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March 5, 2013 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Interview with Tommy Ill

Tommy Ill is a rapper from Wellington, playing at VUWSA Orientation 2013 in support of Home Brew. Self-deprecating but mostly upbeat, his sample-laden songs will probably get stuck in your head before the end of the first chorus. With two full albums and as many recent EPs, he brings a huge back catalogue to his live show, as well as two hype men.


First of all, do you actually prefer Tom?

Probably Tom. Just cause that’s what my parents always referred to me as.

So Tommy was always a rap thing?

Yeah, except for my dad sometimes. it’s kind of useful for remembering how I know people. I meet a lot of people and forget who they are, but i can tell they know me from my music stuff if they call me Tommy.

So what is ‘New Car Money’?

I don’t know, i’ve never even bought a car before. However much an expensive car costs. Like a Maybach. [nb: Maybachs start at around US$375,000, or around NZ$441,000]. That was the last song we wrote for the album [New Hat and a Haircut], we did it in the very last minute because EMI were like “we need a pop song!” so Kelvin [Neal, one
of Tommy’s producers/hype men] and i had like 24 hours to make it otherwise the album would be delayed. so we had this nightmare staying up all night recording it. It sort of worked.

You’ve released two quite sample-laced EPs, Nostalgia, Zebra, and Iron Gosling, for free on Bandcamp, outside of your

EMI contract, with a third on the way. was there any friction there?

EMI and i had a bit of friction, just, generally. I’m not signed to EMI any more, which is kind of awesome, because they didn’t really do much to push the record and now they’ve gone under. they never even said anything about the EPs though. I don’t even know if they were paying any attention to anything that I was doing, unless I was going on twitter and making fun of Annabel Fay or other EMI artists.

Some of your more popular songs are from those EPs; do you see them as models for the future, or kind of just fun things between albums?

I’m kind of thinking of releasing an album in that style. Now we aren’t tied down to a record label I could put out a full-length thing, free, sampling anyone I wanted. The problem is it has to be free—because of the samples—but people don’t pay for music anymore anyway.

Do you prefer Bandcamp to iTunes?

I like both. Bandcamp’s great because you can put something up for free and people can pay what they want, but iTunes is kind of necessary for that exposure. I don’t like making people pay as much as iTunes makes people pay though.

Current tour plans?

Still figuring that out, but basically I want to do a bunch of shows over here this year, and get over to Australia hopefully. Christchurch too, because there are people bugging me there all the time.

You have a somewhat cultivated image—the pop culture EPs, the jokey tweett, the David Letterman video—is this a conscious effort, or is it just projecting your personality onto a larger stage?

Even if I wasn’t doing music I’d be doing weird things like that. Then again, without the music, well it’s not like it’s forced or anything, but maybe I wouldn’t be as proactive about it without something behind me.

Is having some kind of online image a necessity in 2013?

Yeah definitely. It’s more important to be big on the internet now than to have a music video on TV. When you hear something online you can immediately access a whole lot more by the artist and become a fan pretty fast – when you see a song on a TV at McDonalds or whatever, you have no way of following that.

Your lyrics often describe a pretty average Wellington life, and when you brag it sounds kind of ironic. Was rapping about more relatable topics a decision you made, or did it come naturally?

I often struggle to think of what to write about. Like often i don’t figure it out till I’m halfway through a verse. I don’t really think out what I’m writing about till I’m writing it, so it makes sense for it to be whatever is on my mind at the time, which is generally normal everyday stuff.

I’m going to get into some teen-gossip-magazine like questions, sorry. Describe a Tommy Ill show in five words?

Uh, [counts/mouths], “some guys doing some raps.”

You work 9-5 aS a designer, so, Helvetica or Futura?

Futura, definitely.

Snapbacks or five panels?

That’s the thing i can’t wear either of them. I’ve got like a massive head. I can only wear like fitted hats. I wish I could wear snapbacks.

Notorious B.I.G. or 2PAC?

Biggie, easy.

Animal Collective or Wavves?

Uhhhhh, Wavves.

If you were written into a simpsons episode, would you rather be in a Homer or a Bart episode?

Man that’s a hard question. Probably a Homer one, in the Power Plant. Who was it that time, that guy Grimes?

Frank Grimes? [From season 8 episode “Homer’s Enemy”]

Yeah Frank Grimes. I would be Frank Grimes.


Henry Cooke


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