It’s the moment practically every EDM fan has been waiting for: The return of ILLENIUM at his finest, releasing a sneak peak of his fourth studio album with its lead single, “Nightlight.”
Out today via 12Tone, ILLENIUM’s new record label, "Nightlight" is stunningly emotive. Vocalist Annika Wells’ ethereal tone reverberates through the track's stunning future bass drops, further reinforcing ILLENIUM's dominance over the genre. With "Nightlight," he also continues in the vein of his previous LP, ASCEND, by incorporating rock elements, such as strong percussion and guitar melody lines. At the same time, the track hearkens back to his roots with production techniques reminiscent of his earlier work, like his debut album, Ashes, dubbed by ILLENIUM an "angelic ooze."
"It’s a love song, and it’s a peaceful love song, where you’re in the dark going through shit, and you have someone that’s your light at the end of the tunnel, a way out," ILLENIUM told EDM.com. "And hopefully, there’s some news of maybe some life returning next year or something like that, and this music translates to some excitement from that, giving some more life to people who are struggling right now."
To celebrate the release of "Nightlight," we chatted with ILLENIUM about what inspired the spellbinding single, the creative process behind his new album and the determination it took to launch a new chapter in his storied music career.
EDM.com: Let’s just kick it off with your new record. Tell me a bit about its process.
ILLENIUM: So I stopped touring in February, and it was an interesting time because I wasn’t really able to work on music at all six months prior. I haven’t really taken a break like that musically since I started, so I felt I had more inspiration and more creative juices flowing than I’ve ever had.
I was going so hard, just loving the music I was creating. “Nightlight” is very much that. I was sent a very, very, very demo vocal, and I was just like, “Holy crap, this really took away from everything and was just a kind of escape.” I was really excited to just start working from that vocal. And then I got really excited about the breakdown, with that angelic ooze. I started the song with the intro and then started working on that. That just inspired me to make a really powerful drop, but it’s got a really in your face melody. It all just came together really fast.
EDM.com: What was that like, going from touring so long to suddenly doing the complete opposite?
ILLENIUM: By the end of the Ascend tour in Australia, I was pretty burnt out. I still loved it and I would have been able to keep going, but I had just finished a trilogy, Ashes, Awake and ASCEND, and I didn’t know creatively what I wanted to do next. Because I loved the theme of the phoenix rising, what happens next in the life cycle of that?
This album might not be a trilogy, but it’s a new phase of ILLENIUM. Once I figured it out, I was like, “Oh shit, this is fucking cool,” and that inspired me to be like, “Okay, let’s just go from here. Let’s just make the music I love.” And once I started, for a month there it was like song, song, song and I was really feeling it.
Throughout ASCEND and even Awake, touring got crazy and I would come home and think, “Okay, you have three days and I need a song.” You can’t force creativity, so if those three days aren’t awesome, I feel like I’m falling behind. It’s hard, and it isn’t what making music is supposed to be. I love the music I created still, but this time, it’s straight up what I love. If I don’t love it, I’m not going to make it. And there’s no pressure to make anything right now.
EDM.com: What elements of this new music are resonating with you?
ILLENIUM: I think being able to reflect on the crazy shows that have happened makes me bring the feeling of a show closer into my studio by myself, just imagining what it’s going to be like when I get to go back. That has been a huge inspiration. I can’t wait to sing these lyrics with thousands of people. I’ll make a song and it'll be 5AM, and I’ll listen to it with that mindset and it’s like, “This is exactly what I feel like people are gonna love.” And I love it, too. It’s cool.
EDM.com: I’m curious what those “crazy shows” were.
ILLENIUM: I definitely think of Red Rocks and Madison Square Garden. Just that wall of people surrounding me, that was so special about this last tour, getting to play arenas. Festivals are just a sea of people, which is sick, but when you headline an arena, it’s enclosed and there are people there just to sing and rage. One thing I wish I could do is just go attend one of these shows—like my own show. I’ve never gotten to just straight up attend it - which is an impossible thing because I have to play it. But it’s one thing I’ve been kind of reflecting on. I wish I could actually go experience it myself.
EDM.com: Going back to "Nightlight," I thought the track sounded very rock-influenced, similar to ASCEND.
ILLENIUM: Totally. The music I’m creating right now is a total blend of my earlier melody-focused EDM with rock, coming from the drums and guitar I started to add. I love that it’s more impactful than just a rock song, though. It has more sound and more intricacies, but it’s not just a synth or just a super soft, future bass feeling. It gives me a new kind of feeling that I haven’t heard that much. It’s exciting because I feel like I kind of exhausted the super soft, straight future bass sound, and I was looking for something new. I think “Good Things Fall Apart” set the tone for this new sound I really love.
EDM.com: Was it scary to make that jump originally, knowing your fans are such big fans of future bass?
ILLENIUM: I have a huge EDM fanbase, but I feel like as long as I don’t just abandon that and start making straight pop, the songs that are coming out of me right now are very much me and very much still stay true to that. Even “Nightlight” has an even Ashes feeling, where it has that driving melody that I strayed away from in Awake and ASCEND.
EDM.com: And with “Nightlight,” the lyrics are also so personal. Does that bring to mind anyone who has been a “nightlight” in the past?
ILLENIUM: It’s a love song, and it’s a peaceful love song, where you’re in the dark going through shit, and you have someone that’s your light at the end of the tunnel, a way out.
My relationship with Lara, for one, has been awesome. I’m in this phase where I get to actually spend time at home with Peanut and Lara, experiencing a different side of myself. I really feel like Lara’s a rock in my life in terms of being able to go on the road, but also go home and have a life I could see potentially after music. I don’t know how long music’s going to last, but it’s really peaceful to know she’s there, either life, either way.
EDM.com: Are there any musicians that also have this supportive effect on you?
ILLENIUM: Trevor, Said the Sky, has always been. We’ve been in the studio more, and it feels right now like when I started. It’s cool because when you start making music you get addicted to it, and when I’m working with Trevor it’s just really exciting to get into the studio instead of being a bit stressed. I’ve been really grateful for the time, for right now. It’s really nice to have been living more in the moment.
EDM.com: Do you find that translates into producing more for yourself?
ILLENIUM: Oh yeah, for sure. I feel like more so than ever. I’m not really chasing a pop hit right now. If one happens, that’s tight, but right now i just want to make music that’s going to smash the first show I come back, and be like, “Holy shit, it’s back on, let’s fucking go.”
EDM.com: What about your move to 12Tone this year? How has that affected your creative direction?
ILLENIUM: The people at 12Tone are really special in that they’re fans. That just creates so much freedom and excitement for me to share tunes with Steve, the head, and send him stuff and tell him the story behind it. When you’re in the major label scheme there are some people that definitely support you and are fans of you, but the machine is, “Is this going to hit? Is this going to work? And right now, I have people that are going to grind just because they love it. And that’s something that’s really special.
EDM.com: What can we expect from you in the future?
ILLENIUM: The focus right now is just working on a body of work and getting songs together. There are going to be a lot of singles and music coming. And hopefully, there’s some news of maybe some life returning next year or something like that, and this music translates to some excitement from that, giving some more life to people who are struggling right now.