Artist: Elise Leavy
Hometown: from Monterey, California; currently living in Lafayette, Louisiana
Latest Album: A Little Longer
Personal nicknames (or rejected band names): Doodle
Which artist has influenced you the most … and how?
Of course it’s somewhere between incredibly difficult and impossible to choose one person who has influenced me the most. I grew up listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Simon & Garfunkel, Lucinda Williams, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Neil Young, some strange and hauntingly beautiful Indian classical music that my mother loved, and countless other things that, if I didn’t stop myself, would flow from me in the passion of remembering things you hold tenderly, because you loved them as a child.
As an adult, I discovered Joni Mitchell – who became an angel that watched over me in my songwriting hours – Townes Van Zandt, and Tom Waits as well as the whole of country music and jazz that I never heard from the stereos of my parents. It all seeps in a little at a time, and I find I can hear it in my songs; they grow up and learn things just as I do. But I think the most magical thing is to occasionally hear something in my songs of the things I listened to as a child and loved with all my heart – now, after all these years, it’s all still there under the blanket of time.
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc. — inform your music?
All of the above! I have always been an avid reader of romance novels and watcher of romantic comedies. I am sure I can’t have escaped their influence in the way I pursue my dreams in my life and career, and surely my songs reflect the dreams I pursue as much as they do the feelings I process.
As to painting … my mother is a painter and I was very used to having beautiful oil paintings watching over me as child; small boys on giant birds, tigers and strange monsters, women lounging in the nude, a man playing the fiddle. I can’t imagine growing up without these friends that hung on the walls and were propped up in the corners, accompanying me through childhood.
And now, I live in Louisiana, where music is almost entirely for dance, and I can’t say how it will change me over the years, but I am sure it will.
What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to be a musician?
I wrote my first song when I was 7 years old with the help of my step-dad, who is a musician. I remember I was (ironically) trying to learn “Fur Elise” on the piano, and instead of playing it correctly, I came up with something new and ended up writing a song about a rainy day called, “Yesterday It Was So Rainy.” I played this song at the talent show in 3rd or 4th grade, and I was so scared to be on stage by myself, I hired two little girls to stand behind me with umbrellas so I would have company on stage. Hard to say if I knew I wanted to be a musician at this point, but I suppose it sparked something, because I continued to play my songs at talent shows until I quit going to public school after 8th grade to pursue music.
What has been the best advice you’ve received in your career so far?
“Listen to your gut.” I don’t trust anyone in the music business that tries to dissuade me from this advice! The complete confidence in my own feelings and needs being most important in the pursuit a career in music has been essential in order to effectively follow my dreams. It also doesn’t always mean I get the biggest record deals or most impressive streaming numbers, which is really hard to accept, especially with social media and the whole of the music industry barking at me all the time to appear more impressive. But it means I am continually pursuing my own happiness and continuing to have pride in and love for the music I am putting into the world – and retaining the rights to it, at least so far. The only hard thing about this particular piece of advice is knowing when it’s my gut talking and when it’s something else!
How often do you hide behind a character in a song or use “you” when it’s actually “me”?
Never, strangely! I wonder how other people answer this question? I am so honest about my feelings, I can’t imagine hiding anything in a character, or a story, or anything else. I’ve always been in awe of people who write songs from someone else’s point of view or story songs. The only thing you might say I hide behind is poetry. Metaphors are great magical beings and I am at the mercy of their magic. But really, I write songs because I have to. If I didn’t, I don’t know how I would get through all of the emotions of existence. It’s like going to therapy. I write my song, I cry (probably a lot), or sometimes I feel elated, and then I listen to it on repeat until the feeling ebbs enough to write a new one, or listen to someone else’s songs again. Maybe this is really weird. But I guess I always knew I was a weirdo.
Photo Credit: Kaitlyn Raitz