Maxim Meyer-Horn

26 Jun

On Our Radar: Discover the Different Shades of the Amsterdam-Based Singer Earl Elliot

In our series On Our Radar we introduce you to upcoming talent that we think has the potential to break through. Today we introduce you to Earl Elliot from Amsterdam, who has already attracted our attention a few times with his indie pop and who is also very striking visually speaking. His video clips always bring a new perspective to the coming-of-age stories he tells in his lyrics. We met up with Earl Elliot in Antwerp to talk about his new single “Shades” and his plans for the future.

What should people know about Earl Elliot?

I would like for people to hear my music as very autobiographical. I always think of it a little bit like the soundtrack of my own coming of age: how I learn to deal with doubt, experience love, and lose love again. Just everything from when I was sixteen-seventeen up until now.

What inspired you to become an artist and continue with it?

I have a very two-sided relationship with music. At first, I had the idea that I would go to university and music would be kind of a side thing. That eventually became less and less of a side thing, and then at a certain point, I decided to apply to the Amsterdam conservatory. I learned so much there and also changed a lot as an artist. Before university, I was making more guitar-based, alternative indie. Now it’s more pop with a lot of R&B and hip-hop influences.

Music is really what I can’t let go of. I often had moments where I thought I’d had it with making music, but in the end, I always come back to it. I can’t help myself. I always have lots of ideas for videos or artwork I want to make. Sometimes I even have ideas for a roll-out, and then later, I try to figure out what song would go with it.

Are you someone who puts themselves to it and starts writing, or is that a process that has to happen spontaneously?

I think both. In the notes on my cell phone there are lyrics for four albums if I were to put them all together and actually record them. Especially when I’m in the car, which is mega inconvenient, I often have ideas that I want to write down. But to actually write songs, I have to sit down. Especially because nowadays, I often start with the production and then I see how the song needs to pan out.

Visuals are very important to you. How do you tackle that?

I always start from ideas that I have and then try to involve the right people. I’m incredibly lucky that I have multiple friends in Amsterdam who are great directors, and we have been able to make really cool stuff on very limited budgets. I’m really a fan of what they do, and it’s great to work with them on projects like that. The problem is that making music videos is also incredibly expensive, and my money is slowly running out. I would love to do a video for every single one, but if I were to do several in a year, that would be very difficult financially speaking.

I also have a note on my cell phone with ideas for certain shots or scenes. I always want to be very involved in the process so that it really is the story I care about telling, and I try to think along with the director as much as I can. I don’t think I would be able to work with a director who didn’t give me that freedom, for example, because I think it’s important that it’s a real collaboration.

A lack of budget is a big disadvantage of being independent. So what are the biggest advantages for you?

I can do what I want and when I want. If a label was really interested and willing to invest right now, I would definitely be eager to talk, but I always wanted to be independent until I couldn’t hold it together by myself anymore. We’re definitely not there yet, but I’m in control now. It’s also easier to pull favors sometimes, if you’re not doing things with a label. Especially that freedom is cool; I can make my own creative choices without having to justify those to others.

So you don’t have to answer to anyone either, right?

Yes, because if something doesn’t work now, that’s my responsibility. I do ask a lot of advice from anyone I look up to like directors, producers, or A&Rs. So I do get influenced by other people, but in the end, I know what I want and how I want it.

How did your move to Amsterdam influence your music?

It has had a huge influence. I studied pop music at the conservatory with all these people from different musical backgrounds. You learn a lot during class, but probably just as much from being around each other. The first two years were tough for me because I suddenly felt like I was being thrown into the water when I could barely swim. Everyone sang better than I could, played guitar better, knew more than I did… I had a crisis: what music do I want to make? Then after trying and failing a lot, I figured out some things that worked.

I can’t do everything, but I do know whom I trust to help me out. For example, my former roommate still mixes all of my songs because I trust him completely. The most important thing for me is finding the right collaboration where I can get the best out of it for all parties involved.

You’ve released only singles so far. How come you haven’t released an EP yet, for example?

I don’t really like EPs because, as a consumer, I don’t listen to them. To do an entire rollout with one or two singles and then you maybe get three more songs, that feels very unsatisfying to me. Whereas, I like singles. For example, in 2017, Frank Ocean released a series of singles randomly. That period was so exciting to me because I could wake up on any given day, and there could be a new song out. I also really like listening to albums, but I’m not there yet. I have some songs ready to go that I’m putting aside for a potential album, but I don’t want to start with that until there’s a real demand for it. You can only do your debut album once, so I don’t want to waste that opportunity. So I’m going to be doing singles for a little while.

You recently released “Shades.” How did that song come about?

I wrote “Shades” at the end of my previous relationship. It’s from the perspective that we both felt things weren’t going well. It wasn’t working, but at the time, we also didn’t realize that a breakup would be the end result. Everything outside of that last verse is about us seeing each other, but it’s hard, and how do we get through that? One or two days after the eventual breakup, I wrote that last verse where I’m coming to terms with it really being over.

What’s the next thing to follow after this single?

I have several songs that are ready to go. Because I write so autobiographically, I find it hard to release anything since I’m not sure if I want to keep that chronology. I have a lot of songs that follow the breakup, but I feel like those are better suited as album cuts. I also have a few that are a lot less specific on the timeline, and more singles will follow this summer either way. I have a number of options but haven’t fully figured out what the right order is yet.

Also, I want to make visuals so badly, but that process takes a lot of time. With my third single, there was a six-month gap between the single and the music video. That was convenient because then I got two separate release moments, but now there are only two weeks between the song and the video, which makes a lot more sense as a complete campaign.

Your new single “Shades” has a music video. Who did you make it with, and how did you come up with that concept?

The director’s name is Becanti Wijnbergh, a good friend of mine. He was also involved in writing the script for the “FREEWAY 2006” video, but Jeroen Kooistra directed that one, so we started on a new project together. Becanti was talking to me about how he had found this location in the Tabernas desert in the south of Spain, where a lot of old spaghetti westerns have been filmed. He really wanted to film there because it’s relatively cheap to fly there and looks spectacular. If you go there with a small crew and find a hotel, it doesn’t cost much more than filming here with a bigger crew and more equipment.

We wrote the story together and took a lot of inspiration from Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. That movie is about an actor who doesn’t know how to fill his days. The story of our video is actually that the breakup happened, and I escaped to a remote hotel somewhere in the desert. We found a really nice hotel in a small town where there wasn’t much to see, so it was very coincidental that it fell into place. You can see this really idyllic location, with beautiful clothes on and yet the character is clearly not happy. That works well with the tone of the song.

He flees the city to try and get his mind off things, and yet the only thing he can think about is what happened back home. He can’t escape it. We worked that out nicely with different phases of that grieving process. From numbness in feeling, scenes with obvious sadness, anger and coming-to-terms with the fact that this is just how it is going to be from now on. At the end of the video, I pack my things and realize that I can’t ignore life because I’m going through something. Life has to go on. I’m glad that the stories compliment each other without being a literal translation of each other.

Finally, is there anything else you want to say?

Check out my videos, even more than I would want to say stream my music because, in those videos, you get a complete story. Actually, sometimes, I have the idea for a video before I make the song. For “Training For A Marathon” I had the visual of a marathon as a metaphor for an image of success in my head before I wrote down a single note. I’m glad I ended up writing a nice song with it. So if you really want to get to know me, I think it’s best to watch my videos and listen closely to the lyrics.

Follow Earl Elliot on Instagram and Spotify.

Earl Elliot is wearing full looks of Igor Dieryck‘s graduation collection.

Pictures and interview by Maxim Meyer-Horn
Production assistance by Lune Weymeersch

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