Come one, come all, to the first FemFocused interview of 2020. Please welcome Hillary Zhuner, artistically known as Ilandria, to Positive Publicity. She joins us to discuss the triumphs and struggles of creating art, her upbringing in Ecuador and Miami, and how the name Ilandria came to be.
If you asked her a to fill a house with her musical influences, you’d be greeted at the door by the likes of Dinah Shore and Billie Holiday, followed by The Bee Gees in the living room, and classic flamenco guitarists at the dining room table; and this eclectic house’s doors are OPEN. The influence from her growing up in Miami pulls through in her solo debut, Little Eyes. Ilandria working alongside producer of Marc Anthony’s “Esta Rico” Daneon for this song is a combination we can all agree definitely works for the best.
Welcome! To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m an Ecuadorian-American artist who loves colors, visual art, and food. I actually don’t wear any makeup but consider Ilandria my alter-ego who loves to color her whole face.
Where are you from?
I was born in Machala, Ecuador and then relocated to NYC at 3 years old. When my parents divorced, I relocated to Miami, Florida with my mother and older sister.
I’m from Miami primarily and spent my adolescence there until I moved to New York City at 17. I moved to Manhattan to attend the New School for Jazz and the liberal arts school in a dual degree program. That’s where I truly found myself as an artist – through experimenting with different genres and trying out all I wanted to be, and all I didn’t want to be. That’s the journey I’m on now. Introducing that person I’ve become through that process.
Congratulations on your solo debut “Little Eyes” and the music video! What was the process like creating and filming a music video?
Thank you so much. The process was a bittersweet experience. As artists, everything can be an absolute disaster in our lives, but the art? The art has to be absolutely perfect. It’s a blessing and a curse. Music videos are honestly my favorite ways to introduce a piece of music to the world. I’m inspired by visual art and can’t wait for my next music video.
A friend of mine was the security guard at the building we filmed in and snuck us in on Labor Day when the whole building was going to be practically empty – in which we were wrong because the building was completely full and we had to be careful as to where we filmed. We had to be out of the building at 6pm and even though we started at 6am, it definitely wasn’t enough time. There were many scenes we didn’t get to shoot because of time and location constraints.
Although I had my issues and regrets, I live by a quote by graphic designer Jessica Walsh:
“If you have an idea, just f**** make it. Figure out what you can do with the talent you have and the budget you have or if there’s no budget, what is available to you for free? You don’t need huge budgets to be making the work you want to be making. People respond to imperfections because as humans, that’s beautiful in a way.. There are no rules.”Jessica Walsh
Although the video had it’s issues, I made what I could out of the little resources that I could get my hands on.. And for that, I will be forever grateful.
How did you decide on the name Ilandria?
There was a woman who once pronounced my name: “ee-lar-ee-ah” because she assumed that it was the way it was pronounced in spanish. Since I was named after Hillary Clinton, I had never heard my name pronounced in that way so it stuck with me. When I was going through names, I wanted my name to be an escape, another land, another world. I incorporated “land” into the name and ended up with “Ilandria”. I thought it was perfect.
Describe your songwriting style and process.
I am first and foremost a writer at heart. Although the title “song-writer” didn’t come until about 3-years-ago, writing has always been my therapy, and singing my natural affinity. When I was in my teenage era, rather than write music to release my feelings, I would stay up until the wee hours just typing away my stories, my personal non-fiction novelas (soap opera!) and my little random ideas. Music and words are like air to my lungs. That is what identifies me the most as a musician and a songwriter, I believe. My romance with story-telling, and my love for melodies.
Can you give us some insight on some of the struggles and triumphs of being a female musician?
I struggle less now than I did while I was in college. Personally, I don’t identify myself as a person that’s extremely in touch with her femininity or her masculinity. I believe we all have a duality and that’s what makes us individuals. When gender goes away and we’re all just brains sitting in a room, that’s my favorite, favorite feeling.
When studying at the jazz school, I was aware that the majority of people were male. Although this was true, I wasn’t intimidated at first. When living in Miami, I never experienced any discrimination based on my gender. I was always one of the guys and the guys were one of the girls. My closest friend group consisted of me, a girl and a guy. My rock band consisted of a female guitarist, violinist and a bassist. I have always been surrounded by strong, confident women who were warriors within and simple females to the world outside. I never thought of gender..
Until I got to college and encountered lots of discrimination. It was a boy’s club, but you’ve got to include yourself and make them listen. If they don’t want to listen, then so be it. But I always surrounded myself around the right types of people who didn’t treat me differently because of my gender. Although I believe there was a “boys club” I never wanted that negativity around me. I stayed with those who were like-minded. Most musicians are both feminine and masculine, I believe. Some are more open to the feminine side, and some are less welcoming of it. Almost embarrassed. I think that’s an internal struggle lots of people go through. But it’s a struggle that becomes pretentious when it’s a group struggle, or a clique, and ignorant when the struggle is not seen as a struggle in itself.
Who are your musical influences? What art inspires you?
I’m a huge fan of Caterina Valente, an Italian singer from the mid 50’s and the 60’s. She’s one of my greatest inspirations as she helped me truly find what kind of vocalist I wanted to be alongside Dinah Shore and Billie Holiday. Songwriting wise, I love Jason Mraz, Freddie Mercury, Prince, Adele, Sia, Shakira, and Regina Spektor.
Where can we see you perform live?
I’m performing at The Bitter End on March 6th at 8:00pm. Come see me!
Where can we follow you?