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SPOTLIGHT ON ELME

Elme's debut EP, Departures, is out now! We chat to the musician about his music and more.

Image: Supplied


Over the past four years, Australian musician Elme has been working on his debut EP. Developing his sound and honing in on his craft, the musician has today released his first body of work, Departures.


Beginning his musical career at the age of 15, Thommy Wilson, the man behind Elme, found himself immersed within the world of folk music. After a few years developing his musicianship, the singer found himself taking a break from music, instead touring across Australian and Europe as a professional dancer. But in 2018, Wilson began writing and creating songs under the pseudonym, Elme.


His sonic sound shifted gears when Wilson began experimenting with producing. After showing his friend and fellow musician Woodes the bare bones of the tracks that would complete his debut release, the singer pushed forward with creating and soon had a completed collection of songs that reflects his younger years and his understandings on the complexity of the human existence.

Incorporating electronica and pop with his love of acoustic guitar and piano sounds, Wilson creates an enthralling friction between sound textures and captivates listeners with his lyrical mastery on his debut. The combination of his entrancing vocals, atmospheric production and lingering lyrics cements the musicians place within the Australian music landscape.

Departures is out now! Read our full interview with Elme below!



Tell us a bit about how your musical journey began…


I started out in high school writing folky / singer–songwriter ballads. When I was 15, I was over in Ireland visiting family and played some songs I’d written to my cousin. We ended up recording a few demos in two days. Basically from there, I just kept recording songs with my brother and posting them on the internet. I took a bit of break from music for a few years and started making songs under the moniker Elme in 2018 after I played my friend Elle (Woodes) some songs that later became the songs on this EP! The rest, as they say, is history.

You’ve worked as a professional dancer across Australia and Europe. Music plays a big part in dance in terms of beat, tempo, rhythm and so much more. How do you think your multifaceted understanding of beat and rhythm from your experiences as a dancer helps influence the music you create?

For ages I always saw the two as really separate and it wasn’t until I really threw myself into music production that I understood how dance had influenced my music. For ages I used to think that I had limited understanding of rhythm and attributed this to my roots in folk music when it occurred to me that I had literally spent most of my life tap dancing so of course rhythm is almost inextricably linked to how I write and produce songs. When I was making this EP, especially towards the end, I really pushed myself to generate my own beats and rhythm sections. I definitely think my skills in danced were helpful here. I’m not saying I am a pro beat maker by any means, but certainly there was some overlap and it’s something I want to continue to experiment with and develop.


I guess more broadly, I always try to make songs that you can dance or sway too. I love the feeling when you hear a song and your body can’t help but respond by moving to it. Thats what I aim for.

Congratulations on the release of your new EP!

Departures is a journey of self-discovery through introspection and an examination of human reactions and emotions. Could you tell us about the release and the importance of exploring the present themes?

Thank you so much!


I think there is a famous quote “we read to know we’re not alone” and it’s the same with music. It is for me anyway.


A lot of these songs were written reflecting on when I was a fair bit younger and I was realising how complex human existence truly is. Every day we are faced with experiences that are challenging to navigate and overwhelming, especially as a young person. For me, the best way to process all of this was to reflect on my own thoughts and reactions and how I perceived that of others by writing songs. So, discussing these themes are important to me as it is comforting to think that perhaps one day, my songs might help somebody through this process.

You’ve been working on the release for the past five years. Over that time, how did Departures evolve in terms of the sonic sound as a whole and how did your own experiences shape the final outcome?


Oh man, it developed so much!


Lyrically, I always seem to re-write the same song over and over until the final product really bares no resemblance to my original idea that probably started out as a voice memo on my iPhone. I also learnt the basics of music production while making this EP, so even the general style seemed to undergo massive changes as I developed new skills or learnt new tricks.

Elme takes us through Departures, track by track.


CLOSER

This song actually was the last thing I did on this record. I wrote most of it sitting on a swing in summer. When I wrote it, I was thinking about what it feels like to miss someone and how simple moments can catch a certain light, or maybe there's a certain breeze in the air, and quite unexpectedly something seemingly banal triggers a cascade of beautiful thoughts and reminds us of precious moments.


For the production, I wanted to try and create an atmospheric sound with a distinct sonic landscape, as if I was inviting people into the world of Elme.


KIDS

‘Kids’ was such a fun song to write. I wrote it with Irish singer/ songwriter and producer Lyoki via facetime. The two of us bond over our mutual love of pop songs recorded by boy bands. We wanted to make a song with melodrama and a beat that someone could bop along to! Lyrically, I wanted this song to reminisce on the under-utilised power of youth, and to ponder whether as adults, we lose the ability to seize what we want without trepidation.

SOMEWHERE

Unlike most of the songs I write, this song came together quite quickly, both lyrics and production.


I really wanted to write about something sad in a way that made you feel hopeful, because that is what I needed at the time. Writing this song helped me redistribute my balance when it had been thrown off.

DEPARTURES

This song was technically one of the first songs I wrote on the EP. It wore many different titles, had many different verses and even chord progressions, none of which ever became a full song. For some reason I kept coming back to the lyrics in the chorus.


In the summer of 2018 I met with Elle (Woodes) with the bones of what is now Departures. I really wanted this song to work and to become something. For a huge part of the session we just talked about what it was about, and what it would mean to say the things that I wanted to say. We probably did this for hours, so by the time we actually began writing, the lyrics just seemed to come quite quickly.


A few months later when I was working on an instrumental string ensemble piece I wanted to feature on the EP, I happened to start humming the song I had written with Elle that summer over the top. Immediately I completely scrapped the instrumental and decided to merge the two together. It just clicked.

The title track, Departures, was one of the first songs you began working on for the EP and kept coming back to. You then enlisted the help of Woodes on the track, and ended up merging two compositions together to create the final cut for the EP. What do you think was so captivating about the track to see it through, instead of leaving it unfinished and not returning to it over and over?


Well I guess I had all these songs with references to travel and long-distance relationships, I was hoping inspiration would come that would tie the songs together. I really wanted this EP to tell a story and represent a small epoch of my life and in a way I was waiting on a song that draws the curtain to a close.


I think it’s often the way it goes though, when you really want a song to work, something always feels strained and it never seems to come together and feel the way it should. Conversely, merging the two songs together occurred quite haphazardly, and yet straight away I felt like the song was finally on the home stretch.


Perhaps on a level I needed to finish this song so I could also finish processing what I was writing about. I’ve never thought about in that way before though.

What messages do you hope listeners take away from Departures?


That it is ok to feel alone and that there is strength in your vulnerability.

How did you land on the pseudonym Elme for your musical project?


I used to write a lot about nature. When I started this project, I wanted to reference this and remind myself of how I started making music, but at the same, emphasise that this project would be vastly different to the music I had made in the past. After experimenting with a few names, Elme felt modern and fresh and was reminiscent of an Elm tree, which is one of favourites.

Could you tell us a bit about your creative process when writing and recording songs?


Generally, it just involves making many revisions.


I always start with lyrics. Typically, I end up writing 6 or 7 verses and just get all my ideas onto a page. Over time I widdle this down till I feel like I say what I need to say in as few words as possible.


I usually write all songs on my guitar or piano and this usually is the foundation of the production, at least to begin with. Similarly, I always just track all my production ideas while they’re flowing, and spend a few weeks / months paring it back and experimenting with different arrangements.


Once I have it to a standard I am happy with, I bring it to Edvard who helps me polish it up and records most of my vocals. It’s so fun to see how he interprets the tone and message and makes his own additions. He always nails it.

Australia has a diverse and vibrant music scene, who are some of your favourite Aussie acts?


Mallrat. Everything she does feels so playful, original and strong.


Gordi. Her voice is incredible, and I love the way she writes. Her lyrics linger in the mind and somehow, she always manages to weave in a greater, nuanced meaning that you can almost miss completely if you aren’t paying attention. She is so skilled.


Braille Face. His production is unique and his songs kick you right in the feels. His music feels worldly, carefully considered and completely scattered all at once and it is truly magical to listen to.

What has been the most challenging part about creating music during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Honestly, not that much. I have been the most productive I have ever been, I think. It's as if COVID-19 has forced us to think of creative ways to overcome the obvious logistical barriers, particularly with collaborating. During this pandemic I have really focused on connecting with other writers, producers and session musicians remotely. It has worked really well so far. As much as I miss being in a room with another creator and the energy this brings to a songwriting session, it has been exciting and refreshing to create music in a new way.

How do you feel your music speaks to listeners?

I feel like everyone goes through the same range of emotions. Not all the time, but everyone can relate to the intensity of feeling you get with a significant, or even an everyday life event. Those feelings are universal, part of what makes us human. It's these shared feelings that connect us.


I write songs to process what is happening in the world around me and hope that a song might in turn, help someone else. That's what I try to convey through my music and what speaks to people about my music.

The global pandemic has put a halt to touring and performing live. Do you have any post-pandemic touring plans? And what can audiences expect from an Elme live show?

At this stage no plans, but it is something I am really prioritising once live music returns. I hope to do a show with a band, some interesting visuals, a really fun outfit and maybe even some dancers. I also want to have moments where I’m just playing the guitar and singing. I hope to make a show that feels interactive and dynamic.

RAPID FIRE


Biggest influences?

Bjork, Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell.


Dream collaboration?

This changes all the time, but at the moment, Baths!


Album that has had the most impact on you?

Tough call, either Homogenic by Bjork or Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens.


How do you define your musical style in 3 words?

Dreamy, layered and emotional.


Best song of 2020?

Again, this changes all the time but maybe Godspeed by James Blake or Rager Teenager by Troye Sivan.

If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?

A James Bond film!

The best/most memorable show you’ve ever performed?

I supported Jordi Lane at the Regal Ballroom when I was in my teens. I need to do more live shows!

Album you would listen to on repeat on a road trip?

Anything by Bon Iver.

Best concert you have been to?

Probably Cyndi Lauper. Gregory Alan Isokov was also incredible live.

Last concert you went to?

Maggie Rogers!


Guilty music pleasure?

Gosh, just anything top 40.


If you could support any artist on tour, who would it be?

Lorde.


An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry?

Billie Holiday.

What advice would you give yourself a year from now?

Look back on how far you’ve come, but also keep hustling.


The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?

When I played a song I’d written to someone for the first time. What a feeling.


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