BY VIKASH DASS
Elhae is more important than you think he is. In a year where every other week a major artist is dropping release after release, Elhae has managed to not only stay afloat as an unsigned artist, but also quietly dominate the internet. With his recently released EP being filled to the brim with silky-smooth traditional R&B melodies over ethereal yet explosive instrumentals not to far removed from Soundcloud’s beat culture, Elhae’s latest release Aura EP is a project that effectively balances relatable and traditional content and songwriting with genre-stretching production. Coincidentally, Elhae has aligned himself with one of the biggest heavy-hitters in online beat culture, the LA-based Soulection collective. Although he isn’t listed as being officially apart of the collective, he remains affiliated and holds friendships with many notable artists and DJs involved.
Aura EP is a time-capsule of sorts for Elhae. The project delves into the makings and emotional tensions of a transitional time in his life, with songs delving into the intensities of passionate attractions, as well as the hardships of loves lost. Aura EP is honest, reflective, and ultimately catches the ear initially with it’s familiar 90’s R&B aesthetics, but has fans staying because of his sultry and soulful approach.
Meet Elhae, a young and talented artist from the South who might have just made the best project you haven’t heard yet this year.
It’s been just over two months since you premiered your Aura EP project with Noisey in February. Reflect a little bit on your experiences and feelings these last couple months, and how you see the project now?
I knew from the very beginning that AURA was special. There’s just moments in life where things line up, and I felt the timing was right when releasing it. That being said, the reception has been phenomenal and it’s gotten me to travel a bit and perform these songs I spent so much time working on. It’s a great feeling. I see the project as a great stepping stone for me.
The songwriting on Aura EP feels very intimate and personal, all with the appeal of major pop-R&B melodies. Talk about this balance and the decision to make Aura EP sonically your most accessible work yet.
It really wasn’t anything pre-meditated. These were songs I would go in and just vibe to. I’m in a phase where I like singing a bit more. Rapping is always fun, but melodies drive these records, and are more memorable if we’re being honest. It wasn’t until the project was done where I stood back and said to myself “this is pretty personal stuff”. I feel like people relate to that more though, I love giving people soundtracks to life, because at the end of the day we all deal with this kind of stuff.
Does Aura EP do a good job of defining the sound of Elhae, or would you say this is simply a piece of what you can offer as an artist?
I’d say both. I love the sound AURA offers, however I wouldn’t say that’s what you should expect 2 or 3 years down the line. I’m always evolving, as a creative and as a person, so i’m not sure what an Elhae project will sound like later but right now I think the sound is good so we’ll see (laughs).
What kind of headspace were you in while you were writing Aura EP?
Kind of all over the place. I was more in a reminiscent state of mind. Thinking about past issues and present feelings. The evolution of emotions. It can get deep, but for the most part I was just trying to be as transparent as possible. Not only for fans listening, but for myself as well. AURA is something I can listen to years from now and say “I remember that, I remember feeling that way.”
How long did it take to record the EP, and what was that process like?
It was pretty easy actually. I started around October or November of last year (2014), and wrapped it up late January. It was a situation where the people around me, my team, we were hungry. We knew this could be a great stepping stone for us, so we were all ready to work and get it done. A lot of back and forths with my producers, and a lot of time spent mixing with my engineer, making sure sonically it was up to par. I’d say about 90% of it was freestyled so it got done fairly quickly.
Talk about the production on the record. Who are the producers involved, and how much of the production do you handle yourself?
Well there’s my right hand man, Ayo the Producer, and my other buddy Rascal. They carried the load. My homie Gravez did one track as well called “Time For You”, but for the most part Ayo and Rascal did a great job with understanding the sound I wanted. I took a step back and did more arranging than anything. I made sure the live guitar was here, or the violin and sax was there. I was very hands on with how I wanted the overall project to sound. Those two did a great job with listening and executing.
All your projects you’ve offered on Soundcloud are 8 tracks long. Talk about having shorter, concise projects—do you think great projects can say more with less?
I never even noticed that (laughs). Maybe it’s a subconscious thing. I don’t know man, I just always want to leave the listener saying “wow, that was good, I wish it was longer.” I want fans to want a part 2, or 3, or 4. That’s the goal.
Is being an artist your sole focus right now?
At the moment yes, I of course want to do other things, but I want to make sure I finish the plate before adding more to it.
Let’s talk about home plate, Atlanta. What’s it like growing up in one of the most musically diverse cities in the world?
I actually didn’t grow up here, I moved here about 4 years ago, but I grew up in a small town outside of Atlanta called Warner Robins, GA. That being said I traveled here a lot as a kid. I just remember the tall buildings and the music at that time wasn’t really what I was feeling. It was what I like to call the “snap era” (laughs). When I moved here I began to develop of love for the sound and what the city has to offer. It’s so many talented guys out here it’s really ridiculous if you sit back and think about it. I love it here though.
With acclaim and buzz surrounding any project, labels and industry-talk are soon to follow. Have any labels reached out? What’s your ideology on selling music and being apart of a label? Do you think it’s necessary in music’s current climate?
Yeah, we’ve had a few labels reach out. I think it’s cool if the situation is right. At this point it really isn’t necessary, however I will say there are a few things labels can do that may be a bit more difficult to do as an indie. It’s all about timing and understanding on both parties on where you see your career heading.
How would you describe the record label/collective Soulection’s involvement in your career?
I love those guys to no end man. Really amazing group of people, and i’ll forever be loyal to the soil with them. Hannah Faith and Sango was the first to really get on board then after awhile the whole crew. Then when I met everyone in LA it was just the most amazing vibe i’ve ever had around people.
You recently did some live sets with Soulection at SXSW. What was that whole experience like, and what’s next in terms of touring and live shows for Elhae?
Yeah it was great, SXSW is always fun. Getting to mob around with the homies. We’re working on putting together a little tour now, but it’s in the early stages, so you’ll have to stay tuned regarding that.
Let’s talk about what’s next. How do you plan to follow up Aura EP? Is the new music you’ve been recording a departure from what Elhae fans are used to?
Not sure, guess you’ll have to wait and see.
Well, speaking on what’s next, you recently posted a picture of André 3000 on Instagram saying “At the root of it all I watch you be you, and it motivates me to be me. You’ve inspired what’s to come.” Talk about the sentiments behind this post and 3 Stacks’ influence on your life and your artistry.
I sat up one night and listened to almost every song he’s been apart of. Then I watched mad interviews, and just his poise is so cool man. I was thinking man, I really want to do that. I want to do that but in my own way. Just be me, and people appreciate it like they do 3 stacks. I was just really inspired, thats where that post came from.
Where do you see Elhae headed by the end of 2015?
I’m not one to jump the gun, but i’d hope a lot further than where I am currently (laughs).
Where do the plans for an album stand? Does that process start with a label first, or would you be interested in releasing a free album?
I’m torn on that actually, because the ideas I have for my first album is so vast I really don’t want to do it on my own. I’d rather do it with a backing behind it. However only time will tell. Until then you’ll get more singles, and videos coming.
You’ve said before that it wasn’t until you saw Pharrell’s ‘Frontin’ video that you knew you wanted to pursue music. So, talk about meeting Pharrell a while back and what that experience did for your life.
Craziest thing man, It was even better because it was a surprise. Everyone that knows me knows that guy is my hero so when I finally got to meet him, and not only meet him, have a conversation with him, it was one of the best days of my life. He gave me great advice and I got to pick his brain a bit. It was amazing and it made me that much more motivated to go out and pursue this dream.
Elhae stands for “Every Life Has An Ending”. How does this apply to your everyday life?
It’s just motivation. There’s days where I don’t want to work, I don’t want to write, I don’t want to be in the studio. As corny as it sounds it really does motivate me when I think about it, and I hope it does the same for other people. Life is really short, and I just want to be able to fulfill my dreams before God says, “it’s time to go.”