Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Elle, a Canadian musician who launched her career in Nashville, Tennessee. Her EP Leopardess showcases her powerful voice and strong songwriting ability. She is able to connect with audiences through well-crafted songs infused with honesty. In her song “Freak,” she sends a strong message of inclusion that has resonated with LGBT audiences. She also incorporates humor in her work, as can be seen in the revenge fantasy video for the song “Seeing Red.” You can find more information about Holly Elle at her website. You can also listen to her new single, “Lifeline,” below.
In our interview, Holly Elle discussed her personal journey, the story behind Leopardess, her experience performing at Atlanta Pride, and the power of music as a tool for social justice.
Please describe your trajectory to becoming a musician.
That has the potential to be a very long story. I’ll start by saying I have always been a musician. Your calling in life, that thing that you feel like you have to do – you are already that thing – regardless of whether you are paid for it or even recognized for it. That’s my philosophical answer. When was I good enough at it to pursue it as a full-time career? In 2009, after I was finished school I decided to put all of my energy into making it work as a career.
How does being from a small town near Calgary influence the music that you make?
Every single part of who I am and where I have been influences my music. More specifically though, I grew up in the country, so until I could drive I couldn’t really go that far, physically. So I learned to make my own fun. It fed my imagination.
In what ways has being in Nashville affected your creative process?
When I first moved here I tried for a bit to “fit in.” I did some country shows in cowboy boots and then I was like “what am I doing?” I realized I could still be me here.
It has been interesting to learn how songwriting and business operate differently in country music, and how in many ways all music is the same. It’s been a learning experience.
Most importantly, I love Nashville and feel like it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, so that has done wonders for my creative process.
Who and what have been other influences?
I have been influenced by many genres of music over vast periods of time, too many to name. From Broadway to Britpop, Country to Opera, Disco to Dance, you name it. My favorite and biggest influences are The Beatles, Mariah Carey, and my family.
You have said, “The whole point of making music is for me to connect.” Indeed, your songs seem to be conversations with audiences. How are you able to create that dialogue?
I think the point of life is to connect, so the work that anyone does, no matter what it is, is important to that end. I do it by being completely honest. Whatever I’m feeling in my life comes through in my writing. Sometimes very deliberately, sometimes I have absolutely no clue how something came out of me. But you can always bet there’s someone else out there that feels the same way.
How are your personal and social identities influential to your art?
My personal journey absolutely informs my art. The fact that I am speaking from my own unique vantage point as a human being, makes my voice special. The best part is that that’s true for everyone. We all have a special unique voice we can create with.
Man you guys are really bringing out the Buddha in me. If you want to take it there, let’s get deep…
Another theme important to you is “no Labels, no rules, no limits.” What does this mean for you stylistically?
It’s just a catchy motto to sum up a much greater philosophy, which is my personal philosophy of life. As a pop artist I like to take more complicated sentiments and make them simplified and universal, and therefore accessible to everyone. To me, if I can just remember these 3 things as I go through life and make decisions, I’ll be cool. Want an even simpler one? “All you need is love” (but that one was already taken).
How do you incorporate your formal music training with creative instincts?
I let it all go, one hundred percent. I trust that it will be there for me as a tool when I need it, but I never even think about it. I have learned that the less thinking I do the better, when it comes to letting creativity flow.
Your song and video “Freak” have spoken to LGBTQ+ people in particular. How do you see music having a social justice function?
Music can change the world. That’s already been proven. It’s a powerful force that can express where we’ve been, what we’re going through, and where we’re going. It brings people together, it moves us, and people who are united in a cause they feel strongly about can do anything.
What was it like performing at Atlanta Pride?
It was fun and exciting, and it was an honor. I’ve performed to audiences who get it, and audiences who don’t. When they get it, it’s a nice feeling. They got it.
In what ways is your music feminist?
Hmm I don’t know about this word “feminist”, it’s not my favorite. Along the way it’s picked up some unintended connotations. Do I believe women are powerful and equal and independent? Yes. That’s what being a Leopardess is all about. When I wrote that EP I had finally discovered my full power as a woman. Now I want to go on to find even more power as a person. I’m thinking about uniting rather than dividing. Woman vs. man? Is that even an issue anymore? It’s not on my radar.
I am enjoying your latest EP, “Leopardess.” How did you develop the title?
Thank you! I’m kind of a word nerd. I love words and I like to try and expand my vocabulary. If I’m reading a book and discover a word I don’t understand, I must look it up. So with my last two EP’s I wanted to have the titles be single, interesting words people wouldn’t necessarily know the meaning of.
To me, Leopardess represented a single solitary powerful female, which was exactly how I felt at the time. It summed up that important point in my life where I knew what I wanted and I was able to take charge. The other title was Infinitude. I challenge you to go look it up. You’ll love what you find.
How was the experience of working with producer Isaac Hasson?
It was fantastic. I had never met him before so I was unsure and a bit nervous going in, but I had faith it would work out. Boy did it ever. We connected immediately and the song, “Lifeline” flowed easily. What a relief!
The opener, “Predator” is quite energetic and feels anthemic. What is the story behind the line, “you think you’re the predator but you’re the prey?”
In that story it’s about a woman playing coy to a man. Letting him think that he’s the one in charge, when we all know who’s really in charge.
I like how you incorporate humor into your video for “Seeing Red.” What was the experience of making that video?
I incorporate humor into everything I do, may I just say. It’s so important to laugh, especially at yourself, that’s what will get you through the tough times.
Making that video was exactly as fun as it looks; it was a blast. I had a director who really understood the message of the song and the vision for the video (Greg Welsh, Toppa-Poppa-Jons Productions). He was so enthusiastic that those of us working on it couldn’t help but be carried away by that incredible energy. Plus, who doesn’t like being silly?
“Who I Am” seems to have a more reflective feel. What message(s) were you trying to convey on that song?
I’m always reluctant to explain too much what the message or the story behind a song is, because the truth is that I want each person to get the message they need out of it, and that could be many different things. But in the interest of not being a pain in the ass, one interpretation could be: hey, this is me, take it or leave it. This is what I need from you in this relationship, hand it over or hit the road.
So far, what insights do you have for aspiring musicians?
If you’re a musician, be a musician. Don’t wait for anyone’s permission, approval, or validation, it ain’t comin’.
What is next for you creatively?
I don’t know, isn’t that what makes life so exciting?! I do know that I’ll be heading out to LA to get in the studio very soon, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of that and to share it with all of you!