A chance trawl of triple j Unearthed nearly two years ago helped us stumble across a truly wonderful song by a then unknown producer called Bajillionaire.
It was an instant hit in our hearts. It was an earworm, it was a breezy, sunny song, with repetitive yet lovable hook instrumentation and pin-point accurate lyrics about the uneasiness of the final days of high school.
The only thing we could work out about the then-twenty-year-old was that he was from the Northern Beaches, he was still writing songs about high school and collaborating with his high school mates and had no particular interest in being the face of a music project, let alone the voice.
Bajillionaire is 22 now. His real name is Charlie. And since our discovery, Charlie’s released more than enough music for a two-year period, collaborated with like-minded individuals from across the country and the globe at large and built a really massive catalogue of music that’s maintained the pop structure & toplines we adored, whilst letting Charlie go in on his World Bar (RIP) influenced love of EDM at times but dial it back when need be.
But Charlie has been hiding something. Charlie can sing. He can sing very, very, very well. He also has the charisma, charm, conviction and smarts that evade many of his contemporaries. On his first release for the new decade, I Feel So Alone In This Club RN, everything we know about Charlie – except for his penchant for writing truly excellent pop songs – is gone. He is on the cover art of the song, he is the sole voice, sharp one-liners about the very fucking obvious story that comes from a title like that surround simple production, an acoustic guitar joins a whistle and a simple drum pattern to let him lament with tonnes of personality about, in essence, not wanting to be at a club.
We’re both highly caffeinated when we chat over the phone. He’ll have up to six a day if it’s a songwriting day because “it’s creative juice”. But he knows it’s not good for him. He’s got a plan for the eventual withdrawals if he chooses to cut down.
“If you’re getting withdrawal headaches, Panadol straight up, just gets rid of the headaches. The reason you get headaches from coffee is just your dopamine receptors being like ‘I need energy’. Essentially your brain is so used to having stuff that dulls those receptors so suddenly, when they’re not getting their caffeine, they freak out. Panadol literally works by dulling that as well. So essentially, you’re trading one drug for another.”
He has one more thing to say before we dive in.
“Don’t include my scientific explanation about Panadol and coffee, it’s probably bullshit.”
At the end you’ll see a bedroom ‘acoustic’ of the song which is super cute. Nic Kelly’s in bold, Bajillionaire’s in not bold.
What was the catalyst to make yourself the popstar Bajillionaire and not just the producer Bajillionaire?
There’s two things. One, my Mum has always said “you need to sing more Charlie, you need to put yourself out there as the main person in the project, you need to make people see your face”. And I was kind of like “yeah, yeah, yeah, but it’s the music industry Mum!” Then one day I thought, “you know what, I’m just gonna make some demos with my voice on them”. I showed them to everyone and everyone was like, “Charlie, what the fuck?” It literally took about three years of pushing from my Mum, being like, “Charlie, you can sing, you were a singer when you were younger, you did musical theatre stuff, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be singing on all of your own music. Then also, I love working with people, but part of me just got a bit tired of working with vocalists in the sense of “alright, I’ve got a song, now I want to finish it.” The beautiful part about working by myself and the bit that I love so much is that I can now sit down and finish a song in one day. It can just be DONE. I’ve got demos that are going to come out this year and I haven’t looked at them since I finished them, because I just did it in one day, I send it to whoever wants or needs to hear it and they’re like, “yeah, that’s it, let’s hold on to this one,” and it’s so nice to not have to be like, “well, who do you think would work on this? You reckon this should be a Billie Eilish vocal… or a Tove Lo vocal…” there’s no more thinking about that and it’s just like, “nope, it’s my voice, I’ll figure it out.”
I have this hypothesis to present to you: that we’re coming to a turning point in the collaboration space where, in the last sort of five years, increasingly, music has been about collaboration. It has been about bringing other people into the room, writing projects together, but then you find the biggest artist in the world, Billie Eilish is writing solo or simply with her brother, in her bedroom. You look at the biggest new breakthrough act of the year, which is going to be Conan Gray, and he is writing everything entirely on his own and producing with one person. Do you think we might be coming to a bit of a turning point, or do you think it’s only for certain artists that this self-made way of writing is working for them?
There’s a lot of layers to that, I’ll kind of hit on two points. Firstly, not everyone can do it. At the end of the day, you really do need either a special relationship with someone to be able to write like Billie Eilish where it’s only one person and have the level of trust they have. Or, you need to have spent the time cutting your teeth as a producer to have the trust in yourself and know that you can do this all by yourself. I’ve been producing since I was 15 years old. I’m 22 now. I’ve been producing for seven years and I’m only just getting to the point where I’m comfortable to be like, “yeah, I can make my own music sound like I want it to”. Collaboration obviously will never die, there will always be the need for a producer in the room or a co-writer in the room, but I think part of it and I’ve kind of seen this recently, with the advent of the producer in the hip-hop world, you’re suddenly saying these guys behind the scenes getting more and more credit. That’s kind of what’s starting to lead to everyone being “oh, okay, the producer has such a big role, they can be the face if they have the talent.” So you look at people like Murda Beatz have a song out where it’s “featuring X rapper”, as opposed to it being a Lil Pump or Sheck Wes song where you have to dig down to find out who produced it. I think the producer becoming the face of it is just a natural progression. You look at some artists, and you’re like, “I like this one song by them, but why don’t I like the other one?” Well, because that was produced by say… Benny Blanco, whereas this other one was produced by, I don’t know, Max Martin and he’s a completely different style of producer. I think people are realising the producer has such a big impact that this selfish style of writing is the way to hone in on a specific sound that you as a listener can really like and I’ve discovered this myself. I like certain producers over certain artists these days.
I’ll give you one example. Kenny Beats is a producer that I’m obsessed with and he’s been working with Dominic Fike and Omar Apollo. I like the work that he’s done with them, but I don’t necessarily like everything by those artists. Then, he’s also been working with Denzel Curry, who I feel similarly about, but the Kenny Beats work has made Denzel so much more likeable to me. So I think you really hit something there.
And I think he’s the perfect example of ‘not everyone can do it,’ but if you have the tools to do it, it is so powerful. He went to Berkelee, he’s a guitarist, then he was a successful EDM artist for years, so he has all of this musical background and technical background and now he’s just able to use it on everyone in multiple genres where he can just go “yep, right, I’m a guitarist, I’m going to help you write the guitar part,” then he can pick up a drumstick, he’s just such a perfect example.
Brilliant. I love talking about this shit. Let’s talk about this track. And let’s talk about the sort of meaning behind it because I think with you, I’ve always seen you be quite honest about mental health and emotions. I think you’re a quite an emotionally smart and emotionally intelligent person and self-aware person.
I don’t know if I’d say that.
I think you let your emotions come to the forefront. I think that’s quite intelligent in its own way. Being able to sort of, have them exist and not let them sort of, bubble down. I don’t know. But I think you have a really good knack for talking about stuff that stresses you the fuck out, but putting some real humour into it. I really notice your self-deprecation and your humour in this record, but I’ve noticed it in the past as well in your social presence and stuff. How important is humour to you in your musical career, Charlie?
I don’t think I’m a funny dude. I’m like my father, in that I have maybe, three jokes. You meet me and you’re like “oh, he’s funny,” and then you hang out with me and you think “fuck, oh, no”. With my writing, at least when I wrote I Feel So Alone In This Club RN, I was on a classic Kanye binge. He has this song called All Falls Down and I was on Reddit reading about it – they were doing a list of all his best tracks or something – and I was just curious about what people thought, because I live on Reddit, essentially. People were talking about how Kanye has so many one-liners and how so many moments in his tracks are hilarious, but they’re also fucking bars. They work in the context of the track. So in All Falls Down, there’s a line where it’s like, “she couldn’t afford a car, so she named her daughter Alexis,” which is fantastic! So I kind of look at it that way. Just because something’s funny, or because there’s a humorous element in it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be taken seriously as a song. In the past, I think I’ve written emotionally because I’m really emotional, where with this track I’m like “yeah, fuck it, I’m alone in this club right now, I don’t want to be here, but I can still make jokes about it because we all use humour to cope. I’d rather say it like that and talk about how my friends are in the bathroom, doing cocaine. This is an experience I have actually been through. But it’s kind of funny, because there’s something morbidly hilarious about all of your friends coming out of a bathroom wired as fuck and you’re sitting there with a beer in your hand at one in the morning realising oh… fuck… we’re gonna be out late. It’s just a lot of moments of morbid realisation in that song and dumb moments. Everything in that song comes from a real experience. I have some songs where I take a bit of creative liberty but that shit is honest.
I’ve been very privileged to hear some of the other music that’s coming this year. It’s phenomenal. Having heard a few tracks I can safely say that you are going to be one of this year’s most important acts. What do you want people to know, with only sort of one song of this new era out, about what they will know about Bajillionaire by the end of 2020?
It’s really not that deep. A lot of the time, there’s not much going on under the surface. Everyone tries to like bury meaning in their song and like, my next song that’s coming, there is definitely layers to that, but take it on surface level first before you go digging. With I Feel So Alone In This Club RN, there’s nothing deeper to it than “I have anxiety and I want to go home”. I think that’s where my music shines. I’m not one of those guys, like I have some friends who write the most deep and complex music… shoutout Nick Ward, shoutout Fergus James, shoutout Yorke…
Nick Ward, not only because my first name is Nic and my middle name is Ward, but he is so good that he makes me feel like I’m not like in touch with myself enough when I listen to his music.
It’s really intimidating! I’ve met him a few times. And he’s like, the most sensitive guy and he’s just so nice and well spoken and I’m like, “fuck, my next song’s about having a fake Canadian girlfriend…“. But I’m okay with that! I’ve come to peace with that. At least for where I am right now, the songs that I sing – and a few of the ones towards the end of the year do get a bit darker – but the lyrics and what I’m saying are what I want to say. I don’t want people to listen and going like, “hmmm, I wonder what he means by ‘my friends are off in the bathroom doing coke’…” Like, there’s no hidden message there. I like songwriting but I don’t overthink it. I don’t write down my lyrics anymore. I just go up to the mic and start freestyling and then whatever I get I re-record, that’s how I do my writing now.
I really believe that there needs to be songwriting like the songwriting you’re doing at the moment. Not everything can be sad and intense. There’s absolutely room for that, there’s absolutely room for deeper meaning behind things and searching for it and those earnest kind of lyrics, but there is definitely room for what you’re doing, and it’s important that it’s out there.
It’s just fun. I remember, I wrote I Feel So Alone In This Club RN, my next single and the one after, all in the same week. I was just in an “I don’t care” mood. I was thinking, “let’s just write fun songs, let’s not overthink this”. Other than I Feel So Alone In This Club RN, everything else I’ve written that’s coming out was entirely by myself. Everything is me in my bedroom locked in for a day. And because of that, you come up with some weird ideas.
I’m excited for people to hear these weird ideas. Do we have a public date for the next single yet?
We don’t have a public date. But trust me when I say I’ve got tons of music that is done. And it’s gonna be very soon.
And it’s done done. It’s not like you’ve written it and that’s it, it’s done. The songs are mastered. The artwork is done.
Yeah, it’s about giving these songs time to breathe. I don’t want to be like, “hey, here’s four songs in four weeks, New Music Friday please!” I’m not delusional. I want to give these songs the opportunity to kind of grow on their own and give people the opportunity to hear them. I say it’s not that deep, but at the end of the day, if people want to attribute meaning to shit I say, go for it! I was great at English in high school. I can bullshit for days.