The most intriguing thing about Jim Barrett and Steven Ross of ILLLS is that they just don’t give a fuck—in a good way. When the two musicians started playing together in their hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, they didn’t expect anyone to ever listen to the tunes. Fast forward to the garage pop duo’s first show—a supporting slot for the great Youth Lagoon at Oxford’s own Cats Purring Dude Ranch—and it looks like this band thing might be for real.
The two-piece recently released its debut EP, Dark Paradise, and have two music videos under their belt. Amidst all of this chaos, Ross was nice enough to chat with me about the music scene in Oxford, recording the EP, and the making of ILLLS vomit inducing (literally) first music video for the track, “Teeth.”
What I really like about your sound is the juxtaposition of grimy, fuzzy garage rock and buoyant pop hooks. What would you say are your biggest influences?
Thanks. I think they differ a lot between Jim and I but the big ones for both of us are bands like Shocking Pinks, Jay Reatard, New Order, the Cure. Not ever trying to recreate anything but they have similar moods to what we are going for I think.
What do you want your fans to get out of listening to your music?
I don’t know. I was never really expecting many people to listen to these original songs we recorded so I wasn’t really thinking about that. I guess it’s good if people can find something in them to relate to their personal lives in a unique way. But we’re not trying to make something that fits a specific mood or situation like “going to the beach” or “life sucks.” Confusion to what exactly they are feeling might be something I would like people to get out of listening to our music.
Oxford, Mississippi is definitely not the first place that comes to mind when I think of garage-pop. How do you feel living there has influenced your sound?
It’s definitely affected us because all of our friends that live here are in really great bands, but the city itself probably hasn’t influenced us too much. It’s a really unique place but it’s still a conservative, Southern college town where you can’t buy cold beer past midnight or on Sundays, 80% of the students are involved in Greek life and the mayor is a fat, ignorant redneck. Regardless of that, though, Oxford is amazing.
Are there any super rad bands out of Mississippi that we should know about?
Definitely. Jim’s brother, John, is in Bass Drum of Death and they are great. Then you have other friends of ours that are in bands like Dent May, Dead Gaze, Flight, Gray Things and more. It’s a small group of bands but there’s a lot of diversity.
Explain to me the recording process you went through for your EP, Dark Paradise.
We recorded the entire thing at my house in a spare bedroom that I’ve turned into a makeshift studio. We started recording just for fun a few years ago, but once we started getting some stuff we were really happy with we decided to try and record an EP. Half the songs on the EP I do vocals and Jim does vocals on the other half. Outside of vocals, though, all of the music was done pretty collaboratively.
When can we expect a full-length?
We are already working on the new stuff so hopefully late this year or maybe at the very beginning of next year.
I read that you originally had a director for the “Teeth” video but ditched him because he was making you do stupid stuff. Tell me about this.
[Laughs] Well, I’ll take full responsibility for all of that (and what I’m about to say), but he was a nice enough guy I guess, he just had a really specific vision for the video and wasn’t willing to budge much on it. That vision involved stuff like us playing baseball, dressing up like rednecks and playing a harp in a gas station or something. I really didn’t know what the fuck was going on, I just knew I wasn’t going to do any of that shit for our first video.
Do you like the way the video turned out when you shot it yourselves?
Yeah, I do. We got two of our friends to help us do it, and I think they did a really good job. Reid Cooper helped us get shots and come up with ideas for it and Carson Culver did most the directing. He came up with the idea to put the camera in a shopping cart for the grocery store scenes so it looked like we had a roll cam, which I thought was pretty clutch. They helped us do our new video for “Bathroom Floor” as well. The editing was done through a guy hired by the label overseas, he rationed the throw-up scenes more than I originally was hoping, but in the end I think he may have been right. I was kind of planning on three and half minutes of vomit, but I’ve come to realize nobody wants to see that.
What all was in that horrifying concoction?
Jesus, I don’t even remember, but it was bad. We started it off by cooking a dead fly that had gotten trapped in some old grease in the pan. Then we threw in stuff like Spam, peanut butter, canned chili, pickled eggs, countless sauces and some strawberry ice cream for color and texture. I’m literally getting sick just typing this out. That smell…
I’m not gonna lie, watching that video made me a little queasy. Were you guys really eating the sludge, and really vomiting?
Yes, the first time it touched my tongue I threw up everything I had eaten that day. We had to keep going and eat more of it for the rest of the shots but it was terrible. Jim got really drunk, which is what I should have done. By the end, I was doing dry heaves with only some stomach acid left to puke up. That’s maybe why I wanted more of it in the video, because we went through so much to get the shots. Either way, though, it’s over and we aren’t doing that shit ever again.