Fresh new Gold Coast talent ELSKA is an artist bringing an enchanting angle to a non-traditional instrument in the realm of pop music, the harp. Augmenting her approach to the instrument by playing it through a loop effects pedal, ELSKA has hit upon her own, unique musical formula. And far from being an exercise in quirky gimmickry, her strong, sassy song writing and passionate approach to performance ensures that her sweet and breezy songs resonate and stand tall all on their own.
For ELSKA, music has been ingrained into her psyche from a very young age. Her warm and inspiring ten minute documentary, ‘Heart and Harp’, which has been nominated as part of the official selection for the 2018 Australian Music Week Film Festival, provides an enlightening insight into her early musical development. It traces her journey back to her formative years on the Gold Coast, from the unconditional support she received from her parents to pursue her creative vision, through to her early days of performing locally as a harpist and her subsequent journey on rediscovering music and performance in later life, jumping in at the deep end to reconnect with her beloved instrument and reigniting her musical dream after many years navigating the preoccupations of responsible adulthood.
It was at this time that she also broadened her creative boundaries by incorporating the loop pedal into her repertoire, allowing her to become somewhat of a one woman band. Says ELSKA of her approach to song writing:
“I also play the guitar and piano and love playing each of these instruments as much as the harp. I rarely write songs on the harp to start with. They always begin on the guitar or piano and then I flesh them out further on the harp with the loop pedal. But it is my dream one day to have all my instruments on stage and be able to perform with all of them in my show. Tash Sultana has about 15 instruments surround her on stage, so I’m chasing her tail!”
This culminated in a UK recording session in 2017, from which she forged her debut EP at the Brighton Electric Studios with renowned international producer Dan Swift (who’s also worked with Passenger, Snow Patrol and our own Ella Fence), at the helm. Says ELSKA of how the session unfolded; “Along with the harp, the studio record also features live drums, percussion, programmed drums, funky bass lines, clavichords, synths – there are definite nods to 70’s pop on the EP as I absolutely love that era of music! The EP will be packaged a little differently to the norm, as I will also be releasing a stripped back ‘B-side’ to the EP. This little bonus addition features all four tracks recorded live and acoustically, just me, the harp and my loop pedal – just like you would hear the songs live if you came to my show!”
Which is where she now stands today, having recently released her debut single, ‘Boy’, a spritely pop number about the joys of finding love in an unconventional and unexpected way, which showcases both her virtuoso playing and finely honed ear for a memorable melody. It serves as a lead in to the official release of the EP, which is due out early in the New Year.
With her star clearly in the ascendancy, ELSKA was also recently announced as a showcasing artist at the 2018 Australian Music Week in Sydney, taking place in November. This comes off the back of recent performances at this year’s Bleach Festival and the Caloundra Music Festival.
And in a Blank GC exclusive, ELSKA has some exciting news to share as to how her 2019 plans are already shaping up: “I will be heading off on tour in early 2019, taking my ‘Heart + Harp Tour’ to the 2019 Adelaide Fringe Festival in February! I will be performing a number of ticketed shows during Fringe Fest, where I will also screen my documentary. The interstate tour will also touchdown for performances in Sydney and Melbourne. Beyond that, I am waiting to hear about some international showcase opportunities which will hopefully take me back to the UK and Europe, to tour and continue recording with Dan Swift in the UK.”
I asked ELSKA about some of her inspirations and influences when it comes to the harp..
“The most interesting thing I have discovered among contemporary harpists who are out there pushing boundaries with a classical instrument (in a popular market) is that no two artists are alike. Between us, we are all doing our own thing and are somehow managing to each tell our own specific musical story with our harp. Joanna Newsom’s vibe is completely eccentric and zany and she totally owns that. Florence Welch has brought the harps subtlety into ethereal indie pop.
I was really inspired by Lara Somogyi, who is a Los Angeles based instrumental electro-acoustic harpist and loop artist. She loops and uses a billion different effects pedals to create improvisatory, cinematic music. She’s young and vibrant and really was the first to draw me into looping with the harp. Another inspiration is Amy Turk, a Surrey-based harpist who I discovered on YouTube for her incredible harp pop covers and how she uses the harp as a drum. You have to see her cover of Toto’s Africa!
So for me, I have really taken little bits of inspiration from all of these artists, along with my favourite pop songwriters and artists like Ed Sheeran, Orla Gartland, Meg Mac, Maggie Rogers, LORDE, Grace Vanderwaal, and mashed it all up to create my own breezy, feel-good vibe of melodic harp-infused pop that is designed for daydreaming, road tripping and romance!”
To help facilitate the making of her mini documentary, ‘Heart and Harp’, ELSKA successfully applied for a Regional Arts Development Fund Activate Music Grant, a process which presented its fair share of challenges. Says ELSKA of its taxing but ultimately rewarding tribulations; “In order to seek supplementary funding for my documentary project ‘Heart And Harp’, I went through a rigorous process of first-time grant writing. This entailed night after night of writing till all hours of the morning about what I envisioned for my project and how I was not only going to undertake it, but also how I was going to contribute financially to the project.
I also had to collate extensive supporting documentation such as budgets, timelines, letter confirmations from collaborating creatives and letters of support from peers. I also had to demonstrate how my project aligns with the City of Gold Coast Cultural Strategy document and how what I create will not only benefit me, but the Gold Coast as a whole.
Grant writing is quite an unglamorous, non-Rock star expedition and I was honestly going to quit so many times. But I learnt so much about myself as a business, a brand, and as an artist who is fully invested in the growth and long term sustainability of the Gold Coast music sector. And when I got the phone call from Council to say I had received funding, I was so bloody happy that I swore, cried and then popped a cheap bottle of champagne!”
Check out Elska’s documentary trailer below: