What inspired you to try music?
Music has always been the most important part of my life. I grew up in musical theatre and choir. I was a shy kid with a lot of insecurities, but onstage I really felt at home. I still do. It’s my favorite place to be. Offstage my words never came out how I want them to, so I began writing songs so I could sing what I always wanted to say. To this day, the best way for me to tell you how I feel is through a song.
How would you describe your musical style?
I write pop music about unpopular things for unpopular people. I’m inspired by darkness, sadness, loneliness, things I feel and things that go bump in the night. I don’t know how to write about anything I haven’t experienced or witnessed or dreamt about before, and I don’t think I’d want to. I feel like an artist’s music should be autobiographical with a dash of fantasy. It should be rooted in truth but outside of reality because, honestly, who wants to live in the real world? I don’t. So I’d say my music is danceable dark electropop for the misfit in everyone.
What artists do you look up to right now?
I’ve always been inspired by the greats of the 80s like Bowie, Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, as well as the balls-to-the-wall heavy hitters of the early 2000s: P!nk, Britney, Xtina, Janet. Those artists weren’t afraid to be different and carve their own path. Right now I find pop music to be a little dry. It’s lacking identity. Ten years ago it was full of whimsy and wonder and weirdness with the rise of Gaga. Nowadays everyone is “chill” and “vibey” and too cool for school, and I’ve never been cool in my life. I hope to bring weirdness and performance back to pop. I think that’s what weird kids like me need right now.
Did you have a “break out” song that started things for you with your followers?
My first single “Chemical” actually did much better than I ever would’ve imagined. I got over two million views on YouTube, I was featured on MTV platforms and blogs, the song and video were played in gyms and retail, and all sorts of shenanigans I never thought would have been possible. The video was really a look into my mind and an introduction to me as an artist. It was so cool, almost shocking, to see so many people connect to my weirdness. Since then I’ve been writing more music and connecting with more people like myself, and now more than ever I’m very excited to release new music this year. It’s finally exactly where I want to be as an artist.
What’s the process to make a “Rilan” music video? How do the ideas for the music videos come about? Do you have a creative say in the music videos?
The music video process starts while I’m still writing the song. I’m very visual, so I don’t think of a song and its video as two separate entities. They should develop together. To me, music is colors and clothing and settings and props and story. I think it comes from being a musical theatre kid. The performance and production are just as important as the music. So while I write I dance around and imagine where this song fits in the twisted little world inside my head. Luckily I’m an independent artist. Everything I do is paid for by me so I have complete creative control, and honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way right now. I write the lyrics and melodies I want to sing, make the costumes I want to see on screen, pick the locations, source the props, make the sets, choreograph, direct, and edit the final product with the collaborators I want to work with. Believe me, while I have creative control, it takes a village to make a video come to life, and I’d be nowhere without my longtime collaborators Naz Tokio, my writing partner, and Richy Jackson, my choreographer and creative director. With their help along with a multitude of others, my music is exactly what I want it to be, and to share that with the world and have people, even if it’s only 10 people, connect to what I’m doing is the best feeling in the world. It makes all the hard work worth it.
What was your favorite song to record? And Why?
“MoneyTalk” for sure. I wrote it about a year and a half ago while in the strangest place in my life. I was under different management that didn’t understand me working with people that didn’t want to be there while being told to be someone I wasn’t in order to appeal to people who would never like me. It was a bit of a creative nightmare. That day in the studio I said, “F–k it. I’m pissed, and I’m gonna talk about it.” I wrote the song by myself about what it’s like to try to make it here in Hollyweird from the perspective of someone conforming to trends and abandoning themselves. It was actually a lot of fun. I got to poke fun at everything I hated about Los Angeles while singing in four part harmony. It was like a misfit theatre kid’s dream. I’m so happy people have understood my satire and enjoyed it with me.
You have received international praise for your performances on Glee, Coachella, LA and NYC Fashion Week, and more . How did these opportunities come about for you?
You know, some opportunities present themselves suddenly, and other take years of work. Booking “Glee” was actually a four year process. I’d auditioned for the show four previous times since I was 15 to no success. The last two times I finally made it to multiple rounds of callbacks, but nothing ever came of them. The last time I was sent by my dance agent at the time to the wrong call. I showed up in dance gear at the actors’ audition surround by guys in suits and ties literally ready to hop on set as a Warbler. I thought, “Well there’s no way in hell I’m booking this.” Somehow, odds against me, it worked out, and I joined the final season. It’s still crazy to think how I watched that show every week growing up and actually got to be a part of it. I’m very grateful to the casting directors for giving me a fifth chance. The chance to perform at Coachella came to me from Richy himself after working with him for a year. He was choreographing and directing Lady Gaga’s headlining set that year, and presented me with the opportunity to perform at two day parties during the festival. It was pretty surreal to have someone of his talent and caliber believe in me enough to help book me at such incredible venues. I’m so grateful for everything that man has done and continues to do for me. I mean, I grew up watching him dance with Gaga and help her create some of the most iconic pop music moments ever seen. I’m still awestruck that I get to work with him.
Can you tell us about what it was like getting these amazing opportunities?
To be a part of an phenomenon like “Glee” and huge institutions like Coachella and Fashion Week is pretty surreal. Honestly, I’m just very grateful for all the people that believed in me and made these dreams come to life, from casting to bookers to Richy and my entire team. It’s memories like these that remind me that anything can happen if you just keep pushing through.
Are there any other projects in the works you can tell us about?
Right now I’m creating a lot of new content. New music and videos will be coming out soon and more regularly, and I’m pumped. I also have some stripped down covers of my favorite songs and personal vlogs coming as well. It’s new for me to be so open and personal, but it’s actually what fans of my music have been asking for. I’m honestly surprised, and I hope I don’t disappoint because personally, I don’t find myself particularly interesting and certainly not cool, but I will always try to give any supporter of mine what they’d like to see or hear from me. They mean the world to me.
Are you doing any shows anytime soon?
I do shows locally in Los Angeles about once a month. I have some bigger opportunities in the works right now, so fingers crossed I’ll be somewhere near you soon.
Whats your favorite song to perform live?
You know, it really depends on the performance. I honestly love performing a full show than any one song in particular. I think of my shows as a pop musical with characters and story arcs and ridiculousness along the way, so each performance has different highlights for me. Right now, I’m performing a dark, theatrical version of “Oops… I Did It Again,” and it’s been a real crowdpleaser. Anytime I can see the audience respond to what I’m doing on stage, that song becomes my new favorite record to perform.
How do you prepare for a live performance?
Hours and hours of rehearsal. I usually do 16 hours of both dance rehearsal and music rehearsal before every show. I don’t believe in winging it on stage. For sure there’s spontaneity in my performances in terms of how I interact with the crowd, but I like my shows to be a well-oiled machine perfectly tailored to each venue. I’m a total perfectionist. I always watch every show afterwards and ask myself what could be improved for the next show.
Whats the feeling you get when on stage and your fans are singing your songs back to you?
There is no better feeling in the world. Hearing my lyrics sung back to me makes me feel understood, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted my whole life. Thank you to everyone who has ever sung my songs. You’ll never know how much it means to me.
Does your fanbase have a name?
I don’t actually. I consider my fans my friends. I talk to them online about anything. I’ve developed some really meaningful relationships with them through music. We’re all weird kids at the end of the day, and to connect with other weirdos like myself makes this all worthwhile.
How do you want your relationship to be with your fans?
I want to be close with my fans. I want them to confide in me because I’m confiding in them with my lyrics. Again, they’re my friends online. I want to create a world where fellow uncool kids are cool, and they’re helping me do that. They’re my people. I appreciate them so much.
What was the craziest fan encounter you have had?
Honestly nothing has been crazy in a creepy way. Every interaction I’ve had with fans has been positive and inspiring to me. One thing I love is seeing fan art on Instagram. It shows me how my music fits into the personal worlds of my listeners. A particularly funny one was seeing myself photoshopped in front of a glittery pastel pink background wearing a flower crown. I never thought I’d see that in my life, but @peterstrahm proved me wrong, and I’m forever grateful for it.
What social media platform do you use most to stay connected to your fans?
Instagram and YouTube for sure.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in your music career so far?
I’d have to say working with Richy Jackson. The man is a genius. He’s the unsung hero of pop music, not to mention a personal hero of mine. To be that talented and accomplished yet so humble and down to earth is so inspiring and refreshing to see. He’s a beast.
How has this whole music career experience been?
Honestly this is my entire life. I’d be nothing and no one without music. It can get frustrating when things don’t turn out the way you hoped, but that’s just part of life. You can either learn from failures and move on or quit, and I don’t believe in quitting. My grandfather always said, “Nothing beats a failure like a try,” and that’s how I live my life – trying until I succeed.
Do you have any advice for aspiring music artists?
Be yourself. That’s it. Take advice from those you admire, of course, but deep down no one else knows you better than yourself, so trust yourself.
What other talents do you have other than singing?
I’m really good at being as socially awkward as possible without even trying. It’s pretty sad to witness, but I’m okay with it.
I totally get it I am that way as well haha
What’s an average day for you look like?
It depends on what I have coming up. If I have a show, it’s hours of rehearsal each day leading up the the show date. If it’s a video, I’ll rehearse as well and then prepare accordingly, be it making costumes or props or meeting with collaborators to finalize all production details. Besides my personal projects, I also write for other artists so I might also be doing one or two sessions a day as a songwriter. Sometimes all three scenarios happen in one day, and to be honest, that’s when I’m happiest. I love what I do, and I want to be as busy as possible at all times. When I do have a free moment, I’m usually eating on my couch with my one-eyed mutt, MoMo, watching horror movies. That’s my life.
What do you hope to gain in 5 years time?
Whatever comes my way. What I’ve learned all these years is that nothing happens like you think it will. It’s a journey and every step along the way is important, be it a lesson or a small win that adds up to a bigger success down the road. I dream big and hope for everything under the sun and work towards it, but what I really hope for more than anything is to tour and connect with other misfits like myself through my music.
Do you have any last things you want to tell your fans?
I understand you guys. You can talk to me about anything and everything, and I thank you for doing so. Stick around kiddos. We’re gonna bring back pop music together, and you guys, my friends, are going to help me do it.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with us.
Thank you guys so much talking to me. Twas fun. I appreciate it.