Soundtrack of Our Lives: Eilish Gilligan takes us through her fascinating musical influences, plus we review her epic EP ‘Hospital’

The Breakdown

Eilish Gilligan's EP 'Hospital' is statuesque and elegant... a respite, a panacea for the times, a chance for reflection and recovery.
Independent 8.5

Melbourne’s Eilish Gilligan is a one person tour de force who has bloomed during the harsh (but ultimately very successful) lockdowns in Victoria. She has been releasing some stunning singles over the past year, undertaking fascinating live shows during lockdown through Twitch and has now released an epic self-produced EP, ‘Hospital’.

This EP is a product entirely of her own making – from writing and arranging through to instrumentation and mixing. And all powered by an extraordinary voice.

I reviewed the single ‘Flesh’ from the EP in October – describing the track as a velvet soundscape that highlights Gilligans epic vocals and her ear for melody with gliding, glitching instrumentals and a mesmerising atmosphere:

The EP opens with ‘When You Were Well’ – setting the canvass for an album that deals with visceral themes – open, deep and personal. Gilligan’s voice is so pure and clear in this track – minimal instrumentation just serves to punctuate the delicacy and beauty of her voice. The vocals are infused with such a deep and tangible sense of yearning that highlights themes on mental health.

‘Calling Me Out’ is a heart wrenching plea for understanding and patience in a relationship – again Gilligan’s voice is naked and exposed. It’s a voice that can take such scrutiny: ringing like a soft bell.

The intricate and delicate melodies of ‘October, December’ and the stunning range Gilligan delivers further showcase her talent.

Gilligan’s production skills shine in ‘Anniversary: the lush instrumentation is more prominent with frank and open lyrics – never had an anniversary, what the fuck is wrong with me – Gilligan does not flinch from raw and personal emotions that expose fragile emotions in a beautiful way.

The closing title track is statuesque and elegant, a befitting description of the EP as a whole. Indeed, the EP paints a brilliant soundscape, coloured with emotion and close and personal imagery that somehow befits an artistic milieu born from the claustrophobia and anxiety of a COVID era. In a sense the title of the EP is perfect: ‘Hospital’ is a quiet respite, a panacea for the times, a chance for reflection and recovery.

You can get the album through the link below:

The EP is being launched in Melbourne on 7 January 2021 at the iconic Corner Hotel – see full details here.

Gilligan has put together a very illuminating list of tracks exclusively for Backseat Mafia that have influenced her songwriting and production, and she has provided some very insightful commentary on her eclectic choices. You can listen on the Spotify link at the end.

Viva Forever – Spice Girls 

Ah, the first song I ever loved *takes drag on cigarette*. We had Spice World on cassette and I have a very, very vivid memory of coming home from kinder most days and alternating between storybook cassettes and listening to this song over and over. Then when the tape would run out it would make a really loud noise and I would get a terrible fright, which gives you an indication of what kind of child I was (inside only, easily startled, hobbies include sitting quietly). Anyway! I love this song so much. It just INTRIGUED me as a little baby – I wanted to know the story, I wanted to understand the music video, I wanted to know why it was so sad! This is a great example of ’sad wistful pop’, a high I am forever chasing to this day. 

Closer To Fine – Indigo Girls

My mum had a burned cassette in her our old Volvo that got unbelievably high rotation during my childhood, and thank God my mum has great taste in music because if she didn’t we’d all be in trouble. This song featured on this cassette (as did some of the following tracks, too), and everything, EVERYTHNG about it is just perfect. The timbre of the vocal and the acoustic guitar, the harmonies, the counter melodies, the imagery of the lyrics – when I was a little girl sitting in the back of the Volvo I would picture the protagonist of this story, visiting all these different places, trying to find the ‘answers’. I always thought the lyric was ’the closer I am to find’ – and I was like, find what? 

Woodstock – Joni Mitchell

This was another Volvo classic, amongst MANY Joni tracks – I could do a whole playlist of Joni songs that informed my practice, but I think this one has to be up there with the most influential. This was at the very end of that tape, and I always knew it was getting late if we were at Woodstock. I remember very, very clearly some very dark drives with my eyes feeling very heavy listening to this song. It is so stark, and beautiful, and frightening, in a way – particularly for a child. I now understand that it is a wistful song, because Joni Mitchell didn’t get to go to Woodstock as she had hoped – but at the time it felt very witchy, ominous, hypnotic to me, as a little one. Reflecting now I could probably list the entire Ladies of the Canyon album here but I won’t – I do encourage everyone to revisit it though!!!

You’re So Vain – Carly Simon

This is the last one I can clearly remember on that Volvo tape. I know every word, every nuance – I KNOW this song like I know my own body. I am so grateful to my mum for introducing me to this song, because it taught me that you can be strong, assertive, and just plain blunt as a woman in music. It’s allowed! I, for some reason, was so fascinated by the lyric ‘I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee’ – I now realise it was probably because the rest of the song is relatively easy for a child to comprehend the narrative – but here, it become opaque. What does it all MEAN?! Also Mick Jagger in the background like ‘You’re so Vayyyyy-einn’ – we have to stan. 

Round Here – Counting Crows

Counting Crows are a band my parents both introduced me to – there’s not much intersection between my parents’ music tastes, but Counting Crows is a band that the whole family agrees on. This song and album taught me SO much as a child, but even more so when I returned to them as a teenager. I obsessed over a live performance I found of this song for months and months – I studied every move that Adam Duritz made, every theatrical notion, every improvised line, and to this day I believe he has informed a great deal of my practice, from live performance to lyric writing and imagery. I saw them live for the first time when I was in high school, and I will never forget their performance of their song Cowboys (brilliant song) – the lights were flashing like crazy, and Adam Duritz was standing still as a statue on the foldback speakers – then at the most climactic moment of the song, he held his hand to his head as though it were a gun – and they cut they lights. It was the most provocative thing I had ever seen up until that point lol. It was then I started to truly understand that live performance can be a form of theatre, drama, heightened reality. 

My parents would also always play Counting Crows when we had company coming over, so their albums still provoke the feeling that ‘mum and dad’s friends are coming over and I get to stay up late and watch movies with their friend’s kids’ inside me lmao. 

Cloudbusting – Kate Bush

God, I owe so much to Kate Bush. So much of my practice is informed by the album Hounds of Love in particular – I really needed it when I first REALLY listened to it when I was about 21. It helped me realise that I will probably never be a conventional artist, my voice will always be idiosyncratic, and it’s OK – more than OK, it is a strength. I love how daring and innovative the production on this album is, and I love how specific and niche the core idea of this song is. I love how unapologetically ‘Kate Bush’ Kate Bush is, you know? I aspire to that level of confidence. 

Levon – Elton John

I adore Elton John. I really got into him when I was a teenager, when I was working very hard to be very good at piano – honourable mention here to Tim Minchin as well, who taught me that piano is COOL and also that it’s cool to just, follow your own path – anyway, Madman Across The Water is my favourite Elton album, because it just feels like him at his absolute strongest (and that’s really saying something!) There’s not a single skip on this record, but I think Levon is my absolute favourite. The lyric ‘calls his child Jesus because he likes the name’  is just unspeakably delightful, and I have always loved how the song comes back to reference Jesus as an older child later on – the melody and turn of phrase of ‘and JESUS!! He wants to go to Venus!! Leaving Levon far behind’ is just so, so perfect and beautiful. The opening riff to this song is just…*mwah*…I spent quite a long time perfecting this by ear as a teen and I think that kind of thing really helped me develop my ear for a good melody (and also just develop my aural skills in general). 

Marry The Night – Lady Gaga

It was very hard for me to just include one Lady Gaga song on this list. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Gaga stan first and human second! In the end I chose Marry The Night, because I think that it has the slightest, SLIGHTEST edge in that I identify strongly with the theme and have for many years. In the video, there’s a moment where she’s struggling to hike a full-size electronic piano up a flight of stairs, and an older man (who I like to assume represents her father) helps her with it – and I identify so strongly and so deeply with that visual that I can picture it clear as day in my head. She also dyes her hair blonde in the video so I dyed my hair blonde too. This song means so much to me, it has been there for me during breakups and emotional issues to remind me that my music will never wake up in the morning and tell me that it doesn’t love me. 

Enchanted – Taylor Swift

This was the first song from Taylor that turned me into a true stan – I always loved the Fearless album, but from the periphery – but as soon as I listened to Speak Now from start to finish, I was completely sold. This is one of my absolute faves from this album – it’s so visceral, it’s so present, and I love how unashamedly dramatic it is (‘PLEASE don’t be in love with someone else!!!’). I could have included a bajillion different Taylor songs on this playlist but I chose the one that felt like it started it all for me with her music. I also love how the production has these little hints of synth (or what feels like synth) underneath the very ‘radio country’ vibe (which I also adore). Feels like a sign. 

Flume – Bon Iver

I first heard this song in a shop, and I asked the person at the register who it was – and they were kind enough to write ‘Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago’ on a napkin for me and the rest is history. I have a massive soft spot for Bon Iver – a lot of my recent production choices feel informed by how much I love them and how well I know their work. There was a very vulnerable and sad time in my teenage life when I would listen to this album to go to sleep every night for MONTHS – to this day, I cannot hear Flume without being overwhelmed by a feeling of ’IT’S TIME TO SLEEP NOW!!!’ (yes that voice in my head yells, don’t ask me why). 

Idiot Oracle – Paul Dempsey

I cannot and will not ever let go of this song. I will hold it in my hot little hands forever. The opening bars of this song put me in such a time and place so quickly it is actually frightening – I always return to this track when I need it (usually for crying purposes). I’m addicted to remembering, like some idiot oracle – I have always LOVED the combination of fancy schmancy words (oracle) with rough colloquialisms (idiot) – this is so intensely satisfying as a lyric, such a striking song title, such a strong turn of phrase. I’ll never recover. I hear you when you turn and talk in your sleep…you wouldn’t dream of meaning anything to me. 

Feature Photograph: Simon Walsh

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