Q & A WITH ELSA HEWITT

Photo credit: Darius Williams

Elsa Hewitt has been praised for her ability to build and experiment with sounds in a synaesthetic way, and the newest album in her extensive repertoire can almost be seen as much as it’s heard. Citrus Paradisi is set to be released on March 1st 2019, and its most recent single, 'Blood Orange', is a sonic landscape of effervescence and abstraction.

In 2018 Hewitt was selected by Gilles Peterson to produce tracks for the Future Bubblers 2.0 record and was commissioned to make and perform work for the Open Music Archive, as well as The Jazz Cafe. She has built up her career completely independently. Driven by a seemingly unstoppable need to create establishes Hewitt a force to be reckoned with and watched with a keen eye.

On Thursday February 28th, Hewitt will play at intimate left-field Hackney venue The Glove That Fits. Support comes from PRS Steve Reid, InNOVAtion Award winner Hector Plimmer, and DJ sets from Junior XL (Curl) and SLOW DANCE til' late. You can get your tickets here.

Here's what Elsa had to say ahead of her gig:

1. Tell us all about your new single.

'Blood Orange' came about when I started recording some guitar in a different room. I ended up creating the main ingredients of Blood Orange and Rolling in Your Wall. After adding the other musical elements and some words, I did a sort of sonic illustration process with a bunch of sound objects such as recordings from my wild and mysterious garden that I currently have, including the trademark South London plane-flying-over sound that you can get at any time of any day, and the same BMW engine that reappears in the second half of the album in ‘Pop Tuna’. It ended up as a song about the irony of living in a concrete jungle whilst simultaneously becoming closer and more tuned in to nature and the earth… particularly at a time when it is being ruined by our luxurious living standards. I keep my lyrics open and poetic enough to leave room for the listener to draw their own meanings from it. Although there are connotations and sometimes references that I expect people will pick up on, there is always room to look at them from other perspectives.

2. What can an audience expect from your live set? 

Some mixing, live-looping, alternative and new parts to songs, occasionally an improvisational jam, and some stripped-back versions of tracks. Something like “a magical journey through an enchanted forest”. I play unreleased bits- some that will come out and some that will remain exclusively for live sets. I also try to do something different for every show- mainly because it makes it more exciting for me and I keep finding new possibilities each time. I also try to adapt the content according to the kind of vibe the gig is, that’s one of the benefits of having so much material.

3. What inspires your songwriting process, and how do you approach it? 

I am inspired by the day. I like to jam and the mess with the jams. I record lyrical ideas day-to-day in my phone or notebook, or I just think them and forget them on a day-to-day basis. For electronic things I can also browse through ideas and seeds that I have previously planted to inspire my future-self, find something I like and work on that. I don’t settle for anything unless I can envision it turning into something good, or it already is something good. Once I have found something I like, I keep focussed on that idea while I do the work to turn it from inner-voice into reality.

4. What sort of imagery inspires you? 

I suppose they are either dreamlike or memory-driven. But there is simultaneously something that I can only describe as patterns, shapes, colours and movements that are subtle but seem to guide the development of the track, and whole album. It influences everything but I don’t know what it is. It’s too abstract to talk about in detail without sounding kinda self-indulgent.

5. How have you managed to be so prolific? You've created more albums than many musicians who've been going for far longer than you! 

The short answer - autopilot. I started self-producing when I was about 14, and have always had an insatiable urge to record songs and layer it up. Aside from that history, the productivity from the point people are familiar with is explained by the fact that so much changed in a short amount of time, meaning that I went through several phases, all of which resulted in different collections of music.

6. What inspired you to move from guitar-based to electronic music?

I consumed a great deal of new electronic music. I bought a synthesiser and used it to make ‘Hotel Rosemary’, that was like the crossover point between singer-songwriter and electronic. Even though my music would become increasingly electronic-sounding, I have still used guitar a lot to make it. It is often effectively still guitar-based electronic music.

7. Who would be your dream collaborator or who would you love to produce? 

Probably someone like Miles Davis or Arvo Part.

8. What would your advice be to anyone, especially young women, about starting out in the industry?

Be prepared to work really hard. PRSF are really good for funding artists just starting out. Find a mentor who can teach you about how the music industry works, so you can make decisions about how you will go about releasing etc., and who can help you deal with the emotional turmoil that you will always feel at the start. There are false ideals that’ll suck you in and make you feel inadequate… ignore those. Talk about the things that get you down and be self-caring and aware of your own cycles and phases.

 Words: Maddy O'Keefe

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