As the RENT UK Tour draws to a close, lead man Billy Cullum is poised and ready for the next chapter in his career, with the release of YLMW (that’s Your Love My Wish, to you) ahead of the release of his debut album.
From Seasons of Love to synthy-pop bops, YLMW is the second release from the pop-newbie, winning over a sea of new fans with his seductive, Summer-oozing debut track Lost in You. Conjuring up a mystically flirty and dream-like soundscape, the track is a surprising ode to pop not too distantly similar to the likes of Troye Sivan, Olly Alexander and the Scandinavian pop princesses (from Sigrid, to Dagny, to Zara) emerging onto the scene.
One of the most exciting names on the stage is rapidly becoming one of the most promising names in indie-pop. And, to celebrate, HISKIND is thrilled to premiere YLMW ahead of its release this week and catch up with Mr Cullum to chat all things pop.
Tell us a bit more about YLMW.
I wrote this song when I found love in a bit of a dark place. It’s all about the awakening of that otherworldly feeling you have when you fall in love with someone. They become your universe, your wish has come true and life becomes almost poetic because of love and you just cant stop kissing them.
From the stage to the studio, your life seems to be dedicated to music, what originally made you think “yeah, this is what I want to do with my life”?
Watching Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was 3 years old is what propelled me into performing. I remember it so vividly. I got up in front of my nursery class and started copying the dancers on screen. I remember making my mum buy me a Tchaikovsky CD the following weekend and I just danced to it in my bedroom on repeat. Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls were the biggest pop influences growing up (followed closely by Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears).
I was obsessed with the Spice Girls and in complete awe of Michael Jackson. It wasn’t until I was about 16 and people started to encourage me to audition for bigger things other than the school production. My first audition was for Youth Musical Theatre: UK and I managed to land myself the lead role. Ever since then I was like “Oh. Maybe I have a shot at this”. It was always a dream that I never thought would actually play out in reality. An actor and a recording artist as a profession sounds unreachable when your younger. It’s become my job now but I do have to pinch myself every now and then as I take in what I’ve accomplished. My younger self would be like “woahhhhh”.
You’ve choreographed for the likes of Perfume Genius and MS MR, who all display loud and proud queer identities in their work, how important is it to you to follow in the same footsteps?
They are incredible artists. Working with them was so inspiring. They embrace uniqueness and don’t give a shit what others think which was truly electrifying to be around. You could feel that they owned every element of their artistry. When writing songs, it’s my life experiences that I’m sharing publicly with people. I regard my sexuality as fluid and I’ve never really labelled myself. If my song is about a guy or a girl I hope people can still relate no matter their gender or orientation. The most important thing to me is to be completely honest with my music and myself. I think that is the best way to radiate. I hope I show that I’m proud of my identity and who I am as an artist. It’s only bound to grow which is an exciting thought.
I’m a guy doing pop, inspired mainly by female artists, and it doesn’t phase me one bit. Record labels back off because they’re unsure of how to market an artist like me. I had one meeting where someone said to me “A guy wouldn’t really say those kind of things”. In my head I was like fuck this as if someone is trying to categorise what I can or cannot say because of my gender.
“Vocabulary in music is an expression of your own personal story regardless of gender or sexuality.”
Why is it an issue if I use more sensitive or even more creative language just because I have a penis? So I said thank you for your time and left swiftly. If I have any sort of career like Perfume Genius and MS MR I’ll be over the moon.
How easy has it been harnessing a sound that suits you as a new artist?
The trouble I have is that I love all genres of music. After I got soppy teenage piano ballads out of my system I started off writing really theatrical folk-pop music inspired by Kate Bush and Florence + the Machine. Then I was at a really dark place in my life and my songwriting took a darker yet solemn twist. It was a really interesting phase. Lana Del Rey inspired me a lot back then. To find my current sound I went back to the music I grew up on and why I started writing in the first place. I love pop, I love story and I love to emote. I think my sound now embraces aspects of the joy and solace I find in the music I love to listen to.
Describe to us your creative process.
It really varies. My phone is filled with voice memos of random melodies and hooks that I just record whenever ideas pop into my head. When they appear in their random moments I have to get them down no matter where I am. Most of the time I’m on the train or in public and people give me bizarre looks.
“Sometimes I can’t move on from moments in my life without writing a song about it.”
It does work as therapy in a way. I go into the studio or in my bedroom and sit down and think “right, I need to tell this particular story” and then the song evolves from there. The last way I approach a song is improvising vocally over chords and a beat. This is probably my favourite method. I love the sounds of certain vowels over certain chords and it eventually becomes something that makes sense. Lord knows what my neighbours think is going on when this happens!
How have your fellow RENT cast members reacted to your music so far?
When I released my previous track Lost in You they used it as our warm up track. I was cringing but it was so lovely to have their support. They gave it lots of love online and helped spread the Billy love. They’re a very special bunch of people and I’m going to miss them tons when the tour is over.
Where do you hope to be in a year from now?
I hope to have released my album and done a mini tour of my music. I would love to sign a publishing deal so that I could collaborate and have more access to a variety of producers and artists. I love music so I want to experience working with as many different people as possible. I just wanna keep getting better and more experienced. I still want to work in theatre though. I love jumping into someone else’s skin and living their life for 3 hours a night! It gives me a break from being me haha!!
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I am obsessed with Raye at the moment. She is just bringing out pop hook filled smashes one after the other. Her EP is epic. Another artist who I love is Sigrid. Her voice is stunning and executes the melancholy epic pop vibe perfectly. Her acoustic version of Dynamite is gorgeous. The 2 tracks released from Mabel’s Bedroom EP are a dream. Dye my Hair is such a big tune by Alma and Kicks by Au/Ra is real alt-pop banger. I have JoJo’s latest album on repeat. I cannot wait for Lorde and Haim’s new albums though.