EXCLUSIVE: Illicit Ghost chats about her new single “Present” and more

For alt pop artist Illicit Ghost, music is a way to release and connect. 

When her anxiety and OCD became overwhelming, Illicit Ghost coped by pouring her thoughts into her music. This cathartic release led to her latest single, “Present.” The track’s lyrics remind listeners to live in the present and is the third single off her forthcoming EP

We chatted with the New York City based artist about her new single, her podcast, and what’s to come from the rising artist. 

How did you first become interested in music? 

I started taking violin lessons when I was three years old. From there, I also learned piano, clarinet and guitar. I grew up on Z100 and Delilah and knew all of the hits because it was what we’d listen to in the car. I decided one day I was going to try to write an original song on the piano. The feeling I got was like no other, I felt so free and able to express myself in a way that felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was as if I entered a different world, every worry just kind of faded from my mind when I sat at the piano and wrote. 

For people who are not familiar with your sound, how would you describe it? 

My sound is based on intuitive feeling. I like to experiment with sounds and manipulate them until I get something that is inspiring. 

Who are some of your inspirations and have they influenced your sound? 

Definitely Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette. I remember hearing “You Oughta Know” on the radio and feeling like I just got hit with a ton of bricks. I thought wow, here is someone who is unapologetically themselves and gives no f*cks. The way she writes her lyrics and delivers them is incredible to me. It’s real, it’s raw. Then I discovered Fiona Apple, heard her famous “the world is bulls*it” speech, and it really resonated with me because I would read this poster every day in my elementary school classroom that said “what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular.” I would stare at it so much during class, it was literally this huge wall to wall poster over the chalkboard. It became ingrained in me. And then later on I watched her speech on YouTube, and then I heard her music, I thought wow, here’s another person who doesn’t want to fit in either, it was life-changing. I felt, and still feel, so connected to her music and her message.

What was the inspiration behind your new single, “Present”? 

I struggle with anxiety and OCD that can sometimes be debilitating. One day I was feeling the effects, and I decided to just say what I was feeling into my microphone. After listening back, I wanted to make the song a reminder to myself to live in the present. 

What was the writing process like for “Present”? 

I started this one on a freezing cold day back in December. After I recorded the first vocal idea, I messed around on the piano to find chords that I really liked. Then the rest of the lyrics kind of poured out, because I was not in the best place, I felt more compelled to just get it out, it was cathartic. I then recorded my violin parts, and produced it out. I collaborated with Elliot Jacobson, an extremely talented producer/drummer, on the production, we sent stems back and forth to each other because we couldn’t meet up due to quarantine. 

Did writing “Present” give you new perspective on how to live in the present?

It’s my personal permanent reminder to myself, and to anyone who listens, to live in the moment.

If you could set fans up in the perfect environment to listen to “Present,” what do you imagine it looking like? 

I’m actually really excited because I’m currently working with an animator on a music video for “Present!” It’s a big deal for me because this is the first official video for one of my songs. It’s a very special video to me, it’s not just about having a visual for a song, there’s more to it that meets the eye…I can’t really say anything else about the complexities of the video at this moment, but overall it will add another layer of meaning to the song that couldn’t be expressed in the lyrics. Listeners can experience the video from the comfort of their own homes, so it’s a reminder that you can be present anywhere, just like how in meditation you can always come back to your breath. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s always there for you.

You host a weekly instagram live, “Anti-Anxiety Hour.” What inspired you to start it and what can fans expect when they tune in? 

I’ve had a personal “Anti-Anxiety” playlist on Spotify for a while. There are a variety of songs on it that make me feel calm. It’s been my go-to playlist when things start feeling too chaotic. I shared the playlist with my listeners and some of them let me know how helpful it was for them to relax and find some peace. I wanted to take things a step further, so I started “Anti-Anxiety Hour” as a way for artists to come together in live conversation about music, mental health and artistic process. I choose one artist from the playlist each week to come on the show. I don’t know most of the artists, so it’s a treat to get to know someone new and have an open and honest discussion, especially in these times when things can feel so isolating. I think it’s important to form a community around mental health issues so that we can remember that we are not alone in our struggles. 

You posted on instagram, “Practicing self-care while staying informed and involved is a balancing act.” How do you balance the two?

I posted this in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe it’s important for us to do the mental and physical work we need to do (educating, protesting, donating, supporting), but to also remember to take breaks to avoid burn out. Breaks are important so that we can recharge and keep fighting for as long as it takes, especially now, in the midst of a global pandemic. I believe we all have a unique role in this movement to help it move forward.

What can fans expect from your forthcoming EP?

They can expect an honest and raw product from me, that I hope gives them the same emotional freedom that music gives me.

You worked on the EP with Elliot Jacobson. How did you two get connected? 

I cold e-mailed Elliot at the recommendation of Eric McLellan, who at the time was working as Director of A&R at Sire Records. I wasn’t signed, have never been, but Eric was kind enough to offer me career advice after I contacted him, because I had no idea what I was doing. The first time Elliot and I met up was in Chinatown, I think we went to three different cafes that day and overdosed on a lot of really good tea. We became great friends, there are some people in this world who you just connect with and he was one of them for me. A few months later we started collaborating on my very first release “Drunk and Alone,” and we have been working together ever since. He has helped me immensely with my project and has been there at every step of this wild journey. I am very grateful to have him on my team.

What is one quote that you have heard or that you go by that you want to ECHO out to the world? 

Black Lives Matter.