Photographer: Vincent Gravel
Publishing date: Mar, 06, 2023
“I’m coloring with the same tastes, the same pencils, the same instruments, the same everything. So I just try to tell a story, my story,” says Yonatan Ayal, professionally known as Chiiild, about his creative process and capturing authentic experiences through music. Chiiild has the innate ability to document the relatable peaks and pits of the human condition with effortless ease, crafting refreshing bops that ting with vulnerability and desolation. His, perhaps instinctive, openness to his emotions and unorthodox sounds has led him to work with Jennifer Lopez, Usher, Jessie J, Chloe x Halle, Jack Ü (Diplo and Skrillex), Dragonette, Tayla Parx, Allie X, and Rob Thomas. The diverse perspectives and sounds offered Chiiild a boundless playground to experiment with different genres and forge a sound distinct to him—a sound he likes to call “synthetic soul.” Described as the juxtaposition of the natural and synthetic, Chiiild welcomes contradiction with open arms, masterfully weaving soul, R&B, psychedelia, jazz, indie, and pop together in their most beautifully evocative way.
Born in Montréal, Chiiild’s music dream was shaped in a basement studio as he made beats with friends over 12-packs. There, he made his initial connections to the music industry before heading off to LA to attend studio sessions. With almost 300 sessions in the first year and having to live out of his car due to his frequent LA trips, the perseverance and dedication to his craft give Chiiild the grounds to stay true to who he is today. In his latest album, Better Luck In The Next Life, Chiiild grapples with the idea of becoming vulnerable to open up the next chapter in life. He invites us on a journey with him as he reflects and expands beyond his comfort zone. Steeped in moodiness and self-reflection, the 12-track record provides comfort in the discomfort of a world sans borders and labels, a short-lived out-of-body experience in a warped sense of time and space.
As Chiiild gears up to start the North American leg of his Better Luck In The Next Life tour, he candidly chats below about the meaning behind his opening track, music that has found its way to him, pre-show ritual, and how he differs as a producer and artist.
How did your listeners influence the making of your new album?
In this particular case, I would say it was more about letting [my listeners] understand who I am and how I got here. I would say I listened and I wanted to lean in and be more personal with the music.
How did you decide on the title “Better Luck Next Life” and how is it meaningful to you?
It’s in the same lineage as Apocalyptic Optimistic [tour]. I can be pretty dramatic sometimes [laughs] and Better Luck In The Next Life felt like I was about to go through something that started the next chapter of [my] life. That level of honesty I equated to telling someone you love them for the first time, and that relationship is always different after. It either frays a little bit, or it comes together and begins the next life.
You capture a wide spectrum of emotions that reflect the human experience, from energetic songs like “Bon Voyage” to more somber songs like “Into The Deep End”. How do you maintain the balance and keep the album feeling unified and cohesive?
Cohesiveness is something that I pay [less] attention to because I’m so involved musically. Not just singing the music but also [being a part of] producing and sitting through the mixing of it. I’m coloring with the same tastes, the same pencils, the same instruments, the same everything. So I try to tell a story, my story. “Bon Voyage,” [is] a bit more egotistical. Then, there are songs like “Into The Deep end,” or “Running Out of (Hallelujahs)” [that convey] very specific emotions. It’s like you’ve just met somebody for the first time and you feel this overwhelming sensation of ‘I don’t know where this is going but I’m totally down, and I hope this works out.’ I try to be honest to the moment. I’m not overthinking it.
‘Better Luck Next Life’ is more raw and vulnerable than your previous records. Was this shift intentional or a result of natural growth in your craft?
I think it’s both. When people are still discovering Chiiild, [they] see all [of the] popular songs. And so it felt right to not replicate all [of my] popular songs and just continue to tell more of [my] stories. Those songs exist and they will always be there [but the hope is] as you continue to discover “Weightless,” ”Awake,” and “Count Me Out,” you will also hear “Surfing the Silver Linings,” and “You Get Me (A Final Word).” [At] the time, I was precious about the time I had with the listener, now I feel like we’re building on that relationship and it continues to get deeper. And that’s what this is about.
Your lyrics tend to be very descriptive, painting vivid imagery for listeners, usually drawing from nature. What quality of nature resonates with you?
Nature is the thing that we all experience equally. It’s such a unifying thing that exists in our lives so when I say ‘tangerine skies’, everyone understands what that means. If I point to something very specific, there is a chance that you’ve never experienced that. To be honest, I don’t think about it too much. I think that’s just the language that I speak and that’s how I am on a daily basis. It’s not as intentional as it might seem.
You’ve said you were exposed to all kinds of music growing up, from Bob Marley, Gigi, and Sam Cooke, and that these great artists all helped shape you and your sound, which encapsulates a very wide range. How do you genre-bend while keeping a sound that is true and authentic to you?
It’s automatically true and authentically from me because I do it with my friends. It’s not something that is purchased from another party. I think that in itself takes away the worry that it might be too different. It’s honest. It’s from you. No matter what you do, it’s yours. It’s funny that you mention my references because every interview I do, and every conversation I have, it’s like a new set of artists. It’s probably because that’s just what it is. For this season, maybe it’s Moby and Bjork and Bon Iver. For the season of “Count Me Out,” I was completely immersed in Sam Cooke and D’Angelo. We’re sponges so I like to change my environment. I’m a big fan of changing the world I exist in and a big part of that is the music that I listen to. In order to see how it affects you and what comes from it. Gigi is an Ethiopian artist that I used to listen to on long drives with my parents sitting in the back seat, they used to play her a lot. Bob Marley is the ultimate uniter of people. That’s something I aspire to, as well.
On Twitter, you promoted the release of your new album with a line that says, “still synthetic since 2020.” What does “synthetic” mean to you and your sound, and has your definition changed in the last two years?
When I think of a voice, I think of something natural. I think of this conversation right here. When I think of “synthetic soul,” they are contradictory. When I think of soul music, I think of the most organic things you can think of, like this big voice that emotes without any interference. Now, for me, when I did “Count Me Out,” I was like ‘what would it sound like if Daft Punk or something that is really electronic did soul music? How interesting would that be?’ That’s the train of thought that took me down to “Count Me Out.” The same train of thought took me down “Eventually.” When you think of “Surfing Over the Silver Linings,” it’s a song that almost sounds jazzy, it feels like you’re in this cigarette-filled room in New York downstairs. But the vocalist is not a traditional Jazz vocalist. It’s still conveying the same melodic intention. So much of it is the same, but it’s not. It’s synthetic, it’s cool, it’s different. And that’s what I love.
Is there a difference between Chiiild the producer and Chiiild the artist?
I would say that there is a difference. When I’m working on Chiiild music, that first day is mixing sounds and trying to find something that is exciting. Whatever I connect to the most, that’s what I keep and then I continue down the path of finding the right words and telling the story that I want to. And so much changes from the first and second day to a month later when it’s what you get to hear. When it comes to Chiiild music, there’s all this technical stuff that I like to get into and get lost in the minutia. Those are the things that maybe don’t show themselves in other production things that I [do].
You’re going on tour this spring. How are you preparing and what are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to going out and seeing everybody there reacting to the music and sharing that excitement. You’re excited to be there, I’m also excited to be there. It’s a very intimate experience. It’s a good opportunity to escape whatever you’re dealing with and come out to a place that is filled with good music and good energy. We start March 2nd and we go all the way until April 16th. US and Canada.
Do you have a pre-show ritual? Are you the type to hype yourself up or stay calm and steady and then give all your energy on stage?
I’m definitely really calm. I got a [cup of] tea. I might do a shot before the tea. I’d have a moment with everyone and it’s just a vibe and the energy is very high. And then I try to find a little space, stretch, relax, and visualize. Try to slow time down a little bit because it’s nice when you get to go perform and it doesn’t end in a blink. It’s nice when you get to slow down for a second and actually enjoy that middle part of the second song with the [people] there. It’s nice to have that and it’s really important to me. And it’s the first show, and it [will be] over in a blink. You just keep trying to slow it down.
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