singer elle watson won't be losing any sleep over what you think of her music

Meet the London-based singer newly signed to Def Jam and currently working on her debut album with Clams Casino. Keep an eye on this one.

by Milly McMahon
02 May 2016, 2:19pm

Elle's soft porcelain skin glimmers, creamy and smooth, illuminated by a soft gleam of spring sunshine. Tucked behind an oversized table in an East London cafe, dressed head to toe in black, decorated with intricate silver piercings and chains, the young singer-songwriter looks like a fallen cherub, rosy-lipped and blue eyed. Writing music about the darker aspects of her personality, intrinsically drawn to sullen moods and isolated feelings, the Kent BBC Introducing artist writes her powerful diary-like tracks, with complete emotional transparency. Retelling pain-stained stories about learning to love and lose, an innocent wonderment underpins the sullen sentimentality which swims alongside her piano chords and washed out production rhythms. 

Signed to Paul Epworth's label Wolf Tone, working on a debut album since the age of 14, this year Elle sacrificed the opportunity to attend university with her pals. Deciding instead to relocate to London, committing to pursuing her ultimate dream of making music, Elle is atypical of her generation and an old soul. Unconcerned by her image as an artist, more preoccupied with sorrow and melancholy than followers or play counts, the beauty Elle exudes is understated. Keeping every element of her upcoming LP top secret, big name associations from the worlds of hip-hop and electronica have quickly aligned themselves with Elle. She prefers to not speak about her achievements but as the hype builds her debut live show is bound to be big news in the major label industry. Likened to Lapsley and Lorde, Elle is an intelligent and strong character with a diligent work ethic, her rich vocal tones demanding respect. i-D caught up with the deep thinking Tumblr addict to discuss Kylie Jenner, Kendrick Lamar, and songwriting...

Where and how do you write your music?
I like to write in the studio because l like having a sense of structure. There's something quite refreshing about getting up and needing to go somewhere. Most of my songs are written at the piano but sometimes it's just nice to have somewhere to go. I have my little black book that l write in. Sometimes it's good to just flick through pages, but l'm also quite sensory so I like to listen to something, even if it's just a chord, and it will conjure enough emotion to fit lyrics. Sometimes even little sounds, really random stuff like ice in a glass, can inspire something to do with the resonance. A week ago we put a chord though a cassette sound and it changed the whole mood and vibe of the track. l enjoy throwing the kitchen sink at stuff even if we are creating something really basic; taking things to the studio and pushing it as far as l can and if that means ripping the piano out and taking things out of my comfort zone then it makes things even more interesting.

When did you first discover simple noises could inspire such a profound sense of creativity?
It's not something l try to find, it's not always a sound. Someone may say something and I find their turn of phrase is really interesting. l'm the kind of person who reads into things far too much and sometimes that doesn't work in my favor, but sometimes it really does. Most people don't pay a huge amount of attention to lyrics. Even though l would describe myself as a lyricist and spend a lot of time writing my lyrics like poetry, when l listen to music myself, l don't grip onto lyrics. 

How transparently are you able to write about your feelings? Do you sacrifice emotional privacy in favor of making true art?
It's difficult because every time you write a piece of music or a story that's a reflection of what's going on inside your head, it's like photocopying your diary and putting it in the library. It's difficult but it's something you have to get over and push past and that's a bit like therapy. It was difficult at first especially when you can see how easily songs can be disposed of, despite the fact that you can see someone has put their heart and soul into it. But that's something you just have to get over and use to your advantage almost.

When someone sings along to a track, there is a sense of them taking ownership of the words; someone like the Weeknd singing so openly about drugs, for example. It's so odd to think that people are seemingly so openly identifying with the notion of getting high...
It's interesting you bring up the Weeknd. I've been writing music since l was fourteen for fun, but then last year Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly came out. I've always been such a fan of Kendrick -- he's my main inspiration -- and it'd been a long time since something really resonated with me like that. l find it so interesting that he had put out something so personal and dark that most people could well recoil from. And now I try to apply that same mentality when l write. The darkness and inner conflict were so identifiable. Finally, there was someone who had put it out there without caring what people would think or worrying about whether what they have to say would be frowned upon. 

What are some of the themes you are channelling now?
There's a darkness and eeriness in terms of the lyrics and the chord progressions. My natural way of writing a melody is quite R&B influenced, but then there's a juxtaposition between an R&B melody and a cutting or jarring set of lyrics. 

You retweet Kanye quite often. Are you a fan?
I just think it's hilarious how he tweets his inner thought process. It's quite funny to follow.

Do you write about people or yourself?
One thing l find really inspiring is the sense of imbalance. Writing is just my way of making sense of it all, whether that's my relationship with someone or the way someone has treated a friend of mine, or even something that l've heard from another person; if l can't understand it l make up a reason and write about it. I've always internally had a conflict in myself. It's difficult to try and explore something that's making you feel down. It could be a bright sunny day and l just wake up and have to go into the studio to revisit those difficult feelings. It's hard but l've found my outlet and l'm used to it.

In terms of social media, I think Instagram can be the most inspirational but also the most dangerous. When l'm cruising Kylie Jenner's feed, l know what I'm seeing isn't real but l can still feel like a flea in comparison to the life and image she projects.
I think nowadays you have to be very careful in understanding that what is presented on social media is not the real deal most of the time. People can be very passive aggressive on social media which l can find hurtful. Maybe l just read into things too much. I just always want to be myself. The advice l have been given about managing my image as an artist is to not be afraid to listen to crazy music and then take inspiration from that, even if other people don't like it and find it weird. You can take something from it and make it really special. Everyone has the potential to do that and when you first start doubting yourself that's when you're in trouble. If l am not comfortable with something my management suggests, l am always polite but l know l don't have to do it if l can't put my heart and soul into it. The most original thing is trying to not be original; there is only you.

Kendrick Lamar
Elle Watson