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Interview: Elli Ingram

We’ve been playing Elli Ingram’s records #ontheofficestereo for weeks now: the instantly affecting and all-too-real brand of soulful jazz casting a delicious pall over our desks, particularly her meditations on ‘Sober’ – hungover is a state we find ourselves in all too often. We sat down for a chat with the Brighton songstress, to delve deeper into her writing process, signing to a major, and her new EP.

Planet Notion: Heya Elli! So tell me: who are your musical idols?
Elli Ingram: I have a few, of course. My biggest influence is definitely Amy Winehouse: she’s a big inspiration of mine, her whole sound, you know? Obviously her music is incredible, but her as an artist and a person and her lyrics, I just find her very, very inspiring and I seem to listen to her at least four times a week! I will always go back to Amy for inspiration: the way that she’s so truthful; every song that she sings I feel that I can relate and cry to, or laugh to. Lauryn Hill is another huge idol of mine, as well. I look up to D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Angie Stone. Just very soulful, real, truthful music, you know? It’s not this big money making stuff, with big choruses and madness.

PN: When I’ve been talking about you to other people I keep saying that it’s really like Amy Winehouse’s Frank album. There’s a really strong parallel there. Although, you’ve had some other interesting comparisons, like Adele. I mean, you’re nothing like Adele!
EI:Ah, thank you!  I appreciate that because that really does piss me off. Obviously she’s a huge artist, and it’s amazing to be compared to her, but I don’t actually see the comparison. I mean we make completely different music. I never in my life think I’ll see Adele cover a hip-hop tune. I think we’re both just female vocalists.

PN: I was reading an interview where you said, “When I was nine or ten I wanted to go on Stars In Their Eyes as Anastacia; she’s got such an amazing voice!” Was that around ‘I’m Outta Love’?
EI: Oh my god, yes! I love that song. I think that was the one I probably would have sung: I loved it. I wish I’d done it. I loved her. I thought she was crazy!

PN: So, tell me a bit about the music that was playing when you were growing up.
EI: My dad was, and still is, into a lot of folk and rocky stuff; he listened to a lot of John Martyn. He’s in a band now, as well: this really cute middle-aged rock band that play around the pubs. My mum listened to a lot of female singer/songwriters, like Joni Mitchell, and she introduced me to ska. In fact, she introduced me to Amy. But, there were all kinds of things flying about, all sorts of different genres around the house, but I wasn’t really into it as much as I wish I was. I just wanted to be out with my mates and just causing havoc!

It wasn’t until I left secondary school that I went to study music BTEC, which was only because I didn’t get the grades to study a fashion degree – that was the only other thing I thought I could do. There was a space in my heart for music, but it wasn’t too big and it wasn’t until I started to study it that I started to take to the stage a bit more, and I started a girl band called The Pieces. There were five of us, and we all looked a bit different; we weren’t all these skinny blonde Barbie dolls, and we just all really clicked. I fell in love with performing with them, and it really was them that pushed me to start doing more performances and diving into the whole music thing. I started to play the piano a bit more, and then I wrote my first song. I remember the moment I was sitting at home and I said to my Dad, “I want to play you what I’ve written.” I played it to him and he was blown away. I was so proud of myself. I think, of course, singing is a skill and it’s an amazing thing to be able to do and I’m so grateful that I can. But, being able to really write a song makes me proud. I never got good grades; I never even got an English GSCE at school. So when I realised that people around me were so proud that I had the ability to write…

PN: I really love the production on ‘Sober’. Felix, Rudi and Aston are doing a great job!
They are amazing, I’m so lucky to have met them. They were the first producers that I worked with, and they’re pretty much the only producers that I’ve ever worked with. I really don’t think that I’d find it as easy as I do if I was one of these artists that use all kinds of different producers, hopping around studios with different guys. With Felix, Aston and Rudi, I have such a strong relationship they’re like my brothers and I can be open with them. I remember when I first went to the studio with Fe and Aston I was a bit worried. I didn’t think that I could do it; I was so secretive with my lyrics and I get really embarrassed and shy. It’s a really scary thing when you write a song that so personal and you’re worried that they’re not going to like it or think that you’re crazy. I used to sit in the corner for hours and days, not sure about what I’d written. If I go to studios with someone new I’m that girl all over again. It’s just amazing that I can be with them all the time and not be that girl.

PN: It must be really hard when it’s very personal emotions. You’ve said that “writing and signing is the only way I feel comfortable releasing my emotions” – why d’you think that is?
I’m really terrible at telling people how I feel, especially if I’m sad or something’s wrong. If I’m happy it’s all good, but if something’s wrong or feeling down I just like putting that much pressure, or feeling, on to someone else. I just find it really difficult and think the only way I can do it is through my songs. I guess I hide behind it a little bit ‘cos if I put it in a song I feel like people won’t really understand how dark it actually all is. I think people do seem to get the gist.

PN: What’s been the hardest thing you’ve written about?
Ooh, there’s been a few. I recently just wrote a tune – I don’t think I can even tell you what it’s about because it’s about a person, and I’m going to have to tell this person at some point as it’s hopefully going to be a record – but it’s about a person very close to my heart. I’m afraid for this person to listen to it because it’s so personal and I don’t want them to get offended or anything. I write very personal songs, and I guess I’ll have to get to that hurdle when it comes up.

PN: Definitely. I think you’ve said before that you write a lot of lyrics when you’re alone. What’s your ideal writing environment?
It’s all different. I do really enjoy writing in the studio. I kind of prefer writing when it’s a bit dark and everything’s a bit hazy and tired. It’s really nice writing in the studio because someone is always playing an instrument that inspires me. But I also like writing at home in my bed. I find a really good time to write, or when inspiration comes to me, is when I’m literally just falling asleep. It’s so annoying; I’ve just got into bed and I’m so tired, then all of a sudden there’s a spark and I’m awake for two hours writing.

PN: Can you tell me a bit about how the ‘The Doghouse’ differs from & improves on ‘Sober’?
I think the production, the lyrics and everything has grown. It seems a lot more weighty and you can really get your teeth into it; it’s a really good taster of the album that’s to come. I think ‘Sober’ was quite a strong body of work – every song clicked to one another. Whereas ‘The Doghouse’ is really different feelings and emotions; it’s quite vast between the songs. It’s a really go body of work for people to hear what’s to come. I don’t think you can really put a finger on a specific genre or sound, or where things are going to go.

PN: It kind of reminds me of the way Frank Ocean or Kendrick put an album together to tell a complete story. Almost like a concept album – is this the route the album’s going to take?
Yes, I definitely think that’s important when an album has a concept or a story. I think it’s really cool when people make an album in a period of time so that every song just clicks together and the whole record tells a story of a journey you’ve been on. I really hope that I can get that in the record.

PN: You’ve worked with Chase & Status and signed to Island; how did these bigger things affect the way you create & approach music?
It hasn’t changed too much. At Island I work in a really small team. I find it difficult when people come and get involved and put their opinions forward. But, it’s always a good thing and it was something that I was afraid would happen once I signed a deal. But everyone at Island really understands and they know that when it comes to the music we really have to be left alone. As soon someone comes in, even if it’s a good suggestion – it’s the same with my lyrics and someone says, “You should change this.”  I just go, “No. No. No. I’m doing it my way.” But then I actually stop and think it’s quite a good idea. I just get really offended and sometimes I need to think before I talk because I instantly get so wound up. I get red in the face, you know? Who are you to tell me what to do, when actually it’s quite good advice.

PN: It can be difficult to separate criticism of yourself from criticism of your work, particularly when your work is so autobiographical and close to your heart.
100%. That’s why I get so wound up, ‘cos half the time I’m like, “You don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about! I’m talking about a personal experience so who on earth are you to tell me to change something.” But, signing with Island has been amazing, and working with Chase & Status have all helped me grow as an artist and be more confident.

PN: Do you plan ahead? Where would you like to see your music in a year’s time?
I don’t really plan ahead too much. I’m kind of just going with the motion. I just want what’s happening now to be good. Maybe in a few years’ time I’d love to hopefully have a record out and be playing loads of shows and just be happy. I really hope that I can be successful and happy from being myself, from just being Elli Ingram; that’s all I could really wish for.

Elli Ingram’s new EP, The Doghouse, is out now.

Visit Elli on Twitter, Facebook and Soundcloud

- Seb Law

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