Soft Cell

Interview: Rilan Wants to Bring Pop Music Back

Rilan has lofty goals. He wants to “save pop.” Bringing the joy back to a genre that’s caught up in moodiness will be difficult, to say the least. However, the Glee alumni and androgynously-voiced LGBT singer has a level of confidence that suggests he might just have the grit to do it. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Derek: What did you take from starring as a Warbler on Glee that has helped you most in your career since?

Rilan: Do your job. That sounds obvious, but it’s forgotten by the majority of people in Hollywood. Working on the Paramount lot was incredible. There’s history and fame and glitz and glam all around you, but it’s a distraction from why you’re really there — to do your job. You have to focus, and you have to work. People really do forget that. When you don’t, you start to feel special, and then elitist, and then above criticism, and then you’re fired. I saw it happen. It’s a shame, but it happens all the time. I never partook in any on-set shenanigans. Honestly, the cast and choreographers nicknamed me “Quiet,” because I barely spoke unless I was spoken to. I’m a bit of a loner, but I’m not ashamed of it. It’s what makes me “me,” and I think a lot of people can relate. I think introversion is interesting. I’m more inspired by what goes on in my own head when I’m alone than sports cars and diamonds and LA bullshit. Art is what drives me, not fame or money or lifestyle. I’m an anti-socialite. 

D: Your new single “Love or Drugs” is super upbeat in a time where commercial pop is mostly mid-tempo and a little boring. What was your inspiration for the fun sound?

R: Thank you. That’s the biggest compliment to me. Music is boring right now. It’s all about “vibes” or whatever that means. I’ve never “vibed” before in my life, nor do I want to. Music should make you feel, not numb you. My goal as a writer is for my music to wake you up and move you, be that emotionally or physically or both. I grew up on ‘70s glam rock and ‘80s synth pop. The songs of yesteryear were exciting and dangerous and thought-provoking. That’s pop music, not “vibes.” I’m here to bring back pop, because it’s about damn time someone did. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

D: Your voice on “Love or Drugs” sounds androgynous in the best of ways. Was this a conscious stylistic choice?

R: I think my voice is naturally pretty androgynous. I have a bright tone and a higher range, probably a product of theatre. I always have. When I first moved to Los Angeles, every producer I worked with hated my voice. They said it was too theatrical and nasally and would always want to replace my background vocals with another singer’s to mask my voice. It made me insecure at first, but finally I just said, “Fuck it,” and found new colleagues who actually understood me. You see, most people in music are trend-followers. They want a hit, and they think that the quickest way to get one is to make a song that sounds like everything else. But that’s not what makes a hit. A great song makes a hit. An artist makes a hit, and an artist is someone who is unafraid to be different, go against the grain, and gives the world something they haven’t heard or seen before. That’s a hit — the new, not the trendy. I’ll never have a voice like the whisper singers of today who dominate the radio, and that’s okay. Like it or not, you will recognize my voice when you hear it. 

D: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations, past and present?

R: I love artists who have their own perspective. I grew up on David Bowie, Prince, and Madonna. As I got older, I discovered darker artists like Soft Cell, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson, and fell in love all over again. They were different, but not far from one another. My idols were all passionate performers. It’s passion that excites me. Whether it’s dance-pop or industrial rock, if it’s honest and palpable, I’m inspired. A point of view is what differentiates simply a performer from an artist. A performer imitates life. An artist creates their own world and invites you inside. Currently, that’s Marina and the Diamonds, Melanie Martinez, and Lady Gaga. Those are some artists I admire nowadays. They don’t live in this world, and I don’t think anyone should. I’m sure as hell never gonna. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

D: As a pop artist, are there any holy grail producers you hope to work with someday?

R: I will work with anyone who wants to work with me. To be honest, you never know what’s going to happen until you get in the studio with someone. It’s usually the people you never expect who surprise you the most. Still, there are always dream collaborators. I’d love to work with Max Martin. He’s the pop Jesus, only more reliable. Just the sheer amount of Britney Spears hits he’s done is a testament to what a fantastic writer and producer he is. It would be an honor. I’d also love to work with Bonnie McKee and Justin Tranter. Bonnie did almost all of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream hits, as well as her own music. She’s ’80’s-inspired, high-energy pop perfection, and her sense of song structure makes my OCD brain so happy. Her work has certainly influenced my writing. Justin Tranter is famous for writing for Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, but I’ve been a huge fan since I was in high school. He was the frontman of Semi Precious Weapons, an outlandish glam-grunge band from New York City who opened for Gaga through every leg of her Monster Ball. I saw them live ten years ago and fell in love. He’s ridiculous and perfect. I have a big list, so I’ll keep you updated. 

D: Is there an album in the works, and if so, do you have any tea to spill on it?

R: There’s always an album in the works. I feel like if there isn’t, why are you even releasing music? I think of writing songs as creating a new planet. Each project is an island in my fantasy world. Sometimes songs merge together to create a larger continent. Sometimes they stand alone in the sea of my ideas. Regardless, they’re all a part of my world. Right now, I’m on the “Island of Satire.” It’s Hollywood exposed. It’s everything people do here, but don’t want to talk about. I’m going to talk about it. It’s going to be weird and dark and artistic, but it’s going to be pop, and it’s going to be good. 

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D: What has been the response so far from people you’ve played “Love or Drugs” for?

R: It’s been good so far. People seem to move to the beat and start singing along before it ends. That’s honestly the best thing I can ask for. When my friends first heard it, they were like, “You’re antisocial and this is all about party culture. Why?” But if you listen again, you’ll get it. It’s satire. It’s about all the Hollywood parties I’m not invited to. This is the first stop on my “Island of Satire.” A lot more is coming and all of you are welcome here. 

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