Billie Eilish on Her New Album, Fame & Scary Movies: 'I Like the Feeling of Being Terrified'

Billie Eilish
Dan Regan

Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish is catching up with her stardom. After a year that has made her a full-fledged phenomenon, she is learning quickly how to handle herself, including using some discretion when it comes to her professional and personal life. Ask the rising star, who turns 17 on Tuesday, if she knows when her full-length debut album for Darkroom/Interscope is coming and she smiles before responding, "I do, but I'm not supposed to say.”

"The main thing we tried to achieve with this album, which I think we've done pretty well, is having toured for the first time this past year, we've just learned what's fun to do live," Eilish tells Billboard, backstage at KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Xmas after playing to 18,000 adoring, screaming fans at The Forum in Los Angeles. "I go fucking crazy onstage and I make the crowd go crazy and if they don't, I'm disappointed. I need the energy to be up breaking the ceiling. So for this album, we've just been like, 'Let's make an album we can go crazy to live, but that's also really raw.' I want to do a tour of the album."

In addition to how to handle a live crowd, she’s also learned a great deal about fame, good and bad. She is renting a private location for her birthday celebration so she can enjoy her birthday with friends and family in peace. "We're renting it out because I can't really go there in public. But I think it'd be cool to be able to not be distracted and just be there," she says of the undisclosed location. 

Though she is very grateful for her zealous fans, she admits her sudden rise to stardom has come with some unexpected results. She recalls going out with a friend and being besieged by fans.

"I was on tour so long that when I came back my friend was like, 'Let's hang out,'" she says. "I was like, 'OK.' It was literally one of the scariest times of my life. I was just with the girl, I wasn't with anybody. I had no security. It was the worst it's ever been. It was terrifying."

Normally that is something she would like, as Eilish says she likes to be terrified. In fact, horror movies are a big part of her overall artistic vision. She spoke to Billboard about being homeschooled, her admiration for Skylar Grey and that vision.

Is there an artist whose career you look at and think, "That's what I want"?

Maybe Rihanna, but Rihanna grew up and became Rihanna in a different time than I did. There wasn't this Internet clunked on her head. It was completely different. 

Where do you see so much of your creativity coming from?

I grew up homeschooled, so I was just exploding with ideas and creativity because I had time. I was watching home movies and I did the craziest, most insane, elaborate creations. I remember making a whole car out of cardboard. I remember making a fucking claw machine out of cardboard and I took all my stuffed animals, it was beautiful, and I put them all in it. I had a little hand that would go in and grab it and it was a guarantee that you'd get a stuffed animal if you put a quarter in. I gave away all my stuffed animals. 

Do you see elements of who you were with what you’re doing now?

It's really weird, because especially the last couple of days where I've watched home movies, I just see how it connects; I see and remember the things I was interested in. Sometimes I'll think, "Oh, that makes sense. That's why I like to do that now.” And also now all the stage setup is my ideas, the videos are all my treatments, except the "Hostage" video, 'cause that was the most genius thing I've ever heard. And [I worked with] Stromae so I was like, "OK, you can do that, I'm good." But all the merch is curated by me, all the videos are my idea, all the visuals, everything -- artwork, clothes, photo shoots. I don't like to use effects, which is annoying because when I see people reacting to anything, they're like, "Wow, that looks so real." I'm like, "Fuck you, bro, it was! I had a big-ass tarantula in my mouth. That bitch crawled out." Then I had black goo in my eyes.

Do you see that now manifest itself in the music and in your writing?

Yes, I used to hear certain songs when I was like 10, there was a song by Skylar Grey called "Final Warning"; she's fire. That one and "Wear Me Out," oh my God, that song, when I was 10, 11, all I wanted was to have written a song like that. She's so badass, so cool, and I think about that now and people say that about me and it just blows me away. "Final Warning" totally influenced "Bellyache." So many songs that I would listen to when I was younger have  been huge inspirations subconsciously to a lot of the stuff that I do now. Visually that's a thing, 'cause I feel like I'm more of a visual artist when I think of myself. Visuals come first. I realized recently that Spirited Away has been one of the biggest, most impactful inspirations on me -- everything creatively, Spirited Away and this movie called The Babadook. I'm obsessed with The Babadook and like creepy visual shit.

Is there one movie you wish you could write the soundtrack for?

I watched [Fruitvale Station] like five times. I love everything about that movie. Probably Fruitvale Station or a horror movie. I just love horror movies and also if you took the music away from horror movies they wouldn't be as scary.

What is the scariest movie ever made to you?

If I'm watching a movie, nothing scares me. It scares me later. I like being scared. It means I'm scared a lot though, because I like the feeling of it. I've always liked being hurt and being scared. I like the feeling of being terrified. 

Do you feel like being vulnerable and scared opens you up as an artist?

I'm going farther into it. I like the feeling of it. Even when this was starting, subconsciously, I was trying to flip people out because that's what you remember, you remember being scared better than you remember being excited about stuff. I remember one thing that really inspired me. The first live show I ever went to was The Neighbourhood at the Shrine and the intro was this song they have called "Ferrari," which is dope and everything went white. Everything went white with this really creepy noise and that feeling I felt I was like, "I need to make people feel this." There was nothing like that anticipation and excitement, but also a fear that makes you more intrigued.