“Its like I’ve gone to the music supermarket and gotten something from every shelf and put it in my trolley. “
I found Elaska on triple j unearthed- her song ‘Outside In’ was infectious, and what I wanted my own music to sound a little bit like. I was eager to meet her and pick her brain, so we met up at Shenkin on Crown street.
I really liked your song Outside In, that one seems to be the ‘popular’ one
Yeah, yeah that’s the more popular one on Spotify, but ‘Stephanie’ is getting played on triple j unearthed radio, whereas ‘Outside In’ didn’t. It’s weird, I feel like it’s two different audiences that listen to the songs, even though they’re similar.
I think I write music in a similar style- a lot of production but it’s still about the songwriting- this personable voice that isn’t just a top-liner. I think I see a lot of that in the Australian scene, not that I really listen to any other scenes haha
Yeah I mean when it comes to American music, there’s just too fucking much!
Yeah you see people you’ve never heard of and they have hundreds of thousands of followers and you’re like how have I not heard of this person?
It’s cool though, it’s amazing that there’s so much choice when it comes to music these days.
How did you get into music?
Well I come from a musical family, my dad is a musician and I basically grew up around other musicians and with music playing all the time. My mum’s not really musical, she’s more artsy. I’ve always sung, and when I was 10 or 11- piano was my first instrument actually, I started playing piano when I was like 7. I very quickly went no! I wanna to be a guitarist! I wanna be a rockstar! I would kind of watch my dad and sort of figure it out in a weird way- because he’s left-handed and I’m right handed
Oh right, are you playing guitar on the two tracks you have up?
I write the songs on guitar, and then I go in with the producer and play it for them, and we sort of work on it together. I think for ‘Outside In‘, it’s the producer who’s playing the guitar part. I really like the way he plays the guitar, really groovy.
In ‘Stephanie’, I’m playing some of the guitar parts, and some of the parts are played by Xavier Dunn, who’s the producer for that song. For demos I play it, and then I go and find someone better to play it properly haha
I feel like if I was to play it, I would be such a perfectionist. It would take 100,000 years for me to feel like ‘yeah its good!’ Id always hear something that wasn’t right
Yeah absolutely, especially if it’s bare- just guitar and you see how bad you are at playing because you’re not hiding behind a bunch of other layers
Yeah I don’t know! When it’s me singing or playing guitar and I listen to it back I’m like holy shit there’s so much wrong with this but if someone else played the exact same thing, the exact same way-
Its suddenly ‘character’
‘Ooo it’s so good! So spicy!
So quirky! So raw!
Exactly! You’re always your own worst critic
Do you find that with your voice as well or are you more lenient with your personal tone?
With my voice I’m like ‘one more take!’ and I’ll do 50 more. When I’m recording on my own- oh my god- with no one to reign me in, I could be recording one verse for like 5 hours.
Where do your songs generally start?
Yeah probably guitar, sometimes it’s with a lyric. Very rarely do my songs start in pieces, usually when I write a song it all sort of comes to me at once. Not sure if that happens to everyone. I remember with Outside In I started with this chord progression and just humming the melody, and stopped and wrote down all the lyrics. It sort of felt like someone just dumped a song on my head like ‘write this down! Record it!’.
And you wonder why this doesn’t happen every time!
Exactly! It’s overwhelming sometimes. Because you try so hard to write a song when you want to. You sit down and go I’m going to write a song today and you can’t fucking do it, and then you’ll be in an Uber or in a meeting and all of a sudden, you’re FINALLY inspired. I must look like a crazy person sometimes walking with my phone up to my mouth mumbling.
Jazz had a great story about a poet who would run home to write poems because otherwise the poem would leave her and go to someone else
You really need to read a book called Paradoxical Undressing, it’s about the artists’ personal struggles when she was young. She describes songwriting like there are a thousand songs floating in the universe, and they choose a vessel to express it to the world. That’s how it feels sometimes like there’s something else controlling it
I feel like it’s a really interesting and special moment when you realise what you write came from you. When was the first time you wrote something?
I think I started to really feel like a songwriter when… Well I’ve been writing songs since maybe I was 13? But I’ve only been writing good songs for maybe since I was 19 or 20. Even some of those songs felt good at the time and I look back and think oh fuck that’s awful
No one can hear this
Exactly. I think I wrote a song called ‘We Don’t Want To Fight’, I remember when I wrote that song I was like oh my god this is my song, I really wrote that. I remember when I wrote that song and recorded it, I decided to make my name Elaska, it all kind of happened at the same time. I think that’s why I feel connected to that song- it was the start of something. I listened to it yesterday actually, it was nice to hear it again
I did that on the train coming here this morning, I found a song in my voice memos I wrote a while ago and never finished. I think sometimes we get so bogged down with the next thing, that we forget we have done so many things. If you just look through your personal repertoire of what you’ve written or half written, there’s some good shit there! and bad shit, but stuff you can work with.
How do you know when your songs are finished?
I think usually I need a second opinion, otherwise, I could be tweaking and tweaking and tweaking forevermore. Usually, I get this feeling like okay, that’s enough, or a sense of happiness- not necessarily with the song, but I’ll listen to it and instead of feeling stressed about it or wanting to be proactive, I’ll just feel calm. When I feel that calm feeling I think oh it must be done. I remember with ‘Outside In’ it was a lot of back and forth between me and the producer and the manager. I remember when I heard the final mix before it was mastered, I just sent a message to Gabbie my manager and said something like fuck yeah. As soon as I heard it I was like yep it’s done.
And you gotta trust that before you change your mind next week
Yeah, it’s instinctual
Do you find songwriting easy?
For myself, not always. I think if I’m toplining- I feel like I get songwriting, the concept of it. If I can disconnect emotionally from the end product, it’s a lot easier. I could write a song-
In like 10 minutes
Yeah exactly. But when it’s my own stuff
It’s your identity!
And its like I’m telling the world this personal secret! Sometimes it’s so hard? Sometimes it’s really emotionally straining. Sometimes it’s so physically demanding- when you’re in the studio and you spend 8 hours there, or at home desperately trying to finish a demo- up really late. Thinking about how to finish it all- how to replace that one word that’s giving you the shits. It’s so worth it though, for making yourself happy with the end result.
What do you think is the most important part of your songs?
I spend the most time on production, only because its a fine line between having interesting production and losing the narrative of the song. I think the most important part is conveying a story, the movement, the shape of the song, and how it helps tell the story
When you’re listening to other peoples music, is that the most important thing to you?
Oh yeah, if I hear a song on the radio, the first thing I do is google the lyrics. Sometimes I look up the lyrics and the song is about something completely different
I think lyrics are most important to me, I find it so weird to think some people don’t even notice lyrics
Oh my god, every time.
For me that’s the focal point- for me, if the lyrics are bad, it’s a bad song.
100%. I have a love-hate relationship with love songs. I feel like people write them because it’s universally relatable, and everyone likes them. I love a good love song, but there’s still 100,000 terrible ones out there that are only ‘passable’ because they’re about love. When a friend sends me a song saying its ‘so good’ and its just another generic love song, I just can’t even absorb anything else about the song- not the melody, nothing.
Yeah, nothing matters except how bad the lyrics are
Tell me about ‘Outside In’, I found the production super polished, did it go through many versions?
I was really lucky because I worked with the most amazing producer Russ, and basically, we went into the studio together- it was actually the first time we’d worked together so we didn’t really know each other, we didn’t really have a rapport or anything. I played him the song and he was like ‘yeah cool cool cool’ and just started noodling. That was the demo, it just came together really easily.
That demo just kind of got lost in the woodwork of everything I was doing at the time, and then literally a year later my manager messaged me ‘Ella, ‘Outside In’ is a killer song’. I basically completely forgot about it but I love that song, I always have. The demo had basically everything in it, just not finessed. When we approached it again it was just a matter of like
Cleaning it up
Yeah, the main thing was just the vocal production.
Where do you find yourself writing most often?
I think I write my best songs in my old bedroom at my parent’s house, maybe because I feel really comfortable there?
It’s like a familiar space but it’s not your constant space
Yeah, coming back there I feel really creative- I’m always reaching for my guitar and strumming and writing. I write like 2-minute like songs all the time.
What does ‘Outside In’ communicate?
When I wrote that song I was in a really confident space with being independent- I was living alone, in my own apartment. I think I was drunk when I wrote it, and I was strumming and it all kind of came together. It’s kind of about being comfortable and on your own, not feeling like you need to lean on someone- whether that be a friend or a partner. Being content with yourself.
‘Stephanie’ feels really intimate and direct
Do you feel vulnerable when you release a song like that?
Oh yeah. Yeah. Initially, I wanted that to be the first song I released, but like you said, it’s very raw. I thought I should release something a little lighter first- and then introduce this other part of my songwriting. It is a very personal song- very emotional song. It’s still happy I think, it’s melancholy, but when I play it I feel happy. I think because it’s so honest
I think the best sad songs make you feel happy when you play them
I’d say your first song ‘Outside In’ is kind of RnB influenced, and the second one I feel like is more post-90’s alt-rock. Do you find that you levitate towards genres depending on the content, do you like certain genres more, or do you feel like they need to sound a certain way because that’s how the song feels to you?
I think because I have such an eclectic array of influences, that I feel like I’m forever trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ in the middle of all my musical influences. My songs always come out sounding a little bit different to one another. I think the thing that ties them together is me. When I write a song, I try to make the production around it suit the melody. There’s always gonna be a bit of early 2000’s RnB, a little bit of 80’s synth- fucking love 80’s music. Its like I’ve gone to the music supermarket and gotten something from every shelf and put it in my trolley.
I feel like there’s a lot of pressure when you’re starting out-
To have a brand
Yeah exactly, I think that really limits your ability to write the way you want to write. When you look at these mega-superstars- the unfathomably famous- they don’t really have a ‘brand’, their brand is them. As long as their voice is in it, that’s the consistency they need. It’s exciting to write in lots of genres. I think it’s liberating.
You know, there’s nothing that frustrates me more than new artists getting on the radio just because they sound like someone else. It can feel restricting to surround yourself reference tracks, maybe I just want to write a song that sounds like how I feel today!
I think its an honest thing when all your songs sound different, you’re not going to feel the same every day. Whatever supports the story you’re trying to tell.
What do you think you’re most musically proud of?
I think the lyrics in ‘Stephanie’. Yeah, I’m really really proud of both of those songs- and songs I’m yet to release. I remember when I wrote ‘Stephanie’, I was in Byron Bay with a producer, staying in his caravan-studio, and I woke up really early that morning and just grabbed my phone and wrote all these lyrics, humming the melody. When he came in I must have looked like a crazy person and I was like ‘I just wrote this song! I just need to figure out the chords really quickly!’ I remember after we finished, I just felt so happy. I felt so proud. I immediately sent it to one of my best friends.
So ‘Outside In’ you were saying you wrote when you were drunk, and ‘Stephanie’ you wrote when you were tired, do you find mindset is important for you to feel inspired?
I mean, I’ve written songs in a controlled environment- like in a session- that I really love. Songs with other writers and by myself, but I also write when I’m drunk, or in the middle of the night!
I think the link between all the songs that are important to me, is that I’ve let me guard down, and been vulnerable with myself. That feels like the key to writing a good song.
What do you want to stand for as a musician?
Honesty. I want to be unapologetically honest about my experiences and things that happen to everybody in life. I never want to be that person who writes a song to cater to anybody else apart from what I believe and feel. I’m passionate about working with other women, the film clip for ‘Outside In’ was with an all-female crew, which was so exciting. I love working with female songwriters when it comes to writing women have a different perspective- I feel like I can relate to it more.
Sometimes I find for myself even if there’s a male vocalist singing a song about an experience I’ve had, hearing a woman sing it feels more relatable
I think I agree. I love male musicians, but I think that it’s important for women to build each other up.
You can find Elaska on her socials: