SALEM ILESE
ON THE UNIVERSALITY OF MUSIC

We meet the meteorically rising star to celebrate the release of her new track 'Marry Christmas'.

It’s not often that your song starts trending on TikTok across the globe, but then it’s not often you come across a talent like Salem Ilese. At just 21 years old, the Cali born and raised singer-songwriter is making waves with her unique and vibrant pop, and it’s one of the only things that’s been getting us through 2020.

Growing up with the likes of Bowie and the Beatles infiltrating her 00s world, Salem quickly fell deep in love with all music had to offer her, and discovered she had as much to offer it. As much in love with writing as singing, the young star trained with legendary songwriter Bonnie Hayes (of Cher and Bette Midler writing fame) before going on to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, then back to LA to go it alone.

We meet the innovative young musician to find out where her journey has led her so far, and where it’s going to take her next…

How have you found creativity over the last year?

It’s definitely been more challenging than previous years, because of quarantine. I was very used to showing up at random producers houses every single day and writing a song with a stranger and then believing that was kind of, you know, my life all of 2019. And I’ve had to change greatly. Obviously, in 2020, I’ve been collaborating a lot over Zoom. And I’ve never really seen the importance of technology so much before. It’s definitely so amazing that we’re able to still do our jobs. And I’m so so lucky to be in an industry where I can still create during this.

Do you remember the moment you knew that you had to make music?

Not really, I’ve just been doing it for as long as I can remember. My first memory making music was probably when I was four. I was at a summer camp. They really had a lot of cool things there like recording booths, clay-making stations, and stuff like that. For some reason, I was always in the recording booth. Just singing whatever came to mind. And I would buy these little CDs that they would burn. My parents would play them at dinnertime. Every night. It was very funny. I guess that was when I knew that I really liked it.

What does music mean to you?

Music means absolutely everything to me. I think it is the only true universal language. I just think it’s magic. It really feels like magic sometimes. I’m very, very lucky to be able to do that as a job. Yeah, it’s both my therapy as well as my joy and my job.

How do you feel like your sound has evolved since your debut EP 757 last year?

It has definitely evolved a lot over the years, but that actually was not my true debut EP. I did release something when I was 16 that is no longer on the internet. That was even farther with my current sound. I originally wanted to be like Norah Jones, so all of my music was live instrumentation. When I went to Berklee College of Music and discovered that electronic sounds, I started using them in my music for the first time. For 757, I really wanted to try and focus on making a record that you could dance to because I had never done that before. I only written ballads previously. So that was kind of my main goal is to make something super upbeat, full of new sounds and energy. And I think that was really well accomplished, but I think now, I’m more focused on what I’m actually trying to say. The lyrical content is more important than anything. Production wise, I honestly just want to make something that best complements every song. I feel like I’m definitely more open to experimentation and trying different tempos and feels. Anything that will complement the song.

What do you hope your listeners take away from your music?

I hope that my listeners take away whatever they want to. If they want to just hear a pop song that makes them feel good, I hope  I can give them that. If they want something they can really dig into lyrically, I hope  they can learn something from my lyrics too. I just hope to offer a new perspective on things.

How did you feel when you heard ‘Mad at Disney’ had gone viral?

Oh, my goodness, I was in shock. I really still can’t believe it. Even though, it’s been doing its thing on TikTok for a few months now. It still feels completely surreal. Every time I open any of my social medias, I always do a double take at the numbers. Because it’s just so crazy to me. I was just overjoyed and a little bit relieved. Being in the music industry, there’s always that looming fear hanging over your head, like, will it actually work? Or is this just a crazy pipe dream that I’ve been chasing? So that weight definitely was taken off my shoulders in that moment.

Which artists do you feel like have shaped you personally and musically?

Definitely David Bowie. I listened to a lot of Bowie growing up, and then took a bit of a break, and really only listens to early 2000s pop with Britney Spears for a while. Now I’m back on to Bowie train and all of that older, classic music. It’s very nostalgic for me. Some of my favorites are Bowie, The Clash, The Strokes, and The Killers. Also Norah Jones and Taylor Swift, I think they are incredible. Honestly, I used to want to be Taylor Swift so bad when I was about 10 years old. She was the absolute idol. As well as Hannah Montana, of course. More recently, Jack Antonoff and Lorde’s work on Melodrama totally changed my perspective on vocal production. Every time I listen to it, even though I’ve listened to it countless times, I still pick up on new things which is really really cool.

If you could only listen to one album for eternity, what would you choose?

Wow, that’s so hard to name. I’m gonna say Sam’s Town by The Killers because they’re my favorite band. I love them so much. But that’s a really hard one!

What’s next for you?

Oh, so much is coming in 2021. I have a very large amount of unreleased songs, and I’m super excited to release all of them. I also will be hanging out with my pets and will be taking you guys through the journey of being a pet parent. I’m looking forward to spending time with them. Hopefully, when it’s safe, I can do some live performing. That is probably what I’m most looking forward. I want the world to heal and become safe again so I can start playing shows.

Listen to Salem Ilese’s new single ‘Marry Christmas’ below now…

Words by Kitty Robson

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