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Chiiild: Existing Outside the Box

The rising star has built his career around pushing the boundaries and focusing on emotion over ability.

by Molly Labenski

Photo by Eddie Mandell

Upon the recent release of his second album Better Luck in the Next Life, the genre-blending Montreal artist Chiiild is gearing up for a headlining tour with a major pitstop at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Chiiild’s music is known for pushing boundaries of categorization, and his new album is no exception, delivering R&B, indie, and hip-hop with a dash of emo in one understated yet eclectic experience. 

That resistance to categorization is something that comes naturally for Chiiild. Having Ethiopian heritage and grown up in Montreal, Chiiild says he was always between different worlds. “Being the only kid who skated that also loved R&B, indie, and alternative music, I was always in between things,” he says. “The thing that defined me most was my love of music. Music wasn’t really a genre thing for me. [Blending genres] is not intentional—it’s just who I am.”

(Photo: Vincent Gravel)

That doesn’t come without its own challenges, though. Chiiild admits that “It’s harder to exist outside of the box,” but he attributes part of his success in experimental music to the flexibility that streaming platforms offer.

“Fortunately, with [digital streaming platforms] now creating different boxes that aren’t solely genre-based and are more mood-based—ones that mark specific events and spaces—that has made it easier to define what I do, not just in terms of the style of music but the place that you’re in when you’re listening to it.”

In other words, musical genres are being given more nuance. It’s not just about being indie or hip hop anymore—now an artist can be “indie chill” or “feel-good indie,” or curate hip-hop music to listen to when you’re driving, studying, at the gym, or when you can’t sleep at night. 

This new means of categorization aligns with Chiiild’s mood-and-space-based approach to music. “[This album] was my attempt or moment of saying ‘This is what I am.’ Instead of trying to make song two an R&B song, song three alternative, song four cinematic—instead of trying to fit a bunch of different ideas and parts of me into separate songs—I [thought] ‘Let’s just make a body of work that sounds like what I want as a fan myself, that has my story in it, and is as honest as it can be,’” he says. “To me, this is what I wanted to hear when I was taking the bus back and forth to school.”

Chiiild’s emphasis on mood over genre has a unique musical recipe. “I would say it’s different ingredients—different formulas for different things,” he says. “Vocally, I try to keep it understated. I’m a big fan of soft singers like Getz/Gilberto and Moby. I love the understated feeling of emotion first, and ability second.” For Chiiild, the hope is that combining that vocal approach with the emotional depth of his lyrics will have  a calming effect on his listeners. He allows his audience to embrace his and their own emotions in a soothing space.

(Photo: Vincent Gravel)

“In terms of the music, I can be pretty anxious, so I don’t really want to put something in the world that makes you more anxious,” he says. “I want you to feel like you can escape and just relax.” That being said, his music is by no means one-note: “You can still turn it up and rage, but it’s a different kind of rage, like there’s a softness even in the hard times.”

In addition to blurring boundaries as a musician, Chiiild is equally multifaceted behind the scenes and has a firm hand in production. “I have the ability to produce myself and write, so I don’t fill a room out of a lack of something,” he says. “It’s more about just getting in a room with someone you just want to hang out with and who puts you at ease.”

While he’s on tour, Chiiild is especially excited for SXSW. “I’m mostly excited to experience the festival itself. What I’m most excited for, I don’t know yet. You get to go from place to place and experience things you’re not familiar with, so what I’m most excited to see is someone I haven’t met yet,” he says.

Luckily for Chiiild, he won’t need better luck in the next life—despite his album’s title. This album is checking all the boxes in the present.

Catch child performing at RANGE Magazine’s official SXSW showcase on Friday, March 17 at the Drafting Room.