Chats with Thomas: Elleodin’s unconventional mimesis

Chats with Thomas: Elleodin’s unconventional mimesis

 

Elleodin is a producer, vocalist, instrumentalist, and visual artist who hails from the UK. Between travel and making visual art, Lara Mason makes composes innovative, genre-bending downtempo music. Elleodin’s style has been described as emotionally dynamic and visually evocative, and these attributes stem in no small part from how she experiences our world—through color, travel, storytelling, and much more.

Where are you from, or with which region do you most identify?

I’m from the UK and I’m from England. And, I guess I feel British. [laughs]. I feel intertwined with the British music scene; there is no doubt it has affected my music. Like our humour, there’s a bit of darkness and grittiness to British music that you don’t find elsewhere, and I like that. I feel like I’m just me, but obviously Britain has shaped me.

 

You’ve done some travelling, too. Where all have you been?

Well, I lived in Japan for a year, and I’ve gone back quite a few times since. It was a formative experience. I had been wanting to go there for such a long time, more than any other place. When I finally did go there, it completely lived up to my expectations. It also coincided with me getting into music and making music. It was a good place to do that; I was somewhat separated from people, or at least more so than I had been in the UK. In some ways that sucked, but for a lot of my evenings, I really only had one thing to do, and that was to make music!

 

So, you were making music before you went to Japan?

Yeah, only just. I had been making music in my final year of university—and to be honest, I was procrastinating. [Laughs], I had always kind of wanted to record music—I used to write stuff on piano. Someone told me that GarageBand came with Macs, and I could do it from there. So I started with GarageBand, and I just got totally addicted to it. Then I got Logic pretty soon afterwards.

 

Was there a major transition between making music as a hobby and it being the main thing that you do besides visual art?

I think the main transition was in Japan, because I had the space to think about what I wanted to do. When I was at uni, I really wasn’t enjoying my photography course, but I wanted to to see it out. At that point I just wanted to get my degree and be done with it. By the final year I was certain that I didn’t want to do photography, but I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go—aside from going to Japan and maybe doing interpreting, since I was interested in culture and languages. Or, I thought, I could see where this music thing goes. I even considered a job in personal training, because I was super into running back then. But yeah, over the years it became clear that it was music that I wanted to do.

 

You said that in Japan you had more time to explore your music, personality, and interests. Was there anything in particular about Japanese art and culture that found its way into your work?

It’s just an inspiring place to be. Japan is still very much connected to it’s culture, history, folklore, and Shinto. And you can feel that. Something about it feels magical. Shinto in particular, it’s an interesting—I’m not even sure you would call it a religion; it’s more a way of thinking? —But it’s super interesting. I like the idea of having gates that border the physical and spiritual worlds. I can understand and connect with that a lot more than to what I was brought up to believe.

 

So, to what degree would you say folklore and spirituality have a place in your music and your daily life?

I mean, it definitely didn’t before, but it’s got a large part to play in the most recent album I’m writing. But, for example, in Iridescent, I don’t think there’s anything about spirituality at all. It’s more about imagery and atmosphere. In the case of “Jasmine,” I was creating a character, or in the case of “Tundra,” it was more about creating a place in my head. “Wing Commander Angel” is also about a person, but yeah, they’re not actual people; they’re just made-up characters in my head. It’s like I’m creating their theme tune, or trying to visualise and translate the feeling of a certain moment in their life. I prefer capturing a small moment, rather than a full ‘epic’.

 

You describe your music, at least with Iridescent, as kind of “capturing a moment.” What are some other ways you would describe your music to someone who has no idea about any of these genres?

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me and I’ve said, “It’s sort of like slowww electronic music.” [Laughs] But it is! It’s slow electronic music. And even though it’s electronic, I try to make it pretty organic and natural-sounding in a way. Slow electronic music, or downtempo music, in most cases, isn’t supposed to be danced to; it’s supposed to be listened to. And usually it’s pretty emotive as well.

 

I guess an alternative way to ask that question is, what words describe what your music does? For example, your music, for me, is very visual.

For me, definitely. It’s visual, completely. Like I said the other day, if I’m making a song, I find it really useful to look at a photograph or artwork and illustration. Then I just aim to make the song look like that. It’s definitely a visual process, so I guess it does come across that way.

 

Is that something that you’ve developed on your own or something that’s always been with you because of how you synesthetically experience sound?

No, I think that’s a synesthesia thing. I’ve always visualised music. Like, I remember from being really young—we used to have this classic rock album in the car, and I could listen to a song over and over again, because children can do that, but also because I would have movies going on in my head. I would just see things and be thinking of stories that would unfold with the music. I still work like that now. That’s why I enjoy music; it helps me to think up stories, and I love consuming stories.

I didn’t realise I had synesthesia until I started making music, and I would ask people, “What colour do you think this is?” And they were like, “What? What are you talking about?” [Laughs]

 

In what ways do you use synesthesia creatively?

Ever since I realised I had it, I’ve sort of been hacking it, or using it, because it really helps. If I have a clear colour that I want the song to be, it gives me a way to know what it’s supposed to look like. A photograph is even better; it’s an improvement on that. But if I start with a couple of colours first, I know where to start.

 

Which aspects of music give you certain responses? For example, modality gives me a lot of colour.

You know, modes don’t really do it for me. I think it depends on the instrument and vocals. It’s more the genre for me - the overall sound. For example, do you know Four Tet? He makes downtempo music, but it’s like an electronic structure with lots of organic instruments. He has one song, which is pretty much solely a hang drum. It’s so cool! I think you’d like it. Anyway, he uses a lot of lush, organic instruments, and those tend to come to me as turquoise, green, or blue. But with glitchy stuff, like if it sounds “crunchy,” most of the time that stuff will come to me as pink. Like… is it Crystal Castles? It’s so pink—pink, pink, pink. It’s bombarding me with pink, but I love it.

 

Have you ever found that you didn’t like some music because of the way that it looks or feels, even though it may otherwise be OK?

Um, people are going to kill me for this: Red Hot Chili Peppers. [Laughs]

What do you get from them that you don’t like?

It’s maroon, black, and white, which were the colours of my school uniform, so I don’t really enjoy the Red Hot Chili Peppers experience. It just doesn’t give me good vibes. Generally I don’t enjoy Mumford and Sons and stuff like that, because the colours come across as quite dull to me. There’s nothing vivid coming through.

 

I get that. I think that’s why I’ve always been drawn to psychedelic music, because it’s an explosion of different colours, shapes, and patterns. It’s ridiculously overwhelming. But then, a lot of indie or pop is just brown or pink. It’s just one colour. I mean, come on, can you give me at least two colours?

[Laughs] Yeah! That’s such a good response. I don’t find it all-encompassing, and it doesn’t draw me in in the same way. I can’t be transported, and that’s pretty boring to me. I like more cinematic music.

 

What kinds of cinematic music do you usually listen to?

Off the top of my head—do you know Phaeleh? He’s a British producer. I think he used to make maybe dubstep or trap, but as he went on, he started morphing into… you can’t even place it into a genre! I’ve spent so much time placing things into genres for Aviary, but I can’t really place him other than “cinematic.” I think he takes inspiration from classical music and uses a lot of those kinds of sounds. And the drums are really crisp and minimal. He creates an amazing atmosphere. I remember I was listening to his music while I was reading a fantasy book, and they sort of merged together in my head. His music is good for that, I think.

 

You mention that Phaeleh’s music combines different things together. I know that you like other music that does that. From I’ve heard of your music, I’ve always been impressed by how you combine different genres and sounds. Do you find that difficult?

There have been so many times where I want to do a song in a particular genre, and it just falls apart. And then I add other things that don’t belong, and suddenly it’s not that genre anymore. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to make things in one genre.

Do you remember years ago when we did the Autumn compilation? It was supposed to be a lo-fi compilation, so I tried to make a lo-fi song.  I did manage it in the end, but it wasn’t proper lo-fi. I don’t know. I just couldn’t do it. [Laughs] Especially at that point, I’m way too tempted to add layers and layers and layers. I really like sound-heavy stuff.

 

What kind of sounds inspire you to integrate them in to a new song?

I fucking love hang drums. I just love hang drums. But, first of all, they’re so expensive, and second of all, it’s just so much effort to learn another instrument. I can’t imagine getting to a point where I could be good at it. I wish I had a friend who could play the hang drum, and I would just use them in all my music. Apart from a hang drum, recently I’ve been really liking analog synths.

I went into a music shop the other day, and I found my dream synth! It was a Moog One, a big wooden thing. I was looking at other things, like a Prophet. And I could see the price was like £3,000, and I thought, nah I wouldn’t get that even if I had enough money. I had been playing around with it, but I wasn’t very happy with the sounds I was getting; they were very digital and synthetic. So, I thought, I’ll try a Moog. I saw that it was about the same size as the Prophet, so I reckoned it would be about £3,000 again. Again, not possible for me, but a girl can dream! I tried it, and instantly, it was perfect; such a pure, analog sound. I find the OP-1 is like that, there’s such a pure sound that’s different from anything I can produce with the Maschine. It just sounds imperfect, in a good way. So, the Moog was amazing! Totally absorbing. Guess how much?

How much?

£7,400. I thought, oh my God, that’s more than my car! But it’s my perfect instrument! Apparently I have expensive tastes. I can totally see why people love them. There’s just something about them.

Have you heard of an album called Plantasia?

I don’t think so.

It’s by Mort Garson. There was a trend in the 70’s where you’d get albums for silly things, basically as a gift you’d give someone. This album called Plantasia was an album meant to help your plant grow, yeah? There were albums in the 70’s like this, made for a specific purpose. I think there was a study at the time that suggested that plants might like music. Mort Garson made Plantasia for plants—and again, it had one purpose. But now there’s a huge cult following for it. People love it! And I think it was made on a Moog. To be fair, it is really good to listen to! But it’s just funny because it wasn’t designed to have a cult following like that. I think he’s dead now, so he never saw the how many people adore that album now.

 

Do you think you would personally more enjoy a cult following or a more general fanbase?

Oh, a cult following all the way. I don’t think my music is ever going to be appeal to a large amount of people. I’m someone who gets obsessed with certain things, and I feel like some people would have to be like that to listen to my music, but maybe I’m wrong. Like I said before, I think people like it for yoga and stuff. [Laughs]

 

What’s your least favourite thing that people say about your music? I know we’ve talked about “yoga music” and “sleep music” before.

The one I get all the time is one you’ve told me you’ve had about your music as well: “Ah, you’re music is so relaxing!”

 

Some music is meant to be passive, and some is meant to be active, but you can passively or actively listen to both. When people say a more active style of music is just “relaxing,” it’s glossing over it all with a very passive value.

Yes! That’s the thing, I want it to be active. I’m active in it; I’m thinking through it quite a lot, and I get absorbed by it. And when it doesn’t have that same affect, or people just passively put it in the background, I think, what have I done wrong?

 

I think the other side of that, at least in downtempo, is that it’s multifaceted. You can enjoy it at the surface level as something relaxing one day, and then have a more emotional and intellectual experience with it the next day. I think that’s a strength of downtempo—it can do a bit of both.

Yeah, I think that’s true actually. When I’m listening to downtempo, sometimes I’m properly listening to it, like while I’m walking the dog or something, and I get really absorbed into it. Other times I’ll put it on while I’m doing stuff around the house just because I want some music on. It’s not like it has to command my attention, but it definitely has the potential to, if I’m in that kind of mood.

I get that, and I agree. You know, I think the thing I get that bothers me is, “Oh, dude, I wanna smoke to this!”

See, I would take that more as a compliment. If I wanted to smoke weed, I’d want to listen to music, too. Everything slows down and you can properly hear details. That was pretty much the only time I ever used to listen to Asura. But yeah, I’d take it as a compliment, because people really want to zoom into the details of your music, and they want to get absorbed by it. Weed helps them to fully concentrate on it.

 

Yeah, you’re absolutely right! I’ve had people tell me they trip to my music, and I take that as a compliment. When you trip, whatever is in your head becomes your whole reality. So, if they trust my music to guide them through that, I take it as a compliment.

Exactly. Years ago we had some shrooms, but I was freaked out that I’d see something and it would make me panic, because my brain just does that. But the way we went about avoiding that was to put on Ozric Tentacles, and it was great! It definitely helped to set the right vibe. You can’t freak out when you listen to Ozric Tentacles.

 

What were some recent milestones that led to your current place in life and music?

Setting up Aviary with Leon has been a huge help with my own music. Having that perspective of the music industry as an artist is really helpful. I think it would have been easy to give up if I wasn’t doing Aviary. It taught me that even if you’re not good now, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be good later. You just need to keep improving and keep at it. It sounds cheesy, but you haven’t failed until you’ve actually decided you’re going to stop. After a while, you see that people get worried over the same things, and it just seems clear that the people who keep going in spite of those things reach the next stage. You just have to be determined to do it.

A family member gave me some advice when I first started. I was always a perfectionist. I’d release something, and then think, “I might take it down and improve it,” or because I didn’t think it was good anymore. They just said, “Look. When you’re doing something creative, your old stuff is always going to sound bad to you.” It just is, because with each song, or artwork or whatever, you improve, and you can’t stop yourself from improving, so the old stuff is always going to look bad compared to the new stuff. There’s no point in freaking out about it and trying to change it. It’s in the past and you did the best you could at the time. Instead of worrying about it trying to redo it until it’s perfect, get on with the new stuff. I could’ve easily just worked on my first three songs for eternity. [laughs] But once something is done, it’s done, and I just move on to the next thing.

Basically, they just taught me to let it go. Before that, I had been working on the first three songs I released on SoundCloud for a year or two. I would never do that now. Oops, I say that, but there was a song on Iridescent that did take a year and a half, but I wouldn’t aim to do that now.

 

I know that you’re working on some new stuff. Is there anything we can hope to see from you this year?

Well, I’m writing an album which is completely different from Iridescent in the way I’m working with it. I went to Japan earlier, in October 2019. I did lots of field recordings, note-taking and OP-1 drafts. It’s based on Japan and that trip, and whatever ideas or concepts came to mind back then. But, this album is going to be way more… melody based? Like I said before I think Iridescent was about making immersive soundscapes, whereas I’m trying to keep it more minimal now. With Iridescent, I just did whatever came to mind, whereas I’m putting a lot more research into this album. 

Back when I was doing photography, you had to keep workbooks. In a way, the research is much more important than the work itself. Any work you did couldn’t just come out of thin air; you had to show how you got there. With Iridescent, I just brought it out of thin air. With the Japan album, whatever it’s going to be called, I want to be able to show exactly how I got there. I’m making a sketch book for it! Which sounds really sad, but I always used to like making a sketch book. It’s not just a new way of doing it; I want to see how it goes, putting a lot research into it and really informing the tracks. Even with all the instruments, there has to be a reason for everything. I’m not just going layer and layer and layer; I want everything to sound right. I want each part to have a reason to be there and be as organic a possible. I also want to play a lot more bass on this album and I think I’m going to be using the keyboard a lot more than the Maschine this time.

Are you going to play any £7,000 Moogs on this album?

I keep thinking in my head, maybe I can finance it! Maybe I can sell my car! [laughs] But think of all the travelling you could do with £7,000! If someone out there could gift me this synthesiser, I would be forever grateful.

That’s the eternal struggle.

Don’t let your dreams be dreams!