By: Emily Bunn
Celebrating the beauty of human experience and the universality of dance, Elana Brody enchants fans with her exhilarating dance-pop music. Her most recent single, “Rock Steady,” showcases the singer’s joyous choreography and passionate songwriting ability. The “Rock Steady” music video can be viewed HERE. The bold, emotional ballad was produced by Max Martin protégé, Dominic Fallacaro. Brody spoke with 360 Magazine about the spirituality that courses through her songs, her music production process, and upcoming releases.
Your recent material was written during the pandemic. How did you manage to find inspiration during lockdown?
As a songwriter, lockdown – with all its grief and deep, life-changing themes- was a very fertile time for me. For one, I retreated from NYC to my childhood homestead in Virginia – in one of the most remote places East of the Mississippi. While there in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, with the music world at a stand-still, I found myself with very little to do but be in nature and play music. My then-partner had come with me, and we spent much of our time playing music together. I also felt called to offer musical prayer services online for those who needed inspiration and connection to Spirit. Because of this, I began by writing new prayer music – which felt right for the time. But, after my partner decided to split with me, as you can imagine – the folk songs started pouring out. This break-up, combined with being my original creative habitat, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter uprising, the political election-year insanity, and a life far from community, took me the deepest I’ve been in my writing for a long time – especially as a lyricist. I think some of the lyrics you will hear on my upcoming EP are possibly my best yet.
What does your songwriting process look like?
It depends on the song. Sometimes snippets of lyrics, with a bit of their melody, come first. Sometimes a really awesome piano hook comes first. Over the last many years, I have found my songwriting process to be mostly a long-winded jam session where I sing out my heart for hours, creating spontaneous free-style lyrics. Many of those lyrics disappear forever, but at least a few of them make the cut! Once I get a sense of the general narrative of the song, I think about phrases that will help move the story along, and then build new lyrics around the original “spontaneous-gems” to flesh it out. Over the pandemic, lyrics were everything – and I found myself caring more about them than the music. The music could have been 3 chords, and I’d be totally okay with that, as long as the lyrics were telling the story. But, in other phases of my life as a writer, I would basically compose a piano concerto! And then, lyrics come in afterwards. I love and live music. And honestly, I don’t have to work hard to have music flow through me. I have found the best music and lyrics that I have written, have written themselves. It’s actually that simple. “Rock Steady” was a bit like that.
Are you still looking to release your EP eventually, or have you decided to shelve it in favor of tracks like “Rock Steady”?
Yes, to the EP! If all works out with piecing it together (because it was recorded in many different settings over the pandemic) then I would really like to release it in the late fall. But! Because “Rock Steady” is such a banger and I want to make more songs like that, I decided to quickly write and record a new song called “Quicksand,” which is another pop-influenced song, to release as a follow up – before I transition into my folk music.
Why did you choose Costa Rica as the location for the “Rock Steady” music video?
It chose me! My friend lives there and she invited me to come out to visit. I said I would, but under the one condition – that we film a music video! She is a great networker and knows so many people to reach out to and work with. She also happens to be an ecstatic dance facilitator and DJ and was planning a dance on the weekend of my visit. So, naturally, we organized to film the dance party at an already scheduled and high-vibe (to use a very Costa Rican term) dance party! It couldn’t have been more perfect. We also did all our beach filming at a beach called Roca Beach – aka Rock (Steady) beach!
How does your spirituality factor into the way you create music?
Once, after I auditioned for the first season of USA’s XFactor, I left the stage (a story for another time!) and was interviewed by a faceless producer speaking to me from behind a black curtain. This producer asked me, “When you sing, it seems as if you are connecting to some higher power. Is this true for you? And what is that higher power?” At the time, I wouldn’t have considered myself a prayer-leader or religious at all, but I knew the answer to that right away. I said, “Yes. God.”
God can bring up a lot for people. And for me too. Growing up in rural Virginia, the idea of “God” sometimes felt like some kind of angry, repressive, overpowering righteousness. But – in my family – and in my own experience – God was gentler than that. The spirit between things. As a youth, I was surrounded by the most beautiful, untouched nature – and witness to the seasons in their full force. With below-zero cold and windy winters, slow-to-pop springs, abundant green summers with my folks’ organic gardens in full bloom, and then the rainbows of colorful Appalachian autumns – I knew what Spirit had to offer us humans. And music had always been my human way to offer Spirit back to Spirit, if that makes sense. It’s a giving and receiving from the big, wild wonders of creation, and then music is my way to return it back. Now that I have dived into my Jewish roots, and studied the traditions, I would say that song is the modern equivalent of sending burnt offerings up to the Creator. Instead of smoke, we let our voices rise. And I don’t see prayer music and pop music as all that different. Different themes, different stories, but ultimately, what we sing or speak is all prayer. And, especially now that I am very involved in prayer-leadership, as I create more songs, I do think about that in my writing.
What do you anticipate the reaction to “Rock Steady” will be like?
A fun one! Hopefully one that makes people dance and dance some more! Because I haven’t released much of my other music yet on the bigger platforms, most people won’t know the difference. Like, how did that happen? All of a sudden, I’m a pop star! The truth is, I’ve always been a pop star. Christina Aguilera and Celine Dion were my first vocal idols, and all of the first music I ever wrote sounded like it could have been in a Disney Channel original movie. Anyhow, I had this thought that I should go about my career in the opposite way of other folk artists, a la Jewel circa “Intuition,” and drop in with the fun and danceable stuff first. I don’t see myself ever being too genre-confined, anyway. Life is too short not to write whatever you feel and whatever is coming through you! I did think, “oh, maybe I should sell this song to Rhianna or another artist who could do it amazingly.” But honestly, this route of self-producing is very fun, and maybe even better. Now I get to be heard singing like a pop star too!
What other artists, musicians, or bands serve as inspirations for your music?
It’s a long list…
Joni Mitchell is my in-utero and post-utero,songwriting teacher. I used to call her my piano teacher, because I learned to play by playing so many of her songs. Several other musicians of my parents’ 60s/70s era also come in close as primary inspirations – including Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Carole King, and the Beatles. They have shaped what a well-written song could be for me.
It’s hard to decipher what is an influence now because it’s just one big, long-cooked stew or spicy mole at this point.
I have always liked lyric-forward music, with bands like Of Montreal (his candidness in writing was life-changing for me!) and Death Cab for Cutie (the simple metaphors and speaking-style of his writing) and the Decemberists (storytelling, bard-like songs.) And the orchestral and lyrical artistry of the Fleet Foxes is stellar.
I have also always liked some good classic, chunky, Rock’n’roll and music that gets ya’ dancing, like Led Zeppelin and CCR. And the blues, especially blues piano music, has played a role in my music education since early childhood.
Then, there’s the eternal list of female influences. My most listened to, other than Joni, from the beginning are Ani DiFranco and Sarah McLachlan. Then: Jesca Hoop, My Brightest Diamond, Regina Spektor and Kate Bush. And now: artists like Gillian Welch, Brandi Carlile, Sylvan Esso, and Sarah Jarosz have taken up a lot of my listening time. Sarah Jarosz’s album World on the Ground was really powerful to listen to last year during the pandemic. I hope that I can achieve that level of presence and intelligence in the instrumentation when I go to make my full-length album next year!
I also derive a LOT of influence from pop music. I can’t help it. I definitely fell in love with Ariana Grande’s album positions this year, and right now I am going down a Dua Lipa rabbit hole. I would say Rhianna is my number one, though. And I finally fell in love with Lady Gaga after seeing A Star is Born and listening to Joanne. Her belt has inspired me a lot. And I love vocalists in general. I have spent a lot of time really listening to vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand. These days, Elvis is my number one!
I will also never not want to listen to albums of bands like Nickel Creek, the [Dixie] Chicks, Bela Fleck, Mandolin Orange/Watchhouse, or the band Solas, to bring me the feeling of my early mountain roots and make me feel good.
I am truly a world music fan. I love to listen to the magic of music across the world. I am really inspired to hear virtuosity, no matter what genre. I love vocal virtuosos and am listening right now to the artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I am curious as to when I’ll be able to imitate him. (I’m really good at imitating!) Bobby McFerrin has also been a teacher in real life. He inspires me to become more accurate in my improvisations.
I also listen to prayer music, but mostly of the Sikh or Kundalini yoga genre. Sometimes you’ll find me jamming out to Jewish artists (many of them friends of mine) or Gospel music. Anita Wilson, a modern gospel singer, has been a vocal inspiration for me because she really sings with the lows of her range.
Musical theater music is also a major influence. That Roger and Hammerstein stuff pours out of me like it were an extension of my soul! Lastly, at this point, after spending time at Berklee College of Music, I have been greatly inspired by jazz and R&B.
Besides “Rock Steady” and the EP, can fans look forward to any other releases to come in 2021-2022?
Yes! I mentioned that I am wanting to get cracking on my full-length album that will be mostly in the Americana, New Orleans blues, Rock-and-Roll, and folk pop styles. I am really, really excited about it. But I’m not sure yet who I will work with on it. An exciting unknown. I imagine it will end up feeling like a magnum opus when it is finished because I’ve been with these songs for so long. Nothing will be more amazing than when they are out in the world surrounded by strings, the right instrumentation and arrangements. I also would like to produce my song “City of Man” in a big vaudevillian, brassy style. [I want to] make a little music-video theater piece out of it. I have also been sitting on this one for a long time. It sort of harkens to the fall of capitalism…that is going on in our world and the post-Trump era– it’s due time that I get that one out. Look out for it all!