INTERVIEW: chatting with Brissie's pop-folk ukulele princess Miss Elm
The daughter of a jazz musician and a dramatic actress, it was destiny that Brisbane-based pop-folk ukulele princess Miss Elm would end up crafting magic in the creative world. And gifted with a three-octave vocal range, a flair for charm and a ukulele for every mood, Miss Elm (aka Erin Harrington) has returned with gusto with a brand new single 'Clean Slate' officially releasing yesterday.
Previously performing with a four-piece band, Miss Elm has embraced reinvention, honing her songwriting process to now writing a new song weekly as a solo project, and exploring themes of love, life's journey and overcoming obstacles with a new stripped-back sound.
With her divine new track 'Clean Slate' now out in the world, boasting baritone ukulele, heaving bass and textured vocals, there's a whole lot more on the horizon for this beguiling Brissie artist. But to celebrate her latest release, we grabbed Miss Elm herself to chat processes, reinvention and everybody's favourite pint-sized instrument - the ukulele! Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hi, thanks so much for chatting today! It’s an exciting time for you right now with the impending release of your brand new single ‘Clean Slate’ unveiling in early August, with a live show to accompany the release. And while it’s not your debut by any means, how does it feel to be poised on a brand-new release?
MISS ELM: Hello! It feels really exciting and unnerving at the same time, as I’m jumping feet first onto this new path as a solo artist and baring all, which I’m getting totally out of my comfort zone with!
TIANA: And I’ve read that ‘Clean Slate’ is about forging new paths, listening to your heart and leaving behind the old to embrace the new. You have a pretty genuine knack for songwriting, how autobiographical are these songs of yours? And was there a specific catalyst or event behind ‘Clean Slate’?
MISS ELM: Firstly…Thankyou, song writing is a skill I’ve been crafting for a long time! I appreciate it. Secondly, yes I’d say 2019 was a big release of lots of things. I had to leave a relationship, as well as a job, and the place I used to live, it all happened in the same month! it was a big 360 of releasing old thought patterns, the old lifestyle and really stepping into my creativity and intuitive power… I’d say everything changed other than the colour of my hair haha.
TIANA: Was there a different approach to ‘Clean Slate’ from a creative/songwriting perspective compared to your previous releases? Or have you found your groove with this process over the years and it’s second nature now? (and if so – what is a normal writing process like for a Miss Elm song?)
MISS ELM: Great question! Yes this was a very different process, which I loved. I wrote this song in an hour with my first week of being part of an online community called ‘I Heart Songwriting Club’. I’d never been part of a club that you had to write a specific theme (which was clean slate), but I felt it synchronised with the exact feelings and stories I was experiencing at the time. The song came through me on it’s own, without any expectation or judgement. I plugged my Ukulele into an amp, and just started recording. Usually… my songs come out sporadically (like little riffs/melodies or words when I’m sitting in traffic, or can’t sleep at a weird time of the night) I never sat down to write at a designated time like I did with this… and it’s working out really well. I’m now writing a new song a week.
TIANA: As someone who used to be a in a four-piece band, what are some of the positives and negatives that faced you when you decided to launch this as a solo project? And what actually inspired you to start a solo ukulele project in the first place?
MISS ELM: The positive, is that I have become much more confident at performing solo. When a song works acoustically, without any extra embellishments.. it’s a true testament whether it is a great piece of expression or not. I also had to get over my fears of not being ‘enough’ as just a girl on a Ukulele… compared to the more impactful sound of a full band. I was afraid people might find it boring. The negative of not being in a 4 piece, is the company. I do miss the family vibe of having a band. When Miss Elm was touring and rehearsing, it was great to have that ‘band family’ to be on stage with and have that shared experience and support. My past band mates are some of my closest friends and I’ll always have fond memories of those 14 hour road trips and mucking around in band rehearsals. Lastly… why solo Ukulele? Because it’s small and so much easier to carry than a keyboard! Also, I love how the ukulele is both diverse and simple (it comes in 4 different sizes, as well as variations on strings, tuning and sounds). You can literally do anything on it, I have a different type of ukulele for each mood pretty much haha.
HALLELUJAH UKULELE COVER (MISS ELM)
TIANA: You’re quite revered for your three-octave range (seriously insanely amazing) as well as your acoustic finesse. What sort of music did you grow up listening to that led to this Miss Elm project? I have read that you were surrounded by jazz musicians at a young age, but are there any particular or unexpected surprises that perhaps contributed to the musician you have evolved into?
MISS ELM: Yes, I actually started my music by learning classical violin and singing in the Australian Youth Choir. I grew up mainly listening to Jazz and Classical Music (I didn’t really discover anything past the 1950s until University) My house was always filled with an array of instruments because of my parent’s love for music… I was experimenting on everything from the age of 5. I once found a tuba in my Dad’s office… and within 3 minutes figured out ‘3 blind mice’…. I was 6, and the Tuba was bigger than me.. maybe that’s where the 3 octave vocal range sprouted from.
TIANA: Let’s talk ukulele – an instrument that everyone seems to think they can play when they pick one up, but one that can take a bit of time and patience to master. Did you find it an easy instrument to master, given you have a history of learning instruments? And what’s it like to now be able to share your love of this pint-sized stringed sweetheart, particularly with your ELMUKULELE services?
MISS ELM: I definitely found it easy to pick up, given my history of Classical Violin training, however the reason I’m drawn to it is the fun factor. You can’t have a big ego when you play, there’s less expectation to ‘show off’ and it’s a great community instrument for all ages. The Ukulele is really easy to learn for ‘non musical’ people who may not have had the chance in their childhood to learn. Because there’s less strings you can play many chords with only 1 or 2 fingers, so I can teach someone how to play most 3 chord songs within 2 hours. In saying this however, getting past the beginner stage does take practise, and you can do some seriously intricate stuff on it, which is was what I like to teach with Elmukulele. I love to inspire people to show them what is possible and help them push past the boundaries of what they can do musically – that’s the best gift of all; I’ve seen all walks of life play the Ukulele (kids, doctors, retirees, introverts, sports players you name it!) , and to see them make music for themselves is so special!
TIANA: Side-note on the ukulele chat – I fell head over heels in love with the ukulele after watching Jake Shimabukuro play Bohemian Rhapsody on it in Sydney years ago. Do you have any uke icons you’d love to be able to play with one day?
MISS ELM: OMG I LOVE JAKE! He is amazing and would definitely be on my list. Doing a duet with Grace VanderWaal would be amazing also. I love her energy.
TIANA: So, getting back to the point at hand, there’s some fun times coming up for you with your latest release and show. What can an audience expect from a Miss Elm show in 2019?
MISS ELM: They can expect some beautiful surprises at the for sure. I’m always playing brand new songs in my sets, journeying through stories, emotions and sounds as well as experimenting with ways I can involve the audience more in layering my sound as a solo artist. I always play on at least 2 Ukuleles (with totally different sounds! You’ll just have to see it to believe it!) at my sets and am inviting some special guests to my Single Launch show on the 4th to join me on stage. It’s going to be a ride!
TIANA: And finally – in honour of your upcoming track ‘Clean Slate’, if you could go back in time and wipe the slate clean and start again with something in your life – would you do it? And if yes, what would it be and why?
MISS ELM: Ahh that is a tough question! I feel I wouldn’t really want to change anything as it has made me the artist I am today, which I’m really proud to be. The only thing I’d redo if I could… would be to go back to hip hop dancing ( I gave up on it after 2 weeks) . I would love some better moves other than the head bop haha.
YOU CAN CHECK OUT MISS ELM'S DIVINE NEW SINGLE 'CLEAN SLATE' BELOW, AND BE SURE TO CHECK OUT HER ELMUKELE PROJECT TO SHARE THE UKULELE LOVE. FOR MORE MISS ELM INFO, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER