The MIC is very excited to sit down with Elle, an Italian producer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter. From his journey working with a major label, being in a band, becoming a humanitarian, and releasing his own solo music, we discuss it all in an exclusive interview with Stef from The MIC!
SJ: Welcome, Elle! Thank you so much for joining us on The MIC!
EL: Thank you, Stef, for having me here!
SJ: As soon as I read a little bit of your background, I was instantly intrigued. Just to set the framework for everyone reading, you’re an Italian producer, musician, and songwriter currently based in Scotland. You made your musical debut in 1999 as a songwriter for BMG and EMI. Tell us what that experience was like and how you got started in the music industry.
EL: At that time, I was playing in clubs in Rome with my band. I took our demo to a local radio station and gave it to a DJ. He listened to the CD and passed it on to his friend, Paolo D’Alessandro, telling him that he had found a little gem. Paolo had gone from an independent record label to BMG publishing, and as soon as he listened to the demo, he wanted to meet me. He became my manager. Soon, I had a publishing deal with BMG on the table and, less than a year later, a recording deal with EMI Music. I could not believe it. In a year, I had passed from the garage to release my debut album with a major label.
SJ: So you found success pretty early on. From being one of the first rappers in Rome to winning the “Best New Artist” award in Italy to MTV features. Were there specific pressures associated with these victories, or just pure excitement?
EL: I don’t know if I was the first rapper in Rome, but I was certainly among the very first. I was a child. It was exciting to see the rap scene born in Italy. It was an original way, for the time, to convey our emotions, our experiences. I spent a lot of years playing in the club, but then, at one point, it all happened very quickly. Having a successful debut album has not only generated pressure but also a feeling that is difficult to explain: you find yourself inside a vortex. Thousands of people greet you, ask you for autographs, offer you contracts, love you, and hate you. Until the day before, when you had the appeal of a nerd, and the day after, everyone was looking for you. The success comes with an incredible challenge: to hold in mind, tightly, the values that have brought you up to that point. I’ve seen a lot of people get lost. Getting lost in so many different ways.
SJ: After working with two major labels, you studied Oud and Middle Eastern music at the historic Arrigo Pedrollo Converatory in Vicenza, Italy. Both those areas of study are quite unique and a significant change from your original love, rap. What inspired this path?
EL: Even when I was a rapper, I loved both performing with my DJ and with the band. Music, created on the spot, fascinated me as much as a freestyle. It was the result of a wave that came from inside. Over time, I wanted to discover that way of expressing myself. I wanted to learn a new language. Has it ever happened to you? It’s amazing when you can express yourself in a language other than yours. For me, that was music: expressing myself in another language. I started studying music theory. At one point, while continuing to love Western music, I needed to completely shift my center of gravity, get out of my comfort zone. New musical scales, new sounds: I was looking for a new way to tell my thoughts through music. The sound of the Middle East had always intrigued me, so I approached the oud, the Arabic lute, and I joined the only Oud course in a Conservatory in Italy, at The Arrigo Pedrollo Conservatory, in Vicenza. But I’ve never forgotten where I come from. I am the whole, and not the sum, of the moments I experienced.
SJ: Following your studies, you began an incredible humanitarian project supporting Syrian refugee children, titled‘‘Farida and Bashi” in Lebanon. How was this project born, and what is your mission behind it?
EL: Farida and Bashir is a project raised from exigency, rather than the need, to do something for those who were suffering from the war in Syria. I wondered what I could do. I first thought, then verified, that music can be a way to dissolve tensions in difficult humanitarian contexts. Maybe a choral singing class could be a way to ease the tension between the host communities and the Syrian refugees. And so it was. Children are the most vulnerable victims in the event of a war. The experience of living away from their own home, as refugees, can have long-term repercussions on youth. I wanted to put all my effort into being able to do my part. Not just in words. The overall objective of this project is to promote intercultural dialogue and exchange between cultures and civilizations. I wrote and carried out the project together with two amazing women, two researchers, Francesca Amerio and Aurora Leo, who helped me to realize the project and came with me to Mount Chouf in Lebanon to realize the singing class. Thanks to Intersos, one of the most important Italian humanitarian agencies, we were able to carry out the project.
SJ: Aside from all of these other endeavors, you’ve also released your own music. Your latest EP, Rise, was just released last month. How does this venture differ from your previous ones?
EL: This new EP was released after I moved to Scotland. For me, it’s kind of a new debut. End of the World, released in 2019 just before the pandemic, and is the first English song of my life. I decided to start a new path; also, thanks to the long period spent in the UK, to take a degree in music and, thus, to start writing with British authors. The sound has also changed, perhaps more mature; certainly, it expresses personal research that has lasted for years now. A dark sound, which seeks, in the gloom, what does not immediately catch the eye. Something precious that must be sought.
SJ: For Rise, you worked with the Italian producer and an active member of the band Delta V since the ’90s, Flavio Ferri. How has working with him shaped this EP? How is it different working with Ferri than producing yourself?
EL: Flavio Ferri is an incredible musician. We have a relationship of mutual respect that has been going on for years. He is the kind of producer who manages to identify the essential elements of composition and, with his production, highlights the nuances. He gets straight to the point. For me, he represents a very original point of view and an added value to my composition. His punk rock background meets my hip hop/black roots, always generating unexpected atmospheres. He is a producer who always looks for a fil rouge in his productions. Someone would call it the "concept" of the compositions. I don’t like that word. I prefer "fil roug"; it is more poetic. Words are pearls. Words are weapons.
SJ: Let’s jump into the tracks. You’ve said each of the three tracks of the album is influenced by different musical genres. Let’s start with “One More Play” As the first track of the EP, it is an eerie start, complete with bellowing vocals. What genre were you drawing from, and how would you explain its message?
EL: Honestly, there is no conscious choice made upstream regarding the genres to refer to. One More Play is the second song from my EP “Rise.” It’s a call, maybe a thought, a hope of “one more play.” A series of dark days surround the character of the story. He only hopes for a new day, a clean state. But all of a sudden comes an idea inside the mind of the protagonist: maybe he is not that bad. Maybe it’s just fever.
SJ: “Rise” is the second and also title track. This one is more hardcore than the previous one and incorporates the oud. The entrance of this instrument is so unexpected and uncommon that it creates a worldly and unparalleled vibe. What inspired this track?
EL: I was jamming with the oud, and suddenly this part came out. Obsessive, repetitive, but surprisingly, it never seemed the same. I found myself playing it for several minutes and thought it might be a riff. I had already written the lyrics for “Rise,” and I started singing, improvising on the riff. The demo was just there: oud and voice. So, I sent the recording to my producer. He loved the demo right away. "Rise" is a song that makes you love it: it’s energetic, it’s something you could sing as you go about your daily personal battle. The idea that it could be the soundtrack of a personal rebirth appealed to me. A personal rebirth that does not need the man in power or religions to tell you what is right to do. Human beings are born sane and, if they do not lose their original beauty, they are able to make their choices naturally, without having to follow any dogma. But there’s a glimpse entangled in the mesh: the original beauty, if lost, can be regained. So, Rise!
SJ: The final track, “Hold the Pen,” is the most gentle. A soft ending track, highlighting the soothing tambour of your voice. Tell us about how this track developed.
EL: Thank you for using the word gentle. “Hold the Pen” is inspired by the very last moments of a great painter. I don’t know if the story is true, but I like to think so. This great artist used to say that as long as he held a pencil in his hand, he would have lived. At the last minute of his life, he asked his partner to take a pencil for him, and immediately afterward, he died. The written sign, a vital element for the mind of a human being. The lyrics also reflect on time and its flow. An attempt to research the shades through which time flows. Research began with the Album “Altered Reality,” in 2k20, a feature album from Ferri, together with Simone Cicconi – an Italian artist - and me. In “Hold the Pen,” the time of human life is put in relation to the written signs.
SJ: Who were your biggest influences and inspiration for this EP?
EL: I do not know. A journalist who listened to the EP said that there is a melancholy that does not remove positivity and that the music moves between 90’s influences, PWEI above all, where electronic and indie rock remember David Sylvian. I honestly don’t know. I grew up with Public Enemy and Tupac on one side and Bowie on the other and ended up studying oud with a more Hendrix-like attitude than a model student. I do not know. My influences are my readings, the movies I see, the places I visit, the people I meet. I do not know, can I answer the question later in my life?
SJ: You’ve moved a lot, all over the globe. From producing albums in France and Germany, to your studio in Barcelona, to your latest residence in Scotland. Does moving around keep you inspired or hinder your creativity?
EL: My home is everywhere. Working in Ferri’s studio in Barcelona, born from his dream of creating a studio where producing the music with friends, me and Olden – an Italian songwriter, is exciting. I have been a lot in New York when I was a kid and all-around Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and more. The cultural intertwine fuel for me. I love human beings. I love to experience different cultures; I love who’s different from me. The differences for me are a plus, a way to enrich yourself. To boost your creativity. The fantasy, our creativity, is something that we can enrich every day. All of us. Everyone, not just the artists. When you dream, you use your fantasy to elaborate on what happens to you, for example. And it is a fantasy because maybe you had a fantastic gig, then you go to sleep and dream that you met an amazing person and you made love. You use your fantasy to say something. It’s a language to express yourself, and it needs fantasy. Again, a new language.
SJ: If you were to describe this EP in your own words, what would you say?
EL: It’s the most intimate music I wrote until now, and it has all my experience in it. Love, compassion, hope, personal researches. Something that you can listen to while making love or while dealing with your personal revolution.
SJ: What’s next for Elle after Rise?
EL: I am a hard worker; I write a lot. I would love to get my music out in the world, on stage. I’m gonna be in the studio in a couple of months to record the follow-up for Rise. Also, I met a lot of new people in Scotland, amazing artists. So, maybe there’s new music with new people, for me, in the future. I want to continue my project for Syrian Children Refugees, and I would love to produce a new artist.
SJ: Thank you so much for joining us to talk on The MIC. We’re looking forward to hearing more from you!
Stream Elle's Rise below!