elli ingram, the butter-voiced soul singer on amy winehouse, moschino and being sober
Elli Ingram is making waves, not ripples. While "hot, new talent" flashes over our screens at an ever-faster pace, she’s doing things the good old-fashioned way: from the foundations up.
Elli Ingram by Felix Joseph
Butter-voiced, and underpinned by the rich, soulful backing tracks of her production team Felix Joseph and Aston Rudi, Elli has released a handful of tracks which sound like they've been around forever. Conjuring up all the greats - Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and a touch of Mariah - the 20-year-old has been praised left, right and centre, and features on too many playlists and Ones to Watch to mention. With new track and video When It Was Dark looking and sounding the part, and her EP The Dog House released this Sunday, i-D caught up with Ms Ingram as she finds herself on the brink of very big things…
For someone who hasn't heard you, how would you describe your sound?
It's quite soulful with elements of jazz, hiphop and R&B. I find it really hard to pinpoint one genre and to be honest, I don't really like doing that either. I think if you categorise a sound, people can be afraid to listen to it, like "ah no, I don't listen to R&B'. My music has lots of elements: it's sprinkles and flavours of different sounds.
The video for When It Was Dark, directed by Emil Nava, has a really distinct aesthetic, when it comes to the imagery, and your styling, do you keep closely involved?
Yeah, fully. With things like videos and shows, all the creative stuff, that's what I get stuck into. At the end of the day, people are going to look at that and be like "ah, she's this type of person because she wears things like this," so I have to make sure it is me and it's how I want people to see me. If I'm not in charge of that then who knows, I'll just become like all these other people who are somebody they're not, who are just somebody that other people have made them become. So I make sure I'm at the frontline of all of that.
What's the story behind the lyrics?
It's probably one of the most personal songs I've ever written. It's about how things started to change once I signed a deal and a lot of pressure was put on, not just me but my whole team, like my producers Fe and Ast and my manager Rob. It was really different to have all these other people on top of us all of a sudden. It's about that pressure and feeling really alone and like you're not as in charge as you want to be. There's a line, "slow the world down so I can find myself." It's like, just leave me to do my own thing. This whirlwind going on around me, it's only going to make things worse.
Whether it's rocking Moschino or someone unknown, you always have your own look and this video has taken that to another level. Who do you work with on your styling?
I work with this stylist called Soki Mak all the time because she's just amazing. Everyone I work with loves to break boundaries and do completely new things and that's exactly what she's like. She doesn't want me to wear what anybody else is wearing; she always wants me to look completely different.
Has she ever suggested things that you've been like "no way, I'm not going to wear that!"?
Yeah. Literally, she's the craziest woman. She will put the maddest things together. Sometimes I have to be like "Soki, just hold on a second, I don't think I can wear that" and she'll be like "come on, be confident, you want to be different," and I'll be like "yeah, I want to be different but THAT, that's a bit too much."
Is there a particular outfit you can remember that you had to put your foot down with?
There've been a few. There was one, it was this giant like fluffy - not a lion, what's like a lion but they're a bit white?
Like a snow leopard?
Yeah! It was kind of like a snow leopard and it was a rucksack and it was literally bigger than my back and it was all fluffy and it had these mad tassels and these big gold chains and it was just like the most bonkers bag. To be honest, she probably could've got me to wear it but I said no.
And who do you look at in the public eye for style inspiration?
I look to a lot of celebrities, which I didn't think I would. I love the way Rhianna dresses and I love the way Beyoncé dresses and the way they can really do the crossover of class and sassiness and sexiness and edge. Also a lot of smaller, underground designers. It's really great working with Soki because she's introduced me to a lot of people like that, which is such good fun.
You sang the Other Stage at Glastonbury last summer with Chase & Status when you were only 19 and you were still living at home - it must have been weird going back to your Mum and Dad in Brighton from that…
Right now I can really picture it. The stage was huge and the music was so loud and there was this sea of people. I just dream that something like that can happen again. I didn't find it strange going back because it was so surreal: I'm just back in my two-bedroom tiny little house with my mum and last summer I was on the biggest stage…
What did you listen to growing up?
I was surrounded by a lot of music. My dad was in a band, he listened to a lot more folk music, and I listened to a lot of rock, and my mum was a huge music fan. She took me to see Amy [Winehouse] and she introduced me to Toots & the Maytalls, who we went to see in Brighton. She was into the Police and loads of other really good music.
I like the way it's first name terms with Amy. Is she a big influence?
Amy Winehouse is definitely my biggest influence. I have a lot of other really big influences; Lauryn Hill, Angie Stone, Erykah Badu. But Amy's like the first person I listened to and thought like "wow," her voice, her lyrics - I'd never really heard anything like that before or had that experience from listening to music. It sort of just opened a lot of doors for me as an artist to be really truthful and raw with my lyrics like how she was.
You've worked with the same production team from the beginning - do you think that's helped you to keep your sound your own?
One hundred per cent. It's funny because I don't see how other artists get thrown about and work with all these different people. It's taken me so long to relax in the studio and really be myself and the reason I can do that now is because I know Fe and Ast so well. I used to be so closed and we'd be making music and I'd be sitting in the corner writing and they'd be like "show me what you've written," and I'd be like, "no it's not ready, it's not right." But now because I know them so well and they know me, I can just be myself.
Your cover of Poetic Justice by Kendrick Lamar caught a lot of people's attention and has racked up over half a million views on Youtube, do you know if Kendrick's heard the track?
Haha, I don't know. I can't say I've heard anything from him. I would just die if I ever did. I like to think that he has, that he listens to it every night before he goes to bed on his iPod…
What do you get up to when you're not in the studio?
I like to lie in bed and play Tomb Raider. Although my boyfriend is very selfish with it and steals the control. I make a lot of music at home, spend a lot of time with my friends and go around Brighton and eat a lot of food out and just normal day-to-day things really.
Do you remember there was that trick on Tomb Raider, that you could hold down R1 while she was pulling herself up and she'd do a handstand…
Oh my god, yes! I'm going to have to try that on the new one.
Your EP is called Sober and your Twitter bio says you're better when you're drunk, what are you like after a few drinks? Do you fight, do you cry?
It depends. I can be really nice, I can be funny, I can be joyful, I can be emotional, I can be really angry. Normally, I'll experience all of them throughout the night.
And what's your favourite drink?
Last summer you played Glastonbury, you were in Ibiza, and you were recording. What's on the cards for summer 2014?
I had such an amazing summer with Chase & Status and obviously I just hope to match it but with my own music. I'm very certain that I won't be headlining at Glastonbury this year, but it would be cool to just sort of do some little shows with my band and continue to do some more festivals. I'm excited to do it myself this time.
Text Oscar Quine
Photography Felix Joseph