We have been spoiled with a lot of amazing releases this year. A lot of artist have taken the time at home and in the studio to produce beautiful new tracks to get us through this difficult year. One of those artists is singer/songwriter Elise Cabret, who has released a raw trip-hop single under her artist name How to Stare at Ceilings.
The newly released single “The Knife” is an explosive, slow-ambience track with clear vocals cutting through the synth rich, bassy musical arrangement. The lyrics are very dark and catchy at once.
We had a chance to talk to Elise about her musical shift from being a folky singer/songwriter towards her newly found power sound.
Elise, what an honor to talk to you about your new project and single that just came out this weekend. You wrote, performed and produced the track entirely by yourself. Give us a bit of a backstory to the song. What has inspired it?
Thank you Katie, I’m so glad to have the chance to chat with you again!
I actually came up with the main humming melody for this track by accident. I was recording a tutorial about how to write catchy melodies for my youtube channel. As I was demonstrating the exercise on the piano, this melody came out. I remember thinking “oh I have to make something out of this!” You can see the video here at the 2:40 mark www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsLT5g8yuVc&t=22s
Lyrically this track came from a pretty dark place. I find when I am writing, things can come up from the past that I wasn’t able to write about then, but now enough time has passed, I am able to explore them in my lyrics. This was one of those songs. Essentially it’s about childhood trauma, the things we learned and experienced as children that still cause us pain. The image of a “child with a knife” is referring to the inner child, who may be doing us serious damage on the inside, due to the way we treat them.
Oh yes, I remember this video actually! That´s cool! So, what was the most challenging part in the making of the track?
I think the most challenging part was trusting my abilities as a producer. Fortunately I am part of a really supportive online community called the Beat Collective. I was so nervous about posting this track to the forum there, because at the time, I didn’t think I was at the point where I could call myself a “producer.” But the feedback I got from the people in that group was so unbelievably supportive. I wouldn’t have had the courage to release this if it wasn’t for their encouragement.
How long did it take you to produce the track?
Two weeks, or rather, two weekends! The Beat Collective hold fortnightly challenges, so I made this track for one of their challenge rounds. I’ve found that having a deadline is extremely helpful for my productivity. It means I have to set aside time each week to work on my music, and I also sometimes have to submit tracks I would have otherwise spent another thousand hours perfecting.
Wow, that is awesome! You have released music before, but those songs were rather folky. What made you go from a folky sound to a more urban, electronic sound?
To be honest, I’ve always wanted to make music like this, I just didn’t have the skills as a producer to do it until now. I grew up listening to Nine Inch Nails, James Blake and Portishead, so I’ve always loved that electronic sound. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy folk music, but it wasn’t the sound I wanted for me. It’s taken a lot of practice to get to this point where I am making the music that I hear in my head. It’s definitely been worth it! I can really identify with the sound I have now, it sounds like “me.”
Wow! Talking about your musical influences, who are some of your biggest inspirations music wise?
Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails has probably had the greatest influence on me musically. I remember listening to his Ghosts I-IV album when it came out in 2008, I would of been 17. For those who don’t know the album, it’s pretty experimental! It has no vocals, just detuned pianos and synths and a lot of strange industrial soundscapes. I’d never heard anything like it, I was captivated!
That was when I realised I wanted to learn how to manipulate sound. Trent Reznor treated music like an oil painting. He found colours and textures in the audio itself, not just the notes and lyrics. It changed my entire perspective around music. That was when I started thinking like a producer.
I wanna go check that album out now! 😉 In terms of writing “The Knife,” how did the songwriting process differ from your previous song projects? Did you focus more on the sound architecture as opposed to building around lyrics as most folk songwriters do, then?
Absolutely! The Knife was a completely new process for me. I normally write on guitar and sing vocals and lyrics over the top. This song was written almost entirely on the computer using Ableton Live. I started with that humming melody as I mentioned, then I added the piano chords and a drum loop, and by that point I knew I has something special. The vocal melody and lyrics came last.
Weirdly, those lyrics came out almost in one go. I’m finding more and more in my songwriting it’s almost like I’m channeling something rather than “writing” it. It sounds a bit strange, but I heard Sia talking about this the other day on the Tim Ferris Show. She talks about “getting out of the way” and trusting what ever comes out. This is how I feel as well. It’s like tapping into inspiration and trying to capture it without judging it. It’s amazing what can come out when you write that way.
This is something I absolutely agree with! Let them songs come to you! Will there be an album/EP coming out with more of your trip-hop music?
Hell yes! This track is the first of at least 3 singles I’ve got coming out in the next few months. Then I will be releasing them as part of a new EP. I’m so excited about it, I cannot wait!
Amazing! What is one thing you still want to learn?
Oh my gosh I still have so much to learn! Music is like a pandoras box! I think the main thing I’m still trying to master is programming drums. I understand how to do it theoretically, but getting my rhythms to sound groovy and human, is something that comes with a lot of practice. I try to pick out the rhythms in the songs I like, and tap them on my knees, just so I can start to internalise it. That’s the best way I know how to practice it.
You seem quite a perfectionist with regard to your art. How does this affect your creation process? What´s good, what is bad about it and how do you handle both aspects?
I could talk about this for hours, as it’s really something I’ve struggled with as an artist. Perfectionism is a driving force for me to achieve a very high standard, it motivates me to the point that I will spend hours on the finest details, and it always ensures I do my absolute best. That is the good side of it.
However, perfectionism has also been something that’s held me back my whole life. I have missed out on so many opportunities because I was afraid to put myself out there, for fear of not being good enough. That’s what perfectionism does. Elisabeth Gilbert calls it “fear in fancy shoes.” The times when I did put something out there, and it wasn’t received with absolute admiration, I would feel like a complete failure.
The biggest thing I’ve had to learn, is how to give things a go, and call them finished, despite their imperfections. That is the only way you can move forward. If you’re always working on songs but never finishing them, you stay stuck. But if you finish them, and put them out in the world, despite what other people think, that’s how you move forward as an artist. That’s where the real lessons are.
Great point! Besides being a singer/songwriter and producer you also teach songwriting and production to students online and offline around North Queensland. We had talked to you about your services before. What makes you so passionate about teaching?
I think I am so passionate about teaching because I had such a rough journey as a songwriter when I started. When I was a teenager my perfectionism had manifested into some very serious self esteem issues. It took me 6 years before I finished my first song. That was 6 years of thinking I wasn’t good enough. If I can help other songwriters to nurture their creativity and confidence instead of criticising it like I did, then I know I will have spared them from that pain, and hopefully I will of helped them create some really amazing music!
Being an artist and a teacher, what is one advice you would give to songwriters from all walks of life? One tip for our audience?
Be kind to yourself when you are creating. Talk to yourself like you would a friend, with encouragement and a sense of humour when things don’t go right. It’s that inner critic that destroys inspiration. It has no place in the creative process, only in the editing process. So try to seperate the two as much as possible.
Thank you so much Elise and best of success with your future projects!
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