It is an absolute honor and privilege to introduce Kathleen Elle to our Music monthly audience. This multi-talented up and coming artist truly represents a fresh new sound. Her mastery of both the guitar and piano along with her unique rhythms and breaks will hold your interest song after song. I have had the pleasure of hearing her play at several different venues and without fail she grabs the attention of the entire audience. I have little doubt that once you listen to this fresh sound you will agree when I say that she will be around for a long time and embraced by the music world.
Kathleen Elle...welcome to Musicmonthly.com.
MM: Kathleen, when did you first realize that music was going to be such an important influence in your life? Who are your greatest influences?
KE: If I had to pick a single moment where I realized music was going to be a major component of my life, it's when I got a YouTube comment from a girl on the other side of the world, that a song I wrote saved her life. My journey up until that moment was that of a typical kid, although one who constantly sang.
If you ask my parents, I was born singing. And if you ask my brother, he'll tell you he wished I would shut up! At the age of 3, I sang "Part of Your World," at the top of my lungs for the entire 12 hour car ride to Hilton Head (stopping only to vomit from car sickness). There are countless home videos of me as a toddler making up nonsense songs and dancing around the kitchen. I never took music seriously growing up though. I was the kid who quit piano lessons because my teacher wouldn't let me play Disney songs, and who gave up on self teaching the guitar a couple of times. The guitar finally stuck at the age of 10, when my mom hired a local high school kid to teach me. After I learned a few chords, I had an accompaniment for my singing. I soon learned every Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Billboard Top 10 song I could, and would play and sing until my fingers bled. Although unwilling to play for anyone but close family at first, by age 13 I was busking outside an Italian ice shop at the Jersey Shore. It wasn't until high school, when I took an extra curricular music writing course that I discovered I could write my own pop songs, and that they were actually pretty good.
Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga were probably my biggest influences for wanting to write my own music and send a positive message with it. I knew how a song could pick me up when I was feeling down. One night when I was 15, after having bad day at school, I started writing the chorus to my song "Don't Let Them In," almost as a mantra to myself. It soon developed into an anti-bullying anthem to fill a void I noticed in anti-bullying programs in schools. All the assemblies I attended focused on getting the bullies to stop and/or the bystanders to stand up, but never spoke directly to victims. From any bullying I witnessed, the bullies were looking for a reaction, and no matter what they told the victim to do or change, the bullying would never stop. My song's message is that sometimes people are just going to be mean no matter how hard you try to change it, so don't change who you are for anyone. Just surround yourself with people who love you for you, and drown out the bullies with the acceptance of yourself.
I recorded the song, put it up on youtube, and soon received messages from people all around the world about how the song empowered them to face their bullies. The most impactful comment was from a 15 year old girl in the Philippines who told me she found the song while contemplating suicide for the second time due to chronic bullying, and that my song saved her life. It was at that moment that I understood I had the talent, just like Lady Gaga with "Born This Way," and Taylor Swift with "Mean," to change someone's life with my music! It was an incredible feeling and I knew then that writing and performing music was going to be my career.
"Don't Let Them In," went on to win the Seventeen Magazine & Secret Deodorant Mean Stinks Contest, the Abercrombie & Fitch Anti-bullying $10,000 Scholarship, the Lincoln Center Art Propels the World Contest, and the ElfenWorks Campus MovieFest Social Justice Music Award. Three other of my songs, that eventually ended up on my first EP "Helium," gained me acceptance into the National YoungArts Foundation in the Singer-Songwriter category. National YoungArts is a foundation of established, professional artists that mentors talented teens aspiring to a career in the arts, and include notable mentors such as Robert Redford, Josh Groban, Nikki Minaj, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
These accolades and recognitions helped reinforce my belief in my own talent, and drove me to want to learn even more about music composition for all genres of music. It also helped convince my parents to allow me to major in Music. I attended the music conservatory at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts, where I double majored in Music Education and Music Composition. There I developed my knowledge of theory and arranging, which helped me not only write all the songs on my new album, but self-produce and arrange it as well!
MM: What was the first instrument that you learned to play? Do you have a favorite?
KE: The first instrument I took lessons on was piano at 4 years old, but quit at about 6 years old due to the lack of Disney songs in my teacher's repertoire. I picked it back up at 8 years old, but again became disinterested. Wanting some accompaniment for my constant singing around the house, my mom got me lessons on guitar at 10 from a local high school student. He did a great job of teaching me chords quickly and showed me a website where I could find the chords to any pop song I wanted. From that moment on, I practiced constantly, however, I was extremely hesitant to perform in front of anyone outside my family. It took a lot of pushing for me to start busking at an ice cream store down the shore when I was 13. As my confidence started to build from the crowds reaction each night, so did my guitar skills, which is why my preferred instrument to play out with is guitar.
Once I took the music writing course at my high school, my parents couldn't pull me away from the piano or guitar. They would joke that from the time I got through the door to when they heard music playing was never more than 30 seconds!
MM: When did you first start writing music and lyrics? Are you inspired more from your personal life or by friends? Or both?
KE: The material for my songs come from various influences. My first few songs came from stories I'd make up about relationships, because I was only 14 and had never actually been in one. As I grew up and had a bit more of life under my belt, my songs became more personal, which actually made my writing process a lot slower. It was hard for me to express what I was feeling and share it with others. My song "Helium," came out of a string of rejections and short comings my Junior and Senior years of high school. I remember being so hurt by friends and circumstances, and crying to my mom, until finally she said, "write a song about it." Songs like that are always the hardest to perform live, and hear on the EP/album, but once they are finished, it's freeing.
MM: What inspired you and where did the idea of Brainwaves come from?
KE: The song Brainwaves came to me in many bits and pieces and took about 6 months to complete. Ironically, it came to me at a point where I was the only single person in my apartment of 4 girls. I wondered if I would ever find that perfect love everyone dreams of: that person who you think of as soon as you wake up, want to taste before coffee, and who brings the first smile to your face. They'd be the one who finally loves you exactly as you are, as compared to prior "so called loves," where you settled and accepted the love you thought you deserved, ignoring "truths that others observe." I think I wrote it to remind to myself to wait for that perfect someone, and to not settle for anything less.
MM: What do you hope the listeners feel when they hear the tracks of Brainwaves?
KE: I want my listeners to feel a connection. We all basically go through the same stories, just with different characters. Who hasn't longed for the perfect love described in "Brainwaves?" Who hasn't gone through a break up and can't find a way to move on like in "Just Not Yet?" Who hasn't been hyper aware of PDA as a single person in a park or restaurant like in "Somebody?" I think all we want as humans is to share and listen to experiences because we find comfort in knowing we are not alone.
MM: Do you have any new projects in the works?
KE: I've got a few new songs that I'm finishing up and starting to arrange, that will hopefully be recorded and ready for this summer and fall. I'm also working on making lyric and music videos, including one project with modern dancers to a song off the album.
MM: What are your aspirations regarding your musical career in the future? Could you share your dreams with us?
KE: My biggest aspiration for the future is to increase the number of people I reach with my music. It's such an awesome feeling when someone comes up to me and says much they love a song on "Brainwaves." In that brief moment, we connect about how the song made them feel, helped them get through something, and what inspired me to write it. Every conversation and take is unique, and inspires me to want to create more.
For the short term, I'd love to tour, perhaps as an opener, and make new fans, new connections, and gain new experiences to write about. I've been applying to a few music festivals, and hoping to hear back from them soon! I'm also looking to sync license my music to TV and film. I just received exciting news that music from my album has been accepted to one of the major music sync licensing companies, and contracts are being signed as we speak! When music is paired up with video it has such a powerful influence on the emotional experience for the audience. It would be so cool to have a song of mine enhance a scene of one of my favorite TV shows or and an upcoming movie. As for one of my wildest dreams, I'd love to get the opportunity to collaborate with one of my idols like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Jason Mraz, and/or Sara Bareilles.