It’s been said that good things come to those who wait. And after waiting patiently for three years, Melbourne-born, Australian rapper Illy (the moniker of Al Murray) released his fifth album – Two Degrees – to the masses in October 2016.
The successor to 2013′s ARIA certified gold album Cinematic, Two Degrees is produced with Illy’s former Crooked Eye band mate, M-Phazes, who can be credited for the genre-bending tracks on the album, proving to be Illy’s most pop orientated music to date and his first number one album in Australia.
“That was a huge milestone for me personally, and a real validation, because like you say, there’s definitely more pop and electronic elements in this album, but they are elements that I have written myself. All the hooks I write, so it’s been really validating to take these risks and go in different directions outside my comfort zone, and then have people really connect with them,” says Illy. “It’s something that I’ve kind of been moving towards for a while, but I probably didn’t have confidence in myself and in my ability to make songs like this good. So going forward I think it’s going to be something that I pursue more and I’m going to start writing for other people.”
Boasting a list of successful tracks, including the triple j Hottest 100 charting ‘Swear Jar’, ‘Catch 22′ featuring English singer Anne-Marie, triple platinum ARIA charting ‘Papercuts’ featuring Vera Blue and his recent single ‘Oh My’, performed with singer Jenna McDougall from the Sydney pop-punk act Tonight Alive – Two Degrees is a genuine expansion of Illy’s musical palette, inspiring him to work with a stack of different musicians, with a total of six unique artist collaborations.
“I don’t write specifically for artists, just for a specific artist style,” he explains. “So for instance, with ‘Papercuts’, I knew that I wanted to have a female vocal that had a lot of power in her voice and that would go through the octaves. Vera Blue was just taking off then, so I wasn’t familiar with her at the time of writing the song, but when it was demoed and we were sending it around, I heard Vera and I was like ‘that’s the voice’!
“It’s so cool to have these demo’s that I’ve written, or that me and M-Phazes have worked on in a studio and it’s my shitty vocal on the track, and then we’ll get these actual singers in and you kind of hear the track come to life, it will go up a few levels. That’s one of the most exciting things about making an album, having my parts there and the song written, and then just having this real layer, this icing on top of it to bring it home, it’s really cool.”
Hinting to a few overseas collaborations in the works and joking about life under a hat: “It’s just easier to put a hat on then have to stand in front of the mirror and have to do your hair. Like fuck it, I’ll just put a hat on”, having recently returned from Bali, Illy appreciates the downtime he gets since releasing his first album Long Story Short back in 2009.
“Travelling is a big part of what I do in my downtime, other than just sort of being at home and catching up with my family and friends, and just being normal, having a normal existence which is fun! But when I’m not touring or in the studio, I’m pretty boring to be honest,” he laughs.
After selling out shows in capital cities across Australia, this year the Aussie rapper announced his “biggest tour ever”, which will see him take his latest album Two Degrees around the country to over 30 regional venues.
“We’d been talking about it for a while, it’s always been the plan since halfway through making the album about this time next year, so it’s really cool that the album went and did well, so we’re actually able to follow through on this plan of doing this gigantic god damn regional tour,” Illy explains.
Illy took Two Degrees around capital cities late last year, and now he’s heading around Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia between August and November. The tour will also include stops at Wollongong’s Yours & Owls festival and the Ballarat Street Party, among others.
“I do love playing the capitals because you’re playing to bigger crowds but I love touring, I love being on the road and I love being on stage, and my band does as well. From my point of view there’s no bad side to going out and playing more shows if we are able to, and then the people who don’t live in the cities, they like live music as well, and they get just as excited about hearing their favourite song when they’re at a gig, so I don’t see any sort of downside from that point of view either. It’s a win-win situation and just makes sense to do it,” he says.
“Really, it’s hardly even a job. It’s the best thing ever so I love being on the road, and when you’re in the studio and you’re working on music and you’re banging your head against a wall creatively, you just want to be back out there on stage performing, so it’s all good. I can’t wait.”
When & Where: The Wool Exchange, Geelong – September 21, Whalers Hotel, Warrnambool – September 22 & Karova’s Carpark Festival, Ballarat – October 7
Two Degrees is out now via Warner Music.
Written by Talia Rinaldo