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Making music on the road

Australian hip hop artist Illy brings his homework with him as he prepares his next album while on tour



Melbourne hip-hop artist Illy missed our first interview appointment. He had a great excuse, though. He was in the studio in Australia, laying down some ideas for what will be his fifth album.

He gives an overview of his work style.

"We're at the very start of it. We're coming over to your side of the world for a good month and a half, so I just wanted to get the rough ideas down before I took off," Illy explains, adding that he will bring the tracks with him to work on while in Canada and the U.S.

He says it's the way he works most of the time, though on this occasion he will have fun working with American producers and songwriters.

Illey says: "You get the skeleton and put the flesh on after. I'll put the idea down and play it back 100 times and work out how to improve it, but I'm not normally away for as long as I am going away for this time. After Canada I'm going to America for three weeks to do more writing but I don't know the studios, so I wanted to get it out of the way so I can live with it and know it inside out by the next time I am able to look at it."

It may be interesting to talk about the processes, but Illy says it's too early for his themes to emerge in the music.

"The tracks have subject but it can really change or come into focus further down the road. At the moment it's really broad. It's phrases and melodies and the verses themselves that tend to get worked on a lot," he says.

"I'll try to at least have a melody for the hook and then try to fill that in. Once I have that, writing the verses comes a lot easier."

It's a system that has worked for Illy in the past, winning him the ARIA award (an Australian Grammy) for Best Urban release in 2013 for Bringing It Back. He received another ARIA nomination in 2014 for his next album Cinematic.

Illy performs at Garfinkel's on Sunday, Feb. 22.

This will be his first trip to Canada.

He has heard the rumours that Whistler wouldn't be able to operate without the sweat and tears of his fellow countrymen and women.

"Ha, ha. I hope they're giving a good account of us," Illy says.

He is pleased to learn Aussies are holding their own in partying and other recreational pursuits.

Altogether, there will be eight shows at other West Coast locations in Canada.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing a really world-renowned snowfield. We've done a couple of snow shows in Australia, but I've been told they really don't compare to Canada. So that will be cool," Illy says.

This reporter didn't have the heart to tell him the temperature was expected to be around 10 degrees C on the day he performs, in the valley at any rate.

The tour is also going to be a thrill because he will be able to do his own headline shows overseas. In 2014, he toured Europe in support of his compatriot hip hoppers The Hilltop Hoods.

"Even though we leave in two days for Canada, it's hard to get my head around that it's actually happening," he says.