1883 Magazine

Starting out as a Country singer, Billy Gilman stole household hearts at the young age of 11. With a top 40 hit under his belt before he was even a teenager, Billy continued to focus on what he believes he was put on this earth for - singing. He went on to release six albums, selling 10 million records, before going on hiatus from the music industry in 2006.

10 years later, he appeared on The Voice stage, singing the pop ballad “When We Were Young” by Adele. The judges were blown away by his singing, particularly Adam Levine and Miley Cyrus, both of whom fought to have Billy on their team. Billy ultimately went on to Team Adam and had many number one songs on iTunes during his time there. He was runner-up, which was no easy feat, and has a goal in mind now that he’s done with the show.

Billy’s ready to showcase his talent to its full potential and put out music that he’s passionate about. We talked to him about his love of singing, touring, and most importantly, the real Billy.

What’s the most memorable moment from when you were a young Country singer, having gained so much success at such an early age?

For me, always, it was one simple answer. It wasn’t just traveling - well, it was the traveling, too. But it was mostly the singing. In the simplest form, whether it was for five people or 5000 people. From an early age, there’s no memory of me not singing. I was put on this earth to deliver my message. I’m just so grateful that even back then I got that. It wasn’t like someone came up to me and said, “Hey, you sing kinda good, kid. You’re gonna be a singer.” It wasn’t like that. It was my drive from the get go. It was always just singing from being in front of people and having them understand that it’s not a gimmick, and it’s not a fad. It’s not something that I woke up one day and decided what I am. It was always my thing. Looking back on it, you go through some shit. The grueling factor is that you’re literally doing a 20, 30, 40 year old’s job at 13, 14 years old. It’s crazy, and if I didn’t love it, it would have been a different story. I think the simple fact of me just singing kept my head and path clear.

In 2014, you came out in a YouTube video. Was that difficult or did you feel relieved?

It was a couple things. Around that time, my name was kind of known, but not to the mass media. I was on hiatus with my voice at the time, but I was still kind of known. There were some pictures going around that could have been exploited. I thought, I wanted to get ahead and I wanted to be at the helm of this ship. I don’t want to be following my story and not me controlling it. A magazine actually approached us for a cover story, and I said, you know what? I am who I am and it’s not for monetary or fame gain. I didn’t want it to seem like oh, he’s trying to sell himself, he’s trying to sell his record, or a single, or this or that. This is who I am. And I really did some soul searching on how to approach it because the only people I really cared about were my fans. They deserved to know and they were a part of my life. If you think about it, I was a personality before I was a person. That’s when I thought YouTube. I mean, why not? My fans will still know. I jumped in and just told my truth. The thousands of emails that I got from kids saying I don’t feel alone anymore, I have a voice, I have someone to look up to. I didn’t expect that, I never expected the outpour from the youth and young adults. I had no idea that there were millions who don’t have support. I was very touched at the response that I got. I just did it to be honest, and to cut it at the knees. It is what it is. I have found who I am and it only makes the music that much better. I’m not scared. I’m not afraid of anything.

What pushed you to try out for The Voice in 2016?

As my career started to get more and more of an adult, I learned that even as an adult you’re kind of told what to sing. Like, I’m sure Britney Spears doesn’t want to do half the songs she does, but they tell her because they have a vision. So I was told what to sing for many years. After coming out of my voice change, it took so long for it to come back strong and I almost damaged it where I couldn’t sing anymore. I had to go through six months of no speaking, no singing. It was pretty horrific. Luckily, when it came back and I did years of retraining, I realized that my voice wasn’t being thrown to its fullest potential. I knew that when I was younger, my voice could do so much more than the songs presented. I was always kind of spiteful inside, but I couldn’t really say anything because were they going to listen to me? Probably not. So as I got older and older and after the voice change, I still wished that the public could hear me do this song instead of that. Then The Voice came along, and they had asked if I would audition. They felt like my story really fit their mold. After some coaxing and a few months of soul searching, I thought, if anything I can step out finally on a stage and let my voice go, and let myself be who I am, where I am at this moment. And I never had that opportunity, ever. So when I stood there on that stage and I sang an Adele song, I knew that this was my sound and I knew that I was finally the driver. I waited 15 years to stand on a stage and have people trust what I thought was best for me, for once.

A lot of the judges recognized you from your childhood accomplishments. How did that feel?

It was neat, but I thought, don’t think of me there. For example, you or anybody, when you’re young your parents tell you how to dress, like how to wear this, or that looks best. So that wasn’t me before as a child. I was nervous that they knew me so well from my past, and I thought don’t judge that. It’s not even the same human. It wasn’t me, so let that go. It was flattering, though, that they remembered me to some extent. It was pretty sweet and I was taken aback by that.

That’s awesome, and then you were able to prove yourself as who you are rather than what they believed you to be before.

Exactly, and they fought for me and of course, I picked Team Adam. He fought me a lot, too. When I would do my shows, I would do whatever song and then I would go into my dressing room, or my bus, and I’d just play this record of Celine Dion and I’d just wail, and I wished that people could hear me. They have no idea the depth of what I could do with my voice and technique. So when it came down to the wire, I said to Adam that I want to do a Celine song, but as a male Celine. And he said, “No, you can’t. There’s no way. It’s too risky.” And I said, “Trust me.” I fought tooth and nail with him, we went head to head on a lot of things because I knew what I was capable of and I knew that I only had one shot, that’s it. I sang “I Surrender” and it went to number one on iTunes. Trust your gut. If you know what you got then that’s your vehicle. Always find that intuition and run with it. It’s always right.

I heard you’ve been touring for the past 13 months. Have you felt homesick at all?

No, I love to do it. If I’m not singing, I’m singing. If I’m not on a stage, or in a recording booth, I’m in my rehearsal booth that I have and I’m singing. I’m finding new songs, or I’m finding new ideas that I’m sending to songwriters or producers. Like it is all I am and it is an obsession, which I’m happy about. But when you’re on a two week stretch and you haven’t seen your bed, you do get a little homesick. You can only see so many hotel soaps. At the end of the day, though, when you step out on that stage it is a drug unlike no other. It is my drug of choice. It’s amazing, there’s no other feeling. So that helped when you’re doing the 6 AM flights, or the bus calls or whatever because it can get kind of grueling.

You’ve been performing in different types of venues from arenas to small theaters. Which do you prefer?

That’s a good question! I actually never thought about that. For me, as long as there are people there. It could be a club of 150, or it could be an arena. Arenas can be a little nerve wrecking. Hopefully, we have some new music coming out, we have a new single that we’re shopping around, all that great stuff on the horizon. Without a single, to sell out an arena, that’s a lot of pressure. The pressure is off a little bit when you’re doing theaters, like a thousand seat theater, or an outdoor venue. It’s a little bit different. So I actually don’t have a preference. I like to do it wherever they want me.

Speaking of new music, what do you have coming up?

There’s a brand new single that’s slated for a few months now, going along with all the promotion and touring we’ve been doing. It’s called “Good Life.” We’re very certain that’s the one, we keep going back and forth, and of course, we have others. But we just keep thinking that this is such a great anthem song and people can really identify with it when we play it amongst the other songs in the mix. We’re really excited, and it’s true to who I am and it’s true to where I wanna go in the next years of my career. It’s a great new path and it’s just a great sound. I spent many, many, many hours in the studio coming up with my identity. And you got to get really brutal with yourself to create that identity and that sound. I’m really happy with where we’re going with this. It’s just exciting to be finally able to do me, you know what I mean? Because people can see it. People can sense when you’re being made to sing something that you’re not 100% with. They get when it’s genuine and I think that’s why The Voice worked so well for me, because night after night, I was just being Billy. And that’s all I can be. I’m a horrible faker and it feels good to not be faking anymore.

How was it to sing the National Anthem for the Patriots game? That’s a big accomplishment!

It’s nerve wracking because there’s, like, 87,000 people. When you’re singing there’s such a delay of an echo with your voice. Like when you sing, “Oh say…” and then five seconds later, you hear it echo back. It’s insane that there was 87,000 people for the New England Patriots game. This was their Super Bowl. It was unbelievable. I teared up a little after that because I was a nervous wreck to not screw it up. I mean, people call you out if you make a mistake on that song. But it was awesome.

Games are a little different from concerts. In concerts they sing along with you, but when you sing the National Anthem at a game, it’s deadly silent.

Right, exactly! It’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop. One of my biggest supporters was my grandmother. She really saw that I had a voice when I was a kid and she set into my hunger for wanting to do it. But she passed away and I looked up as soon as I started singing and I said, “Oh, here we go, Nana.”

Be on the lookout for announcements on Billy’s new single, “Good Life,” and for tour dates head to www.billygilman.com/tour

Interview Naureen Nashid

Photography Sanjida Bintekamal, NYC 

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