For FINNEAS, Everything Has Changed [Q&A]
FINNEAS is an understated musical genius. Although with his sister Billie Eilish's astronomical rise to fame in the past year, chances are increasingly slim that FINNEAS will be heralded as vastly underrated or a mastermind in the shadows for much longer. After all, in the span of a couple shorts months, FINNEAS performed a duet with his sister on Saturday Night Live, assisted in producing Selena Gomez's comeback single, and released his acclaimed debut EP, Blood Harmony. Then there's fact that he's currently working with Camila Cabello.
Yet, in spite of a whirlwind of a year and a list of co-signs and collaborators that reads like a who's who in the world of music and beyond, there remains a modest beauty to FINNEAS' music. Often opting for minimalistic orchestration and sincere songwriting, FINNEAS' music is best described as arresting. The sonic worlds he whisks into existence, accentuated by subtle, heartfelt production details, play out like chapters of a greater story or snippets to a beautifully scored film.
I had the chance to sit down with FINNEAS ahead of his second of two sold-out shows at Los Angeles' infamous Hollywood Forever Cemetery to talk writing about heartbreak in spite of being in love, his and Billie's astronomical rise to fame, and so much more.
OTW: From first releasing "Hollywood Forever" over a year ago to now performing two sold-out nights at the very location you wrote about, there's an almost beautiful irony to tonight.
FINNEAS: It’s awesome. A friend of mine was like, “Does it feel full circle?” And I was like, “No, it feels like work” (laughter). But I don’t mean that I don’t want to do it. It’s just like, I want to work for it. I want to be really good. I think that’s how I feel about most shows that I’m ultimately the proudest of. My friend was like, “Did you have fun?,” and I was like, "…no. I worked hard and I feel proud of it."
Playing a show is a little bit like doing performance art. If you went up to an actor after they had a crying scene all day and you ask them, “Are you having fun?” Like, that’s not the point. The point is to put the emotion across. So, there are some songs of mine that are very joyful. “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night” is a joyful song. “Angel” is pretty full of love. So those songs, I try to feel that thing. But predominantly I make music that’s pretty sad. So, a lot of time I’m just putting that across.
OTW: I was actually going to ask this later on but, I think it’s no secret to say you’re in love.
OTW: Yet, you write these perfect heartbreak numbers. Is it hard to put yourself in that place now that you’re in love?
FINNEAS: Yes and no. I think, to me, I try to draw from the way moments in life made me feel and not necessarily how I’ve been feeling all day. So, the two newest songs on the EP, “Partners in Crime,” which is totally not a love song, and “I Don’t Miss You At All,” which is also not a love song. And still my reality every day is being super in love, but I think those songs were ones that were interesting for me to write.
It’s funny… when I was writing “I Don’t Miss You At All,” I was excited to play it for Claudia, and I was like this is a weird song. This song is about a past relationship, but not one that I’ve had, and I’m kind of describing you but we haven’t broken up. I was like, "This is a little bit like a fake song where you’re playing the role of the girl. Like I talk about the perfume you wear and the color of your eyes and stuff but it’s obviously this fictitious thing." Which I think is a fun way to write songs.
OTW: How’d she react to it?
FINNEAS: She liked it. She acts and she writes content. She’s a very creative person, so I think she understands better than most this sort of “historical fiction.” Those are the kind of songs I’m trying to write, “historical fiction.”
OTW: You’ve spent most of the last year on tour with your sister, Billie Eilish. How did you find the time to write anything?
FINNEAS: I wrote almost all the songs while I was on tour with her. “Die Alone” was written on tour, “I Don’t Miss You at All” was written on tour, “Partners in Crime” was written on tour, “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night” was written on tour. All in different countries and different continents, and I recorded most of it also on tour in hotel rooms, bus lounges... it was really stressful.
OTW: I can imagine.
FINNEAS: But it did make the tour fly by! A lot of the time on tour, even when I’m having a great time, I’m counting down the days because I want to see my girlfriend again, or I want to just come home to LA or whatever. That’s always the way I’ve been all of my life: homesick in heaven. Just excited to go home. In this case with the tour, I had two things: a countdown timer until September 8, which was the day I was coming home. And then I had a countdown timer to September 5, which was when the EP had to be done. And so each day I’d be like, “Ooh a day closer to - OH MY GOD,” and I’d be like flipped out and also excited every day. It made each day fly by.
I remember working on the production for “Partners in Crime” in Moscow, working on it all day thinking, “I think this is done,” getting on the plane that night to go to St. Petersburg in Russia and being like, “This is not done!” I finished it in St. Petersburg, and I was like, "Okay this is done now." But it was like the craziest fever dream. Billie jokes that we didn’t see each other on that tour and we were literally next to each other, but I was just so engrossed in this EP that I was working on.
We just were on tour in Texas this past week doing ACL and stuff, and Billie and I felt like recording a song. It was great because we spent all of our time together. Like, we literally would hop off stage, go back into the room, I’d pull out my laptop and headphones, and we’d record. It was so fun. I think, going forward, I’m going to record more and more on the road because we’re obviously not going to stop touring. And also I think more and more I like just being a human in LA.
OTW: Instead of being an artist in LA?
FINNEAS: Just not being in a room. I think when you’re in a studio, you’re just indoors. And I like going for hikes, I like going for drives, and I like seeing friends. There’s a lot of time on tour where you’re sitting around, and I think the fact that I’m able to go, “Alright fuck that” and just work, It makes me feel better.
I used to go on these tours for five weeks, and I’d come home and it was like your inbox when you haven’t checked it for a couple of weeks: it was stacks of work that I was like I have to do this all in five days or I’d flip out. And now, I came home from both these past tours with nothing to do. I was like, "I’m done." I did all of my work on the road, it’s awesome. It’s like doing your homework in class. Like you start the class, you learn a little lesson and they go “Here’s your homework for tonight,” and you just do it right then. You get home from school and you’re like I’m done; I don’t have any homework.
OTW: Blood Harmony, the title of your EP, relates back to the sound of siblings together. So, I was curious, what is your earliest shared musical memory with Billie?
FINNEAS: My mom taught these classes called “Music Together” when we were really young. I was like two or three, and I guess Billie was just basically born (laughter). They were great classes. They were just like singing the same things and clapping your hands and slapping your legs and really rhythmic stuff. I think it’s why I have rhythm. It’s a little bit like kids who learn violin really young and they have perfect pitch. If you learn rhythm really young, you have it. Your body knows it. And I think if you try to pick it up later in life, you don’t have it. It’s like language, like how babies can easily learn languages. It felt like Billie and I learned music that way. We learned it before anything else.
OTW: Your production has this cinematic-quality to it; it's phenomenal. Have you ever thought about scoring a movie or anything of the sort?
FINNEAS: It’s a great dream of mine. Those projects are so longterm and you have to do a lot of notes for a lot of people. The director has notes and the producer has notes, and I don’t love notes. So, I’ll have to deal with that, but I think it’s definitely a thing that I would love to do. It’s just about finding the right project. I want to score a movie. I want to write a musical. I want to do anything that’s high concept.
OTW: Speaking of finding the time, I’d say both your and Billie's rise to fame has been nothing short of astronomical. Have you had the time to soak any of it in?
FINNEAS: No, but that’s fine I think. It has not really overwhelmed me. There have been moments. When the EP came out, I was on a plane to Austin, Texas and then played a show. That was hectic but it keeps you abreast. But when the album [WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?] came out in March, we were in rehearsal mode and the album coming out - I think because it had been such a long time coming - felt like every birthday I’d ever had rolled into one. Every person I knew was texting me “Congrats!” That was really overwhelming and crazy. I’m very thankful for it, but it was a crazy couple of days.
OTW: Relatable. I love it when people reach out, but I also am terrible at texting back so it stresses me out.
FINNEAS: Wow, definitely. As you’re saying that, I’m realizing there are some really sweet texts from last night’s shows that are like “Great show dude,” and I’m like ehh because I haven’t written back.
OTW: Beyond your own amazing work, you also produce for a number of artists. Ashe, JP Saxe and Julia Michaels, and Selena Gomez to name a few. What is it about a track that makes you want to produce it?
FINNEAS: Well the three examples you’ve just given, Ashe, JP Saxe, and the Selena Gomez song - great songs. I didn’t write them, so I was able to judge them as a listener and just go like, “These are great songs.” And then the other category is like, you know I wrote a song with Camila Cabello for her new record, produced that, and that was fun. I was just involved in every step of the way so that was just an exciting process.
But yeah, JP, Ashe, Selena, are just great songs and that’s really the only criteria I have. There’s sort of two-steps: I get sent a song and the question is, “Do you want to work on this?” and then I listen to it and then I think to myself, "Do I love this? If yes, am I going to do a good job?" And sometimes I’m not and I’m like, "I’m going to do a bad job."
For Ashe, JP, and Selena, I knew what to do. So I’m proud of those, but there have definitely been times where I get sent a song and I like it, but I turn it down because I know I’m not the right guy. And I want to be the guy that can do everything, but I also think it’s really important not to do something badly. I don’t want to be like, "Hey I made this hip-hop song that sucks because I’m trying to do everything." I’d like to do everything well, so I’ll work on something until I feel proud of it, and then I’ll do it.
OTW: From playing your first headlining and sold-out show at the Troubadour at the top of the year, what do you think has been the biggest change in your life since then?
FINNEAS: Since the Troubadour, everything’s changed. Pretty much everything. I guess the only thing that’s stayed the same is that I already had moved out. But, every facet of my life has changed. I think the reason I hold on to them so tightly is that the only things that have stayed the same are my relationships. My relationship with my girlfriend is the same; it’s wonderful and brings me lots of joy. My relationship with my family is the same; it brings me a lot of joy. Everything else is pretty different.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
FINNEAS: Oh! I’m really excited about REI AMI (proceeds to take out his iPhone and play "MAKE IT MINE" in its entirety).