Editor's Note: This segment was rebroadcast on Jan. 28, 2020 after Finneas won five awards at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. That audio is available here.
Finneas O’Connell has produced all of his sister Billie Eilish’s music, including the No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts earlier this year, “Bad Guy.”
The 22-year-old musician started writing songs when he was 12. Finneas is also an actor — he starred as Alistair on the television series, “Glee” — and he recently produced Selena Gomez’s first No. 1 song on Billboard Hot 100, “Lose You To Love Me.”
Now, he’s fresh off his first solo tour for his new album, “Blood Harmony.”
“It's been nerve wracking,” O’Connell, who goes by the stage name FINNEAS, says of stepping out on his own. He says there’s a big difference between performing by himself and playing with Eilish because he is front and center.
“I think Billie and I've played enough shows that they're really fun, but they don't make me nervous anymore,” he says. “And I carry a less heavy burden every night than she does. People don't come to see a Billie Eilish show to come to see me. They come to see her. So I just try not to screw up too much on my instruments.”
He says that in writing his first solo album, it was important for the music to sound differently than the work he produced for his sister.
“Part of the thing that might separate mine is that I grew up playing piano and guitar, and she plays a little bit of piano and guitar, but I definitely like always written sitting at those instruments,” Finneas says. “And so on pretty much every song of mine that's like a center point is kind of me sitting at a piano playing music, or standing and holding a guitar.”
On the song, “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night”
“This is a song I wrote while I was in Japan last August, and I was just sitting in hotel rooms. And Japan is a really amazing place, but I have never felt more like a beginner in my life. I just didn't know how to do anything in Japan. I didn't know how to get anywhere. I didn't know how to ask for directions. I would like get back to my hotel room at the end of each day and just like give a great sigh of like just resting for a second, cause it was just all day, like looking every direction, trying to figure out my bearings. And I was just writing the song about this like fantasy date that I had never been on. … I was living in the future hoping I might see you sooner. … It's just like I fantasize about stuff that hasn't happened all the time.”
On living with synesthesia
“Well, the whole idea behind synesthesia is that it's essentially innate. So like for me, 'Let's Fall in Love for the Night' is orange. It's like a kind of a rusty orange. It's like an autumn leaf orange. And I don't have any idea why, and I didn't choose it. But it is that way. And people have kind of, in my opinion, like glorified synesthesia into like some superpower, which I don't feel that it's that way. But it's definitely like a fun place to jump off from, you know, if you're like, 'Where do I start with this?' And you're like, 'Well, how does it make me feel?' You know, a lot of like what I do as a producer is like sound design and stuff. So like sometimes I'm writing a song and it’s just the mood that it's evoking to me is like a rainy day. And I'm like, 'Well, let's try some rain in the background, see how that makes me feel.' And it's just like ways to inspire myself. But yeah, ... there are some people who are like debilitated by their synesthesia. They'll like see the word Lenovo, and they'll like taste like wasabi. Like it's really crazy. Synesthesia is intense.”
On his success in music at such a young age
“I think, you know, when I turned 21 or when I turned 20 or even 18, like the joke I would make, I'd be like, 'Yeah, everything I do is just a little less impressive now.' And I think ultimately when you're young for your category of profession, the thing you really don't want to be is good for your age. I think you want to just be good. And that's always been my favorite part about Billie is I think it's so secondary that she happens to be very young. ... She's 17. But continually people are surprised to find out how young she is, which to me is like such a mark of the success of the art, because it's very easy to admire a child prodigy pianist for being so young and so brilliant and so good. But like, I don't know if that's the pianist that you'd want to see concert wise in their 30s when there's other incredible 30-year-old pianists.”
On living a fully adult life as a 22-year-old
“I really always wanted to be an adult. I didn't really like being an adolescent at all. I'm not a control freak in that like I boss everybody around, but like a control freak and like, I like knowing exactly what I get to do that day and having a say. And I think like so much of being a kid, pretty much until you're 10, you just like do what other people had ideas for you to do, you know? And this is so goofy and it makes me sound like a real piece of work, but I woke up one morning when I was a kid and I was like the night before I'd been like, 'I'd love to go to the library tomorrow and pick out a book.' And I woke up the next morning and my mom was like, 'Surprise, we're going to Disneyland!' And I burst into tears because I was like, I don't ... I had no say in this. And I had a great time at Disneyland that day, not to say that I didn't, but I have always had a real desire to really know what's going on and what's coming. And I think as an adult, that's 100 percent of what I get to do.”
On his musical influences and who he’s learned from
“I've learned a lot from my mom and my dad. I learn a lot every time I watch Billie perform. I've learned a lot from the crew that we bring out because they've been doing it longer than we have. And I learn a lot from a lot of people that I look up to in songwriting. And one of the first people that Billie and I got close with was the artist Khalid, and he is just a really stupendous vocalist and a real scholar of music, like he knows so much about so many artists that you'd never expect Khalid to know about that maybe don't even influence his music at all, but he knows about them. And that's so cool. I'm a big fan of that.”
On the song, “I Lost A Friend”
“This is a song I wrote at some point last summer. It was, you know, pretty much autobiographical about a friendship of mine that lasted all through high school and kind of fallen apart. And I think it's OK to have friends come and go in your life depending on how much real-life value that you add to each other. Like sometimes you just grow up and you have different interests and you ride in different waves. And I think that's OK. But in this case, we were like still best friends, and I felt that there was, you know, a sort of a raw patch there of some form of resentment or maybe misguided envy or something. At the time, I wasn't really sure how to deal with that, but I decided that it was probably best to try to write a song about it and to not write a song that was vilifying that person in any way or trying to make myself look like the victim. I'm really glad I wrote that song because it's been fun to see how many people have connected with it and be like, 'Oh wow, I guess everybody goes through that.' Where there's a lot of like breakup songs ... but there's not a lot like friendship breakup songs.”
On the song, “Angel,” which is about his girlfriend, YouTube star Claudia Sulewski
“That's like a just a straight ahead like love song about my girlfriend Claudia, who I just am very in love with sort of at all points in time. And I was sitting down at a piano like pretty much like a almost a year ago to the day, I was sitting down at a piano in Arizona in a green room, and it was not even early in the morning, but I had just woken up because on tour you sleep very late. And I I could barely talk. I was like clearing my throat over and over and over to try to sing. And I was just playing that piano part that I thought was pretty.
“That song means a lot to me. And I sent it to Claudia right when I wrote it. She texted me back a picture of tears in her eyes. I was like, 'Oh, then it's done.' ”
This segment aired on November 5, 2019.