Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Los Angeles’s Ilana Degann. Together we discussed puns, content creation, being both a musician and actor, their newest single “Ramona”, and so much more! Check out the interview below!
1. Mustard would like to thank you for joining them! They are grateful and appreciative. How are you? How’s your week been?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m always happy to chat with mustard! This week has been pretty rough not gonna lie, but I’ve been trying to use those feelings as motivators to make art and do good things in the world!
2. You’re a self-described pun enthusiast. As a condiment I must ask, do you remember the first pun you heard? What is your favorite pun? Why do some humans groans when they hear puns?
The first pun?!? Oh my gosh I WISH I remembered the first pun I heard! I can’t think of a favorite pun off the bat because the ones that get me the most are the ones that catch me off guard during conversation. Like no set up, no planned punchline, just a natural pun. The first one that came to mind from recent memory was talking with a friend about dolphins and what their life porpoise would be. People might disagree with this but I think a groan is a great reaction to a pun because that means it was equal parts corny and unexpected! When it’s too obvious people will usually be silent and just stare at you.
3. Not only do you create content, you are a musician and an actor. How do you balance each? Creatively do they inspire each other or does each have its own separate process?
I’ll be honest with ya, it’s a really exhausting way of life and I can’t say I recommend it. A lot of times when I mention to people like “oh yeah I have a full-time job outside of content creation, music, acting, and comedy,” they’ll respond with “how do you do it?!?” and my response is
It’s really really difficult and I wouldn’t be doing it if I saw any other option. I think (aside from the issue of making a living wage) one of the biggest problems with content creation is that a lot of these platforms don’t want you to be multi-faceted. Like I make covers every week on YouTube and I’d love to share them to TikTok and Instagram, but every time I do, my views tank. It would be a lot easier to balance all my different passions if I were “permitted” to have them overlap, yaknow? Rather than having to create completely different content for everything I want to do. Occasionally they’ll creatively inspire each other, but I feel like a lot of that is more of a subconscious thing for me. Like my instincts with acting and comedy naturally come through when I’m writing and filming short-form videos whether I’m trying to showcase that or not. And sometimes I have an idea for a video that just would really work best as a mini song!
And the reason why I still do all of these things even though it’s extremely difficult to balance is because I really love all of them. Each one enhances my life in a way that the others can’t. In an ideal world, I’d be able to be acting, making music, and doing comedy full-time while also creating videos for fun. I have no clue if anyone has ever done this but I would LOVE to do a touring show where like the first half is a stand-up act, we take a little intermission, and the second half is a concert. For some reason I haven’t really been able to make comedy songs work for me though. It’s just not a skill I’ve developed as much as the others I guess? My passion for songwriting usually comes from some really intense feelings, so it’s difficult for me to lighten that up I guess.
4. Mustard loves improv and used to teach it to high schoolers. Could you share more about your experience with Schrodinger’s Cast? How did 30 Plays in 60 Minutes come together? Do you take a “yes and” approach to your music and other creative outlets?
Oooooh okay!! So Schrodinger’s Cast actually isn’t improv! It’s a group that puts on shows in the style of “neofuturism,” but I’ll touch on that more later with question 6!
I did do improv though with a group called Improv Revolution! We did improv shows every other week with one hour of short form and one hour of long form. Improv Revolution was such a huge part of my life and how I made some of my best friends. I think the biggest lesson I learned from improv was the ability to loosen up and kinda turn my brain off? As someone with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, it seems a little silly that I would find myself doing improv. I’m so terrified of the unknown and yet I willingly threw myself into unplanned, unscripted shows! It was like micro-dosing exposure therapy
Something that was also brought to my attention through improv that I think has really changed the way I look at my art and really life itself was the separation between “head,” “heart,” and “gut” improvisers. Head improvisers tend to think about the “game,” or the joke of the scene and approach it from what is needed onstage right now. Heart improvisers are really grounded in their relationships and build the scene off of how they feel about the other characters. Gut improvisers are so good at the whole “don’t think just go, we’ll fix it later” thing. That’s where you get some of the wackiest, most out of left field occurrences that make improv so fun. Obviously you want to be able to refine and hone into skills in all three categories but it’s interesting to see where your first instinct lies. My team was very quick to tell me that I’m naturally a “heart” improviser through and through. It’s been interesting to see how that carries throughout everything else I do. Almost all of my music relates back to my relationship to another person and how they made me feel. Because for me, at the end of the day, it’s all about people. People and relationships (of all kinds, not just romantic) are what fuel me and it’s cool to see that that mindset shines through in just about everything I do.
5. You’ve been in numerous plays such as Love’s Labour Lost, Romeo and Juliet, and Seussical The Musical. What is the favorite production you’ve been in? Do you implement any acting techniques or strategies in your music or other content?
I think my favorite production I’ve been in would have to be “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” It’s a comedy written by Steve Martin and I was both in it, and co-directed it with one of my friends in college. It’s such a wild comedy and we did this as a completely student-run production (read: a budget of $0.00). It was basically just ten (I think ten?) friends in a room having a great time. It was probably the most natural a show has ever felt for me because we got to be a group of friends playing a group of friends. It’s also one of the few comedies I’ve gotten to be in (I most often do more dramatic acting) and getting to feed off of the audience’s laughter and energy is just such a great time. I touched on this earlier but I think even if I’m not consciously using my acting training when making music or other content, it’s almost always gonna shine through in some way or another. At the very least, my acting training was what made me comfortable enough to sit in front of a camera and what taught me how to be engaging enough that people would want to watch!
6. You began songwriting in college with a performance group. Could you share more about this group? How did what you learned there help influence your songwriting?
Yes! Okay, remember when I told you I’d come back to Schrodinger’s Cast/30 Plays in 60 Minutes/Neofuturism? That’s now! Neofuturism is a type of performance where the concept is “we are who we are, we are where we are, we’re doing what we’re doing, the place is here, the time is now.” So we’re performing but we’re not pretending to be someone that we’re not.
Performing with that group was the first time I performed my own original music live in front of people! It gave me the kick in the ass I needed to feel confident and comfortable in sharing those feelings with the world and trusting that people not only understood them, but felt something with them and wanted to hear them. And because the format of the show called for each “play” to be about two minutes long, it also taught me how to cut down. How to look at the song and see what was essential to the story and what wasn’t. Sometimes it feels impossible to get rid of a line or a verse that I just really love but it’s not benefiting the song or the story. But when you only have two minutes, sometimes you gotta cut the shit you don’t wanna cut.
7. Mustard is a big fan of JER/Skatune Network and observed that you were in their “Clout Chasers” music video. How did that come about? Who are some of your favorite ska bands?
Aaah!! Yes that was so fun and exciting! Jer has been one of my mutuals on TikTok for a loooong time (maybe one of my first-ever mutuals that wasn’t someone I knew from off the app) but we just started talking more recently. They reached out to me a little bit before the video dropped and asked if I’d be willing to learn the dance and be in the video and my response was something along the lines of “I cannot dance but god dammit I’ll try.” You might also see a familiar face in the “Nobody Can Dull My Sparkle” music video That one came about after I went to go see them perform with “We Are the Union” in Anaheim!
Honestly it was Jer who got me into ska in the first place so I’m not super familiar with a lot of bands aside from Jer and WATU *yet*. I’m always open to recs though!
8. Who (or what) influences and inspires you?
When it comes to music, my biggest inspirations are other independent and DIY artists! That’s who I look to whenever I’m feeling the effects of imposter syndrome because especially with a lot of them who started off on YouTube, there’s a virtual trail of their growth and it’s really inspiring to see like okay. They could do it. So can I. Especially artists like Tessa Violet, Orla Gartland, and Dodie.
When it comes to content, I don’t think anything has inspired me more than becoming friends with other creators! Seeing what they come up with and their successes and just getting to riff with them and (virtually) meet people from all over the world with such different backgrounds and interests always sparks new ideas!
9. 2020 saw the release of your debut single “I’m Not Mad.” It tears at Mustard’s label. Could you share more about this song?
Oof, that one sure was a rough time to be me That song was written after a particularly rough breakup. The kind that had me feeling like I was floating in space, not tethered to who I was anymore. That was also the only relationship I really had in college so it was my first time experiencing these feelings as more of an adult. Admittedly, after learning more about that situation in hindsight, I think I did have the right to be mad
But looking back on it, I think that song also plays on some people-pleasing tendencies I maybe wasn’t even aware of at the time. The way I so desperately didn’t want to be mad at the other person because I had internalized the idea of putting the blame on myself to make other people more comfortable. I was really out there blaming myself for having complicated feelings over someone who broke my heart! I feel like a lot of my songs are “one and done” situations where I write the song, maybe make some edits, and then it feels fairly done. But this one was a very long process. I actually first wrote it before that partner and I had even broken up. I had this nagging feeling that something was wrong (I thought I was being cheated on, which, maybe I was maybe I wasn’t, I have no clue) and I sat down to write to try and process out the feelings while also not “bothering” him about my insecurities. Once the breakup actually happened about two weeks later, the lyrics took quite the shift considering I was no longer writing in the hypothetical. And then about ten months after the breakup, it came to be the time of year that he and I first got together and I just felt this flooding of unexpected feelings come up. Something about the start of the school year and being back in the place I was when we first got together. That was actually when I wrote the bridge “I miss the days before the fights…in the blink of an eye and I had to move on.” That part was what really made that song (and that relationship) feel complete to me.
10. Following “I’m Not Mad” came “Can’t Drown Me” and “Never Got Over You.” Are these songs about the same individual or inspired by separate situations?
All three wildly different! “Can’t Drown Me” was actually about an abusive roommate relationship I experienced in college. It almost escaped my body a couple months after finally moving out and hearing about all the lies they’d spread about me. It was the beginning of me feeling like I could reclaim the right to my own story.
“Never Got Over You” came about a bit later after a very long and drawn out “will-they-won’t-they” situation. He was aware of the feelings that I had and almost certainly used them to his advantage. But again, those people-pleasing tendencies came out and I wrote that song almost from a place of blaming myself for having feelings for someone else. Granted, I was definitely placing unfair and unwarranted romantic expectations on him, but I wouldn’t say I deserved all the blame I gave myself for feeling like a bad friend. Also, spoiler alert, the last chorus of “would all of this be through if I ever got over you?” Yeah. It would. Within under a month of me getting over him finally, the friendship ended because I wasn’t putting in the effort of a Relationship anymore and he was upset that he didn’t have exclusive rights to me, my time, and my care even though he didn’t want to give that to me in the first place.
11. Releasing soon is your upcoming single “Ramona.” What can listeners expect from this single? Is Ramona the narrator of your other tracks?
“Ramona” is about the feeling of only being seen for what you can do for others. Essentially being treated like a character in a movie who’s only there to serve the character growth of the main character and once she’s served her purpose, we never see or hear from her again. No one really looks into what happened to her, how the situation affected (and probably hurt) her, nothing like that. It was drawn from the manic pixie dream girl concept and who better to represent that than Ramona Flowers? The song gives vibes of Ramona Flowers meets Envy Adams. It’s almost entirely sarcastic and biting, using offers of “I’ll dye my hair blue, call me Ramona” and “Did you feel so broken that you had to break me too? Hope you wore your safety gear so I won’t shatter back on you,” to lean into this concept that people I’ve dated in the past haven’t considered even for a moment that maybe using my feelings as acceptable collateral damage for “finding themselves” is super fucked.
Originally “Ramona” wasn’t even a track on the upcoming EP. “Ramona” was gonna be the title of the EP to demonstrate that all of the songs on it were, in one way or another, about feeling used for someone else’s gain. But then I went through a particularly painful blow-up that just really tied all those feelings together in a pretty literal way so I used that as the starting place and pulled in all these feelings from past relationships to create the title track.
So I guess “Ramona” might not be the narrator, but all of them are coming from the place of relating to her.
12. Love, loss, and mental health are themes within your music and TikTok content. For those who may be struggling with these do you have any advice or techniques that they can use to help?
Unfortunately there’s no end-all-be-all tip or trick, but something that’s just really important in general and something I’m still learning every day is to be kind and forgiving to yourself
13. Do you have any upcoming shows?
I wish! If anyone out there is looking to book an independent musician/comedian, hit me up!
14. Where can readers listen to your music? Do you have a preferred platform?
I’m on pretty much every streaming platform out there! Luckily my name is pretty unique so if you search “Ilana Degann” on your platform of choice, you should be able to find me. Spotify is where I have the largest audience right now so I tend to encourage people to listen there just because the larger the numbers there, the more they’re likely to pay attention, but hey if you’re listening to my music anywhere, I’m grateful for you! Unless you’re doing it illegally By all means, fuck those big corporations but please don’t take from small artists like that.