The sun is out in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, something that rising R&B singer Elah Hale has been seriously missing. “It’s actually sunny out,” she exclaims to Billboard over the phone. “It was so dreary the past few days I have not been doing real well.”
It’s the day before the release of the 20-year-old singer’s debut EP, Room 206 (out now via Interscope), and Hale, along with the rest of the world, is stuck inside, doing her part in flattening the curve. “I’m happy I’ve finally adjusted to it,” she says. “I was definitely spiraling before, but I think I’m handling it now.”
Adjusting to life in self-isolation usually means being able to laugh at it, which Hale is encouraging with her brand new music video for “My House” (premiering below). In the clip, Hale lounges around by herself in a luxurious Los Angeles home, finding new and inventive ways to fill her time while expressing her deep desire to have her lover come over.
Hale says the video was filmed one day before she and her team went into self-isolation, and that it wasn’t until later on that she even picked up on the connection. “I don’t think I had any concept of the way that isolation was going to work,” she says. “When we got the first cut and we were in isolation, we were like, ‘Holy s–t, this is perfect.’”
Billboard chatted with Hale about the making of her new video, what inspired the title of her Room 206 EP, the fast-paced track of her career and more.
How have you been doing in all of the quarantine madness we’re currently living in?
Good; it’s been chaotic, it’s definitely been a mix of things. Like, I’m happy I’ve finally adjusted to it. Like, I was definitely spiraling before, but I think I’m handling it now. The tour was supposed to go on basically right now, so that isn’t happening in April. But yeah, for the most part, because the EP is coming out, that was the big body of work we were working on. We filmed the music video the day before quarantine, but we did it, which was good.
That’s really interesting that you filmed this a day before going into quarantine, considering the video is about you being isolated in a mansion, trying to find ways to pass your time.
The video shoot was such a chaotic day. We woke up at like 5 o’clock in the morning to pack, brought our suitcases to the shoot, and then from the shoot went to the airport to try to get on a flight. Halfway through the shoot, someone came in and was like, “Hey, I think they’re stopping flights from L.A. to New York,” which ultimately didn’t happen, but we were like, “What? We’re not going to get home?”
It was definitely a moment of like, I wasn’t even thinking about self-isolation in that way. I don’t think I had any concept of the way that isolation was going to work. I was like, “OK, it will be two weeks. That sucks.” From there, and since then, it has become so much more realistic, the state of things. So yeah, when we got the first cut and we were in isolation, we were like, “Holy s–t, this is perfect.” It’s definitely a little spooky.
This is definitely the funniest and most lighthearted video I’ve ever seen from you. What were you looking to accomplish with this one?
Yeah, it’s my favorite video I’ve ever done, for sure. I had to reel myself in a lot during the music video process previously. I had these obnoxious … not obnoxious, but I wanted to do these crazy, gigantic, huge videos that were amazing, but were, like, $100,000, and that’s absurd. So I really reeled myself in, and throughout the music video process, I learned what was gonna be ridiculous, what we could get done, what could work for whatever amount of money.
So when it finally came down to the “My House” video, I really knew how I could best create a video that was funny, that was completely my idea, that I could really bring to fruition. And I think doing that with Robbie, the director, we really were able to run with it. I think that’s why it worked so well, was that I really learned along the way how to make it happen.
“My House” is just one piece of your Room 206 EP that is out. Where did the name Room 206 come from for this album?
It came from my sophomore dorm room in college — it was basically where the music came to be from, as relationships ended and started in that room, but my record deal was sent over to me as I was standing in front of my dorm. My publishing deal, I agreed I wanted to sign it when I was sitting in the main hall of my dorm. Like, so many big things that were pertinent to the EP happening, but also to my career happening, happened in that room, and I wanted to sort of give it the respect that it deserves.
As someone who’s been working toward this for years, what about the process of making this EP felt different for you, especially as someone who is now signed to a major label?
This is the first time that I was in a studio and not paying for it. Like, I was making music by combing through SoundCloud for six and a half hours, and I would find a beat, and message the person saying, “Hey can I record a song over this? I’m not gonna put it on Spotify or anything, I just love it.” And hopefully they would say yes. That’s how I would find beats.
I think producing is amazing — I am trying to learn to produce, but I find it really difficult. So I went to L.A., and it was the very first time that, for me, the financial strain was just completely lifted. I could just make music, as my job. So it really allowed me to shift creatively and take risks in a way that I hadn’t done previously, simply because I was worried I didn’t have the time. If I was gonna do something, and it was f–ked up, I had to live with it because I just spent $100 an hour. So yeah, it was a new realm of creativity for me.
You have spent so much of your time, as you said, hustling and working to get studio time and to get a record deal, and generally to make it. Looking back on all of that, and looking at where you are now, what is your key takeaway from all of that?
I think it’s so crazy to me, because I felt like … being 20, or I was 19 at the time, but I thought, “I’m too old, I missed the mark. Billie Eilish was doing this at 16; I need to kiss my career goodbye.” At 19 years old. It was absolutely ridiculous the way that I was thinking about things.
I think everything happened in such an honest way, like the way I met my managers, the way I started working in a studio, the way I was working in college — nothing felt rushed or like someone was forcing my hand. I think, yeah, it would be cool if I was 16 and signed a record deal and everything, but who knows? Who knows if that would have been cool?