We sit down with the rising star during her latest trip to the Philippines for an exclusive look into her collaboration coming this October 20
On the fast lane with no signs of slowing down, Norwegian-Filipino artist HILLARI remains grounded.
“I feel thankful, humbled, and honored that God has blessed me with this. It really is a dream come true—I’m living my dream.”
Born in Oslo and spending a part of her childhood in Bacolod, Hillari Alison Conlu is an 18-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist who is quickly making waves on the R&B and Soul scene. Conlu committed to her musical career late in 2021, and around a year and a half since then, she has played 16 concerts in Norway and Canada, and worked with producers and songwriters from Toronto to Los Angeles including Sonic Major, Yakob, Ari Pensmith, and Camper.
She won the prestigious NRK P3 award “Årets Urørt” (Rookie of the Year) with her song “Hopeful,” earning her a spot at this year’s P3 Gull (a music show and award ceremony organized by the Norwegian radio station NRK P3).
A collaboration between two emerging stars, HILLARI is set to join forces with the up-and-coming Jolianne for a reimagined version of “Loyal,” releasing on October 20. Also, catch HILLARI on her second acoustic night this Saturday (October 21) at 8 p.m. at Almusal Cafe in The Pop Up, Katipunan.
In an exclusive interview, we sat down with HILLARI during her latest trip to the Philippines.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us about how your upcoming collaboration with Jolianne came to be?
“Our respective teams linked us up together. And when we had a call, we were just vibing and we found that we had this genuine connection. In a way, it was as simple as ‘I like you and I like your music. You know what, let’s do a remix, let’s collaborate.’ And I really do love her sound, and it felt like she also thought the same. Simply put, it was very organic and natural for us.”
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Getting into “Loyal”: With so many songs about breakups and heartbreak, it’s refreshing to hear a track that instead focuses on working on the relationship. Can you tell us about the creative process behind the song itself?
“The first time I worked on the song, I was jamming by myself with my guitar in my bedroom back in Oslo. I don’t really plan out what I want to write about, however, I wrote “Loyal” in under an hour—it was a very genuine and quick process—everything just felt so right, non-forced, and organic.”
“And when I saw what I was talking about, I kind of surprised myself that I wrote about that. I think I was really inspired by how relationships work these days. I was inspired by my messed up but beautiful generation. We often have these trust issues with each other.”
Should’ve start with saying off / You were on my mind / Couldn’t stop thinking ‘bout you, but there were other times / That I doubted your heart / Doubted your words / And I don’t know why / But I couldn’t fight it / Guess honesty gives security / And security is what I need / Or maybe, there are just some things better left unknown
And I trust you / And I know you got issues / But Imma be patient / Though it ain’t my mood
“But what I really wanted to convey is, just because doubt is served in front of you, it doesn’t mean that you have to take it. We have to choose to trust each other even though it’s difficult. After I made that in my bedroom, I showed it to my producer, and then we made this very minimalistic production around it. The message in my voice was simple and we wanted to focus on that.”
Aside from the message you wanted to convey, is “Loyal” based on a past experience?
“I haven’t been in a relationship where I experienced that myself. However, I see it so much around me that I got inspired by it—it almost felt as if I was in the situation myself. But it doesn’t have to be romantic. It can even be about your relationship with a friend. Everyone can relate to it.”
“I was inspired by my messed up but beautiful generation.”
What does it mean for you to have your song and yourself as an artist do well here in the Philippines?
“It is such an honor and I feel so humbled. For me, it especially means a lot because living in Norway, we don’t really have the space for R&B and Soul—it’s not that highly appreciated over there. It means a lot, being the first Filipino-Norwegian Artist out in Norway when I see that people, especially Filipinos, when I hear and see how my music touches them. It touches my heart especially since this is my home country.”
Speaking of jamming with your guitar while writing a song: What other instruments do you play?
“When I was around four or five, my mom used to take me—actually kind of forced me to take piano lessons. I hated that, I used to cry every time I had to go. The piano wasn’t my favorite. However, when I was around 12, I learned how to play the guitar because of my dad.”
“So, I think my favorite instrument is the guitar because it’s what enabled and inspired me to write songs. I only play the piano and the guitar, but the latter is kind of my main instrument—I think, but I try to balance both.”
Musically, who would you say are your biggest influences?
“Back then, I used to hear a lot of Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, and Black Eyed Peas inside the house, the car, and even during karaoke—I grew up with that. But as I got older, I gravitated towards more R&B and Soul. Right now my musical influences are Daniel Ceasar, Cleo Sol, and D’Angelo among others. They make music that is timeless and for the soul—the kind of music I want to make.”
What about your favorite Filipino artists?
“I have a lot in mind to be honest, but just on top of my head, it’s KZ Tandingan. She is so amazing and I love her swag, her style, and her voice. I also love Moira. She has a soft voice that is just so mesmerizing. And I love juan karlos.”
It’s only been around a year and a half since you committed to a full-time music career: How’s it been so far?
“Everything has been going so fast and it’s been exceeding my expectations. I’m still surprised with where I’m at right now, but at the same time, I’ve been working really hard for it together with my team. I feel thankful, humbled, and honored that God has blessed me with this. It really is a dream come true—I’m living my dream.”
“Just because doubt is served in front of you, it doesn’t mean that you have to take it. We have to choose to trust each other even though it’s difficult.”
Given the speed at which things have been developing: Do you ever get overwhelmed? How do you stay grounded?
“If I ever get overwhelmed? Oh my gosh, I do. Being overwhelmed is a universal human experience. Everyone gets to feel that way even though they’re not an artist.”
“I easily get overwhelmed but journaling helps me stay grounded. And what I do with journaling is that I spend time with myself, my thoughts, my feelings, and my soul. It’s also the time I get to spend with God.”
“Working in a very fast-paced industry, you can easily forget, especially when you’re constantly surrounded by material things. So I like to check in with my soul, see how I’m really doing inside, and spend time with God, family, and friends. I also love going out—the nature route keeps me grounded.”
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What’s next for HILLARI? Any singles, albums, or EPs we can expect?
“There’s always new music coming. On October 20, I’m going to be releasing the “Loyal” remix with Jolianne. And then a few weeks after that, I’m also releasing another remix with Rini. I love his music so much and it’s going to be so exciting. I’m so honored to have him on the track.”
“For new music, there is a new project on the way and I’m super excited to finally have that out. I’m always working on new music and a little sneak peek is that I’m going to be implementing more Filipino instruments in that project and just represent the flag more.”
Is there anything you would like to say to your Filipino fans?
“I just want to say thank you so much. I have never felt so at home in the Philippines and I’ve never felt that my music was that appreciated by my Filipino audience. They really made me feel so welcomed here. I feel so heard and seen and that’s just something that I don’t take for granted.”
Stream and pre-save “Loyal (ft. Jolianne)” here!