When Elliphant first crept up on our collective consciousness in 2012, Ellinor Olovsdotter was just beginning to take her first Garageband baby steps. But it didn’t take long for the world to catch on: “Tekkno Scene,” her dancehall-inflected debut, landed on the soundtrack for FIFA ’13, one of the most popular video games in the world. She hasn’t slowed down from there. An infectious combination of reggae beats and patois inflections over European club beats quickly led to collaborations with Diplo, Dr. Luke, and Skrillex.
The intersection of pop and EDM has been a uniquely millennial experience, and while we may be past its peak, Elliphant has pivoted too: since the release of her Elliphant EP, she left Stockholm and moved to Los Angeles to begin the life of a recording artist in earnest. The singer hasn’t abandoned her original sound by any means, but she has found support through a number of burgeoning pop stars. In 2015, her “Another One” collaboration with fellow Scandanavian MØ launched Elliphant onto the global stage, and then she released what may be her biggest single yet with the slow burner “Love Me Badder.”
The one constant through it all, however, has been Elliphant’s insatiable desire to learn. She’s constantly improving and adding more skills to her toolkit, and in just a couple months, we’ll hear just how much she’s taken in. The full-length record is due out in September, and for Elliphant, everything is about to change—again.
You have an album coming out in September. Was that all recorded in L.A. with Dr. Luke?
The production history—it’s a mess, actually. Two years ago I came to the U.S. and one and a half years ago I signed with Luke. And I had already started working with his producing crew, I worked with Luke a lot but I worked more with in-house producers, and I also had a chance to work with Dave Sitek and we clicked so well. Then I did some work with Joel Little—he is not in the house of Luke, but we worked well together so we did a lot of sessions. I’m also with the Mad Decent Crew. There’s always producers from the Mad Decent base. And the Skrillex camp.
So it’s actually super messy. When we stood there and thought about what we were actually gonna release there were like 60 songs to choose from. From there we needed see what is actually possible, is this producer even here, is he gonna be able to finish this? So all that—shrink shrink shrink, shrinked till we had about 12-15 songs where we felt, were a good selection and possible to finish. So that’s how it all came down.
But Elliphant is a very wide sound, it’s not really following any directions. This album has four or five organic pop songs. It doesn’t feel produced, you know? Not like electronic sounds or anything. Very classic, almost rock pop songs that feel a bit old school actually.
This album has four or five organic pop songs… Very classic, almost rock pop songs.
Who are you listening to while you were making it?
I’m listening to mixtapes on tour, a lot of reggae mixtapes because my DJ is also a reggae DJ. I listen a lot to Immortal Technique actually, but that hasn’t reflected anything on my album. Before Elliphant, I was never the type of person to listen to a lot of music, it’s never been my thing. When I get some time off, I watch a good TV series or something, that’s what my mind needs. There’s too much noise everywhere.
How did that happen, needing to get away from music?
My mom was a crazy music person when I grew up. She had one stereo in the kitchen, one in the living room, one in the bedroom, all pumping different music. And I’m also a city kid, so I always struggled to get to silence and to nature.
So when I had a chance to make my own decisions, that’s what I did. But if I put some music on, it won’t be radio. My father has some really, really good playlists with a lot of African music, a lot of twelve-minute long songs with a lot of percussion and some vocals. But I never put on like any commercial music in my life, really.
If I had a home, I think I would have speakers everywhere and I would put on jazz. I like background music a lot. I like that a lot. But being constantly out touring, going to festivals all the time, you hear and see so much like it’s enough.
You’re about to go on this huge European tour, right? What are some of the things that you’ve picked up and try to bring in to your live shows from these last few years where you’ve been surrounded by festivals and musicians?
Tonight and the festival I have in a couple of days is going to be the last performances we are doing with the old school way of doing it. For me, the sound experience is everything. Now, I have a chance to develop my performance. I didn’t bring in dancers, not even any fucking laser or anything.
Even if I would like to have lasers, I haven’t gone deep into that yet. I actually put all my budget into trying to create the best sound experience possible. I feel like that’s still number one, and then if that goes well I can probably bring in some other stuff. I have some sponsors for my headline tour that’s gonna be in this fall here in America.
What do you mean by sound experience?
We are transforming the whole set and all my songs, old ones and new ones, into Ableton, separating everything, building it together again. My DJ that is actually from the beginning, just a reggae DJ, he’s learning Ableton as we speak and we are taking it to the next level. When we have that, it’s also easier to bring in interactive backdrops that you can, with Ableton, work into the set and have more of a visual experience.
But it’s still gonna be me. Just me on stage. Since I started doing Elliphant till now, not much has changed really. It’s just me up on stage with my DJ. It’s a meeting; it’s very honest and dressed-down, kind of personal. I’m really showing myself, I don’t put a mask on, it’s just, “Hi everybody! This is awesome.”
I’ve been lucky in terms of my live show. Even if I have a lot of songs where I sing, a little bit more pop songs, I’m established as a club artist so I get really funny, cool bookings. I do a lot of my shows around 12, 1 in the morning.
Maybe I don’t fuck up as much anymore. But I’m still gonna be one of those people who’s fucking up on stage at least once.
The thing with those late shows is this: if it’s not natural for you, it’s so easy to panic. You panic and feel like “I should do this or that,” but if it’s not coming from your heart, if it’s not the real thing, then you’re distracting from what’s really there. And for me it’s the sound, it’s me being in a good place. The only small things that we’re changing is that I now have stuff in my ears so I can hear myself, kinda learning to control my voice more on stage. Maybe I don’t fuck up as much anymore. But I’m still gonna be one of those people who’s fucking up on stage at least once.
I always like it when a performer flubs a line or has to scramble. It makes a show unique, it makes people get personal with you.
Yeah, I’m trying to really be who I am, and who I am is a work in progress. This is my third or fourth year now doing Elliphant, and Elliphant is my first singing project I’ve ever done in my life. And that is the cool thing about Elliphant. Like that could be a real weakness but I decided early that this is gonna be my strength. I’m not gonna try to look more professional than I really am.
What was it like moving out to L.A.? Was that the first time ever living in an American city?
I always run away, ever since I was 17 I started traveling. But living out there hasn’t really been traveling, because I have never been free in LA. I’ve never been free in New York either. I’ve been here six times now but I never had the chance to do anything of what I would have done as a traveler—get lost, go to places, do stuff. Be random. My life is very scheduled, it has been for over two years now.
Price of success, I guess.
But it’s cool, because I come from a family where there were absolutely no routines at all. There was never even lunchtime or dinnertime or anything. Everything was up to you, so I don’t have routines established in my system. I think it’s one part of me that also needed to be fulfilled, to be taken care of a little bit. To have someone that is, you know, looking after me and having the whole crew experience.
I’m also very lucky that I have amazing people around me. The crew experience is like, if Elliphant dies, or when Elliphant dies, the crew experience is what I’m going to keep forever. That’s my evolution. That’s what I needed for my biology. I needed be able to trust a group of people, I never had a chance to do that. I always traveled alone, I always been a little bit allergic to the community when I was working.
For me, it’s just a very sensitive spot. It’s like an Achilles heel. So to have a crew experience, and to be able to spread out and spit out my ideas and they may actually stick on someone has been so amazing. I’m not gonna give up on that, that’s never gonna stop. This music was my ticket into society.
It’s interesting you say that, because a lot of the stuff that you’ve done with other artists have felt very natural. How do you decide who to collaborate with?
Most of the collaborations, like MØ or Twin Shadow or Erik Hassle or Diplo, it all just naturally came my way, and I just fucking love what they do. I contacted MØ maybe three years ago on Facebook, because she’s Danish. I was like “we’re really close and we could do stuff together and we could probably support each other a little bit during this trip.” She’s very similar to me so she was just like, “yeah, fuck yeah.”
And then when I did “One More” it was just natural, I waited for a long time for a song to be born for her with me. I knew I wanted her on this song when I made it. That was super natural. The only one that I really, like through the label looked for, and really wanted to work with and had to hunt down through the label is Big Freedia.
Big Freedia is this amazing artist from New Orleans, she’s been active for over 15 years with her twerking, she has a twerk crew. They go all over the world and they twerk. She’s a transsexual, huge human, super amazing character. It’s going real good for her right now, she has a TV show.
I ended up at her concert in Washington DC when I was on tour with Charli XCX. And I just went there cause my driver was like, “you have to go see this, you’re gonna fucking love it.” And after I waited for her and she came out I said hi and told her I worked with Diplo. I planted a seed. So when my people reached out to her she was happy to do it. It was just a long time and we managed to get some time and it was really, really cool.
Do you think your music was what Big Freedia expected to hear?
There is nothing to expect with me. As a human being, I never had any favorites. I could never say a favorite food when I was a kid, I could never name a favorite color. When people asked me my favorite color I started crying out of panic. I was like, “what do you mean? What do you mean favorite color?” Everything is beautiful, I can’t understand. A yellow looks bad with this but together with this it’s amazing, how can you say a favorite? Favorite country, people always wanna hear what’s the favorite city you’ve been to and I’m like, you know, I just wanna say Detroit to fuck with them, because obviously everything has its own shine. I’ve never had a favorite.
When people asked me my favorite color I started crying out of panic… Everything is beautiful, I can’t understand.
So what’s one of your favorite kinds of music you could see yourself making down the line?
I could see myself definitely doing a country album.
Yeah, like really super dark, deep. I could see myself maybe at some point doing Swedish music but I don’t know. But I really would like to do a country album like the way country music is built up is what I’m interested in. And also the fact that you sing about depressing stuff. I love that. It’s very hard to sing about depressing stuff when you want to get on the radio, you know? In 20 years I would love to be some weird mix between jazz and country and just stand there and have a beard and mustache and be all old.
What are some more short-term goals you want to accomplish with Elliphant?
It would be really cool to learn how to produce more. I’m usually very involved with my productions, sitting right next to the producer, and I’m starting to really understand how to communicate my wishes. That’s just started because before I didn’t know how to explain but now I actually know a couple of real words in production so I’m starting to be able to communicate.
Another thing I really want to do is start making my own artwork cause that’s really where I come from. I thought photography and art was what I was gonna do with my life. I look at this music project as just another art project for me, and I’ve been very humble doing it because it’s a new playground for me. I’m always been asking people for advice.
I look at this music project as just another art project for me, and I’ve been very humble doing it because it’s a new playground for me
People tell me, “Elli, you can’t, you have to stand up for yourself!” but as long as I keep the best fucking people around me, that I choose and I pay, it works out. Everything goes so much faster and so much smoother if they have the freedom of making choices for me. So I’ve been just letting people do their job.
What kind of art were you making when you were younger?
A lot of drawing, a lot of drawing and painting. Then when I started traveling, I bought a camera from a friend that was a photographer. He sold me his old camera when he got a new one. And this was like 10 years ago. So, at this point not many people had a Nikon DSLR camera, so I was one of the few people in my world that had a proper camera, so I actually had a lot of jobs. Like, someone opened a club and they wanted me to come and take pictures. I did a lot of pretentious, really weird photography… I was obsessed with bark so I have like, 6,000 pictures of bark.
Speaking of nature, can we talk about your animal activism and Save the Grey?
Fuck yeah, good. Yeah, let’s talk about that.
Was that always something that you were interested in?
Yeah, STG has been there before Elliphant. I just realized early that the animals that I felt most for, like that I felt were also in the most critical situation were elephants, rhinos, whales, sharks and wolves. In the world, wolves are not a big problem, but in Sweden they really want to kill them, they really want to kill them all.
Because they’ve been doing so much landscaping structure stuff up in the north of Sweden, and they’ve been cutting down trees and they have all these industries and all the wolves get lost. They have their paths, you know? And the paths are gone so they get depressed and confused and they start killing sheep and reindeers and cows, and all the farmers just want to kill them. But actually it’s not in the wolves’ nature to do that, it’s just because we humans fuck shit up. And also, like I said before, I started crying when people asked my favorite color, but when I realized I could say gray, it was a very big day for me because gray is what it all comes down to, I guess.
It’s a bunch of different colors blended together, all at once.
Yeah, and it was right around when I was diagnosed with ADD, dyslexia, concentration issues in general. It was kind of good to get diagnosed because if I ever want to go back to study or something, I think I will get some help. And they will also have some mercy on my grades. I stopped school when I was in 8th grade, I didn’t even start 8th grade.
I was cool with a diagnosis in my case, but at the same time I’m totally against the diagnosis system, especially the medication of people with my kind of head. Even if I sometimes take Ritalin because it’s fun, I don’t feel like you should give two Ritalin to a 12-year-old. We’re not thinking about what that could do to them in the future. We’re basically saying it’s their fault and they’re sick. It’s so fucked up.
These songs I’m singing—I feel like I’m singing about this great vision of love. The people that choose to take those drugs, that’s their choice. The words are for my people but if the Elliphant project ever really blooms, the first thing I would is to start the STG foundation, for the grey animals. Save the Grey.
What’s the next step with that?
I still haven’t had the money to open a foundation for STG, because I need to keep it clean. I don’t want a situation where it’s like, “Oh Elliphant sold 5,000 headphones with this company, and these headphones were made by four year-olds in China.” I need to be able to follow it to the last line. There is no flesh behind this concept yet. I don’t have my activists yet. I don’t have my people who can build a homepage, I don’t have anyone that can catch the balls. But I’m out there talking about that all the time so balls are flying. But no one is there to catch it. And obviously no one wants to work for free, but I’m working for free everyday. I haven’t still earned a fucking dime from Elliphant. I’m still broke as a mother. Like it’s not possible for me to pay people.
You need people who want to do it, like people who are as invested as you.
Yeah, I want people who are like, “Yeah I have my fucking computer company, I do my thing but I want to stand by your side and help you do this.” And I think in the future it could be as big as anything. Because these are our dinosaurs, we don’t have anymore dinosaurs besides these ones and they are dying. We’re not gonna survive that I think. I think they are our spirit animals, they’re the crying animals of our planet and we are losing them. So that’s my dream. That’s what I want to do more than anything else. Elliphant can go to shit if I get to do that, you know? That’s what I want to do.
Do you have a spirit animal yourself? Or is it just the grey in general?
I know that I am a tree frog. In my last life or something, I was this green tree frog. I know that because I dreamt about it. Not seeing them, being one. I just knew, I had that perspective of a tree frog. I know exactly what the world looks from a tree frog’s eyes, the whole weird perspective that comes with it. And also once when I was too high on LSD, in India—not just any LSD, it was like the proper LSD, people living in the jungle creating LSD. Still thinking about it, I still get like [zzzz noise] in my eyes. So it took about two hours, and then I was a tree frog. And my sister was with me, also tripping, and she looked at me and said, “oh my god I can’t believe you’re a fucking tree frog!” She saw it, everybody saw it.
I know that I am a tree frog. In my last life or something, I was this green tree frog
And you didn’t say anything to tell them that?
I couldn’t talk because I was a tree frog. But I don’t know if that’s my spirit animal or if I was just a tree frog before I was a human. Because I definitely believe in intelligence, I believe in moving intelligence. I don’t believe that what is me is dying. I really believe in reincarnation but not in the sense that you get something good when you do something good. It’s very random, I think. I think you end up where you fit, you know. But I think I’ve been a human for a very long time.
And now you’re an Elliphant. What were you doing before this project became a full-time thing?
Before I went to L.A., I was signed and I was doing Elliphant but I was still working full-time at this big breakfast restaurant. Since it was breakfast I was done at noon or 1 o’clock. Then I’d go to the studio and I could work, when I had the chance to.
My point is, when I went to L.A. I only made music, all the time. But I was more inspired before, I think. I didn’t have the chance to make music so much, but I had more to say cause I hadn’t said it before. I had more to say, so I think my lyrics were better. There was more flesh there. Now, many of my lyrics, I say the same thing but in a different way. So, in one sense it was better before but I get so much more done now that it kind of balances out.
Do you miss your old routine, though?
I want to do much more like I did before when I was home in Sweden before I came to America. Sometimes I went to the studio but usually I just went home, smoked fat spliffs, had a cup of coffee, GarageBand. No set up or anything. I just got the tracks and I built my demos—it’s almost the closest to natural meditation I’ve had in my life. So meditative. Just like eight hours passed and I had no idea. You go to the toilet and fall to the ground cause your legs haven’t moved for that long.
In L.A., my life is on schedule every day. I’m always in a session. It’s cool to be there and start from scratch with a producer, and to create it together. It’s been a very big and massive experience. It’s still so much better what comes out of me. Most of the producers that I work with are used to working with more polished songwriters, so when we have a session sometimes they’re like “oh, now I’m gonna work with Elliphant, that’s gonna be fun because anything can happen.” That’s what they feel, that it will be different from a standard pop star. But they still have to play by the industry’s rules. They’re still gonna clean me a little bit.
But when I get the chance to sit and really create my own idea and do the whole thing and then bring that to them, it’s better. So much more comes out of it. Because then it’s already there so it’s easy for me to show what I meant. But when I’m in the studio, then I have to record it with them, so two hours later, it can turn into “oh, actually that was a bad idea.” You know what I mean? Not good.
Along those lines, is there anything in the last couple years since Elliphant started taking off that you wish you did a little differently?
Not really. Like sometimes when I’m drunk and stuff I’m like, “Wow, I’ve done so good!” I never really think about it normally, but when I’m shitfaced sometimes I realize that it really has all worked out.