ARTIST NAME: Ilona Mahieu

 

SONG TITLE: Criminal

 

RELEASE DATE: 15/04/2020

 

GENRE: Indie Rock

 

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Tell us about your history.

Ilona Mahieu began as a solo project, with me spending years performing acoustic sets at various pubs and small venues in the south of England.

 

When I started university in 2017, I gathered together a group of like-minded musical pals (Emma Taylor, Jack Williams, Mark Fifield, and Sam Appleby) to see what magic we could create.

 

The majority of our set consists of new and improved versions of the songs I wrote and performed when I was solo, but the more we’ve written and played together, the more we’ve branched out and created fresh material, defining our sound as a unit, and evolving far beyond just a singer with a supporting band.

 

The first official release under the Ilona Mahieu alias was a collaboration, “Dysart”, with Kayncee, another friend from university. We bonded over our mutual love of Watsky and set out to write a track inspired by his music. Around the same time, me and the band recorded our debut single “Maslow” and began planning the music video. The whole project was self-funded and organized, taking months and plenty of blood, sweat, and tears to complete.

 

Our goal was to come right out of the gate with a bang, to make noise and to make our mark, hence the scale and ambition of the debut track and video.

 

We chose to follow this with “Criminal” because it was the first song that we wrote together from scratch, and we were incredibly proud and eager to show it to the world.

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Describe yourself as an artist. 

Most of our music is quite sad. I find it difficult writing “happy” music as you don’t tend to wallow in happiness long enough to write something down. The songs are not supposed to get you down though – the goal I have with every song we write is to capture a specific feeling or experience. The songs aren’t all slow and miserable either – something I love about artists such as Twenty One Pilots is their ability to frame sad lyrics in lively and energetic music.

 

As an artist, I try to create distinctive and memorable imagery, musically and otherwise. I like playing with metaphors and trying to personify emotions and mental states to make them tangible.

 

The rest of the band are brilliant at writing parts that reflect this, and often share the sentiment behind the songs, so the feeling we are ultimately trying to recreate is interlaced throughout the track in every way.

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Tell us the genre of your music. 

We generally describe ourselves as Indie Rock, but we use a lot of elements from other genres too, including progressive rock, pop, and blues.

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Tell us the story behind your song. 

“Criminal” is an ode to every sexy bastard whoever drove you just a little bit crazy. Revolving around the theme of the Garden of Eden, this song uses the metaphor of Eve falling for the snake’s charm; despite knowing it’s not good or right for her.

 

The focus is on the mental tug of war happening between two people, with both fighting for emotional power over the other.

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Tell us the problems you are facing as a musician/artist. 

The biggest obstacle we’re facing now is reaching a bigger audience.

 

We are confident that the music we create is of great quality, but due to the nature of the industry and such an oversaturated market, it’s difficult to make yourself stand out in a sea of other musicians clamouring for peoples’ attention. It’s very easy to get drowned out in all the noise.

 

However, the audience that we do have is devoted, encouraging, and incredibly supportive, and we are forever grateful for them.

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Discuss the recording and production of the song. 

We recorded this track along with 3 others in January 2020. We went to AJA Studios in Surrey and had a brilliant day – recording went smoothly, we had tons of snacks and there was even a pool table to enjoy during breaks!

 

Our sound engineer and producer Ryan Wood of 105mm Studios is fantastic, and can basically read my mind, so I never have any trouble communicating with him about how we want the tracks to sound. As a multi-instrumentalist, he has a great understanding of how to bring out the best qualities of everyone’s individual performances.

 

The production of this song aimed to be punchy and dynamic, as it does with all our tracks. I record all the vocals separately at home as I have my own recording setup and prefer editing them myself before sending them to Ryan to mix.

 

In the studio, we recorded only the instrumental with me singing a guide vocal into the talkback mic. Our guitarist Sam lives in Devon (he moved back home after university), so he also recorded his parts separately. It’s not a conventional process but it works for us – it provides a lot of flexibility and allows us to work around logistical limitations like location and time restrictions in the studio.

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List the names of blogs, radio, or television stations that have supported you so far.

So far, we have been featured on BBC Introducing: The South on BBC Radio Sussex, as well as Stereo Underground, also on BBC Radio Sussex.

 

Big thanks to Melita Dennett for picking up the track and playing it on her show! We also had our debut single “Maslow” played on Surrey Hills Community Radio by DJ Azza, who did a short interview with me and our drummer Emma on-air to help promote the release. Shout out to him too!

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Elaborate on your music career, experience, and future goals. 

I have been playing acoustic gigs since I was 13. I’ve always loved music and have been writing songs since I was young – I remember bringing lyrics into school to show my friends when I was 6 years old.

 

Naturally, I pursued music within education, studying music performance and production at college and going on to study a music production degree at ACM in Guildford.

 

The band formed in the second year of university when I decided I needed to take my music to the next level and take it more seriously. I know the rest of the band have had similar experiences loving and playing music since they were young, which is how we all ended up in the same place.

 

I like to take a leading role in all our musical projects as I usually have a clear vision in my head of what I want from the end result. I conceptualized and organized both music videos (“Dysart” and “Maslow”), processes which taught me a lot very quickly.

 

In general, I have learned a lot during my time with the band and have massively improved as a writer and musician; thanks to them and the projects we have worked on so far, and I really look forward to what the future holds.

 

In the future, after lockdown is over, we hope to book as many gigs as possible and dive right back into writing, rehearsing, and recording. We have 3 tracks already recorded that just need producing and finishing off, and 4 more that we’ve been working on recently that will soon be ready to record. At some point down the line, we are eager to tackle a concept EP/album of some kind; we are really inspired by progressive music and would love to adopt more aspects of the genre, such as unusual time signatures and song structures.

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Brief us what inspires you to write, compose, and sing/rap. 

I like to tell stories. I pull inspiration from events and people in my life and try to describe them in a unique and poetic way.

 

I’ve always felt jaded by the way that many popular songs recycle the same lyrical ideas and never to try to innovate or say something original. I find this can be avoided if you write from a personal perspective – no one else in the world has your life experience other than you. I used to worry that if I talked about things that were too niche and specific to my life then listeners wouldn’t be able to understand or relate, but I found the total opposite to be true. I find it fascinating hearing different people’s varying interpretations of my lyrics and the meaning that they find. Listeners tend to instinctively recognize if a song is coming from a personal place and they really connect with that. I find that beautiful.

I’m also heavily influenced by the musicians I love. I will often write lyrics or improvise melodies over existing songs. I’ll hear an element I like and think, “I want to write a song based around that idea.” This can be anything from lyrical ideas to song structures or melody styles. For example, the structure of “Maslow” was inspired by the structure of my favourite song, “Jesus Christ” by Brand New – no chorus, but instead, a motif that gets repeated throughout, and then changes at the end for a breakdown section. I found this super effective and interesting and kept the focus on the lyrical content, so I wanted to achieve the same result with “Maslow”.

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Brief us the top-secret behind making a hit song. 

I’d say the top-secret behind making a hit song is probably writing a strong hook, though I don’t think that’s much of a secret.

 

Unfortunately, just writing a good song is rarely enough – a lot of success is down to who you know and being able to reach a big enough audience in the first place. It can be very difficult as an independent artist or group, doing everything off your back.

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Tell the advice you will give to an upcoming artist. 

Don’t write what you think people want to hear, write what you like, and try to be as authentic as possible. Trying to appeal to listeners for the sake of it is transparent and you will never be able to please everyone. Inevitably some people won’t like your music, and some will – so focus on the latter. Focus on creating music that means something to you and you personally enjoy and believe in, and like-minded people will find it and support you.

When choosing other artists to work with, such as photographers, videographers, and other musicians, choose people you admire and want to work with, not just people who will offer you a low price. Save up some money and invest in artists you want to support who will give you a higher quality product. Your work will look far more professional and people will take you more seriously, and you will have the bonus of building working relationships with artists you respect.

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Discuss at length your music careers, albums, songs, tours, recognition, or awards you might have received.

We have only been active as a band since 2019, and we have spent most of that time writing and practicing together. We have struggled to find gig opportunities, however, the few have had were a lot of fun; in particular The Summer Westival at the West End Centre in Aldershot, Hampshire, and Breaking Sound at The Victoria in Dalston, London were really memorable shows.

 

Before the band, I did record and release a 5 track EP called “Head Under Water” when I was 15, but I have removed all traces of it from the Internet because (as you can imagine) it was not very good, given how young I was. I have repurposed a couple of the tracks from it and the band has adapted and improved them, so the EP will still live on in those future releases.

 

Jack has been in a couple of bands before us, and Emma (being the incredibly talented drummer she is) is in high- demand and plays for multiple other artists, as does Sam.

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Tell us how you write your lyrics, compose, sing, and record in the studio.

Like most lyricists I know, I write all my lyric ideas in a note on my phone. I also record melodies into my phone whenever inspiration comes – this is usually at very inconvenient times, like when I’m at work or driving. I will genuinely sneak off to the bathroom or pull over just to make sure I can get the idea down before I forget it. I used to write songs on my own with my guitar, but now I have the band I find the best ideas come from when we jam together. Someone will have written an idea on his/her own time, bring it to band practice, and we’ll slowly but surely build it up and develop a full song. Our drummer Emma can also play the piano, so she’ll jump on the keyboard in our rehearsal space and play around with chords and melodies.

 

Sometimes we hit a wall, and so we put down the song for a few weeks and come back to it with fresh ears – this happened with “Criminal”. We started with the “boy this is criminal” hook and went around in circles trying to figure out what needed to come next. When we picked it back up again a month or so later, the song was finished in only about 2 writing sessions.

 

We rehearse our songs as much as possible to make sure the performance is super tight, and this helps to make recording sessions go as smoothly as possible. The next single we plan on releasing only took 2 or 3 takes to record. Our producer Ryan is very detail orientated and will set up countless mics in order to capture absolutely everything, with great results.

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Name your favourite artists for collaboration.

So far, the only artist I have officially collaborated with is Kayncee, and I look forward to writing music with him again in the future – he’s insanely talented and creative, and a lot of fun to work with.

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Tell us how you will spend a million dollars.
I got this idea from our producer, Ryan Wood – take a million dollars, buy a church and renovate it into a huge recording studio.

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Discuss music promotion and how you are boosting your fan base. 

I believe that visuals and aesthetics are important for promotion and building an image. With every release, I want to make sure that the song is represented with a bold image, for example, the cover art for “Maslow” was the burning piano from the music video, and the cover art for “Criminal” was an image of my hands holding a white snake and a red apple. Both photos are closely connected to the lyrical content of each song, and the promotional material (videos and photos) helps to develop the track’s narrative.

 

For video shoots, I like to get a behind the scenes videographer on board to document the day; this is partly for my own sentiment to look back on and enjoy the memories of working on those projects, and partly to demonstrate to audiences the amount of work and creativity that goes into them. This all (hopefully) will intrigue potential listeners enough to give the song a chance, building a fan base that believes in the music and invests in it enough to keep coming back.

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Tell us how you manage other activities with your music career. 

All our spare time is filled with music. Everyone in the band works, some of us full-time, but we meet every Tuesday evening to write and play music together. We constantly keep in touch and work on songs on our own where we can, recording demos and musical ideas and sending them to each other for inspiration. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to make music our full-time careers yet, so we do our best to fit it into our lives and schedules as often as we can.

 

Our guitarist Jack is studying a university degree as well as working – he brought his laptop to our last studio session to work on an essay between takes. You do what you got to do.

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State your artist’s name and elaborate on it. 

Ilona Mahieu. When I was solo, I went by my real name, Ilona Pointeau, or just Ilona where I could. To prevent copyright and confusion issues with other similarly named artists later down the line, I decided to adopt my great-grandmother’s maiden name, Mahieu. As well as being dedicated to her, this name had no other affiliations, meaning I could make it my own and make my artist name completely unique. When the band formed, we decided to keep the name as I had already started building an audience with it.

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State the title of the song and the meaning. 

“Criminal” was inspired by the phrase ‘this is criminal’ used to describe things both when they’re incredibly unfair and unjust, as well as when they’re brilliant. I loved the double meaning behind this phrase because it summarised the feeling we were trying to capture so well.

 

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