Images by Jan-Willem Dikkers
Styling by Alex Shera
Makeup by Dina Gregg
Studio: Evidience Film Studios
Interview by Alyson Luthi
“MUSIC WAS NEVER IN MY PLAN FOR LIFE. IT JUST TURNED INTO A REALLY,
REALLY EFFECTIVE EXPRESSION, AND THAT’S WHY I USE IT.”
— Ellinor Olovsdotter
Ellinor Olovsdotter, known by her stage name as “Elliphant”, is a pop artist from Stockholm. Her voice was discovered in 2011 at a Paris party by producer Tim Denéve from the Swedish producer-duo Jungle. She is signed with Mad Decent and her new EP “One More” is out now via TEN Music Group in collaboration with Kimosabe Records.
Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, known as “Dr. Luke,” is an American songwriter, record producer, instrumentalist, and mixing artist. Billboard named him one of the top performing producers of the 2000s. He has worked with artists such as Katy Perry, Flo Rida, Jessie J, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna.
Cirkut, or Henry Russell Walter, is a Canadian music producer and songwriter. He is known as Dr. Luke’s main production partner and has co-written and co-produced the likes of Jessie J, Lil Wayne, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, etc.
Joel Little is a musician, producer, and Silver Scroll and Grammy-Award winning songwriter from New Zealand. He is known as the lead singer in pop punk band Goodnight Nurse. He has worked with New Zealand artists including Lorde, Broods, and Kids of 88.
Sonny John Moore, known as Skrillex, is an electronic dance producer, DJ and sing-songwriter from California. He has won a total of six Grammy awards, including “Best Dance/Electronica Album,” “Best Dance Recording,” and “Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical.”
Karen Marie Ørsted, or MØ, is a singer-songwriter from Denmark. She is signed to Sony Music Entertainment and has collaborated with artists such as Elliphant, Avicii, and Iggy Azalea.
Stage name of British electro-pop singer Charlotte Emma Aitchison, who wrote the 2012 hit “I Love It” sung by Icona Pop and is featured on “Fancy” with Iggy Azalea. Charli XCX has produced two studio albums, You’re the One (2012) and the upcoming Sucker (2014).
In a time when people look to the newest Disney prodigy, big ass or backwoods YouTube sensation to become the next pop icon, how refreshing to watch a 29-year-old from Sweden begin a relevant pop conversation of her own. Known by her stage name “Elliphant,” Ellinor Olovsdotter has been working steadily for the past three years with talent connoisseurs such as Dr. Luke, Cirkut, Joel Little and collaborators including Skrillex and MØ. The release of her “One More” EP in October marked Elliphant’s U.S. breakthrough, earning her respect and interest from other artists in LA, including Charli XCX with whom she is currently on tour.
Working with directors such as Tim Erem and Sebastian Reed, Elliphant’s music videos alone suffice to suck you into her world. Katy Perry called “Down On Life”, “One of the most bad ass music videos I’ve seen in a long time!” via Twitter. Costuming is arguably the baddest component—most notably in “Revolusion”. Helmed by StyleWar director Oskar Holmedal, the video layers plenty of red fringe, lamé, and knit bodysuits, à la Forcefield. Olovsdotter had a heavy hand in the wardrobe for her newest music video “One More” featuring Danish artist MØ. The pair night cruises inside a taxi wearing adidas tracksuits, LED slip-ons, and geisha hairdos.
Humble, a self-proclaimed amateur and sick of fashion, Elli, as her friends know her, seems to contrast all her pop precursors in one way or another. She speaks in a sort of pidgin scattered with slang (refer to her Instagram captions) and is incredibly thoughtful and candid about her life. Wedged between a concrete block wall and a parked car, she spoke about ADD, drugs, life as a restaurant employee, and the music she “burns for.”
Alyson Luthi: Where did you grow up and what was it like?
Ellinor Olovsdotter: I grew up in Sweden in a very typical Stockholm situation — single mom, kids with different fathers. My childhood was full of friends and bicycling and being outside. We were never at home. My mom was a party animal and owned some restaurants, so I was like the kid that grew up on a restaurant floor.
AL: What was your high school experience?
EO: There really wasn’t one. I finished school when I was 14. School was always very messy for me. When I was 18, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADD, and concentration issues. For me, being in school was like an experimental failure. I think I’m still processing that a lot as an artist.
After school, I started in the restaurant business because my mom knew so many people. I began traveling when I was 17 until I was 23. Then I met someone so I stayed in Sweden. My only real experience of Sweden were those four years with my boyfriend. I stayed in Sweden until this happened.
AL: What was your first experience creating music?
EO: When I got my first Macintosh and opened up GarageBand—it was like a computer game. I was building songs, but at a very amateur level. I still look at myself as an amateur. Music was never in my plan for life. It just turned into a really, really effective expression, and that’s why I use it. I burn so much for it now.
Frank Vincent Zappa was an American musician, songwriter, composer, recording engineer, record producer, and film director. Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 22 on it’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Born Albert Johnson, Prodigy is an American rapper and member of hip-hop duo Mobb Deep. His signature monotone voice is recognizable throughout the past 20 years of hip-hop. Prodigy has been on 50 Cent’s label G-Unit and has collaborated with artists such as LL Cool J, Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa, and T.I.
My mom was a hobby musician. She had a band and played music constantly while I was growing up. Everything from Frank Zappa to David Bowie to Prodigy. I think because I had been overfed with music as a child, I got out of it when I traveled. I was never like, “I need this song!” or “I have to go to this concert!” I’m very aware of what is good music and what is not, but I don’t have a particular idol or a genre where I feel like an expert.
AL: That shows in your music because you explore so many genres.
EO: And that’s how it’s going to be. It’s not a “smart” way of doing things because one of the first lessons you learn is to keep your product clear and make sure people know what they get. Like McDonalds and H&M and fucking Mac.
AL: But it keeps you interested.
EO: Yes, that is the thing. I’m going against all those moves by not having “a sound.” In the future it would be fun to make an EP of songs that clearly go together. But for now, I’m not putting myself in a box. This is what I want to represent: a changeable personality.
“one of the first lessons you learn in music
is to keep your product clear and
make sure people know what they get.
Like McDonalds and H&M and fucking Mac.”
AL: Would you say your music is a natural extension of yourself?
EO: Music just happens. I rarely have a clear idea for a full song. Usually I write down small things I think are interesting on my phone and take it up when I’m in the studio. It’s like going into a soccer game. “We need to get the goal, we need to work this out.” I can’t sit with an instrument and build a melody like others do. For me it’s a challenge every time. I like the vibe.
I’m not amazing at choosing the best beats or hooky melodies like the people I work with who have been doing this for years. They’ll be like, “This is really good. It’s really hooky.” And I don’t understand. But then after a while, I do. I learn so much all the time. I’m in something I never thought I would do, and I never thought I would be, so I’m very humbled. Even if it’s my fans putting up cool pictures on Instagram, I share everything. I’m so excited about everybody that is involved or even has an interest in my project. If you like Elliphant, you are naturally a part of my heart.
I understand it’s not for everybody. There’s a certain group of people that will always think I’m very annoying. To some, a girl that is almost 30 years old, not super pretty, doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing but is actually having something—it’s like fucking ashes in the eyes. Some people are really annoyed that I’m not a musician, especially that I didn’t have a dream about it. But I represent the fact that everything can change from day to day. This is what happens in my life now, and everybody can change their life by doing new things.
AL: Who is the most influential person you’ve met through all this?
EO: I think it’s still my mom. I really have a very complicated relationship with my mom, but she put the seeds and the roots into most of the things I am interested in in my life. First of all, I’m very interested in addiction. My mom has an addictive personality, and I think because I was born in a time when she was heavily doing drugs, I am also born with addiction in my system. Not that I’m a crack baby, she was not on crack or anything. But I have that addiction in me, and that’s why I want to analyze it and talk about it.
In the future, I would love to be an informer for drugs because I know everything about it. I know the good part, I know the bad part. There’s not one drug that I don’t have a story about. I’m very interested in the fact that humans want to get away so much. That we will do that to ourselves and to our bodies. And we’ve always done it.
Physically and mentally, we are constantly changing. If everybody were having a happy life, evolution would stand still. That’s also why I’m so interested when it comes to all these new medicines for depression or ADHD or ADD. These people are in this grey zone and can’t choose, but they have a society and a government to tell them that they are sick and they need medicine everyday. It’s sick, it’s crazy.
I do drugs sometimes. I like to smoke weed. But to take drugs every day, humans should not do that. All these drugs, antidepressants, ADHD drugs like Ritalin . . . In Sweden and Europe, more and more people do it. It’s usually families that don’t have any drug-related problems. They don’t know what to do when their kid is acting out. Then the teacher says, “This is probably ADHD.” I think putting kids in classrooms or places where they can succeed and keep doing what they’re good at can be beneficial environments. So the diagnosis for these things is maybe not bad, but it’s the fact that as soon as you get a diagnosis, you’re sick. You’re sick, and you should have your medicine before breakfast.
“I’m talking about the grey
zone people. I want to
represent them because I am
one, but I have tried to manage,
and my life is working out.”
That is my only war I’m taking on humans. I’m so sad about this. I think we’re going to lose so much culture, so many amazing minds, so much love. So yes. I’m talking about the grey zone people. I want to represent them because I am one, but I have tried to manage, and my life is working out. If I was in an office space or working for the government in some kind of structured lifestyle, it wouldn’t work.
There’s always going to be the masses, people that are born satisfied, like their job, and go two weeks to Thailand every year, and it’s not like I look down on that. I’m fucking jealous every day about people who can just be content. But I don’t think you can fix people to be like that. People that are earning money on trying to do that are like the devil on earth. I want to talk about that.
AL: So what is your philosophy on how to deal with life?
EO: My philosophy in the end of things is evolution. I think the magic of evolution is totally overtaking any other kind of magic—whatever it is, if it’s trolls or fairies, or if we’re talking about God or Jesus or fucking Allah. Evolution is constantly working. Humans think it’s so important to tell and to make something out of their emotions—to make some art or scratch it into a fucking rock. And that is beautiful. But I also think that if you make a decision that is really unselfish, and you don’t do it because anyone sees you do it, or to instagram it, or to tell someone—those moments are pure magic. That’s when the human race grows together.
That’s why I want to express myself as much as possible. I want to be ugly, be beautiful, be everything so that I can really talk about this. The whole compact energy that is evolution, is biology, is future is building everything for something. We’re going toward something. I don’t necessarily think there is an end or a nirvana, but I still think your emotions are important all the time. And it’s important what decisions you actually make with them. So yeah, my whole philosophy is circling around evolution.
I feel like had to be an evolutionist because while I was traveling I saw so many people and terrible things. I needed to find a safe spot. Probably where people put Jesus and the Bible and stuff, I put this stuff instead. After a while, I couldn’t give any more money to the kids or do anything more for them, and that’s when everything flips. You start being rude to these poor people on the streets and being like, “Go away from me!” And that’s when I needed to make a philosophy. I needed to have a place to put these kids, so I could look them in the eye, give them a hug, and laugh with them. I realized that the moment must be everything. I can’t help everybody, but in the moment I can respect their lives and their positions.
AL: What qualities do you admire most in other people?
EO: I really love people that can be open with their emotions and share their stories. People that aren’t scared of honesty or friction. If the food isn’t good, they say it’s not good. I love that.
AL: Do you still paint?
EO: Yeah, right now I’m looking for a new place with room so I can do more painting. I haven’t proper painted in four years. I draw too, but it’s not amazing stuff. It’s hard to combine expressions. Photography, especially, was my big thing before Elliphant. It’s weird that I don’t miss photography.
AL: Is it that you found something better?
EO: I want to be really good at everything I do, and I couldn’t continue photography and at the same time be 100% invested in my music.
Also, life. Around the same time I signed with a record label, I rented out my apartment to a guy who ended up stealing a lot of shit, including my camera. I felt like it was all meant to be.
AL: Was there a particular moment when you realized that this is what you’re going to do for the next however many years?
EO: I think being in this community has given me that impression. Because I started traveling so early, I never had one “crew.” I’m very much a moving personality, and all my art has been very lonely. It was always my ideas, my thing. But my music was the first time that people from outside my life were interested in my project and started working hard for something together. I’m very humbled by everyone that takes an interest in my project.
AL: Who all was involved in this EP?
Tommy Tysper is a Swedish producer and songwriter who has worked with artists such as Erik Hassle, A*Teens, Icona Pop, and Elliphant. He has written and produced a number of top-10 hits in Sweden.
EO: I’ve really been throwing myself out there and working with everybody. From the beginning it was a guy called Tommy Tysper. Elliphant wasn’t an obvious signing for my label because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I’d only done one song, and it was super crazy. It wasn’t like performance stuff really, just like “AHH!” techno scene, weird and artsy. My label has very concrete [people] like Erik Hassle, Zara Larsson, Icona Pop. People that have songs that go together. But my project was very random. Like, “What are we going to do with this? We could do anything.”
“I was so scared and the only
reason why I went up and did it
was because they expected me to.
I was loyal. I came to work.”
AL: Your record label (TEN Music Group) has a lot of established and up-and-coming Swedish pop artists. Do you feel you fit your label?
EO: I would be nothing without my label. Their energy of hope built this project. I didn’t really have a lot of support from my mom, and I kept it very much to myself the first year. Like, I didn’t talk to my friends about it because I didn’t know if it was going to be something. I didn’t want to be that person like, “Yeah, I signed this record label deal,” and then nothing happens. So I was quiet about it for a while.
The restaurant business was my work. It was my place. Since I always failed at school, I was super loyal to my work because it was my second chance. I was always there on time. I was always doing really hard work. I got to the point where I was hiring people. I was like, “This is what I do right. This is my life, and it’s a hard life, but at least it’s mine.” I remember during my first performances, I felt the same way. It wasn’t like, “Oh, this is so lovely! I wonder what clothes I’m going to wear for this performance.” It was like [makes hyperventilating noises]. I was so scared, and the only reason why I went up and did it was because they expected me to do it. I was loyal. I came to work.
So for the first year of that, I didn’t totally connect with it. It was more that this was my chance. I was going to make it work and not disappoint. But recently I’ve really felt like, “Fuck, I want to make music.” Like, creativity happens first because you’ve got to survive. I just needed it to be safe and get to know what I was doing to become really creative. Now I’m at that place where everything feels more okay. I know what I want, and I know what I’m doing, and I can be more open and creative in the moment.
I think I need to do more, better music. I want my music to get better and better. When I listen to the first album, it’s like a joke. I’m so rookie at it. So it’s so cool to see how these past three years have made things happen.
AL: How would you like to define your genre?
EO: I call it provocative pop. It’s always going to be pop because it’s always going to be melody-based. It’s always going to be a flirt. But it’s techno pop, rock pop, R&B pop, hip hop pop. It’s never just pure pop.
AL: How have your friends supported you through this?
EO: I have a couple of friends that supported me really, really much. Like friends not from a “crew” but who saw my thing and thought I should really fucking do it.
Now, I think my friends support me very much because now they actually feel like this is real, and they know I really need their support. In the beginning, they were like “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” They just wanted everything to be normal. And now I need them because they’re not here, and I’m here. I need them to tell me I’m amazing and stuff. I came from a crowd where a lot of people had their first kid when they were like 16, and most of them have like two kids now. It’s a different world for me.
AL: How has it been living in LA? Do you like it?
EO: I haven’t been living here yet. I’ve just been working here. I’ve been in studios or dinners, studios, dinners, studios, dinners. Indoors.
AL: Are you going to stay around?
EO: Yeah, because I really want to keep doing this and because Sweden isn’t my home-home. It doesn’t inspire me, and it’s not a good place for me. I think I bloom so much more in LA. I’m just going to give everything I’ve got, and part of that is living here. And if it doesn’t work in a couple of years, oh well. This is the chance I have.
AL: Whose talent do you admire among LA’s creative scene?
George Lewis Jr., or Twin Shadow, is an American singer from the Dominican Republic who has released two albums. His record Forget was co-produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. He is currently signed to 4AD, alongside artists such as Ariel Pink, Grimes, and The National.
Doja Cat is an up-and-coming, neo-soul artist from Los Angeles.
An American musician, guitarist, and record producer who came to recognition as a member of the band TV on the Radio. He has worked with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Foals, Little Dragon. In 2010, Sitek as Maximum Balloon released a solo album via Interscope featuring contributions from guests such as David Byrne, Tunde Adebimpe, and Karen O.
Diplo, or Thomas Wesley Pentz, is an American DJ, music producer, rapper, and songwriter from Los Angeles. He is the founder and manager of Mad Decent records and co-founder of non-profit Heaps Decent. He is also the co-creator and lead member of Major Lazer, an electro dancehall project, alongside artists such as M.I.A. Diplo has produced the likes of Britney Spears, Beyoncé, No Doubt, and Usher.
EO: My first tour I went on with Twin Shadow. He’s super cool, and he lives here. Doja Cat is here too. She’s on my EP. Dave Sitek is one of my favorite people to work with. He lives here up in the hills. Diplo is a very inspirational person. He’s so all over the fucking place. He’s doing so well, but he’s so grounded as a person. He lives here and there and doesn’t have a house. He’s the whole world’s man. He inspires me.
AL: Your music videos are creatively and visually loaded. How involved are you in conceptualizing them?
EO: I’ve been involved in all of them except two— “Only Getting Younger” and “Revolusion”. I just had a couple of references for “Revolusion”. The crew on that was just so amazing, and usually when I invite people to my project they need to have freedom because that’s when you get some real cool ideas.
Ever since I did my first music video, I loved it. I have so many ideas, so many of my own references. I do my own styling, and usually I never have any makeup artists. I like to do everything for myself.
“When I see the ruling fashion
today – this kind of hat, this style
of glasses, a lot of black, even
when it comes to people with
their purple hair – I just feel like
there’s something wrong with it.”
AL: Is there a cohesive theme behind your personal style?
EO: I think fashion is so overrated. It has been so important in history. It’s been an icebreaker. If we didn’t have punk fashion, maybe nothing would have happened. When my mom grew up, she had needles in her face and green hair. She needed to break through and show who she was, and she did. Full on Sex Pistols style.
When I see the ruling fashion today—this kind of hat, this style of glasses, a lot of black, even when people come with their purple hair—I just feel like there’s something wrong with it. Fashion has been very important, but I feel like it changed. Now it’s almost like an addiction for many people. It’s more a way of hiding than showing who you are.
AL: Would you say that your style is evolving with yourself?
EO: I think yes, it’s evolving too. It’s an art form like anything. I’m open to expressing myself through my body, and I want to continue having that discussion.
Everyone thinks I’m gay. Typical example for why I want to keep talking about this kind of thing. It’s just so rude. Just because I wear sneakers and don’t like skirts, I’m gay. If I was gay, I would be so angry with the fact that gay is trendy at the moment. You’re still not free to be who you are as a gay person. You need to be some stereotype.
Imagine this. A guy starts working at your office, and he’s gay. And everyone’s like, “Oh, this guy is so lovely! Oh, we should take him out on Friday!” because he’s what society expects as gay. But if a person started working, and he didn’t say anything, and no one could tell he was gay, and over lunch he mentions his boyfriend, and people weren’t prepared for it—that’s going to be a different story. People are going to be suspicious, like, “Hmm, maybe he fucks with children also.”
Felipe Andres Coronel, known as Immortal Technique, is a Peruvian-American rapper. Born in Peru and raised in Harlem, his lyrics focus on controversial, global politics. He has collaborated with the likes of Mos Def and DJ Green Lantern and remains heavily involved in charitable work with prisons, immigration rights, and children’s hospitals.
Clothes are so stupid. I think that style and clothes at the moment are the most stupid thing ever. It doesn’t express anything. For me, I want to look comfortable and feel comfortable. I want to wear clothes that maybe don’t show everything I’ve got. I just want to look like I picked something up, put it on, and just felt good in it. As soon as there is a little curl here, or high heels or uncomfortable stuff, that’s when I want to puke.
AL: Whose stuff are you listening to right now?
EO: I listen to a lot of Immortal Technique right now. I don’t listen to a lot of music. I think it’s a big, big plus if you’re my boyfriend or my friend that you have an interest in music. Sometimes I’ll write stuff up in my phone like, “I should listen to this sometime.” But I never have that space like, “Oh, let’s just listen to music.” I listen to my own music and beats.
One thing I’m proud of right now is this girl from Sweden called Seinabo Sey. She’s beautiful and so diva. Like, I don’t know what happened to Adele, but we need a new one. She’s the new one.