Records, his fourth album, ‘Cinematic’, showcased the popular single ‘Youngbloods’ (feat. Ahren Stringer from The Amity Affliction). “I’ve been working on [‘Two Degrees’] for the last 12, 18 months,” Illy adds.
“But again, playing at the big, festival shows is always awesome because you get to test out some of the bigger-sounding tracks in front of a crowd who will give it all back to you.”
Illy says the 2013 ARIA win gave him added support for his music. “I’m not too hung up on awards, but I care about the people who support my music. The love I got from the last album, for ‘Tightrope’ in particular, gave me a lot of encouragement to keep pushing forward with this sound. A lot of it comes from time and experience and getting better at what you do.
“Also, it takes a while to know if what you’re doing is [going] in the right direction. I feel like this album is the most complete thing I’ve made, because it is… I’ve had the most experience at this point, and I think it shows on the album. I couldn’t have made this album at any earlier point in my career.”
Even though Illy has been in the music scene for almost a decade, dropping monster hit after monster hit, he never thought the idea of being successful was something he could ever achieve. “The idea of making a living off music was such a foreign concept for years when I first started because there was no one really doing it. Even the Hilltop Hoods hadn’t broken through on a big scale, and I never considered it a career,” Illy says.
“But it was never about… the money. I guess the moment where I thought it could be a career came later when I started making a little money off shows, but before then as far as the click, like passion-wise, that was immediate from as soon as I started writing. I thought ‘this is what I’m going to do', and even the consideration of money didn’t come into it until years later.”
The rapper recently raised his two middle fingers to Education Minister Sam Birmingham, slamming the minister’s negative comments regarding studies in creative arts, writing off artistic careers as ‘lifestyle choices'. “I always loved creative writing,” he says.
“I loved [it] even as a kid. [At] five, six-years old I would write little songs, or whatever. Maybe just writing those stupid songs as a kid with no concept of thinking ‘I’m going to be this or that, or anything', it was just something I’ve always kind of done.”
Earlier this year, Illy stepped back on stage for 'The Swear Jar' tour, his first since 2013; the tour rekindled his passion for the open road. It also allowed him to work on his new album. “The tour was great. Maybe slightly premature… I wish we had held off until the album was a little closer to being finished, but at the time I thought the album was pretty much finished,” Illy says.
“I love playing shows. We haven’t played shows in a long time, so it was good getting back out on the road. Now the album has come out… I want to get back out [so] a whole bunch of people will be able to recognise the music.”
'The Swear Jar' tour also had an ulterior motive. April saw the success of Illy’s virtual Swear Jar campaign, raising $5k for Beyond Blue (to raise funds to help kids and people in general who have suffered from cyber bullying and the mental health issues associated with it).
Illy says the progressiveness of the new album comes from his ability to adjust and constantly revitalise his sound, which isn’t always easy to do. “This album is a different-sounding album because I’ve adapted and changed and have new sounds, which is exciting. I believe it’s what keeps people interested, and what keeps me interested.
“I think what keeps me going is wanting to be better and wanting to improve, and I don’t feel as though my best creations are behind me,” he adds. “I feel like, you know, every album I’ve put out means something, and it means something to different people because they’ll hear it at a point in their life and they’ll connect with it.
“For me, it’s kind of a different thing in the way I view my albums, but they all mean something important to me. But I look at them and I hear… it’s not even a curve, it’s a straight line regarding the quality getting better, and I feel like I’m at the best point I’ve ever been at this stage, so going forward is what keeps me going. I want to see what comes next.”
With such incredible success, the only way to go is up. “After the album comes out we’ll be touring heavily,” Illy says. “We’ll be going everywhere next year, get some overseas stuff in, and [I’ll] just keep working.”
'Two Degrees' is available now.
Illy ShowsThu 29 Dec - Falls Festival (Lorne)
Fri 30 Dec - Falls Festival (Marion Bay)
Sat 31 Dec - NYE Street Party 2016 (Newcastle)
Sun 1 Jan - Falls Festival (Byron Bay)
Sat 7 Jan - Falls Festival (Fremantle)