Elise is an actor, singer, and songwriter who thrives on being a multi-hyphenate. Although she’s still working her day job and dancing at night as a part of the Los Angeles Clippers Hoop Troop, she has put all of her extra time and effort into her music career. Her recently released debut single “Few Words” is a sultry, deep grooving track that reflects on the pros and cons of a long distance relationship. I got the chance to talk with Elise about how she first got into making and performing music, what inspired “Few Words”, how she balances her day job, music, and dancing for the Los Angeles Clippers and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say.
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I’ve been singing pretty much my entire life. Both of my parents are musicians; my dad played bass in a rock band in the 80s and my mom played harp, very other end of the spectrum [laughs]. When I was young, they put me in music theory because they were like, “It’s good for your development.” So I’ve always been around it. I didn’t start writing, though, until I was a teenager. I think that was the first time I really thought, “Oh, I can really just do my own stuff instead of singing covers of other people.” Over time, I’ve been just practicing writing and everything and just getting to a point where I was like, “I’m ready to put my own stuff out there and bring it full circle.”
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize music was more than just a hobby or something your parents put you in as a kid and was actually something you wanted to pursue professionally?
There have been quite a few people who have been super influential in that way. The main one that comes to mind is a good friend of mine and his name is Adam Pickrell. He’s been a total mentor and just like a big brother to me. He’s an incredible pianist and producer. He worked on one of St. Vincent’s most recent albums and was Nelly Furtado’s music director on her most recent tour. Watching him completely move throughout his career the last ten or so years that I’ve known him and how he is able to able to balance his family life and being on tour and producing for other people, that is really inspiring to me. This is a person who has control and makes intentional choices over the people that he works with and the music that he creates but he also has this normal life. That’s when it clicked for me, like, “Oh, this is a real tangible thing that I can do.”
Did you study music in school or did you just decide after school like, “You know what, I’m going to try music now? Now’s the time.”
I decided afterward. Going through grade school, music was always outside of school for me. Then in college, I studied finance and took voice lessons all through school. I went over to the music school and was like, “Hey, I’m not studying music but is there anything I can do?” So they let me try out for a couple of voice classes. But I did not study “music” in college. I did take an ear-training class in college, but I actually failed, to be honest with you [laughs]. It completely messed up my GPA that semester! It was a little discouraging, in the moment, because I was like, “Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing.” But it was one of those things where I think the way that I work and operate in that space is different than the way they were grading. It was actually a good piece of closure, because I realized that I’m not supposed to be doing this in school. This is something for me that works as my own process outside of a grading structure.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So for your original music, how would you describe your sound without using genre names? What kind of music do you produce?
That’s a really good question. In terms of lyrics and everything, to me, a lot of the stuff I end up writing is a more logical thought process in my head; [it’s me] going through, not so much journal entries, but processing things that are going on in my life. I would go more towards [saying it’s] honest. I tend to be a down-the-middle, very introspective person. I appreciate when people tell things to me straight or call me out on certain things when I’m a little off. I try to go from writing from an unbiased perspective if I can. I guess in terms of lyric writing, I would say that.
But as far as the actual music composition level, I’m always really moved by moody, almost ethereal kind of stuff. Like some combination of the moodiness of deeper bass and rhythm sections and then some of the more ethereal sounds and tones electronic music has been able to provide. It’s interesting, ’cause I think that comes from a lot of the music I listened to growing up. That makes sense. I’m just now thinking about this as we’re talking, but it definitely makes sense.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences, whether it be past or present?
Growing up, I was a huge Katharine McPhee fan and Karen Carpenter because of their registers. I love getting up and playing with falsetto, but I have a pretty low range for a female, typically. So I always loved female vocalists who also had some of that deeper, soulful range. Recently, there’s an artist named Meg Mac that I really admire a lot. Oh, and Erykah Badu. She’s someone I look up to a lot. She’s from Dallas also, and so I’ve been in and around her music a lot. She’s someone I admire on a personal level also, for the things that she’s done for arts in Dallas and using her platform to be a good person.
Let’s talk about your first single, “Few Words.” What inspired this song?
Long distance has played a pretty significant role in my life, and at the time that I was writing that, I was in the process of moving back to Los Angeles and was dating someone that I cared very deeply about. We were trying to figure out what does this look like, and what is this going to mean? So [it’s] literally the thoughts in my head leading up to that point. We did decide to stay together through that time, but that’s not really addressed in the song.
What was your songwriting process like for “Few Words”? Are you someone who always has to write by yourself or are you big on co-writes with other artists and songwriters?
I love writing lyrics by myself. I’m a little bit selfish in that way. At some point, I definitely want to grow and get more collaborative on my lyric writing. As far as when you’re talking about lyrics and composition, I really go both ways. There’s several songs that I have written, and am also working on right now, where I’ve written the base melody for it on my own, just on piano, and that also comes with lyrics. Then I take it into the studio and take that shell of the song and build off of it. In the case of “Few Words”, my producer sent me a beat of four bars or so that he had on loop, and it gave me chills. So I wrote lyrics to that, took that into the studio, and then we built up the rest of the song together based around the structure that the lyrics had created.
So you are someone who does a lot of work and makes changes once you’re actually in the studio recording.
Yes. That’s something I’m super passionate about because I technically have a base knowledge in terms of myself technically, knowing how to do some of that stuff in the studio. But I know very clearly what I’m hearing and how to describe it, which is one reason why I love working with Craig and a couple of other people; they know what I’m trying to describe, and so we can kind of find it in that way. It’s one reason why performing live, I love singing and playing piano, but there are times, like with “Few Words”, I would prefer to use the produced music if there’s an opportunity. There are things in the produced music that I created and heard, and they are there for a reason. That’s part of the art too. So I definitely love studio work.
Since you spend a lot of time in the studio, how long did it take for “Few Words” to come together in the studio? Are you in there for like 12 hours a day until its done or did this happen over the course of a few shorter sessions?
“Few Words” came together over the course of a few sessions. I get very sidetracked, so even with things I’m super passionate about, I have to mix it up. So that came together over the course of a couple sessions. But also because we’re at the place where we do other things. I have a day job in order to pay my bills and other things, so it also just has to do with scheduling and what do we need to do to get it done.
You just mentioned your day job. I know you do some acting and you dance for the Los Angeles Clippers Hoop Troop. Is it hard trying to balance all of it and making sure you make time for your music? Or do you just schedule it and that’s that?
It kind of comes in waves. I was listening to a podcast the other day called Small Doses with Amanda Seales; she was talking about being a multi-hyphenate. I realized that’s what I am or at least where I’m headed. I’m not the same person if I’m involved in those things, if I don’t have those pieces. I just realized that that’s a fact of my life, so it’s more finding balance and being nice to myself and patient and allocating time to those things. I work at home for my day job, which is really nice because I can create my own schedule, but it’s also dangerous because my piano is 20 feet away [laughs]. But I’ll go and sit down and take music breaks. It’s finding that balance, but it’s better than giving up any one thing.
Going back to “Few Words”, I know it’s only been a couple of days since it was released, but what’s the response been like to the single so far?
People have been super encouraging. A lot of it has come from friends and family, cause they are people who have known me for a long time. There’s a difference between when people have heard you talking about writing or singing, etc. but then actually walking over that bridge of putting something of your own out there. Putting it on the marketplace, so to speak, bridges the gap in people’s mind of, “Oh, this is something tangible that you’re actually doing. Okay, we get it now.” So I’ve gotten a lot of encouraging messages, and it’s been cool because it’s been other people like producers or songwriters who want to collaborate. It’s a good milestone in my life.
I know you just released this first single, but what are your plans for the next couple of months in terms of more new music, whether it be singles, an EP, a full-length project?
My goal is to put out another single towards the end of spring, going into summer. And then this summer, I’m going to be in the studio more consistently than I have been over the last two or three months, because I want to actually have a body of work and finish producing my EP. I think there are 3 songs that are sort of halfway done that are sitting out there right now. I just want to actually get a hold on those and finish them. Hopefully, I can finish the EP this summer and then release it in the fall.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd, so what are you currently nerding out about?
I don’t play video games, but I have a lot of friends who do. I’ve recently realized that I love watching gameplay. It’s something I hadn’t been exposed to much in the past. But I absolutely love watching gameplay now. If I’m working or doing something else, I’ll just have it on in the background. It’s just so fascinating to me. So I’m starting to learn more about, and I apologize to anyone who’s actually into this because I do not know terms at all, the art, and the soundtrack, and design, and everything behind video games. It’s fascinating to me. It’s a whole world in and of itself, and it’s amazing and beautiful.