In her latest single, "High No More," LA-based singer, songwriter, and dancer Ilana Armida tells the dark story of a relationship with an end looming. Instead of accepting the fate of the relationship, Ilana speaks up for herself through catchy melodies and isn't afraid to suffer through confrontation in order to achieve what's best for her. As a graduate of music business school and an owner of her own entertainment label, Ilana is no stranger to standing her ground.
Sophie Harris: How would you personally describe "High No More" and what was the creative process like to make it?
Ilana Armida: We wrote the song last year at BMG Studios. It was really late [at night]. I set up this session with a couple of buddies I've written with before: J Bach, Allen Mattox, Mike Schiavo, and Alex Kinsey. Everyone in the session was kind of a zombie because we didn't get started until 10pm. We thought it was going to be a failed session because everyone was half asleep, but then we had the idea to write it on guitar. I do hip hop and pop stuff – I never just start with guitar. We had Mike start strumming some chords, Alan and I came up with the "High No More" [lyrical] concept, and it came together quicker than I've ever written a song. Within an hour, we had the whole first verse and chorus done.
I was very sleepy when I was recording the track and I don't think we really realized what we did until we listened back the next day, and we were like, "Guys. Did you listen to the song we did last night? Because it's pretty dope." Then, I played it for my roommates and they were, like, "Yo. This is really dope. You need to put this out." We had no idea that it was even something worth putting out until we all listened back. It was just one of those weird times that we all, in our sleepy state, came together and made something cool.
The concept itself is very straightforward. I wanted to write something that was relatable for a lot of people. And I've been there before – in a relationship where things used to be all spicy and sexy, and then he's not trying anymore. You're bored in the relationship and you're rooting for it still! You're like, "Come on, dude. Put in some effort. This used to be great, and now, it's just falling apart." The song never really gets to the point of, like, "I'm out of here." But it's that point right before you make that decision. Where you remember these fine memories of it being so cool and so great and exciting – but it's gone now and you're trying to get it back.
SH: Would you say there's a sense of standing up for yourself in those lyrics instead of just kind of letting the relationship stay how it's been? Like, speaking up about what you want and being that person who is able to speak your mind?
IA: I very much am that person in all of my friendships and relationships. I'm always very straightforward and honest. It is a little sassy because, you know, the first line is "You tell me about your day, but I really don't give a f**k." I remember writing that and being like, "Is this too much?" But [the writers were] like, "Is that what you would say?" And I'm like "Yeah." So, they were like, "Well let's keep it in there!" There's almost a little bit of sarcasm, like "I'm good. That's fine. Whatever you want to do." It's a little passive aggressive, but yeah. Definitely. It's definitely addressing the issue head on.
SH: I love that. I feel like there are so many artists and musicians who usually just sing about what the man wants instead of speaking for themselves. And your music is completely different from that norm.
IA: Well, thank you. That's the goal! I want to talk about things in a slightly different way than they've been talked about before but still in a way that most people can relate to.
SH: Are you going to release a video for "High No More" at some point?
IA: I would love to. Music videos are my favorite part of the whole process. Like, the I have plans – tentative plans – to shoot a visual in the coming month. I definitely want to make it happen.
SH: That's another thing that really speaks to me about your music. I know you've been a dancer and a singer for as long as you can remember, and the way that you've been able to combine those elements is really cool. So how do you think that adding the components of dance and art really add to your lyrical and musical style?
IA: I grew up watching music videos –probably earlier than I should've. I remember back in the 90's when MTV was all music videos, there was this [channel] called "The Box," and it just played music videos 24/7. It was mostly hip-hop and R&B; stuff, and I was like, "I want to be a video vixen when I grow up!" I was like, 6 years old. So, I'm obsessed with music videos. I did a music video for my last single, or a lyric video. It was 100% my concept. I creative directed and I got to show people a different side of my brain. It lets me put together the full package, because I have this vision in my head when I'm writing a song of what I want the video to look like. When I get to do videos, I get to put the whole package out for people see what these feelings look like to me.
SH: I love that you have a visual image in your head from the beginning.
IA: Well, I mean – I don't know if it's strategy as much as it's just my brain going a million miles a minute. And like, "Oh, this would be dope!" and "We could do this!" I'm doing everything through my own entertainment company, so I'm sure you can imagine that we don't have the big budget to do the music videos that I would love to do. But when I do get to do these things, I'm excited to get my ideas out there.
SH: So, you started your own entertainment label? Can you tell me a little bit about the process behind that?
IA: I've been trying to [start one] since I was 15 or 16 years old. In high school, I was singing, I had friends who were singing, and I was in a hip-hop dance crew of all boys. I thought if I could get all these talented and creative people together, we could create this group, support each other, and do shows. I wanted to start booking events and figuring it all out, but trying to get a bunch of 16-year-olds to commit to anything didn't work. I remember organizing meetings and printing out agendas for everyone and trying to be, like, really professional. And it never happened.
Then in college, I tried to put out my own EP that I wrote with a friend. I mean, it was garbage music, but it was my first run at trying to do a full project. That's when I actually created an LLC and tried to legitimize it when I understood how to do that, because I went to school for music business. Now that I actually have music that's worth putting out into the world, I've partnered up with a couple people who have worked in the industry for a long time. They're helping me to organize everything. For example, we're distributing through AWAL for "High No More," but the last [single] we distributed ourselves, so we're slowly getting the connections and resources that we need.
SH: Have you faced any challenges starting your own LLC so early and handling everything yourself, especially in the male-dominated music industry?
IA: Luckily, I have the most supportive parents of all time. My dad really helps me on the business side of things. He started his own business, so he set a really good example and figured out the best ways to help me. Plus, they both love what I'm doing, they love music, and they've always been super supportive. So, that's been helpful, especially to have my dad – a strong, male figure – be so supportive.
I've met people saying that they wanted to manage me, seeming very legit and having the credentials and the money. But knowing that's the industry is exactly what I went to school for – so I wouldn't get screwed over or sign a contract that I didn't understand. I've been presented several times with contracts and guys trying to take advantage [of me]. I've been lucky enough to know the game before I got into it, but there are so many other women that don't know, and that totally get screwed out of money or just taken advantage of. It's tough.
And it's also tough because during any writing session I'm in, it's rare that there's another female in the room. I'll meet a girl [in the industry] and be like, "Oh my god, want to be my friend?" Because I'm constantly surrounded by dudes. I think that comes through in some of my music. As happy and "dance-y" as a lot of my songs are, there's also this little, like, bitter girl in the background. There's a little bit of a jab in the stuff I'm writing, and I think it's pent up sassiness from all the dudes I have to deal with.
SH: Honestly, thank you so much for releasing that kind of music. It's relatable but it's also truly personal to your own stories. It's really hard to find that balance and you've definitely found it.
IA: Thank you! That means so much because that's what I'm trying to do. It's really tough. I get anxious before I release stuff because, like you said, it's personal. I've tried really hard to be as genuine as I can be when I'm writing and singing these songs, so it kind of feels like I'm saying, "Hey world! Here's a piece of me for you to judge." You know? So, I appreciate that. Thank you. I hope ["High No More"] resonates with people the way I want it to.
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