ELLE WINSTON: “BROOKLYN-BASED SINGER-SONGWRITER”

"I want them to recognize something truthful and a little bit raw."

TO BEGIN, WHAT ARE SOME WORDS, OR PHRASES THAT DESCRIBE ELLE WINSTON?’

Womanist & Avocado Enthusiast.

THE JUMP FROM ARIZONA TO BROOKLYN MUST’VE BEEN A SHOCK. WHAT PUSHED YOU TO RELOCATE? 

I finished my master’s degree in Arizona (2011) and felt like I needed a seismic change in my life.  After having visited New York a few times, I felt like it was a place that would give me more opportunities musically, but also push me to expand as a human being.

WHO ARE SOME MUSICAL INFLUENCES IN YOUR LIFE? 

I grew up listening to a lot of folks/singer-songwriter music. I recall my parents listening to Muddy Waters, Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carole King, Bob Marley. From a singer’s standpoint, I was very drawn to folks with a unique vocal character like Whitney, Celine, Anita Baker, Michael Jackson, Brandy. As I got older, a number of female musicians struck a chord with me… Lauryn Hill, Fiona Apple, Paula Cole and classical singers like Kathleen Battle, Leontyne Price, Elly Ameling. Huge hip-hop fan as well: Nas, Jay Z, Missy Elliott, The Roots, etc.

The most important thing for me as I’ve developed as a songwriter is to try not to control too much. I find that my best songs are ones that I let flow from me, versus ones that I try to concoct.

OUTSIDE OF MUSIC, DO YOU PULL INSPIRATION FROM OTHER SOURCES (I.E. YOUR EMOTIONS OR PAST EXPERIENCES, ETC.)?

I am hugely influenced by the experiences of brown people, more specifically brown women – those in my life and ones whose stories I’ve seen. Lifting up those struggles and triumphs is a theme in my music. I’m also really influenced by my relationship with my wife and my family, which both serve as the most constant foundation in my life.

TELL US ABOUT “HEAVY NOW,” TRANSPORT US INTO YOUR PROCESS, YOUR JOURNEY…

Ah! Lol, love this tune. Heavy Now I wrote about being in NY for the first couple years and being broke as hell. The song was produced by dcsoulplusmind, a producer based in LA and it had so much kick and funk. It just screamed, “I’m pissed off, but I can still laugh at myself”. Hadn’t done a song like that before and it just came out so naturally. This is my stank face tune!

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP FOR YOU WHEN IT COMES TO SONGWRITING?

The most important thing for me as I’ve developed as a songwriter is to try not to control too much. I find that my best songs are ones that I let flow from me, versus ones that I try to concoct. The melodies, the lyrics, the whole vibe is always more successful when I try not to engage in definitive “steps” and I just let it come with little judgment.

WHEN PEOPLE LISTEN TO YOUR MUSIC, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THEM TO FEEL OR GET FROM IT?

I want them to recognize something truthful and a little bit raw. I hope they feel engaged in thoughts about the world and existence. I’d also like them to hear something in the actual music elements that move them and makes them smile or nod their head or turn off a little bit. I want it to feel familiar, but still fresh.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACE? HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES?

I think the music industry is a challenge in general, but as a WOC there are certainly challenges that others don’t experience. We often aren’t taken seriously or find ourselves being relegated to certain “black” genres which don’t always reflect the actual music we’re making. I think we aren’t often seen as innovative or dynamic or impressive in the ways that our male/non-WOC counterparts are. That hurts sometimes – but it also gives you an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. At least that’s what it’s given me. I make the music I want to make, period. Being independent helps with that too!

WHO WOULD YOU CONSIDER MUSICAL ICONS, WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THEM?

Michael Jackson – His talent and skill as an entertainer is unmatched. Never seen anything like him, probably won’t again. I’m torn about the circumstances surrounding his personal life, but when it comes down to his ability as a performer and the quality and power in his recordings, unmatched.

Fiona Apple – She tops my list as far as song lyrics go. Artful, but concise. Her writing is brilliant.  Her songs are dark, but can still be playful. There’s a grit in the spirit of her songs that inspire me.

Nas – He speaks to me in ways that other MC’s just can’t. I feel like he exposes himself, but never as a gimmick, only because he has to in order to breathe.

Ella Fitzgerald – God, I can’t even begin. Her voice sounds effortless and perfectly crafted at the same time. It’s pure mastery. She’s a virtuoso.

James Taylor – His music never ages for me. Some people think he’s corny (haha), but I think he has this perfect combination of great guitar playing, lovely warm vocals, and tender songwriting.

WHAT TYPE OF LEGACY WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEAVE?

A person who loved music sang well and wrote great songs. Also, I want to be known as a great collaborator and bandmate, who did things her own way – with integrity! I would like to leave a legacy that underscores that making and sharing art is one of the most necessary and powerful things a human being can do.

ANYTHING THAT WE SHOULD EXPECT OR LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

I have just wrapped my debut album, The Buy Back. Cannot tell you how overjoyed I am to be releasing this project! It’s been a long time coming. Doing a live preview at Rockwood Music Hall on March 2nd at 8 pm and planning wide release for late April. Also planning an east coast tour for the late summer/early fall. This year is definitely the most exciting of my career thus far. Come find me, folks!

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

Elle Winston 

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