ilo ilo Highlights What’s Important in Life

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ilo ilo Highlights What’s Important in Life

*This interview is older and was in our Issue 64 magazine.

By Danielle Ilag

Who is ilo ilo? The multi-talented duo, who met in Boulder, CO a few years ago DJing house parties and at the Red Rocks parking lot. What began almost as a relationship of rival DJs, eventually developed into creatives making music together. They are bonded by their love of 2000’s Indie bands, hip-hop, and early electronic music. 

The mystery behind them begins with their name as this Indie-pop music duo delivers some of the best projects every year. They came into the scene back in 2017 by ambiguous flyers in major cities like Austin, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and New York City. Their debut EP wish i said this to u sooner arrived with a city-wide scavenger hunt throughout downtown Los Angeles culminating in a release party. 


Originally, they chose to remain anonymous. They wanted the focus to be solely on the art they were creating and the narrative they were building around it. Over time they felt like they wanted to create a deeper connection with fans and open up. 

Since they’ve dropped their anonymity and shown their faces, everyone now knows ilo ilo is made up of Jade and Johnny. With 2020 postponing their tour, they’ve released some of their best music as well as raised the standards in terms of their visual creativity. ilo ilo is showing no signs of slowing down and we look forward to being there every step of the way.

How was music a part of your life growing up? What was your childhood like?

Jade: I grew up in a very creative/musical household. My dad was a musician and producer, and my grandmother and aunt were belly dance instructors. My dad was part of an electronic music collective in the ’90s called Moon Tribe, which put on desert events that were considered to be sort of a precursor to Burning Man. I learned how to DJ when I was 11 spinning reggae and hip-hop records. I even played some daytime sets at a few desert events when I was 11 and 12 haha!

Johnny: None of my family is musical. They wanted me to be a jock. I made a deal with my parents that I could quit sports and get a bass if I scored a touchdown in pee-wee football. I was terrible at football. So, I got beat up for a full year trying to do it. The coach knew about my deal, so in the last game of the season he put me in to score an easy touchdown, and the next day I got a bass. The rest is history. I think working for it made me want to get good, so I practiced every day until I could get in a band.

How did you two come up with the name ilo ilo and what does it mean?

We did a ton of research to find a name that related to the experience of youth we like to make songs about. We found on an online forum that “ilo ilo” is slang for “parents aren’t home come over” in certain parts of Asia. It was two words and there’s two of us so it was perfect.

Who were your biggest mentors growing up and why? How did they influence you two to make the music you want to produce?

Jade: I would have to say my biggest mentor growing up was my friend Seth (he managed the skate shop I worked at when I was young). He was like an older brother to me. I learned a lot about life from him such as how, to be honest, and real. He didn’t really teach me anything about music necessarily, but a lot of what I learned from him led me to where I’m at now.

Johnny: The first band I played in was managed by one of the guys’ dad. He was a retired 80s rocker who had toured the world and done the whole thing. He was so pessimistic and bitter about the music industry, but for some reason, I still wanted to learn everything I could from him. Even though he was a bitter old man, he taught me so many invaluable things about the mindset, equipment, and hard work it takes to make music people care about. I’m forever grateful for that guy!

What motivates you to help you create something new and fresh?

What motivates me to create something new and fresh is listening to lots of different styles of music, using analog synths instead of plugins, trying new techniques, and working with new people.

How did you create the idea to have a scavenger hunt for playground radio?

From the start of the project, we’ve taken an out-of-the-box approach to how we market and present our music to the world. Everyone has seen enough Instagram lives and advertised posts. We always want to make fans feel like they’re part of the project because, at the end of the day, it’s about all of us together, not just us as the artist. 

We use the scavenger hunt as a way to create a new way for people to engage with an artist. During the hunts, we’re texting people in real-time to help them along the way, if they need help, etc. It’s awesome to see people get excited and race to figure out the puzzles. In the end, we give away exclusive merch, an art piece we made, or a USB with unreleased music for example.

What is your favorite track from Dream Tapes 01 and why?

Jade: All of them are special to us in their own way, but we really love “Misha” and “Golden.”

Johnny: “Misha” is a very special track. It sounds like a normal love song, but it’s written about my dog, Misha, who I lost after a breakup.

What has been your most enjoyable song to write? Why?

Jade: It’s hard to pick just a single track because each writing experience was significant in its own way, but a few memorable songwriting moments were when we wrote “current” and “transparent”. There was a really special energy in the room when we wrote each of those songs.

Johnny: Writing for me has never stopped changing and evolving. I always feel like the thing I’m currently making is the best and the most fun I’ve ever had! If it doesn’t feel like that, then I trash it and start something new! 

How do you choose which songs you want to flip?

We just choose songs that we like a lot, that’s it really.

What do you think was your biggest struggle to get to where you two are today? How did you both overcome this?

Jade: Hm, making a career in music takes a lot of determination and sacrifices in general. One thing I can say on this is that at the core of everything you should really just be passionate about creating art and music. The struggles and hurdles that come with pursuing a career in music will all be worth it if you’re truly passionate about the act of creating. I think the journey of making it happen is really where the magic is, even though it can be difficult at times.

Johnny: It’s bittersweet, but prioritizing music over everything can take a toll on your social life, family holidays, stuff like that. If you love music enough, it doesn’t bother you to turn down a party to stay home and make music haha.

How has producing changed the way you two listen to music now?

Jade: It gives you a different perspective. You tend to dissect the music more and hear things that some people may overlook. It’s cool though, Having a producer’s ear makes you listen to music more intuitively at times I believe.

Johnny: It’s a blessing and a curse. people always laugh at me when I get super stoked on a random little element in a song that they don’t even notice until I point it out. Sometimes you have to turn off the producer’s brain and just vibe out, but it’s hard.

How has quarantine changed your work ethic and inspiration?

Jade: It’s made both of us have to focus on side projects a bit for income since touring has been canceled. We’ve had to grind a lot over this year. As far as inspiration, I think this experience has given everyone a different perspective. It’s highlighted what’s important in life.

Johnny: At the start of the year 2020 was pretty mapped out for us with tours and releases. When Covid-19 hit everything blew up and we were pretty bummed, but it led to a ton of time in the studio just playing with sounds and exploring new directions that have led to some of the best songs we’ve ever made. If quarantine never happened, I’m not sure we would have arrived at where we currently are.

How important is it for artists to be able to communicate their vision for your project/music directly via social networks?

I think it just varies on what your brand is about and how established you are as an artist. Some artists like Childish Gambino, for instance, don’t even have social media and are still very relevant, but for an upcoming artist, I think it’s important to present your vision and connect with fans via social media.

What’s a song that you’ve heard countless times but never gets old? 

Jade: There’s a lot, but one that comes to mind that we love is “Flot On” by Modest Mouse.

Johnny: The song that never gets old is “Buffalo” by Toro y Moi.

I read on your AMA that you guys do your editing and creative direction for projects which is amazing! How do you get inspired to create the art?

Thanks! We get inspired by many things like listening to a lot of genres of music, watching films and music videos, painting, drawing, sculptures, building furniture, reading, etc. We’re fortunate that many of the people we surround ourselves with in LA are creatives and we get inspired by them and what they’re creating as well.

I last saw you guys play live when you were at Lollapalooza in 2019. What do you want people to take away from and/or feel while attending your live shows?

That’s awesome! That was one of our favorite sets we’ve ever played. We’ve been festival goers ourselves for many years and love the energy of a memorable show more than anything. You know when you’re at a show, and time feels like it stops, and all the matters are being present in that moment? It’s the best feeling. We hope to create moments like that for people that come to our shows, a little escape from reality.

What’s your dream festival you’re hoping to play one day, and why?

We would love to play some festivals out of the country. Glastonbury would be amazing or Lollapalooza in Chile or Berlin.

What is something unique or interesting about you two that might surprise your fans?

I don’t think that many of our fans are aware that we’ve done creative and design for other artists. A few we’ve worked on are Halsey, Zedd, Katy Perry, Bea Miller, Alina Baraz, Louis The Child, Big Gigantic, Bassnectar, etc.

What do you love about your fans, and how do they motivate you?

Our fans are so sweet, we love them. Pursuing music can be a bit discouraging at times, but every time a fan reaches out and says that our music has helped them get through a tough point in their life, or that they’ve connected with one of our songs makes it all worth it.

What is the best advice that you have for anyone trying to get into the music industry?

Reach out to people, really try and put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to fail. We’ve both failed countless times, haha. Try to learn as much as you can from other people within the industry. 

One thing that’s helped us so much is creating deep friendships with people in the industry along the way. Being genuine will get you much further than most other things. At this point, we’re just working with a bunch of our close friends and it’s the best. 

What do you have planned down the pipeline that you can tell us about?

Lots and lots of new music!!! Some of our favorite stuff we’ve made so far 🙂

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