Finneas on Hitting It Big From His Childhood Bedroom

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Why you should care

Because Finneas and his sister, Billie Eilish, took home some serious hardware at last year’s Grammy Awards.

Musician, songwriter and producer Finneas O’Connell sat down with OZY’s co-founder and CEO on The Carlos Watson Show to talk about his latest hit song and how he broke big alongside his sister, Billie Eilish. Here are some of the best bites from their hourlong conversation, which can be found on The Carlos Watson Show podcast feed.

Slaving Toward Success in His Childhood Bedroom

Carlos Watson: How did you make it? How did it happen?

Finneas: I started writing songs when I was 12 and just wrote a lot of terrible songs every day. … And my sister and I, we’re homeschooled so we spent a lot of time together and I had always thought her voice was very beautiful, and I sort of said to her, “I’m getting a little better at recording. Do you want to record a song with me? Wouldn’t that be cool?” … And we did a couple songs that we just uploaded to SoundCloud and sent to our friends. And they just kind of bounced around between people we knew. They would get a couple hundred plays, which at the time we were perfectly proud of.

And then we started sort of more seriously writing songs together. We got some label interest and then met with people. And then over the next year, sort of continued to create music. … We were in the studio every day, and by the studio, I mean my childhood bedroom, working really hard on what we were making, and it felt like very do-or-die, which is a little extreme considering it was not. And then we made this EP that sort of moved the needle a little bit. We played some shows … and it was just all this very gradual thing.

What He’s Learned From His Sister and Her Generation

CW: What have you learned from Billie?

F: The most overwhelming thing that I’ve learned from her is that she is such a renaissance woman, like is involved in every facet of her career creatively in a directorial fashion that I think, especially when I was her age, 18, I was looking for approval from people that I deemed professionals. I think it has only basically benefited her to only worry about whether she loves something or not. I wasted a lot of time at 17 and 18 going, “I love this. What do you think?” and having a much older person say, “It’s not good enough.” Billie has never entertained that. I think that’s the No. 1 thing I’ve learned from her. It’s just her will. 

CW: Do you think that’s a Gen Z thing, or do you think that’s more of a Billie thing?

F: I think there’s a level of it that is broad that’s part of that generation of kids creating everything on their own. Like let’s use TikTok as an example. That’s millions of kids under the age of 18 basically formulating the concept for a joke, filming themselves saying the joke … and then editing it in a funny way and then publishing it themselves. … That’s turning every 16-year-old kid in their bedroom into like Quentin Tarantino. That’s writing it and cutting it and editing it and directing it and releasing it. And I think that is a big deal. I think for all the flak social media takes, people are not talking about that enough, which is that it is empowering kids to be creative in a more direct way than it has ever before done.

The Inspiration for His Inspiring New Song

CW: Tell me about your new song.

F: So it’s a song called “What They’ll Say About Us.” I’ve started writing it in early June. I’d been going to Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles with my girlfriend and my sister, which that’s sort of our quarantine pod, and a protest always make me feel really optimistic and inspired. … So I’d come home with kind of that inspiration in mind. And then I had been on Instagram that evening looking at Amanda Kloots’ Instagram story. Amanda is the wife of Nick Cordero, who was a Broadway singer and actor and songwriter, and he died of COVID-19 in July. And I was like, “What would it be like to be her, specifically, but anyone with a loved one in the hospital, looking out the window and seeing that there were thousands of people in the street marching for change?”… And so I was just trying to write a song about how I was feeling about those two things happening at the same time.

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