2019 American Music Awards

20 Questions With Elohim: A Candid Conversation About Art, Anxiety and Alt Rock

Chase O'Black
Elohim

A lot of artists, creatives and everyday Americans struggle with anxiety, but not many have turned the wild beast into a gold lion like singer-songwriter and producer Elohim.

Her smoky voice is throaty but light, soft and fairy-like on hits “Love is Alive” with Louis the Child and “Sleepy Eyes” with Whethan. She's worked with Marshmello, Skrillex, Casey Veggies, Alison Wonderland and more, but it's her solo work that really hits home.

Her self-titled debut EP stunned fans and critics with diverse, experimental production and fearless honesty. The California native faces struggles with anxiety and depression head on, singing candidly about self-medication, legal and otherwise. Her latest release, a seven-track EP called Braindead, follows in those footsteps with songs that dare to dress darkness in vibrant rainbow hooks.

There's a song about watching TV to keep silence at bay, a song with a breathing exercise music video, a song that's just a straight-up guided affirmation. Most surprisingly, there's a Harvey Danger's 1997 hit “Flagpole Sitta” featuring Awolnation, but she gives the cartoonish tune an emotional weight that fits right in to the fabric of her catalog.

Elohim's raw, conversational style is alluring, and her deft musical compositions bring freshness the scene. We caught up with Elohim head of her performance at Hard Day of the Dead Saturday, Nov. 2, to learn about the influences, experiences and musical experiments that made her the powerful artist she is today.


1. Where are you in the world right now?

I am in Los Angeles, in Topanga Canyon.

2. That's hometown for you. What's distinctive about where you grew up and how did it shape you?

I think sunshine and having warm air and warm energy. There's also so much going on music-wise. There's a lot of culture and a lot of music that happened here, a lot of these houses famous records were made in. There's a really cool energy, and being by the ocean. I think it's the sunshine. Like, when I'm out of the sun for too long, I start to feel a little crazy, and something that settles me is just standing out in the sun.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do now?

My dad was a musician, traveling around and playing locally. My mom worked for Alaska Airlines. I come from very humble beginnings. They are so proud of me and just honored to get to watch me do this and, you know, speak openly and honestly about mental health and share my story.

4. Tell me about the first song you ever made.

My mom always tells me about when I was probably four or something, singing about butterflies. I really like that thought.

5. What was the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself?

I remember buying Hail to the Thief by Radiohead. That was what got me into Radiohead at a young age, and then I started going through their old stuff. Kid A ended up being my favorite though.

6. What's the last song you listened to?

It was the “Jabberwocky” by Panda Bear. I'm a massive, massive [Animal Collective] fan.

7. What's the wildest thing you've seen happen in the crowd during one of your shows?

Somebody had a seizure. It was really scary. I stopped the show and stuff, but then I started seeing it happening a lot more. I see people get carried out during the show and it's like, you don't even stop the show. It's just so crazy. I try to encourage fans and other artists to encourage their fans to be safe and drink water. Just be safe, because it's horrible.

8. What was the last flight you took, and how did you pass the time?

That was two days ago from New Orleans, and I slept the entire flight. I was in New Orleans playing Voodoo Festival. It was really, really cool. Luckily, I played Saturday. Friday it was pouring rain, and by the time I played, it wasn't raining which was so nice, but it was so muddy -- but it's a really cool festival. The crowd was amazing. New Orleans is just such a cool, trippy place.

9. Speaking of traveling, what's one thing that makes you feel at home no matter where you are in the world?

I have this peppermint essential oil roll on, and I put that on all the time. That's what centers me and makes me feel at home.

10. You speak very openly in your music about your struggle with anxiety. When were you diagnosed?

It started having an effect when I was around seven. I noticed a huge change in my life. It was absolutely horrible. It was my third grade year, I think. It became almost impossible to be away from my mom, even if it was just, like, in the aisle next to me, I would start panicking and freaking out. I was so young, I didn't know that was severe panic disorder. I don't think my parents did either. They never gave us shots, and they would barely give us Tylenol so it wasn't really something that was even thought of. Now, I tell my parents like, "I wish you'd put me in therapy when I was a kid, because now it's affected my entire life." And they're like "we didn't even know what it was," and I'm like "how could you not?"

So It started when I was about seven, but I didn't realize it was anxiety until probably my early 20s. I saw a therapist for the first time, and she explained to me what I have. Two years ago, I got really sick with pneumonia, and I started seeing a therapist and she was like, "I've been waiting to see if things got better, but I think you should see a psychiatrist who can prescribe medicine. I think you can benefit from starting full-time medication.” I started medication like a year and a half ago, and that changed my life.

11. Is that experience what got you into music and songwriting? Was it a need to express this?

I think creating Elohim for sure, but I initially got into music [because] my big brother played guitar. I was like, “I want to play piano. That's like the girly thing.” I grew up playing classical piano my whole life. My parents, if we wanted to start something new, they were like, "you have to excel at it before you can just quit and go on to something else." They pushed me to practice and I would kick and scream at the piano. then once I started songwriting, when I started Elohim, that's when I really tapped in to my feelings, my struggle. It was there, and it was real, and I felt like I was ready to write about it. It just keeps becoming more and more real. I feel like the writing get easier in a way, the more I do it.

12. I really appreciate your style. It's almost conversational, but in an elegant way. Do you hear from fans with similar struggles?

Thank you. I like that, and I feel like it's been that for people, which is my hope, that it can be that voice or that friend. I've gotten so many messages like, "I was having a panic attack and everything was falling apart, and this was the thing." I just read a message today that was talking about a specific panic attack and how they kept listening to Braindead over and over the whole time, how it was the only thing that got them out of it. I mean, that's why I make music.

The listeners of my music have become genuine friends. They're like "you saved me" and I'm like, "you have saved me." This is literally the first time in my life that I know people that go through almost the exact same thing that I go through. It's crazy, we compare panic attacks - and when I use those words, I don't use them lightly. It's something that's really affected me, and it's really serious. Even a therapist, she hasn't experienced panic attacks the way that I have. So, they've saved me and become my close friends.

13. That makes me think of your “Meditation Medication” song in a new way. How does it feel to talk someone down in a song?

I've always wanted to make a full album that each title was like, "if you're on an airplane," "if you're having a panic attack." I want to make something where people can turn this on and actually have a voice that they trust, too, not just a random meditation thing.

14. How do you mitigate your anxiety while you're on the road?

That first week is always rough, and then once I get in the flow, I chill out. I had to learn my limits and what makes me feel comfortable. I know that before shows I need to be completely alone. I need time at night to be alone. Last tour, I had the bedroom on the back of the bus and definitely didn't have a significant episode of anxiety, little things like that. I'm sure it can be frustrating for my team as well, but they've been so awesome and accommodating to that. I just have something a little bit different, we work around a little bit and it's been okay. Those moments of being alone is really important, and surrounding myself with the right people. I find when I'm around the same people that make me feel safe, it helps a lot -- but there's really no way of knowing when it will hit you. Sometimes there's absolutely nothing I can do except for just go through this purge of f*cking anxiety.

15. I read that you use TV as a way to counteract your anxiety. That made me think of the song "TV." Is there any one program or channel that you like to watch?

That's exactly what that song is about. I was sitting at my dining room table writing, and I had the TV on. I started singing and the whole songs poured out of me that night. And yes, I have TV on probably most times of the day. I like Food Network a lot. I like really ridiculous reality television. When I'm on a plane, I like to watch really stupid or really happy things. I try not to watch any scary stuff because that can be triggering for me. I can not watch anything that's even remotely scary. I have such an issue with flying, and I'm so much better now and can sleep on planes, but I will not watch anything even remotely weird on a plane. I was watching Mad Men on a plane, I had saved it to my iPad, and the episode I turned on was about a plane crash, and I instantly turned it off, deleted it off my iPad. Just hell no.

16. You mentioned it's important to have the right people. You've collaborated with so many impressive names in the dance music sphere alone, but who would you say is your musical bestie?

The people that I work with every day who aren't known names. They work out of my studio, my creative director Chase, these people have become my best friends, my family, my comfort and safe place. I don't have a best friend that is a known artist. It's hard to maintain friendships with people that are constantly on the road or partying. I'm not like that. I'm very much a homebody or studio body. But, I worked with Louis the Child, and they've become so wonderful to us. I don't see them often, but they're probably the most genuine people I've known in the music industry. I'll get texts from them like, "Hey El, just checking in, want to make sure you're feeling okay." Stuff like that is very rare, and the Louis the Child boys, they're actually really genuine people. That's the greatest thing ever, especially for someone who does suffer from mental health stuff, to just get a text from someone out of the blue who is busy and doing really well in music. They take the time and are thinking of you. That's the greatest thing ever.

17. Braindead is listed as a "Part 1." Is there a Part 2 coming?

We'll see. I'm working on a full-length album right now. We'll see if part two ever happens or if this becomes part two. I think life is always evolving. I originally wanted Braindead to be a full length, and I had 12 songs or something that were going to be this album. It was like, "let's actually do it in two parts," because it felt like the first part I put out was very cohesive. As a musician, I am constantly writing music. We put that out in May, and I had six songs then. Now there's like 40. I don't even know if this is Braindead Pt 2, or if this is just a whole other project now.

18. What direction are you moving in now? What can you say about how you're pushing yourself creatively?

I'm trying to do even more of the production. I have a team that I work with, but I'm trying to get the tracks as far as I can and really dive deep into what I love. I love Radiohead. I love Thom Yorke, and his new album is amazing, those sounds. I just want it to feel positive. I want it to feel organic and authentic and real. So almost like more organic sounding, but still electronic, and just pulling from the people that inspire me, like Animal Collective and Radiohead.

19. It's funny that you say you want it to sound more organic, because I actually got the impression from Braindead that it has that sound so much. How do you plan to take it further?

I think it does, too. I'm actually putting out a live album, all my songs reimagined with me on grand piano with four string players. We're playing that out as a full live album and it's so special, it's crazy. Some of the songs have drops, and the strings will actually play the sounds from the drop. it's so cool.

20. What led to your cover of "Flagpole Sitta?" What's the personal connection for you to that song? How did the collab with Awolnation come about?

I always loved that song and kind of forgot about it. Then, I was driving on the PCH listening to KRoq and they were doing a flashback hour, and they played that song. I was like, "this is such a good song, I should do a cover of it." I never really do covers, but I felt inspired to, so I sat down at the piano. I got home that night and looked at the lyrics. I realized it was literally about mental health. You've known the song forever but had no idea what it was actually talking about. I think that happens a lot with hit songs. Diving in, I was getting chills ... it took on a whole new meaning. I wanted to record it, so I went to the studio, put down the piano and then did a vocal. I met Aaron who is Awolnation. We hit it off and became really close. I sent him the accapella I did, and he was like "can I please produce this?" I was like "yes, please." That's how it happened!


Look out for Elohim's forthcoming live album in the coming weeks, and if you're in the Los Angeles area, catch her live on stage Saturday, Nov. 2 at Hard Day of the Dead 2019

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