An Interview with Alternative Singer/Songwriter Ellihn
Ellihn is a new artist I met and want to introduce you to his work. He has a really unique sound and a lot of drive and talent. His answers were fantastic and inspiring for any singer-songwriter looking for success.
Ellihn: An Exclusive Interview
I’d like to start off by thanking Ellihn for being here. If you enjoyed his music or interview, please tweet him and let him know!Loved your interview, @imellihn Click To Tweet
Please give him a follow and check out his other social media as well! Links are at the bottom of the interview.
Hi Ellihn! So, let’s start off by introducing you. Tell us your story! Where are you from? Were you naturally musical as a child?
Well firstly, I’m a 19 year-old alternative artist based in Singapore, but my career never really did start out in the most conventional way. Growing up, though I had my fair share of traditional and classical musical influences thanks to my very Asian upbringing (yes, I went through the very stereotypical motion of getting the compulsory piano lessons growing up haha), there wasn’t any inspiration for me to pursue anything related to music.
Interesting! So what made you realize you wanted to be a musician?
Eventually, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career that involved showcasing human emotion in its rawest form. I wanted to tell the stories of people and myself. Subsequently, I also had an epiphany that “music is always around you.” At any point in time, one can always experience music, be it through random rhythms, shower thoughts, or through the earphones of that one girl who listens to K-Pop way too loudly on the bus. Music was everywhere.
I could literally be running for a train and stop dead in my tracks because I thought of some lyrics and have to write it down. Did I miss my train? Of course I did. But I got some pretty good lyrics as compensation so I’m not exactly complaining hahah.-Ellihn
I decided to begin my career in music by applying for Singapore Polytechnic’s Diploma in Music and Audiotechnology. I wanted to enter the course because I felt that human emotion was best told through music.
There are so many creatives in Singapore that want to tell their stories and experiences. And there was this rich, musical and literary culture that never really got to the eyes and ears of commercial media. I wanted to see to it that these stories and emotions – my own story and emotions – are heard to anyone and everyone that would be willing to listen. I wanted to see Singaporean music on an international stage.
How did things go with your schooling?
Unfortunately, things never did go as smoothly as I hoped. During my years in the course, I was surrounded by so many talented individuals. People that dedicated their whole lives from childhood up till now honing their abilities in music.
I got so intimidated that I backed off completely from pursuing the goal I had coming into this course. I saw myself as someone too inferior to be chasing that pipe dream of mine and instead spent my years in the course working on more back-end roles. This included being a songwriter for other people’s music, an arranger and composer for small, external ads and projects, as well as a manager for the people in my course that wanted to be artists.
The only upside of this situation was that I essentially learnt a lot of other useful skills relevant to the industry. I just never used them for myself. By the time 2020 hit, I was already in my third year of the course. I was struck with this overwhelming fear that the future of my career was going to be confined to a studio doing jobs for other people who would be breaking into the industry and not for myself. It was a terrifying thought. More importantly, I despaired at the fact that I was already 19.
Isn’t it so unfortunate how important age is in the music industry? There’s a reason behind it, but I feel like it puts so much pressure and stress on everyone. Still, 19 is a good age to be discovered!
Though it might seem like a young age, I felt I was years too late to be breaking into the industry. I had seen the rise and fall of so many Singaporean artists that started out way earlier than I did. [They] could have made it beyond our country’s borders but sadly did not due to various circumstances. Yet in juxtaposition, 16 year-olds in the US were becoming worldwide stars. 21 year-olds in Thailand were receiving worldwide acclamations within a year of their debut. The fact that these things could happen in both Asian and Western countries left me both dumbfounded and bitter.
What was it they had that you wanted?
To be specific, it wasn’t the fame that I was interested in. It was the fact that being recognized by the world allowed one to be heard that truly intrigued me. You’d to be able to tell the world that “I’m here, this is me and this is my story”. The very thought of the same thing potentially not being possible for artists in Singapore was simply terrifying.
These things pulled me back to the reason why I decided to pursue this career in the first place. In this industry, being 19 felt old. But it wasn’t like I could turn back time. On one hand, the past three years running back-end jobs made me feel like I wasted so much time not chasing what I wanted to pursue.
On the other, I had gained three years-worth of industry skills and knowledge, as well as a sense of self that would aid me in my debut as an artist. With these experiences under my belt, I started on the production of “Not There.” I decided to brand myself as an artist that actively advocates finding stability and peace through chasing one’s true purpose, no matter how old one might be, or what phase of life one is at. I wished to be an artist that encourages all to continue pursuing their aspirations, whether they’re just starting out, at the end, or drifting somewhere in the middle like I was.
With this as my purpose, I hope that my music allows my audience to be provided with a deeper insight to not only myself and my story, but also themselves.
very cool! So, who are your musical influences?
My musical influences include Oh Wonder, Gorillaz and Rina Sawayama. I fell in love with the way they [Oh Wonder] wrote their songs. The way they allowed their music to just speak for itself was simply mesmerizing. There wasn’t really much care for keeping up a certain image. I remember thinking “I want to write music like that!” The songs I write are drastically different in terms of topic and tone, a huge amount of my inspiration came from them. I simply turned it into my own style along the way.
Rina Sawayama also has a prominent influence in my music in terms of songwriting. The way she pens down her songs are unapologetic, harsh, yet so, so poetic. I found this weird sense of familiarity and comfort in her music. Her music gave me a lot of confidence in fully speaking my mind in my own songs. Honestly, I just see her as my source of motivation whenever I feel uncertain about penning down certain lyrics.
As for Gorillaz, their musical style is one that I resonate most with. The way that they create their arrangements and production is honestly what I strive to be able to do with my own music in the near future. Furthermore, their approach to songwriting is simply such an inspiration. Specifically, their lyrics for “Feel Good Inc” where they talked about intellectual freedom and the media’s dumbing down of mass culture. Frankly speaking, I just really love their music!
These three artists are who I strive to be as a professional in the music industry. I turn to [these artists] when I need inspiration, or just a mood lifter.
where do you go for inspiration? Do you have a songwriting process?
A lot of my inspiration comes from my interactions with the people around me and my own experiences. Essentially, a lot of my songs revolve around my own thoughts, opinions and what I go through on the regular.
When it comes to penning down the actual song, I honestly don’t have much of a process. In the early stages of writing, I don’t really bother finding a chord progression that I like, or a melody. I simply think of what I want to write about and let the words flow out onto my notepad. I’ll have a song down in 10, 15 minutes before I start worrying about melodies and chords. This usually happens in the most random moments in my daily life and usually when I’m on the move.
I could literally be running for a train and stop dead in my tracks because I thought of some lyrics and have to write it down. Did I miss my train? Of course I did. But I got some pretty good lyrics as compensation so I’m not exactly complaining hahah. After I get my lyrics down, I’d usually already have a melody in mind. I would spend some time playing the piano and finding some fun chords to accommodate the lyrics and melodies. Once I get the general structure of the song down, I get to start working on arrangements and recordings. It honestly just gets more and more fun from there.
Haha wow, missing your train for lyrics is huge dedication! Do you have a process for recording?
I approach it pretty much the same way as I would songwriting – especially when it comes to recording vocals. The only difference is that I always try to have a close friend that’s well-versed in vocal recording with me whenever I record. They’ll be able to point out any technical mistakes I might’ve made while singing. Other than that, I just make sure manifest my intentions behind the song. I try to put as much emotion into each recording I do so as to make things as authentic as possible.
Famous musicians often have “riders,” where they demand certain things before each show. What would be on your rider?
It might come off as really weird but I’d honestly just ask for plenty of water, some green tea and maybe a little fruit and a pillow hahah. This is because I just know that I’ll be too nervous about wanting to give everyone a good performance to actually consume anything heavier or do anything in general before a show. I’d want to spend my time focusing on the show I’m about to give and nothing else.
How has quaratine/covid affected your music? Did you play out a lot, or are you like me and never leave your house so it’s not a big deal?
I hardly ever leave my house so covid really hasn’t affected my life much haha. Furthermore, I feel like the pandemic hasn’t really affected my music much to be very honest. If anything, it’s given me more to write about. I’ve been deterred from meeting people face to face, but the pandemic has allowed me to see a new side people that are in the process of adapting to the “new normal.”.
Because of covid, our mindsets are forced to change in order to deal with our new living conditions. With that, new experiences are formed in our daily lives. Since we’re all experiencing the pandemic together, I feel that talking to people about their experiences during the pandemic makes us feel more connected to one another. We’re all more or less under the same circumstances. By being this connected to one another, I feel more at ease and comfortable writing songs about and during this pandemic.
I ask everyone this…what’s the worst song you’ve ever written? I think we’ve all written cringey lyrics at some point, haha
Oh my hahah. There was once where I tried to write a love song and I somehow ended up with the lyrics “would you suffocate for me” which, to me, just sounded both way too sexual and borderline psychotic haha. I guess love songs really aren’t my thing.
What song are you most proud of? What’s the one song people should hear to get an idea of your music?
Definitely my debut single “Not There”. I feel that this song encompasses who I am as a person, what I’m going through in my own life right now, as well as what I stand for. “Not There” has this running theme of nostalgia and talks about how one would have had so many regrets and missed opportunities in their lives up till now. It ultimately asks the questions: What do you want to do now? Where do you go from here? And are our future opportunities not there?
Essentially, “Not There” is all of the life experience that I currently have summarized into 2 minutes and 57 seconds. It is the one song people should hear to understand who I am as an artist and to get an idea of my music.
What struggles have you faced in music?
I actually struggled a lot with my own identity prior to this debut. Since a lot of my music revolves around myself and my experiences, that period of time where I was struggling with my identity was extremely detrimental to my music and songwriting.
There were periods of time where I would listen to a piece of music I wrote and think “this isn’t me” but then I didn’t know what to do at all. I would read through lyrics and tell myself that I was lying to myself by writing something like that. I’d get mad at myself for not knowing what to do next. I was constantly “stuck” and felt like I was always floating in between just writing music for the sake of it and making music that truly meant something to me. This whole ordeal lasted for a good 3 years when I was studying music in school.
Isn’t that frustrating? We expect teenagers to write these deep songs, when they don’t even have the experiences to talk about them yet, haha. Or, they sing songs written by older people and it’s not relatable to kids their age. How did you get past this issue?
The turning point was when I was approached by my lecturer. He told me that I should pursue being an artist and that I had the means to. Though it was probably a fleeting remark from my lecturer, that small amount of validation and encouragement I felt was enough for me to rethink the way I approached music and my identity as a whole. It made me realize how much I had restricted myself by making myself feel inferior to everyone else.
Having someone acknowledge that I could pursue what I came to this school for was a stepping stone. It gave me the confidence I lacked to be free with myself and the way I created music. Though I still struggle with it from time to time, I’ve never felt better about myself and the music I make.
How about the music industry as a whole, what struggles have you faced?
It’s really difficult to draw a line between keeping true to your own music and following a certain trend. On one hand, you’d want to keep up with popular genres in an attempt to be heard by more people.
On the other hand, if you do that, you’d lose your identity as an artist and the purpose behind your music. There have been many times where I was tempted to just try to make music that would hopefully go viral. But in the end, I knew that I’d never be happy with the music I made if I did that.
Secondly, because I am an independent artist, it’s really difficult for me to promote my music on large media outlets. As someone who’s starting off with practically nothing, it’s no surprise that a media outlet would reject my request to be promoted. After all, what benefit would it bring them? I’m actually really grateful to Mella for taking the time to get to know me and my purpose as an artist. It truly means a lot to independent artists such as myself.
No problem! I think there’s still a huge market for the kind of music you do, but I know it’s tough to get started. What is your advice to singers/songwriters just starting out?
Just go for it. Know what you can and cannot do, work on it, and put your best self out there. It’s not going to be easy at all. Real talk. It’s going to be really scary and you’ll feel terrified and hopeless all the time. But I want you to trust the process and have faith in yourself and your music.
I’m just starting out and there have been too many times where I’m like “I’m tired, I’m so, so tired”. And that’s normal and necessary. The journey’s going to be filled with a lot of fear and instability, but that’s where everything you want is.
Things might and will go wrong. What matters is what you do to resolve everything that’s in your way. If you need to send out a hundred, a thousand emails to companies to promote your music, do it. If you need to beg your friends and family (respectfully!) to help you on the business end of things or help you do photo and video shoots, do it. Do what’s necessary to be and remember to be kind to everyone along the way. Eventually, you’ll be heard.
How has your family supported your music (or how haven’t they)?
The situation’s actually kind of complicated haha. I was lucky enough that my parents supported my decision to pursue music as a career. However, they thought that I was going to be producer or film scorer instead. When it came to my other relatives, everyone assumed that I would go on to be a sound engineer in classic Asian-family fashion.
In a sense, the support that I got was both there, and not there at the same time. Though my family supported the general idea of me pursuing music, I guess it was – and still is – difficult for them to wrap their head around the idea that I was going to be an artist.
I still love my family though, they’re really trying the best they can to support me. After all, they still give me a roof over my head and feed me while I pursue this career. They’ve also offered to pay for a lot of my equipment back at home which I’ve both accepted and rejected on different occasions. I feel bad about them spending money on me, especially when it comes to music stuff, so I do try to only get their help if I really need it. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for more support than that.
Do you make all of your music yourself, or did you work with other people on writing/production/mixing?
I usually make all of my music myself when it comes to doing smaller, more personal projects or when making music for clients. However, for my debut single, I had the pleasure of employing the help of Ou Wen (OUWENN). He’s an audio engineer and also a close friend of mine. He helped make “Not There” what it is today. With his help, my songs really sound ten times better and I’m truly indebted to him haha.
What are your music goals for this year (or next year)?
I actually plan to release more music next year, a lot of which is still in the works presently. Furthermore, I do hope to start performing live soon, be it over a livestream or in an actual venue. I’ve always wanted to do that haha.
As a whole, my main goal for the next year is to continue making music and expand my skill set as a musician. I’m already working on new music every day but I do intend to connect with more professionals in the industry and learn from them. Honestly, it would be great if I could connect with more producers or fellow singers and songwriters to learn about their own creative processes and techniques!