Interview: Elliphant on Sweden, Diplo, Skrillex, and Her Debut Album

Elliphant isn’t exactly the name you’d expect of a statuesque Swedish singer. But Elinor Olovsdotter, the 27-year-old artist behind it, isn’t interested interested in invoking images of fairies and rolling fields. A play on the phrase “The elephant in the room,” Elliphant, who introduces herself as Ellie, takes pride in being an honest voice among a sea of bullshitters in the music industry. And her music says as much—a blend of ‘90s pop, reggae, and dubstep, Elliphant’s songs are jolted with life and padded with poignant lyrics.

After spending the past year releasing a slow stream of singles, including “Down On Life” and “Could It Be,” Elliphant’s relocated to Los Angeles, where she’s working with Dr. Luke to prep her debut album, due for release next year on Sony Music Entertainment’s Kemosabe Records.

We got a chance to speak to Elliphant on her quick trip to New York about the wanderlust that shaped her life, her collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo, and what she thinks of the people who hate on her rapping.

Interview by Tara Aquino

When did you realize music was something you wanted to do?
Now.

How so?
It’s happening now. The whole music thing was something that I wouldn’t have believed to be my thing. I thought I was going to become an artist. I was into photography just before I started music. I remember the day when I created my Elliphant Facebook. When I put that out, my friends was like, “Ellie are you doing music now?!” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m fucking doing music now. That’s how it is.” It was a very important day. It made me realize that if you put your mind into something and decide that you want to do it, everything comes much easier.

What made you decide to leave Sweden and travel the world?
It was very important to explore. I got introduced to India through my grandma because she took me there when I was 16. A couple of years later, I’d been working a lot, I had my money, and I left Sweden. Yeah, it was an escape back then, but I never again looked at it like that. I was very curious and very interested in exploring what I have inside. I couldn’t do that in Stockholm because everybody knew me. You have your friends, you have your family, you have your situation. When you leave, you suddenly have the chance to explore other sides of yourself. I got hooked on that—going away alone, meeting people, getting away from the whole bureaucracy.

I did a lot of business when I was traveling to survive for the day. I bought stuff in Burma and would sell them in India. There was no father that was hitting me that I escaped, and my mom has always been crazy, but that’s not the reason why I left. It was just something I needed to do.

What’s your most memorable moment traveling?
I enjoyed Varanasi in India. I saw something that not many people see. That’s the place where people go to die in India. It’s a very close meeting to death in a different way than people deal with death where I come from.

One time in Kathmandu, up in Nepal, there was a lockdown of the city because they have this guerilla there, with the King and the guerillas all tight. I was supposed to travel around for two weeks but they took away all the electricity and petrol. Everywhere it was just cars and no one could go. It was chaotic. I didn’t go out in the day, only in the nights. I met a guy from Canada and we were hanging around, sitting on stoops. We bought some whiskey and were drinking all night long around the street kids.

The street kids are treated so bad there, much worse than they are in India. That could have something to do with the caste system. Even if the caste system is very bad in India, you still respect people for who they are, you never look down on anybody really. But in Kathmandu, it felt like, “Look at this poor dogs.” It was much more aggressive.

That’s how I started realizing the whole situation with evolution. Evolution is not necessarily a fair deal, but we need to dig down into our emotions. We can’t push emotions with the pills and with the alcohol and with the distractions. We have to feel, and these kids taught me that. You could see their lives, and it’s just a fucking mess. But I still felt so much respect for them.

When I was sitting there drinking, all of them were on drugs. It wasn’t any chemical drugs, they were buffing glue because they were so hungry, and they were falling on us. They were playing with us, these kids with their drugged eyes. After a couple weeks, even if they were high, I just wanted to hold them close. I can’t rescue these kids. I can’t do anything for them, but I can look them in the eye and respect them and realize what they are going through could be the reason why people in my country can live a life ‘til their 98 and do absolutely nothing for the world. That’s why I did this tattoo on my arm. It’s a symbol of evolution.

Are you into the Rastafarian religion?
I’m not into it at all. The thing I’m into in Jamaica is their creative language. I’m a big fan of the rhythms, the music. I make it a little bit romantic in my head, you know, “Live for music!” In Jamaica, the music industry is like it was here 200 years ago. Like someone makes a song, they go up to the radio, if the radio wants to play it, they’re suddenly superstars. It’s cool the way they live there. It’s so much about the day.

How do you respond to people who criticize you for rapping as a white female?
Weirdly enough, I don’t get much criticism. The little shit I get, I don’t care. When I released the video for “Can’t Hear It,” the first response was good, and then I look at it again, and it’s just hate, hate, hate. I was expecting that. I didn’t do that song thinking that everybody will be like, “Oh this is cute!” I knew people would feel irritated. How I deal with it is like I always do when I have a problem: I shut off my phone, smoke weed, meditate, sleep on it, and I wake up the next day like it never bothered me.

I can imagine it can be very annoying with a white girl trying to do patois. For me, I was never trying to do patois. For me, it was creating my own language.

I know why I do this. I do this to provoke people. I do this to bring out a question of what is wrong and what is right. I can imagine it can be very annoying with a white girl trying to do patois. For me, I was never trying to do patois. For me, it was creating my own language. In Jamaica, I’m very respected by my musician friends. They respect me for being Elliphant.

I heard “Down on Life” used in movie that’s being released in January. What do you think about blowing up, if “Down on Life” takes off and becomes a mainstream hit?
I’m just happy people hear it. The blogs had their eyes open to the song already, but the people haven’t heard it. It was a very good way of building my small Elliphant empire. I have no stress that it’s been out there for year because it’s been working for me. Also, the reason why I worked with Diplo today is because of that song. He always had open eyes for what I did, but he liked it sometimes and he criticized it sometimes. But when I did this song, he loved it.

Is he working on your album?
No, we gonna do some sessions and we’re planning on doing an EP release on Mad Decent, January or February.

I saw a photo of you with Skrillex. Are you guys working together, too?
Yeah, he sent a message saying he was in West Africa for some project. He asked if I could talk and, at that moment, I was on the streets shitfaced. I called him up and I was like, “Hello! I’m out in the streets!” [Laughs.] We talked for one and a half hours—a really expensive telephone bill for me—and he talked to all my drunk friends. The day after, my manager called me and said that Skrillex wanted to come see me. Then he came to Stockholm, and we had five sessions. We had a lot of fun together. I understand him one-hundred percent.

What can we expect from your debut album?
You can probably expect it to be thick. It will be true. It will be naked. It will be very good. [Laughs.] I don’t want to say because that’s the whole thing with Elliphant. You can’t put it in a box. I’m all over the place. There will be hip-hop songs, there will be pop songs, there could be classic duet songs, and there could be disco.

What do you think of A-list co-signs from people like Katy Perry?
It’s cool. I’m not super excited that it’s Katy Perry, but more that she is a woman who stands up for another woman. That’s how I want to do it, too. If I have a chance to give someone I believe in something just because I’m a big name, I will definitely use that power to bring up other artists that I like.

Is there anything you wish you could change about the music industry now?
The stress of it. But maybe after you done two records, the time will come where I can say, “I’m gonna chill now and make this album slowly.” In a way, it’s also good that it is so fast because it’s so easy to get stuck on it. It’s good to just shit it out.

The music industry is in need for some reality. Instead of artists going to an awards show here and there, they should talk more about what’s going on because the music industry is all over the world. Not even politicians or presidents can make that change that music can make. It’s sad that so many artists don’t seem to understand that. They don’t use their powers in the right away, just more money and more gold. Money and gold is the last thing I want in the world. I want to make a change and I know everybody wants that. That’s the thing. It’s in our system. We want to give. As long as you take and take, you’re going to get sad and bitter in your soul.

As an artist, you have a responsibility to be true to your fans because your fans are growing up in this world. I won’t take that responsibility by being a nice girl. I will take it by showing how hard life is and how hard it can be to be a woman.

Who did you look up to?
My first real idol was Gwen Stefani, when I was like 12, 13.

Heartache and sadness and pain will definitely make you stronger. It’s magical. Even loss, even death, can turn out to be the most important thing for your development.

Who are the people that shaped your art?
My mom, and my life. It’s the hard parts of your life that will become something for you in the long run. You won’t learn so much when you’re just watching cinema and drinking Coca-Cola, even if it’s very comfortable. It’s a very present moment, but heartache and sadness and pain will definitely make you stronger. It’s magical. Even loss, even death, can turn out to be the most important thing for your development.

How did your mom shape you?
She was alone with me and my sister. She shaped my life because all the people that shaped my life was her choice. She brought in people and she brought out people, she listened to music, she watched films, and she read books. She has a very free lifestyle. Many other parents thought she was a really bad parent—maybe I even thought that too as a kid because everyone else said that was true—but I wouldn’t change my childhood. I look at my friends in my childhood and they don’t have contact with their parents like I do. I know my mom was right by being very true and honest to herself and to us. She’s had problems, but she’s not scared of showing that.

What does she think about what you’re doing now?
It’s not a big thing for her. She wanted me to paint at first. She’s not an impressed person. She just wants me to come by sometimes. My other side of the family is much more interested and proud and that’s nice. It’s not about her not being proud, she just wants to talk about other stuff and I love her for that. Everyone is talking about Elliphant now in my life and it’s just so nice to just hear her talk about how expensive the beer is in Sweden.

Do you have any siblings?
I have many. With my mom, I have a sister—we don’t share a daddy. We lived in the same house and we’re very close. On my father’s side, I have two brothers and one sister, and we’re also very close. And they have more sisters and brothers on their sides and I take care of them and they take care of us.

What do you think the public reception so far?
I’m glad I’m not misunderstood in any way. I thought I had to be a bit more political. I thought it would be harder to make people understand my goal, but it’s been very simple. I have a nice next year ahead of me.

If I could give any tips to someone that’s in my position, who just had a deal in front on them, it’s please don’t get hooked up in the whole contract too much. Of course you should have a good deal, but please don’t dig down too much into that whole thing because you lose your passion for the music and the project. I see that around me all the time.

Are you a person who believes things happen coincidentally or that things happen for a reason?
Choice is an underestimated thing. Fate has nothing to do with the choice itself. The consequences of the choice are where fate is. There is a balance between these two. You know instantly if you made the wrong decision, and some people can live their whole life knowing that, and that’s OK. But some people are just OK with being just OK. I’m not one of those people.