Until now, FINNEAS has been focused on finishing his little sister’s debut EP. She just so happens to be Billie Eilish and, yes, he co-wrote her infectiously haunting break out single “Ocean Eyes.” Now, with Eilish’s career firmly on track, he’s focusing on his own budding solo project, starting with his debut single, “I’m in Love Without You.” I wanted to find out just how a 20-year-old guy with boy next door charm conjured up some of the freshest production to surface on my Spotify account. Turns out if he can’t find a song to suit his emotional state of mind, he’ll just make one.
Michelle Rose: Welcome to New York! Can we talk a little bit about your upbringing in LA?
FINNEAS: LA plays a big part in the music I produce and the music I make, but the thing about LA that I’m in love with and I think about as being “Oh this is LA”, is it’s vastness and endless highways. It’s so big, and to go from a neighborhood to your friends neighborhood is a 10 mile drive. If you compare that to other cities, it’s just big. I think the population is 7.4 billion and if everything stood shoulder to shoulder they could fit in Los Angeles County, that’s how big LA is.
Interesting, I like your stats. When did you start producing music?
I got Logic Pro when I was like 12, whenever the price dropped by $800 to $200.
You didn’t torrent it? What a good, patient kid.
Yeah, I was scared of getting weird porn viruses so I wasn’t illegally downloading. I got it when I turned 13 and I was wholeheartedly obsessed with it. But I was terrible at it. I don’t know anyone who didn’t start out awful, which is cool because a lot of things, the people that end up being great… like amazing basketball players are pretty good at basketball the day they pick up a ball. I bet that kid is like, “I’m already taller than all of my friends, I can sink a basket.” Music production is such a leveling thing because everyone starts bad at it, which is exciting.
Wait, so what makes a bad producer vs. a good producer?
Technical side, and you have to train your ears to be really creative, instead of being derivative. I think of sound as a jackson pollack painting.
Yeah, you have this white canvas at the start of something. Unless it’s going to make an interesting shade I don’t want sounds to compete with each other.
There’s a lot of space in your production.
Thanks, I try to keep them super spacious and minimal. The only things in the backing tracks in the music I produce for my sister Billie are the things that aren’t fun or interesting to play live. We found if we were going to recreate all of the sounds that I played in the recordings live, since there’s so much ambient noise in the music that I made, it would just be someone playing a high C note for an entire song.
Just sustain that C.
Exactly, and how boring. So I put all that stuff in the backing tracks and I pretty much play everything complicated and fun. [I did the] the Ableton set-up with a guy named Erin Forbes, who’s awesome.
So you were the musical director and you had some tech help.
Exactly. I run main stage through my keyboard and I play all of the beat sampling, and the bass and synth sounds. The thing that was really important to me and, this sounds weird, but I’ve played shows with other people before where I’ve sort of been jamming, and then I realized if I just unplugged my guitar, you wouldn’t know. You know what I mean? You couldn’t even tell, and I really thought that was so lame. And it makes me want to be better if i know that people are going to really know if I make a mistake. I grew up seeing live bands that were really, like, bands and I think if the drum kit fell apart or broke you could tell. It was one of four elements.
What bands did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to a lot of.. What I thought at 12 or 13 were punk bands but were totally pop rock. Green Day, My Chemical Romance. They’re amazing live bands but..
What’s an LA-based punk band you were obsessed with that never made it out of LA?
Oh, that’s a good question. When I was an early teen I was really into indie LA bands. Usually they did make it out. There’s still a band called HUNNY.
My childhood best friend has a tattoo in hebrew that says Milk and Honey. Once uptown at a pizza place we ran into Lenny Kravitz and he recognized what it said in hebrew and our jaws dropped.
Lenny is cool. I think we’ve moved on too quickly from Lenny Kravitz doing the squat thing during a show and his pants ripping and his penis being exposed. It was a big show. I think the world collectively moved on too quickly from that. We’re still giving Janet Jackson shit for the nipple exposure.
How do you feel about this new wave of “Me Too” happening on social media? Your sister is quickly becoming an iconic feminist artist, you write music together, how do you feel about this happening in today’s political climate?
Billie and I are both solo artists. We are not a duo. I wanted the project we were developing to be a badass, fifteen-year-old girl. I thought that was way cooler than a girl and her older brother. Already in the past year she’s gotten to be a part of so many cool female driven campaigns. I didn’t want the excitement of a fifteen-year-old female ingénue. I didn’t want there to be a dude sitting in the back of every photo. We are two individual solo artists. But I do play live with her.
I think the dynamic seems really nurturing, and you two have really respectful boundaries. Does anyone ever think you and your sister are a couple?
Ha! I’ve seen a couple of really dumb Instagram posts about that, but you know I think they just don’t know any better. The world is so couple-driven, I’d probably assume that too, especially if you see a brother and sister that look as different as we do.
I think you two look alike.
You think so?
Similar eyes. Can you talk about the meaning behind the single you just put out “I’m in love without you?” I keep returning to it, and it really resonates with me. Can you discuss the narrative aspect of it?
It was very true to me. As simple as that sentiment is, “I’m in love without you.” I often feel like I write songs because they haven’t been written yet. Sometimes if I’m in a mood I’ll know exactly what song to listen to that will resonate with me. And sometimes I’ll be in a mood where I’ll think, “I don’t know what song that would be, I’m going to write it”. To sum it up, I had broken up with my first girlfriend. We had been together for four years, which is a long time to be with your first girlfriend. It was the first person I’d fallen in love with, it had been kind of wonderful.14-18. She went off to college and we tried to make that work for a long time, not even long distance but we had just grown up into such different people. So we were broken up then I had fallen in love with someone again for the first time. It was just an interesting thing to say “I love you” to a person for the first time that wasn’t my first girlfriend. It was hard to not to feel guilty. She had been wanting to get back together. The thing I had wanted to do with that song was just to sort of let her know I really hope you’re well, and I’m thinking about you because we knew each other for four years, but I’m in love with somebody else now and I hope you can move on if you haven’t already.
The production reminded me of 10CC “I’m not in love”. They created analog vocal pads, and layered them all over the place. Have you heard that song?
No I haven’t. I’ll have to check it out. On the production end of this song, I spent a lot of my youth in the Los Angeles children’s chorus and the arrangements are a big part of the thing I love most about music. I just love harmony, I’m a harmony junkie. The first thing I had for the song was just the title “I’m in love without you”. I liked it on paper, I just thought it looked interesting. I was playing the chords C, G, E minor. Before I knew it I had sang 35 vocals. I just recorded it, I didn’t know what it was. Then that was kind of it, and I closed the session and it went to bed for 6 months. At the end of January I was doing maintenance on my computer. I opened the session and I was listening to it as if it was something someone had sent me, I felt like an outside listener. Then I built the sample beat out of the samples of the hook. I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t had that gestation time between. The verses were just exactly how I was feeling at the time. The song was two days total, six months apart.
A weird question.. You’re an actor.. You were on Glee. Do you ever experience imposture syndrome? Or feel like an actor playing a musician? Sometimes actors can be cripplingly self-aware when making music, and are wired in a different way.
Like life imitating art imitating life. I’m a really practiced musician, I love it, I’m dedicated to music as a whole. I’m driven and compelled to work hard. I wasn’t a studious actor, I couldn’t be less method. I enjoyed being 10 and holding a cap gun pretending to be a cowboy. That was cool, but I do tie a lot of my identity in music. On a good day that’s great because I’m like “yes this is me this is my life”. But on a bad day it makes you question everything. For me it’s performance. I’d love to do more theatre. I did a lot of film and tv, and the work of ethic of being on set is phenomenal. Every time I’m on set I think about if albums were made the way a film is sho,t they’d be done in four days. Honestly!