For any fledgling musician, rejection can be the hardest part. For any creative, in fact, being turned away or having your artistry thrown back at you is the most challenging obstacle to vault. When your hobby and your passion is also your dream, putting your heart into the decisions and subjectivity of others can shatter any built-up yet fragile determination. But American-British musician Ilselena is on a path to turn the devastation that follows in the wake of rejection into motivation.
Up to now, the 21-year-old, R&B inspired musician has been navigating the embryonic days of her career, easing listeners into the mellifluous and calming but irresistibly addictive melody that Ilselena conjures. Only seconds into one of the artist’s tracks can you feel a sense of fulfilled purpose – a real understanding that sometimes, to a handful of people, the music just comes naturally. And the art is well and truly in Ilselena’s blood.
Starting out her career alongside her brother (songwriter, musician and producer Youngr), London-based Ilselena hands a lot of her inspiration and learning within music to her family as a whole. Her father, none other than Kid Creole and the Coconuts (August Darnell), has, as Ilselena tells HUNGER, always encouraged her to stay true to herself. And when you put on your headphones and listen to any of Ilselena’s tracks, like ‘Sweet Like Honey’, ‘He’s so loveable’ or ‘Seventeen’, it’s the authenticity that you can hear first.
Ahead of her upcoming single, ‘Ready To Please’ (out November 22), Ilselena sits down to talk about her familial inspirations, the importance of rejection, and her approach to songwriting…
HUNGER: Hey Ilselena, where are you in the world right now?
Ilselena: Hey! I am currently at home in my flat, based in London.
What’s the place you call home?
Ilselena: I feel most at home when I am in Denmark in my hometown Hornbæk; As I was born there and lived there for nearly 10 years.
Why did you first start making music?
Ilselena: I started making music because it makes me feel free and a feeling of distraction. Whenever something is on my mind I can just vent about it and express myself through song.
Who have been your biggest musical influences to date? And why?
Ilselena: Currently, I am massively influenced by R&B artist Cleo Sol. I love how authentic she is within her music and sound. She tells a story the way I like to tell stories when writing music and I love how much I can relate to that. It sounds like I am in the room with her when I listen to her work and that makes me feel closer to her music and artistry. I am also massively influenced by my dad (Kid Creole and the Coconuts). He has always taken me under his wing when I have needed his advice in the music world. He has influenced me to stay true to myself as that’s what he always did within his music career.
How would you describe your creative process?
Ilselena: I would say the creative process comes very naturally to me. I work with my brother (artist name – Youngr) and he’s my favourite person to get in a session with because the creativity flows so naturally when I am with him. I feel like I can open up to him about what I want to write about and he instantly understands the direction I want to go in with the music. We start by talking about the idea (concept), then my brother starts to jam out by playing some chords, and then the melody starts to form. That’s when we bring lyrics into it and then the song starts to form.
What is it about the world or love or life that you hope to talk about in your music?
Ilselena: I like for my music to be as relatable as possible. So I like to talk about the positives and negatives in love and life. It’s not always perfect so I write about both aspects- the good and the bad.
Tell us a bit about your sound and what you hope to achieve every time you sit down to write a song…
Ilselena: My sound isn’t overly produced. I like for my music to sound natural and live when it’s completed. This is why I stick to live instruments on all my tracks. I always hope to achieve a warm feeling and energy when I sit down to write my music. Giving my listeners that feeling of comfort.
What are you working on at the moment?
Ilselena: I am excited to announce that I have a new single coming out next month called ‘Ready To Please’. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it! I am also working on my second EP. Which I am over the moon about.
How biographic is what you write? Or do you find yourself writing from a place of fantasy and dream… Places/feelings you’re hoping to experience.
Ilselena: I find myself writing in a place of real experiences and feelings. This helps me tell my story authentically.
Who is your greatest muse?
My greatest muse is H.E.R, Cleo Sol and Sade.
How has your sound evolved over the years?
Ilselena: My sound has definitely matured from my first single Seventeen to my next (unreleased) single ‘Ready To Please’. I have had different influences throughout the years, and that has definitely helped my sound and lyricism mature and grow.
And how do you approach these themes in your writing – Do you find it difficult to think about some things that you talk about in your music?
Ilselena: I always approach my themes in songwriting with how I’m feeling at that current time during the session. I struggled when I started writing my song Zeus based on Black Lives Matter, because I felt so strongly about the matter. But because I had so many emotions it encouraged me to write such a powerful song.
What’s a piece of media (book/film etc) that changed your life and why?
Ilselena: Growing up I used to love watching all the Marlyn Monroe movies with my dad. He also always made me watch ‘Annie Get your Gun’ again and again. I especially fell in love with this film from a very young age. I obsessed over the music and performances, and it made me realise I wanted to sing and perform when I grew up.
What are the biggest challenges that being creative has?
Ilselena: Making the right connections is super important. It takes time to find the right creative process that works for you, and the right people to collab with. I am blessed to say that my band mates are some of my best friends, and I get to write music with my brother.
What are the challenges young, aspiring musicians are facing right now?
Ilselena: There are many young, up and coming artists like myself trying to succeed and be heard in the industry. A huge challenge I have faced and still do, is rejection. It can affect people some more than others, but I’m fortunate to say it has made me tougher and more independent in the music world.
What are you manifesting for 2024?
Ilselena: I am manifesting graduating music uni, releasing my second EP and playing a bunch of festivals next summer!
And we’re certain that will happen! See you there, Ilselena…