when you decide to pursue music, it has to become your life. And the most difficult part for me has been, like, music is pure . . . It comes from our soul. And then there is the business, which is money, which is the complete opposite of music. BIBI BOURELLY
How best to describe Bibi Bourelly, the preternaturally talented singer and songwriter poised to become, if not a household name, at least a genuine pop star? Let’s start with her age: she just turned 22, a fact as inextricable to her music as her raspy voice or well-placed f-bombs. At the age of 19, she wrote “Higher,” a song that would appear on Rihanna‘s Anti album, which kicked off an audacious and auspicious arrival to the industry. As a songwriter, she’s written for Rihanna (four times), Selena Gomez, and Usher, and as a singer, she has recorded with Lil Wayne, Usher, and Nick Brewer. Part of what makes Bourelly so mesmerizing is her willingness—lyrically and otherwise—to embrace the jagged, inglorious edges of her youth. She writes songs about love gone bad, friendships gone bad, and self-empowerment—all shot through with something like unabashed exhilaration.
Bourelly was born in Berlin to creative parents: her late mother worked in the arts and her father is a touring guitarist. As a child, she bounced back and forth between Germany and the Washington, D.C. area; this too informs her music, which refuses to fit into conventional genres. At 19, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music, and within a year was in the studio with Kanye West and Rihanna, creating what would become “Higher.” Soon after, she wrote Rihanna’s hit single “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Now Bourelly is embarking on a solo career. This May, she released her debut EP, Free the Real (Pt. #1), via Def Jam, a collection of five songs that cohesively integrates R&B, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll influences. And early this summer she wrapped her first tour, opening for the pop-rock trio Haim.
It was from her bus that she spoke to Sonny Moore, a.k.a. Skrillex, the megastar electronic DJ and producer, by phone. The pair met in L.A. two years ago and have been close friends and collaborators ever since. In between questions, they reminisced about the various parties, concerts, and music festivals they’ve attended together—nights in which the details are half-remembered and hazy, as in a dream.
SKRILLEX: How you doing, Bibi?
BIBI BOURELLY: I’m good. How are you?
SKRILLEX: Good. I just talked to you yesterday. So I’m going to ask you some random questions.
BOURELLY: Let’s go.
SKRILLEX: All right, Bibi. I know you and I know that you’re part Haitian and you grew up a lot in Berlin. Where did you grow up first?
BOURELLY: I was born in Berlin, and when I was 6, my mom passed. When I was 9, I moved to near Washington, D.C., where I lived with my aunt and uncle. And then at 11, I moved back to Berlin. And then at 16, I got in trouble in school and moved back to the Washington area. So I guess I grew up in both areas.
SKRILLEX: And when was the first time you remember creating music?
BOURELLY: I’ve been making music for so fucking long that it’s difficult for me to remember my first; it’s just kind of second nature. But I remember the first time I ever wrote down a song was when I was 6. I was at my friend Emma’s house, and we wrote a song called “Girls’ Rules” …
SKRILLEX: How does that go? Give me a little …
BOURELLY: [singing] “Should I tell you what the girls’ rules are? / No boys allowed in here / Having fun playing my guitar / No boys allowed in here …”
SKRILLEX: That actually sounds like a hit. I’m not even kidding. That’s pretty awesome. I remember vaguely some of my first musical experiences when I was growing up. Like, I remember always loving music and always singing and stuff like that. And I remember when I was maybe 3, I had this harmonica, and I would play it all around my house and perform with it for my parents, just play harmonica forever.
BOURELLY: Would you put on little shows at Christmas and stuff?
SKRILLEX: Yeah, all the time. Before I sang, before I played guitar, before I played piano, it was harmonica.
BOURELLY: That’s part of you.
SKRILLEX: Yeah. When was the first time you felt like, “Okay, I’m making music now and I’m performing in a band”?
BOURELLY: Well, it’s like I’ve always established that it’s the only option I’ve ever had because I saw my dad do it. So I thought that that was how you lived life before I even had a conceptual understanding of jobs and work. It was just a lifestyle. But when I was 11 years old before I moved back to Germany, we started a group called the Leopard Girls, which is like teenage girls hip-hop. We sang “Say My Name” at the variety show in the sixth grade. We would sing on the back of the school bus. Nobody was allowed on the back of the school bus because it was the Leopard Girls’ territory. And we owned the blue monkey bars at recess.
SKRILLEX: Man. You guys were almost like a gang. Were there any turf wars for your band?
BOURELLY: Hell, yeah. We had beefs with everyone. In the fucking fourth grade, before we went to recess, we used to have to go to Ms. Jordan’s office and tell her what we would do for recess today and that we wouldn’t be mean to the other kids. We were like the Regina Georges of South Shore Elementary School.
SKRILLEX: You know what’s cool about you, Bibi? I’ve always noticed you keep your truest friends close to you. I’ve met a few of them during the time I’ve known you. A very special and important thing in this industry is to keep those friends close.
BOURELLY: So while we’re talking, certainly I love you. [Skrillex laughs] I just am really bad at making new friends. Especially in the music industry, because they’re not really real friends; they’re just music industry friends. Plus, I think that I’m really hard to handle. So if you don’t know me already and you’re not a patient, loving, kind person, you’re not going to want to be friends with me anyway. My friends just know how to deal with me. And they’re so fucking lit because they remind me of who I am and the way I grew up. I honestly don’t even know what I would do if I didn’t have honest friends; I’d be so fucked. I always get picked up from the airport. They always go above and beyond.
SKRILLEX: Amazing. Yeah, I’m the same way. I keep my close friends around me. I think it reflects back to my music, too. I grew up making music around my friends and I still do the same thing. In the creative process, I like to have my real friends around me to see how they react. So obviously you’ve started to see a bit of success and opportunities, and one of those opportunities is travel. What are some of the cool moments you’ve had, just like surreal moments of traveling in your career?
BOURELLY: Well, one of them is right now. This is my first time on an actual tour bus going from Kentucky to fucking Tennessee, then North Carolina, stopping at random Shell stops. I actually just wrote a song in the bus, some real country shit. As opposed to being on a plane, where you’re above everything and you can’t really be involved, it’s so lit to be in a bus and be able to drive past people and get out at random truck stops and see how different people are.
SKRILLEX: Why don’t you talk about a cool experience we’ve had together when we’ve seen each other on the road? I know we’ve had a few of them.
BOURELLY: So you know that party that we went to in London?
SKRILLEX: Where the girls were blowing fire?
BOURELLY: No. The one before, where we were in London. It was the day of Notting Hill Carnival.
SKRILLEX: Oh, yeah, the Red Bull party.
BOURELLY: Okay, yeah. So remember I was screaming at everyone and kind of like, [screams]?
BOURELLY: Were there, like, a lot of people from like the industry there? Like, a lot of important people there?
SKRILLEX: No, you were good. You were being really self-conscious and saying, like, “Oh my God, I’m so drunk,” when you actually weren’t. You were fine, and everyone loved you, and we had the best time. We were in this little backyard in some kind of house that Red Bull took over and Jamie XX was DJ’ing.
BOURELLY: Okay, cool. But that same night, we went to this other party. It was kind of like this preppy party, and I walked in and I was hella drunk and you were on the mic. I was drunk as fuck. And I took the mic and was like, [screams] “I’m so fucked up!”
SKRILLEX: You were like a rock star. I remember them playing “Bitch Better Have My Money.” That’s always exciting for me, to hear a song out. What is that like, writing a song and then hearing that shit out?
Boys who have more layers to them and are more intricate and tricky and complicated are more exciting to me because I can strip out those layers and find the bottom somewhere in it. bibi bourelly
BOURELLY: Crazy. I’m more focused on the next shit, but it was so crazy when it first came out.
SKRILLEX: Was there a live show experience that you had, before you were doing this professionally, where you were like, “Holy fuck, I need to do this shit”?
BOURELLY: My father inspired me. And honestly, it’s not me just saying this, but it was when I first saw you playing Hard …
SKRILLEX: Hard Summer Music Festival last year?
BOURELLY: Yeah. Like, that was more inspiring than anything. I always kind of knew I was going to do this. I always knew this was my path, and I’ve been around shows my entire life with my dad as a musician. But I’d never been behind the scenes until you asked me if I’d like to go along, somebody who was living their dream and who created music almost larger than themselves. I mean, I knew I was going to do it, but that positively forced me, put the battery in my back.
SKRILLEX: I feel that. I really appreciate that. Is there one song—whether it’s something you wrote for somebody else or for yourself as a solo artist—that means the most to you?
BOURELLY: I think the song that explains me the truest as of now is “Ego” because it’s really clear on my story. But it’s a difficult question to answer because the way a song even arises and comes to life is through feeling something extraordinarily important to begin with. So they’re all different reflections and parts of me.
SKRILLEX: What’s cool about your songs is that they can seem so deep and meaningful, but also like you don’t give a fuck. And I mean that in the best way possible. Like, when Bob Dylan and John Lennon talked about songwriting in interviews, the interviewers would mysticize songwriting so much, and they were just like, “I just fucking write songs. Like, chill out.” And you remind me of that so much, because I have had the chance to be in the studio a few times and see your process. You go into that booth, and the first thing that comes out of your mouth is what happens. And that’s a very rare, special gift that you see once in a million. And so what is that process like? Where does that come from?
BOURELLY: I mean, I’m a spiritual person. I think it comes from the soul, from God. The moment I hear something that moves me or that speaks to my soul, it kind of comes pouring out. My songs are always on the tip of my tongue. It’s always bubbling and brewing and about to come out. I can’t really put it into words, but the best way to explain it is feeling like you constantly have some things on the tip of your tongue. Like you’re constantly at a point of epiphany. And then the moment you hear the perfect progression, everything just makes sense.
SKRILLEX: It’s almost like the music, or at least the melody, is validation for a certain feeling that you already felt, that you haven’t had words for until that moment.
BOURELLY: Yeah, exactly.
SKRILLEX: One thing I also wanted to ask you is that, obviously, with success comes money and luxuries but also more vehicles that can aid you along the journey of making music. Like, you’re on a tour bus right now or you get to fly to a show. You have more resources. But there are also moments in your career that, because you have more stuff and more responsibilities, you have barriers and you have other things that come at you, like the negative stuff. So what are the negative things that come with success that you’ve encountered?
BOURELLY: When you decide to pursue music, it has to become your life. It kind of becomes a lifestyle. And the most difficult part for me has been, like, music is pure. It’s honest. It’s emotion. It’s something that we started doing because we loved it. It comes from experience. It comes from our soul. And then there is the business, which is money, which is the complete opposite of music. Business is a game. It’s about capitalizing.
SKRILLEX: It’s calculated.
BOURELLY: Yeah, it’s calculated as well. So the most difficult part for me has been accepting the business in music. It’s accepting there’s a whole concept of capitalization. Like, people who work in business, especially the music business, have the complete opposite traits as the musicians themselves. So how do you find the middle ground in that?
SKRILLEX: I understand. If you could go back two years ago, before I met you, and give yourself advice, what would you say to yourself?
BOURELLY: Well, the interesting part about me is that, two years ago, I wouldn’t have let anyone tell me anything—negative and positive. That’s part of the reason why I excelled in my career but also I could have avoided a lot of bumps and bruises. If I could go back and give myself advice, it probably would be: Don’t take this personal.
SKRILLEX: You’re a female artist in the music world, which is a male-dominant world. And when you’re in the booth, you’re not fucking thinking about anything else—the music is just coming out of you; it’s channeling into you. But when you’re just being Bibi and you’re just kind of taking it all in, do you feel like a role model for young females? Or do you want to be a role model?
BOURELLY: I just feel like … Okay, so I want to promote a certain way of thinking, a certain lifestyle. But in my own personal life, I’m imperfect. Like, as a human being, as an individual, as a woman, as a daughter, as a friend, I’m imperfect. I make mistakes. I’m overly emotional and sometimes I’m superbly hard on myself. I’m just like every other individual. But I want to encourage people to be comfortable with themselves and their imperfections and own up to the shit that they do wrong and fucking embrace the things that they do right and be exactly who they are. Beyond just young girls. Like, whoever the fuck—young girls, old guys, middle-aged women, boys … I feel like my job as an artist is to help eliminate labels and boundaries in this whole box that we put ourselves in. And all these words that we use to define ourselves … Like, we’re human beings; we’re too complex and too intricate to be defined. So I just want to promote truth, promote honesty, love, all those different things. I want to inspire people to be who they are.
SKRILLEX: Well, you actually do, Bibi. You do and we’re all going to watch you grow and continue to inspire people on a bigger level. I’m sure of that. I have a couple more questions, Bibi. Getting a little nitty-gritty. What’s going on with boys in your life?
BOURELLY: I remember I was in the car with you coming home from Coachella. And some guy said something to me that he shouldn’t have said and I showed you some of the text message. You took my phone and looked at it, and you were like, “You’re so much better than that.” You were like, “I’m not doing this with you,” and gave me my phone back. And I kept bringing it up, like, “Well, why, Sonny?” And you were like, “No, I don’t have time.” Like, put your earphones in. My love life is a joke. It’s so funny. I’m winging it.
SKRILLEX: But you were winging it for like … I think drama is fuel for something to write about or to be inspired about. And drama doesn’t actually have to be a negative thing. I don’t mean, like, creating unnecessary drama. But I feel like you feed off of that, like you get inspired by love. Like, I’ve talked to you so many times about different situations you’ve been in and I have been there for you. What’s that all about, you know, with boys?
BOURELLY: I’m a little bit of an emotionally unstable person. I think it’s because I’m a creative person. Boys who have more layers to them and are more intricate and tricky and complicated are more exciting to me because I can strip out those layers and find the bottom somewhere in it. That doesn’t mean go date fucked-up guys. But, like I said, I’m not perfect. I don’t know, man. I’m in a phase now where I’m just trying to focus on making music.
SKRILLEX: Well, like I said, if everything was perfect, then you wouldn’t have anything to write about, and maybe that’s kind of why we like to look for barriers to overcome as artists.
BOURELLY: Yeah, accurate.
SKRILLEX: Your life is changing every single day. It’s kind of hard to say where our journey takes us next, but where do you see yourself in like a few years from now? Is there something that you want to be doing?
BOURELLY: I just want to be able to sing in front of thousands of people and have them sing my songs back to me. I want to know that my music helps them get through the night and someone was fired up by my music so they learned the words. You know, just be in an arena full of people from different classes, from different ethnicities, from different places and walks of life, different ages, different religions, different genders, all in one space singing something that came from my heart—knowing that they received it and uniting people in that way. That’s my dream.
SKRILLEX: Amazing. And that’s a good dream. Another question: I’ve been in situations where I’m in a place and I look around and I’m surrounded by, like, these moments that movies are made out of, that will never be a movie because there is no camera in the room. You look around you and you’re amongst great artists and great people. What was one of the moments, where you looked around, and you’re like, “Holy fuck, how did I get here?”
BOURELLY: Well, a lot of those moments I’ve shared with you. Because a lot of times when I shared those moments with other people, I don’t have the same relationship with them that I have with you. When I’m at one of your shows, I see the team that you’ve surrounded yourself with and I just see how happy you are. And I see you reaping the benefits of your hard work.
SKRILLEX: That reminds me of a moment that we had together after Jack Ü headlined Hard, and we had all the artists from the album [Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü] come out, like 2 Chainz and Bieber and all these different people. And then you all jumped into that party bus—
BOURELLY: Oh, that was so fun.
SKRILLEX: We had all these artists from Hard come with us. We were, like, so lit and excited from just killing that night. We were all in the same vibe, and we went to some underground after-hours spot. And there was this, like, rock band playing …
BOURELLY: They were country.
SKRILLEX: Anyway, we were literally moshing. It’s, like, us and all of our friends and all these amazing artists just moshing to this country band at like five a.m. And you look around you and you’re surrounded by some of the dopest people ever. Those are those kind of moments that I remember, too, with you. You know, like those special moments where you’re at the peak of your high. Like, everything is fucking awesome, and it could all end at that moment.
BOURELLY: That was actually really fun. That night was really fucking fun. And when we went to go see Sia, that was crazy.
SKRILLEX: Wait, which night?
BOURELLY: Well, at Coachella, when we went to go see Sia.
SKRILLEX: Oh my God, yes. And you were crying the whole time.
BOURELLY: Yeah, I was crying.
SKRILLEX: Yeah, mad moments. Well, it is all about the moment, Bibi. And it was amazing talking to you.
SKRILLEX IS A GRAMMY-AWARD WINNING ELECTRONIC MUSIC PRODUCER AND DJ. HE’S CURRENTLY WORKING ON A RECORD WITH BRUNO MARS.