21-year-old Salem Ilese, is a pop superstar whose incredible voice and impactful lyrics have landed her a place in the spotlight. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ilese was greatly influenced by her music teacher, Bonnie Hayes, who is known as a songwriter for many legendary aritsts including Cher, David Crosby, and others. When Hayes moved to Boston to head Berklee College of Music’s songwriting department, Ilese made it her mission to work with the iconic writer. After a lot of hard work and interning, she eventually made it to Berklee where her music career really started. In speaking of Hayes’ influence, Ilese stated, “she taught me that music is the universal language. So it is one of the most effective ways to get something hard to say or maybe hard to listen to, across to someone and put it in form of a song and specifically a pop song, something really easy to listen to and digestible. Especially if it’s something that’s kind of hard to talk about or controversial. I feel pop music is such a palatable thing that i like to try and sneak in deeper meanings and messages into my music that maybe in the hopes that it’ll make it easier to understand and kind of ingest.”
Besides being influenced by one of the greatest mentors in the world, Ilese was also inspired by classic rock bands like The Clash and artists like David Bowie. Her first encounter with some of these genre-changing artists was at the outdoor San Francisco music festival, Outside Lands, in 2014. There, thanks to the pushing of her father, Ilese watched her first The Killers show, creating a love for the band that she still feels today. While her work is certainly more pop-based, the musician reveals that she primarily listens to rock and she finds her music slowly shifting in that direction. “I feel like lately in my songwriting process, it’s creeping in,” Ilese shared, “especially during the pandemic I’ve been gravitating towards that kind of nostalgic sound.
Ilese’s career as a singer-songwriter really took off in August of 2020 with her viral song “Mad At Disney” which blew up on the social media platform Tik Tok with over 3.2 million videos created under the song. The track also had over 208 million streams on Spotify, and held a placement on Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits playlist for over 15 weeks. Since then, she has continued to create amazing pop hits like “Coke & Mentos” and “Come With Me”, complete with her melodic voice and stunning lyrics that she learned how to perfect from her childhood teacher. Recently, the singer released a song titled “Moment of Silence” in response to the shooting in Uvalde, Texas and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The song went viral on Tik Tok for its emotional message about the war against women and the lack of gun control in America. Ilese, as well as her label 10K Projects, are planning to donate a portion of the proceeds from the song to organizations like Planned Parenthood and March for Our Lives to keep supporting the safety of others.
B-Sides host Pete Mar spoke with Salem Ilese ahead of her performance at Outside Lands to talk about how she found out she’d be performing, her admiration for Bonnie Hayes and her influence, collaborating with K-Pop band TXT and more.