Written by Carol Civre
A multi-passionate creative; writing her own songs and her own rules. Ehlie Luna is on journey of self discovery through art and innovation.
CC: Hello! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and where your passion for music began?
EL: My passion for music started when I was probably seven or eight. My family always played music at home. It was always pop cause my family is from Haiti, and I’m the first generation born in the U.S. – it was Janet, it was Michael, Sade. We listened to a lot of reggae too because I lived in a neighborhood that was predominantly Caribbean. So, yeah, I would say my passion for music started then.
CC: What do you love most about pursuing music as a career?
EL: At first it was just making the songs, but now it’s that I have to grow and become a more efficient, self-aware person to stay on this path.
CC: As with a lot of creative fields it isn’t easy, for lack of better words, to get “discovered.” Could you give some advice to other young creatives on how to get the word out about their work, what has worked for you, what has been difficult?
EL: The first thing is to try and not think about it in terms of “getting discovered.” I feel like that’s a mentality that has sort of carried over from the 90s. If you have one person watching you you’ve been discovered. You don’t have to be found in a mall by a guy who’s going to tell you how to dress and how to make music. The great thing about the Internet is that you can start producing the work that you want to produce and through doing so you can build an audience that is deep with you. What has worked for me is doing the work, putting it out there, getting feedback, reflecting on what I’ve done and making changes to grow. What’s difficult is the growing part – it takes a lot of patience.
CC: You’re Haitian-American, and you grew up in Brooklyn. Does this cultural background influence your music?
EL: When I first released music in 2012, I was trying to combine Haitian carnival music with electronic music – which yielded a really interesting sound that I loved at the time. I think now it’s more subtle; there’s a certain pulse to it that I know comes from that still, but I guess it’s like anything else – the more you do it, the more you strip it back.
CC: Would you say that fashion is an important part of your music? Do you utilize the way you look & dress to create a certain persona?
EL: I don’t think I consciously create a persona to go with my music. My music is me, and everything I do is me. The way I dress is an extension of who I am and the music I make is an extension of that also.
CC: The genres you focus on are pop and R&B. What attracts you to these specific sounds and what do you think you have to add to the existence of these popular genres?
EL: Ultimately what attracts me to any music is either something instinctual or something that I just relate to—someone’s perspective rather than their genre. I think that the most valuable thing I have to add is my perspective, my experience, how I tell the story and what aspects of a story I choose to focus on. In popular music there is a tendency to talk about five different things over and over again so I like to talk about the more grey areas; the things we have to deal with but that aren’t really talked about in genres like pop and R&B.
CC: What is your ideal creative environment?
EL: It doesn’t have to be a certain place. It just has to do with who I work with; I think the environment is created by the collaborators. As long as the environment is safe, open, and non-judgmental—a space to play and make mistakes and eventually find something amazing—that’s my ideal environment.
CC: It seems that in most creative fields (and beyond) it takes a lot of work to be taken seriously and become highly respected as a woman. What has your experience been with this during your time working in the music industry? Have you had to go to extra lengths to get what you wanted because of your identity?
EL: The sad thing with music (and I don’t think it’s just music) is that women are a big part of the secrecy and compliance that no one talks about. When I first started, I struggled with knowing what was business and what was not appropriate. This person wants to take me to dinner AGAIN…now this person wants to have drinks AFTER dinner. People are telling you that you have to network, so you want to build relationships…but not under the wrong idea. I think that because I never responded in a way that made other people feel like this sort of behavior was “safe,” no one ever tried anything. I didn’t “let my hair down” or anything like that—I was very clearly there for the music. When I started wearing my hair grey, it was partly because I thought it was less sexualized. I started dressing differently as well, but I also have to say that the way I dressed before was more informed by what I saw and the more I felt I was treated a certain way because of this image. I started really leaning more into who I am and how I want to be treated and this evolved into the way I dress now. Now there are certain things that I’ll wear on camera, or on set, or while I’m performing that I would never wear to go out to lunch. Especially if it’s in a place where men are going to be inclined to come talk to you—not to be antisocial but because I don’t want to send a message: it’s not a message, it’s a skirt, you know?
CC: Who inspires you, both musically and generally?
EL: I feel very inspired by behavior, what people do, why they do it. Writing is what I really fell in love with before music even. That was the thing that made me want to approach songs. I have the all-times like Janet Jackson’s “The Velvet Rope” or Madonna’s “Bedtime Stories;” where people captured a feeling that really spoke to me. More generally I have people like my grandmother…stuff like that. It’s all over the place!
CC: What is your dream collaboration?
EL: It would involve a collaboration between a gallery owner, myself, a visual/digital artist and sponsors that fit the whole vibe. I’d like to bring together things that are usually separated by venues and age groups and put them together. Live performance, digital and installation art all under one roof. My ultimate collaboration is one that brings all of these things together into one multidisciplinary, multi-media event.
CC: Is there anything about the music industry that you dislike?
EL: There are definitely things that aren’t ideal or that don’t fit with who I am, but I just don’t care anymore about what the music industry does. I don’t like the idea that I live for the music industry, I just want to live for people who support me and not be worried about the other co-sign because they only care about numbers anyway. After the “cash me outside” girl got signed I was like… “what the f am I doing?” So yeah, it doesn’t bother me because I’m finding it more and more irrelevant.
CC: What do you hope that people take away from listening to your music, whether it be a feeling or thought or anything else?
EL: Words to articulate feelings that are hard to process. When you can give words to something, it gives you perspective, and when you have the perspective you have distance, and distance allows you to reflect and to grow. I want people to somehow get that from my music.
CC: Do you emphasize any specific themes when writing your music? Are there any issues that are important to you and which you would like to discuss using music as a platform?
EL: I deal with themes like depression, thoughts of suicide, loneliness, and quiet contemplation. It’s a lot of insular topics that I was going through and felt like I needed to make music about. A lot of the songs are kind of heavy which is sometimes scary in music because I understand it’s a business and you have to make money, and such topics might not be “money-making”…but that’s what I’m doing!
CC: How do you feel about performing versus the privacy of recording?
EL: I think recording and performing both have a place. I actually get very nervous before I perform. I think if a person doesn’t know me and they see me before a performance they would think I’m either going to bomb terribly or that I’m going to leave. But once I start I feel like it’s over too fast. Recording, on the other hand, is so intimate and there’s more room for exploration, instead of just execution.
CC: Do you use social media to promote your music and yourself?
EL: Social media is interesting because it might seem like it plays an important part in your career but I think it plays a big part in your distribution plan, not your career. It’s a place to scale and do more, but I don’t see it as a deal breaker. It’s a place to satisfy anxieties as well: people think that if they’re posting, then something’s happening when a lot of the time it’s really not. The best thing about it for me is that you can meet other people and collaborate with people that you might not have otherwise. It gives you a place to show what you’re interested in and what your ambitions are and the people that are aligned with that will find you.
CC: Looking at your Instagram I saw you have a side account called @firsttimeindrags and I was curious about this. Can you tell me a little bit about this project, why it started, why it’s important to you?
EL: @firsttimeindrags started because I was working with some dancers who go to this party once a year where they all dress in drag; boys and girls. Some of them would come to me, and I would do their makeup. I’ve been doing makeup for years, and every makeup artist will tell you that seeing someone feel transformed or confident or more like themselves is the best part of the job. When I started doing drag makeup, it was like another level of self-actualization, and there was something really special about that. I used to think I should wait until I got signed and then I’m going to do this project and that project…and now with @firsttimeindrags and my vegan project, it’s all things I’m passionate about, and I want to do all the things that make me happy now. Shit, I’m waiting anyway so I might as well have fun while I wait!
CC: How do you see Ehlie Luna evolving in the next five years? Where do you hope to be at that point?
EL: I want to be less reactive, more compassionate. I want to be in a position where I can give other people opportunities. I’m an independent artist and sometimes people will do my projects out of passion, and I want people to work with me and be able to have passion and work to pay their bills at the same time.
CC: What does the closer future hold in store for you? Any exciting projects you are currently working on?
EL: Right now I’m most excited about my EP “Words for Feelings,” which will be coming out sometime in 2018. I’m excited about finally embracing side projects like my vegan show and @firsttimeindrags. I also started working on another EP with a friend, and although the sound is totally different for me, I am also excited about that. I just want to keep making music and not stress about the music industry anymore!
Photographer: Amina Gingold
Stylist: Tiffani Williams (Assisted by Michael Blaine)
Makeup: Lakeisha Dale
Hairstylist: Isaac Davidson (The Industry MGMT)