Why Elliphant Is Inspired By Her Difficult Childhood

9 December 2015 | 9:28 am | Cyclone Wehner

"I think my childhood, and what [my mother] gave me, was just giving me a lot of inspiration for my creative expression."



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Swedish singer/MC Elliphant (aka Ellinor Olovsdotter) is living a golden life. She is aligned with Dr Luke's Sony-backed Kemosabe Records and has collaborated with Diplo and Skrillex. But the Stockholm native hasn't always had it easy. She had a tumultuous childhood and never finished school. Until only recently Olovsdotter was waitressing. Her music career has been glorious serendipity.

Olovsdotter first hit Australia with her tropical electro-pop for July's Splendour In The Grass, DJ in tow. She also supported MØ at sideshows. The tastemaker fave is returning over summer, ahead of her new album, Living Life Golden, led by Love Me Badder — a touch early P!nk. Olovsdotter, based in Los Angeles for two-and-a-half years, has been hard to catch on the phone, prioritising the studio. But the third time's the charm. She remembers her Australian run as "intense". "It was so much fun — all the shows were fun," Olovsdotter enthuses, her voice husky from an oft-rued smoking habit. That Olovsdotter is no ordinary politically correct pop star soon becomes apparent. Asked if she had the prerequisite encounter with a koala and this animal lover demurs. "I have a little rule about zoos and stuff — I never wanna really go to see animals [in captivity]," she says. "I wanna see them in nature."

"She's like an alien. She's just born into this world and she just managed to survive, but no one really understands how."

Olovsdotter's album was scheduled for September, a sampler serviced to media, but then it was delayed. It'll now drop in March, Olovsdotter confirms. Will she preview songs in Oz? "Mmm, yeah, not too many, I think — not so many of the new songs. A couple are gonna be there, for sure. But I think we're gonna have to come back with the release of the album and do the songs from the album, you know?" In fact, this tour will be the last opportunity for fans to experience Olovsdotter's "wild" incarnation — she's "gonna say bye, bye" to clubbier vibes. "The album is not so wild! You're gonna miss the old Elliphant when the album comes out. Then people are gonna be like, 'Oh, maybe you could just do a little bit of the old stuff again' (laughs) — because the new album is very chill... This music I still tour is that really wild spirit and just about having a good time and having fun and [I] don't have to think so much about being pretty. The more wrong, the more right kinda thing." Following her Australian dates, Olovsdotter will head to Sweden to rehearse a new, bigger show. Either way, catch her while you can. "This is gonna be my last, like, fuck off, just go crazy — get it all out."

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Media types assume that, though Olovsdotter hails from Sweden, her heritage is Icelandic. Indeed, Olovsdotter is an Icelandic name. "I look a little bit Icelandic," she says. Mind, as far as Olovsdotter is concerned, she's "full-blood Viking". On stage, she's a street-punk Valkyrie.

Olovsdotter has her vulnerabilities. Her childhood was anything but traditional — Olovsdotter describes it as "a mess", one of "drama", disorder and disadvantage. Her single mother was a "junkie". And she wasn't maternal. "I was never really hugged or taken care of as a child." Today Olovsdotter admires her hippie qualities. "I had the luxury of growing up with an amazingly free woman," she says. "She's like an alien. She's just born into this world and she just managed to survive, but no one really understands how. She's just like the weirdest thing. So I think my childhood, and what [my mother] gave me, was just giving me a lot of inspiration for my creative expression."

Olovsdotter found school stressful. She quit at 15 — and was later diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and dyslexia, self-treating the former with weed. Olovsdotter worked in hospitality, using her earnings to travel after a formative trip to India with Granny. She revelled in London's dance underground. Partying in Paris, Olovsdotter bumped into her future collaborator, Swede Tim Deneve, who discovered that she could sing, and they cut demos, instituting 'Elliphant' as a "project". In 2012 Olovsdotter released her debut single, Tekkno Scene. It'd be compared to MIA. The next year Olovsdotter issued an album, A Good Idea, via the Swedish imprint Record Company TEN. Olovsdotter originally envisaged that she'd make "polished" music similar to the trip hop Portishead or freak-folkies CocoRosie. Nonetheless, she developed a unique equatorial hybrid of dancehall, dubstep, moombahton, trap and electro.

"The album is not so wild! You're gonna miss the old Elliphant when the album comes out."

Sweden has a long history of multicultural urban artists, spawning the hip hop soul pioneer Neneh Cherry. But, even for a Swedish girl, Olovsdotter's Caribbean inflections seem incongruous. Curiously, Olovsdotter attributes her unique Jamaican patois to her battle with dyslexia. It's no novelty. "To not lose faith and to not lose my courage in any way to write to other people and to any way communicate through emails or Facebook and SMS and all this, I just started to create my own way of expressing myself in English really early," she explains. "I didn't wanna just write words wrong — I wanted to write them my way wrong." Olovsdotter's move into EDM was largely influenced by the producers she encountered, like Deneve. "That was just a natural thing that happened when you become friends with people and when you're spending a lot of time in a scene."

Olovsdotter doesn't necessarily consider the music industry a refuge from her past. She once fancied pursuing visual arts. "I think some people are just born to be creative. Whatever happens in my life, I will always be creative... It's just a road I chose really early." Still, there's nothing casual about her. "I am very ambitious." Ultimately, Olovsdotter is grateful to have "a story" — something she can draw on.

Olovsdotter eventually signed to Kemosabe Records, established by Dr Luke, aka Lukasz Gottwald, and home to acts as diverse as Kesha and Southern rapper Juicy J. Gottwald is recognised for producing glossy pop stars like Katy Perry. However, he has a pedigree in (underground) hip hop. Gottwald even masterminded UK rapper Lady Sovereign's key song, Love Me Or Hate Me. His punt on Olovsdotter paid off when she generated heat globally with 2014's EP Look Like You Love It, a joint release between Kemosabe and Diplo's Mad Decent. In an ironic cultural twist, the song All Or Nothing featured Bunji Garlin, the Trinidadian soca star who previously had an LP called The Viking. Skrillex helmed the epic Only Getting Younger. Olovsdotter followed with another EP, One More, its MØ-blessed title track courtesy of New Zealand's Joel Little, Lorde's cohort. In the meantime, she cameoed on Major Lazer's Peace Is The Mission.

Gottwald is embroiled in an unpleasant legal battle with Kesha, who's accused him of abuse. But Olovsdotter paints a different picture of the svengali. "I don't see Luke so much," she admits. "I met him the other day. He's a really, really sweet guy. He's like a filter — I filter things through him. I send him things... Sometimes he wants to be a part of them, sometimes he gives me tips — he sends me stuff that he likes. We have had a couple of really cool sessions where we made some amazing music. He's more like a producer in my life, really." Yet for Living Life Golden, Olovsdotter has again liaised with Little ("he writes really beautiful things") and Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio. She's outgrowing EDM. "The album is gonna be very different — that's more of my musical journey of learning how to express myself in lyrics and melodies. It's much more from the heart. Many of the songs are old now, [but] some of them are gonna be new. I don't feel connected with all of them every day, but all of them are part of my story."