Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Emilie, but as an artist, I go by E.L.F. I’m a seventeen-year-old singer-songwriter and aspiring activist from Calgary, Alberta. I started out in music at the age of six when I began playing classical piano. Since the age of eight, I’ve been studying voice, and I now teach both of those instruments to others! I wrote my first “song” at the age of twelve, but I’d been writing short compositions and little poems for as long as I can remember. At first, like every twelve-year-old, I was writing about my angst, my junior high crush, and whatever rhymed with “broken”. My music took a turn when I became more interested in politics and activism, and everything changed when I wrote my first opinionated tune about war. Now, my music is heavily inspired by current movements, events, and changes. As a young teen, I was inspired by feminism and became passionate about so many social topics. I had so many opinions and no idea what to do with them. Translating them into my music and having a way to contribute and inspire has been such an amazing gift. I have a continuous need for learning, and all I want is to make a difference using the method I know. My passions other than music and activism are always related to chemistry, binge-worthy tv shows, heated debates, and clothing from the 70s.
How did you get your start in music?
My dad is a huge classic and soft rock fan. He’s most likely the reason I’m obsessed with Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin! I was singing “House Of The Rising Sun” in the back of my parent’s car at the age of five. Early on, they could clearly tell I was a music geek. To this effect, my parents put my sisters and I in piano lessons right at the age we could walk. I hated it, as all five-year-olds do (my five-year-old students included), but I loved singing along to the words written below the notes I was playing. I loved to sing. I was the annoying little cousin that stood up at every family event to sing the new Taylor Swift song! I loved it. When I was eight, my mom signed me up for singing lessons, and I studied classical voice with Michelle Minke, an accomplished soprano based in Calgary, for eight years. My current piano teacher, Stephanie Dawn, came into my life when I was about eleven, and she opened the doors to songwriting, covers, and composition. Both of these women introduced me to the world of music and pushed me to my extremes to make me into the musician I am today. Stephanie was actually the one who got me into contact with the producer, Mike Little, who recorded my single! It’s all been so much learning from so many talented and passionate musicians. They’ve really rubbed off on me.
How would you describe your music style?
That’s a very good question because I’m not entirely sure how to answer it. The best way to describe it is a fair blend between my favourite vintage war songs, and powerful modern sounds. The music and the sound of my tunes rely so heavily on the meaning and the impact of the song. If it’s a song about revolution and anger, there will be a heavy drum beat to match the lyrics. If it’s a love ballad, I stick to stripped piano. For now, I tend to serve the song. I’m really inspired by artists that are able to almost create their own genre and establish their distinct sound, and I think I’m still in the process of finding that. For now, I think I’m just giving the song what I think it needs to carry an impact.
You recently released a single called, “Johnny Got His Gun”. What can you tell us about this song and the unfortunate inspiration behind it?
Well, I wrote the hook (“Bang bang bang bang bang… etc”) and the bridge (“I’m never gonna love anyone like I loved you/Feel the pulse”) during the aftermath of the pulse shooting in Orlando. I remember reading on the news a text thread between a mother and her child, and I was absolutely overtaken by the sadness I felt at the helplessness and the love of the parents, contrasted with the violence and apathy of the shooter. It was heartbreaking, and it was really hard to explain or express the effect it had on me. I turned it into music, but couldn’t complete it. All I could muster were those words. After the shootings in Las Vegas and later in Parkland, I had enough anger to finally put the rest of the song together. The message is very clear: people are dying because of guns, and we want it to stop. As a high school student in Canada, I feel relatively safe going to school. Even then, when I was in Junior High, someone drove their vehicle into a gun range near our school and we were under lockdown. As students, we are all afraid. In the US, it’s worse. As helpless as we all feel before these events, this was a way for me to get out some frustration, empathize with victims, and try to get a clear point across. Creating the song with my team was so incredible, we got to translate so much of the emotion into the sound. The percussion and the beat is actually the sound of guns being cocked and moved. I know I’m young, I know I’m a Canadian, but I have something to say that I think many people identify with, and “Johnny Got His Gun” is how I’ve used my platform.
How important is it for you to address social, political, and economic issues in the world around you with your music?
It’s everything. I’ve always been a little activist, but being able to have people listen to me, and being able to put my voice out there in a medium I love is so important to me. I live in a safe country. I have a supportive environment. I can express myself without fear that I will be persecuted. I think that is a huge privilege, and because of that, it’s my responsibility to speak up for those who cannot. Even at the age of fourteen, I had an instagram account on feminism and activism that generated over 30,000 followers. I’ve always been passionate and opinionated, and I’m really lucky to get to speak up. Music is an outlet, a way for me to get my thoughts and ideas out there, while still practicing what I love and know. Of course, I still love playing and writing love songs or doing Stevie Nicks covers. I love music in all its forms. However, my biggest hope is that the music I create makes some sort of difference. I am a strong believer that art can inspire change. I hope to do that.
Do you have any plans to release an EP or full-length album?
Yes! I have a couple of singles on the way, but my dream is to have a full-length album out. Some of my songs are series, and I would love to have an album where the songs progress into each other and the whole effect is a complex story. I’m really excited about future releases, and just to have more content people can listen to.
What’s next for your career beyond an album?
Well, I’m hoping to build a larger platform so I can create a little bit of change and inspire others, so other than music, I’m going to continue being active in the political scene. Protests, discussions, learning, all of it. Other than that though, I’m writing like crazy. I have so many ideas, and I want to continue to learn and write and learn and write. I’m still super young and growing as an artist takes a lot of time and effort. So I’m staying on the scene and doing a lot of thinking, I guess. I’m really enjoying speaking up and getting a platform, so I’m definitely going to use that to help out more social issues. Oh, and I’ll be going to University! Learning.
What artists have inspired you?
Well, I briefly mentioned a couple, but I really have to stress Fleetwood Mac. Their sound and their aesthetic is everything, and Stevie Nicks is a huge inspiration to me. Just in the way that she is, she’s so powerful. They’re the reason I learned guitar and the banjo! Others though, like Florence and the Machine, Queen, The National, Pink Floyd, and The Clash have inspired my creation, but some of them really influenced my lyrics. The Clash’s songs were often subversive and controversial, and I love how unapologetic they were. Weird and different and unafraid, so they’re always in the back of my mind when I’m writing. As vocalists though, I really admire artists like Marina and the Diamonds, Alanis Morrissette, and the Dixie Chicks. I love a strong voice, and I love an artist that chooses power, emotion, and performance over sounding pretty. I love to channel that.
What advice would you have for aspiring singers/songwriters?
Keep working at it, but accept nothing will ever feel perfect to you. I’ve had so many moments of self-doubt and searched for validation about my music from everyone but myself because it won’t ever be good enough for me. This is a constant struggle for me, and I’ve had to just slam notebooks shut going, “Good enough for now!” It’s all about getting the music to the point where you want to share it. Once it’s there, you have to tell yourself it’s good. Also, do what you want to do! Stick by the rules or stray from them, it doesn’t matter. Just go with your gut. You know, the basics. It works though! Do what feels right – and just like a multiple choice test, your instinct is probably the best option.
What’s your life like outside of music?
A lot of school. I might be part of a small percentage of artists that actually really enjoys school. I was a kid that grew up with ADHD, so it made school a bit of a struggle, but it meant I could hyperfocus on the stuff I really liked. I’m a huge science nerd, but I’m also a pretty good English student if I do say so myself. I spend a lot of my time on homework, interesting research, and university essays and applications. I also take part in a lot of acting and drama projects, I’m currently in a couple at my school and directing my own short play for my final Drama project! I love tv shows and movies so I spend a good amount of time watching The Office to relax, or American Gods and Game Of Thrones with my parents (some episodes are more awkward to watch together than others!). I could spend hours talking about TV. I teach piano and voice after school as well to a few students, which is really rewarding. It’s another way I feel I’m giving back to my community through music. Other than those things, it’s hanging out with my two dogs, or spending time with my awesome family. It’s a pretty wholesome life.
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