Chiiild Won't Let Anyone Fuck with His Bliss

"My previous music was about trying to find my place in the world. Now, I've created the album of my dreams."

Photo: Vincent Gravel

BY Kyle MullinPublished Feb 28, 2023

When Chiiild released his 2021 debut album, Hope for Sale, he put positivity first. Now, however, things are a little more complicated.

"I wanted to represent all my feelings, instead of just love, or just the optimistic version," says the Montreal psych-soul musician born Yonatan Ayal, who got his start co-writing for artists like Usher and Jennifer Lopez. "Sometimes you might kind of feel like quitting, or that maybe you're meant to just support other people's ambitions. I tried to go over all those human emotions." 

Among the key tracks on sophomore album Better Luck in the Next Life: "(Running Out of) Hallelujahs," on which the singer, eclectic instrumentalist and studio dynamo embodies despair over Incubus-esque trip-hop scratches and a booming vocal sample evoking Moby's Play, both touchstones of his youth. Then there's midway track "Surfing the Silver Linings," on which Chiiild sounds less interested in looking on the bright side than delivering a deadpan warning when he sings, "Don't fuck with my bliss."

Much has been rightfully made of Ayal's trek to L.A., and how he went from sleeping in his car to co-writing and co-producing for household names before breaking through as Chiiild with Hope for Sale. Despite his uplifting recollections of that rocky time, he thought back on the culture vulture managers and publicists who made big promises as his career gained momentum for Better Luck in the Next Life. "They tried to sell me a dream," Chiiild reflects. "On this record, I touch on all that glitters not being gold. Like: 'Don't mess with my innocence.'" 

He therefore calls Better Luck a more one-way "testimonial" record compared to Hope for Sale. That's especially because for that last album — as detailed in Exclaim!'s cover story interview from the time — he mined social media responses to his debut EP, 2020's Synthetic Soul, making Hope for Sale feel like a dialogue with fans. For Better Luck, he tried to time travel back to adolescence in his parents' Montreal basement, when he made beats for rappers in his neighbourhood and the "only goal was to create something that had us excited. I basically need to get back to that basement, emotionally." 

Ayal left his promising career as a behind-the-scenes studio artist to start Chiiild with Pierre-Luc Rioux, his bandmate and creative partner. Before making his own go at showbiz, he saw hugely successful acts wrestle with surprising insecurities. The would-be Chiiild got to "see through the cracks, and realize they sometimes have a larger burden. There's limitations, especially when you're working with artists that have a long legacy."

Such restraints have been uniquely rigid for his R&B elders. "R&B will always be vocal-based, it's about saaangin'" he says with dramatic emphasis on the last word, and a smile. He is encouraged by how the genre's palette has widened as of late: "Radio stations are now playlists, so you have to find your spot in that. But the benefit is songs can go different places, without it all being defined as R&B or dance."

That's certainly the case for Chiiild, who was praised for incorporating myriad influences on Hope for Sale. He upped that sonic ante on Better Luck, just like how he raised the emotional stakes. While he cited Bon Iver, Coldplay and fellow R&B hotshot Lucky Daye as influences on prior releases, Chiiild had the pleasure of working with Daye on Better Luck's single "Good for Now." He drew on the tones of Moby and indie rockers Cigarettes After Sex to make the song "a little grunge, and be understated and chill. I got to nerd out with automated reverb delays, and also have an R&B presence there." Creating that springboard for Daye thrilled Chiiild, because he considers the New Orleanian to be "one of the greatest voices of our generation. Putting someone with such a defined R&B vocal on that type of music, which probably wouldn't fit in any other context, was a big ambition of mine."

More broadly, new songs like "Good for Now" are where Chiiild "married both sides of my music. Before, I'd have influences that spoke to me throughout the whole project. This was one of the first times I was able to do it all within four minutes."

Listeners can continue to expect such eclectic and emotional leaps and bounds from Chiiild. As he puts it: "I keep trying to refine my identity in music. And the best way for me to do that is to keep looking within. My previous music was about trying to find my place in the world. Now, I've created the album of my dreams."

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