In Conversation with Elsie and The Vibe

Elsie came out of the Australian soul music scene but decided to launch a new chapter of her career in New York. This summer she’ll be releasing her five-track self-titled debut EP, a delicious throwback to ’60s soul and Motown (just have a listen to the early release track, “Riverside“).

Elsie appears to be a woman with a mission, focused on positivity, the expansion of consciousness, and art as a vehicle of social change. There’s nothing shallow about her optimism; Elsie clearly came by her personal ideals via the school of hard knocks. Recently she was nice enough to answer our questions about the role of music in her life and where her career is headed.

Describe your musical background. What role did music play in your childhood?
As a child, my grandparents would take me to see most of the popular musicals that came through Melbourne, Australia (my hometown). This was my earliest exposure to live music and performance, and I was (and still am) completely in love with live theatre. I used to make my extended family sit quietly at dinners so I could perform music from Les Mis. I also grew up learning the piano, which formed the foundation of my musical knowledge and is still where I write most of my songs.

What or who in your musical training had the most?and best?influence on you, as a musician, a composer, and a human being?
When I discovered women with powerful voices, music took on a whole new meaning for me. Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Christina Aguilera were the first three women who made me want to become a singer. I discovered Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys after my friend bought me their CDs as a gift.

I used to sit in my room and listen to their albums on repeat and try to imitate the way that they were singing. After hearing these artists, I delved into the vast realm that is R&B music. R&B, gospel music, and soul music just got me in the gut and resonated with me in a really profound way.

What’s the story behind “Riverside?”
When I was 18 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “Riverside” is my defiance in the face of that diagnosis, my defiance that my life was going to be in any way cut short, and finding inner strength to overcome the psychological impact of being diagnosed with cancer. The way that the song builds to the chorus perfectly encapsulates the feeling of elation that comes with knowing?or deciding?that you’re going to be okay.

What do you love best about the whole EP, so far?
That it exists! The EP was a really long time in the making, and I’m so grateful that it’s all come together in a way that I’m super proud of.

Can you share a little about your struggle with cancer?
Sure. So, as I mentioned, I was 18 when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a really relaxed and optimistic attitude at the time, plus I’d seen that my mum had survived from having had it 15 years earlier. So, while it was super overwhelming and confronting, I was really lucky that I never even thought for a second that my time was up. It was something I had to get through and then get on with things! Unfortunately, there have been lingering physical symptoms of the ordeal that I’m learning to manage, but in the scheme of things, I consider myself to be very lucky.

How easy is it for a woman to break into the music industry?and stay there?these days?
This is a tough one, because I still very much feel like I’m trying to break into the industry. I definitely haven’t broken in yet! But one huge thing I’ve learned is to just push. Push through the uncertainty, push through the self-doubt, push yourself into new and uncomfortable situations, push yourself to say “yes” to opportunities, and push yourself to believe you are enough. I still have to tell myself that every day as I try to make my way in the industry!

Do you feel any desire to straighten out the world a little with the art you make?
Yes. Yes. Yes x 10,000,000. That’s a huge driver for me. I think art is such an amazing way to communicate a positive message and to provide new and unique perspectives. Personally, my worldview has been hugely broadened through movies, music, photography, writing, poetry, performance, and theatre, so I feel like it’s a privilege to get to speak to people through music. I also think that a music career can create a unique platform to make a positive social contribution, and this is something I hope to be able to achieve.

If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?
Represent my truth and use that to better the world.

Tell us about your current and upcoming projects.
The whole EP is due for release in summer?I’m super excited! Outside of that, I’m gigging a whole bunch in NYC and the surrounding areas. You can find all the information you need on Facebook and Instagram @elsieandthevibe and Twitter @elsievibes.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.