Back To The Hits: Illenium Shares the Backstories on His Six Biggest Chart Hits

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A new era of Illenium begins today (July 16) with the release of the future bass phenom’s latest album, Fallen Embers. The Colorado-based producer (born Nick Miller) closed out the trilogy formed by his first three LPs — Ashes, Awake and Ascend — in grand fashion: with the inaugural concert at Las Vegas’ recently opened Allegiant Stadium. On July 3, tens of thousands of fans joined Miller to commemorate (i.e. listen to very loudly and go wild for en masse) the first phase of Miller’s music and to also make space for what’s to come.

“It was fricken nuts,” Miller says of the show, his first since the beginning of the pandemic, from which he performed from the center of the crowd. “I was so stressed and anxious, kind of scared about the first set, but after my anxiousness went away, I had fun. It was awesome.”

Talking via phone days before the release of his new album, Miller says Fallen Embers extends the sonically and conceptually epic narrative created on his first three LPs, through a brand new chapter. “I love the mythology and a fantasy story stuff,” Miller says. “[Fallen Embers] is the same universe, but a new phase.”

But the massive sound that’s made Miller one of the most successful modern dance music producers hasn’t gone away. Fallen Embers includes the soaring, often anthemic sound that defines the Illenium name, this time via collaborations with guest artists from the electronic realm including Krewella, Slander, Excision and more, along with further afield guests like Angels & Airwaves (who feature on the prevoiusly released single “Paper Thin”) and iann dior.

The album, out via 12Tone Music, is Miller’s first release on an indie label after leaving Astralwerks after the 2019 release of Ascend, which delivered two of the biggest chart hits of his career thanks to “Takeaway” (produced with The Chainsmokers) and “Good Things Fall Apart” with Jon Bellion. Miller says that, while he pays some attention to how his music is charting, “I also don’t want to get too in it, because whenever I’m that invested in things out of my control, I get a little crazy.

But, he adds, “When things are doing well, obviously I get really pumped.” Here, Miller gives the backstory behind six of his biggest Billboard chart hits, from his early days to the new Fallen Embers era.

From: Fallen Embers
Chart Peak: No. 14 on Hot Alternative Songs in November 2020

Miller: One, the vocal from Anikka [Wells] on this is amazing. And it’s much more rock [than a lot of my other stuff.] It’s still EDM, but it has pretty heavy power chords in the drop, and I think that kind of lends it to this crossover spot where people don’t know, “Does it go in EDM? Does it go in alternative?” It’s kind of cool that you can see it work in both worlds. I definitely think that’s dope.

Billboard: Did you have that crossover sound mind while you producing it?

Definitely not. I just really like all those sounds. I love big rock, finale, epic power chords and huge drums, and that kind of vibe.

“Takeaway” (with The Chainsmokers featuring Lennon Stella)
From: Illeniun’s 2019 LP, Ascend, and The Chainsmokers 2019 LP World War Joy
Chart Peak: No. 69 on Hot 100 in August 2019

[The Chainsmokers’] Drew [Taggart] and Alex [Pall] and I actually started working on “Takeaway” — man, I have the email — I think it was December of 2017, which is crazy. We didn’t really get a direction for the drop, and then we both got crazy with touring in 2018, and then we linked back up and we met up in L.A. and pretty much banged it out in one night. We rewrote some of the pre-chorus and ended up linking with Lennon, and it ended up coming together so easily.

Did the song charting on the Hot 100 have any special significance for you?

It’s definitely always been an aspiration of mine, and I definitely celebrated it and was really happy about it and that collaboration and how well that song was performing in general. I feel like if I make the goal hitting that chart, I’ll start changing my sound a little bit, but it’s definitely a goal to be that successful while retaining what I really love about the music I create.

“Rush Over Me” (with Seven Lions & Said The Sky, featuring Haliene)
Non-album single
Chart Peak: No. 50 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs in November 2016

I didn’t actually know that that song hit that chart. I think I wasn’t really tuned into everything at that point — I was just kind of trying to make it work. Seven Lions has always been one of my biggest inspirations in electronic music. I used to listen to his music pretty religiously. I feel like [his music] is just really calculated and well-produced, and he can do so much stuff that I still have no idea how to do. So, working with him and with Trevor, Said The Sky, was definitely a dream come true, and Haliene on the vocal is just absolutely beautiful. That song came together really well and really easily.

I was working on a lot of melodic dubstep at the time, and so I feel like it was more fascinated with how Jeff [Montalvo of Seven Lions] does all that crazy stuff. I was like “Whoa!” the whole time. It was a big producer fanboy moment. For it to end up on the chart is just so cool, because those kind of melodic dubstep technical productions really rely on that vocal to be the kind of hugeness of the song. A lot of the technical glitch, while to me kind of the coolest stuff ever, can be kind of hard to digest if you’re just a normal listener. But I think there was a really good blend in that song, and I think that’s what kind of kickstarted its success.

“Feel Something” Feat. Excision & I Prevail
From: Non-album single
Chart Peak: No. 8 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs in April 2020

That [chart position] is crazy to me, because there’s a full on headbanging dubstep section in this, so that’s cool. I got this song and heard the vocal, and it was such a different structure. The whole build and “ooh oooh” was like, 45 seconds long at the very end. When I heard that part of the demo I was like, “Holy s–t, this is the sickest build ever. I need to use that.”

So I restructured that and was talking with Jeff [Abel, of Excision] about like, “I don’t know how we’re going to make it heavy.” We were in C-minor, which sucks for dubstep. But I was like, “This is fire, we’ve gotta figure something out.” So we ended up doing this whole weird thing to get to F. It was a really fun song to work on, because that vocal and the stems that they had were just power. That song live still gets me. I can listen to it at home and be good, but when I listen to it live — seeing the words and everyone is screaming — it totally wrecks me.

“Good Thing Fall Apart” With Jon Bellion
From: Ascend 
Chart Peak: No. 18 on Adult Top 40 Airplay in February 2020

“Good Things” is probably one of my favorites. It’s up there in the top one or two songs I’ve made. I’ve always been so obsessed with pop-punk. I listened to so much Blink-182 and Dashboard Confessional and all these other artists when I was younger and still today. I feel like I really wanted to bring some of that, because I felt like that stuff was so successful back in the day and now you just don’t hear as much of it. You hear some of the hip-hop variations, which is sick, but it isn’t done very successfully in electronic music, I feel like, where it’s all kind of blended. When it’s too electronic and pop punk, sometimes it sounds a little cheesy. So I felt like trying to keep everything organic sounding.

When we were in the room writing that vocal, I was like, “This is so fire. I can’t wait to get home and get this whole thing figured out.” I knew right when we wrote that little tag, that “good things fall apart” tag. I was like, “Oh my god! Holy crap. This is so sick.” We wrote and finished it fast.

“Paper Thin” With Tom DeLonge and Angels & Airwaves
From: Fallen Embers
Chart Peak: No. 10 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs in November 2020

It was one of those things where it was like, “Send it to Tom’s management. It’s not going to happen, but let’s try.” I’ve always loved Tom’s voice. It’s so unique. I feel like there’s not a singer where it comes on and you know it’s them faster. I’m a big fanboy, obviously, so getting the word after I sent it in that, “Yeah, actually he’s down. He wants to put in his guitar and redo the verse and kind of put his own production on it.” I was like, “That’s cool,” because I’m a huge fan of his guitar riffs. Angels & Airwaves has such a sick sound on its own, too. This was top of the bucket list, for sure.

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