In the current world climate, many artists are focusing on the power dynamics between inevitability, darkness, and reality. It has always been the artist’s prerogative to provide escape from the mundane, but as it seems that the metaphorical shit is hitting the fan worldwide, it is an even more compelling impetus to provide an escape for yourself and others.
Genre-bending vocalist, pianist, and producer Anastasia Elliot is no stranger to this mandate. She confronts the ruin of all-consuming love, obsession, domination, and trauma through haunting vocals, powerful melodic lines, and harmonic builds that hit you right where it hurts. A veritable force of nature, her presence & brilliant purple hair commands any room.
We sat down with her NAMM 2020 – which, if you’ve never been, is the equivalent of Guitar Center on drugs. Despite the chaotic, constant flow of humans and conflicting sonic stimuli pervading every inch of the massive room, Anastasia was poised, soft-spoken, and mysterious.
This impression was enhanced by her stage presence, every song hitting harder than the last as she flitted around the stage like a tormented banshee.
As we enter the new year, Anastasia has already started rolling out the release of her new project – the prologue, “Cigarettes & Gasoline,” was released in 2019. Her new single, “Crash Landing,” dropped Friday! We set out to learn about her journey as an artist, signing and then dropping a major record deal, the motivation behind her art, and any advice she would give to young, aspiring artists.
How did you get here? What makes you create art?
I’ve always been an artist in some respect; I’ve always been creating, whether it’s through visual art or playing piano and writing songs. I found that I really liked my brand and my artistry once I spent three years writing songs for this record…I mastered about 300 songs before I even started to put together what my project was going to be. I spent eight years identifying and building my brand before putting out any music.
How did you get from doing opera to writing music and being an artist?
I started singing classical music when I was in eighth grade. I absolutely loved it, but being in opera theater was absolutely not my jam. I had a really hard time pretending to be someone else. I just didn’t shine there – even though I love to sing opera. I went to Boston Conservatory for a summer, and getting to feel what it would be like to go into that side of the industry made me realize it was not for me. Opera and classical music is super important to me, however, so when I started to write and find my own artistry that had to be a huge part of it.
Do you want to go into that process? You have a very specific look, you have a very specific vibe – what is it that you’re trying to say?
For me it’s about creating another world. When I go to create anything – whether it’s a song or a visual – I work within the rules of my world that I’ve created. So when I’m writing a song I’m also thinking about how it’s going to translate visually – there’s no piece of my puzzle that is isolated. It’s all working in tandem together. In the days of social media and the fast-paced world that we’re in, the minute an artist starts to make content – the second they’ve got some good songs – they usually just put it out there. For me, it was about really taking my time. Creating mystery was really important to me, and that’s why there are a lot of complications, but I don’t want to go into too much detail yet. It will come. It’s unfolding.
What does that world look like?
The world that I live in is limitless – there’s nothing off limits. So if we want to go to a different time period or a different genre of music, it’s all on the table.
Do you mind telling me what your new single is about?
It’s called ‘Crash Landing.’ I actually was on my way to New York to finish recording it when I was in a plane crash. It changed my life forever. I was working on the lyrics on the plane when it crashed, and ‘Crash Landing’ was the news headline for it too. I’m so excited that this is the song that’s going to lead the project – it’s obviously close to home for me. It’s the start of the live show as well.
I know you’ve talked about your record label signing a few times, but I wanted to ask what advice you’d give to a young aspiring artist – a lot of them want a record label deal. A lot of people don’t think that’s a good idea. A lot of people think that it is a good idea and you won’t make it unless you have one. Would you recommend it?
–That’s a hard question… I think it’s individual to the artist and what kind of project you’re creating. For me, I’m very glad that I had one because it allowed me freedom through funding to make my project at the beginning. Now having left, however, I’m creating the same level of content as when I was on the label. You just have to get a little bit more creative, and now I own all my own work and I don’t have to answer to anybody – it’s pretty awesome!Honestly my advice would be to not go after the deal until you are in a position with enough leverage to get yourself the best contract possible. I loved my label, I had an amazing deal, but I’m very glad that the roll-out for this project is going to be all me and my small team now. It’s a slower build. There’s definitely benefits to having the funding to go towards marketing and stuff like that, but if you’re doing something original and authentic, it will find its way and break through the noise. There’s so many tools now for marketing yourself digitally now, and with a lot of marketing places your dollar can stretch pretty far. So I say, no deals until you can walk in and say exactly what you want.
Would you say that it restricted your creativity at all?
For me, fortunately, no. The deal that I had was very much ‘we love you and your project and your artistry, just make what you want to make’ – which is not everybody’s story. I was really fortunate that my team at the time allowed me that freedom. Now I don’t have to wait for things to get approved or go up the ladder. There were plenty of months where I thought, ‘oh my gosh I have all these ideas and it’s not moving fast enough,’ or someone would beat me to the punch on something because I couldn’t get it out fast enough.
My project is about love and trauma and resurrection. It explores many depths. I don’t want to give too much away. It’s a little over a year long of content that I’ll be rolling out.
Do you write with other people often?
Yes. I love to co-write. I personally don’t love writing by myself. I think it’s super important to have people in the room to bounce things off of – even if it’s ‘okay I have this awesome melody, I just need an idea.’ Sometimes it just takes that one thing to elevate it. For me, I know my strengths as a writer – definitely in the music side of things – so I love to pair myself with poets. I think co-writing is an art.
I know that this might be a hard question to answer, but if you hadn’t done music, what would you have done?
Chef. I will absolutely have a restaurant someday. I don’t want to be in it. I just want to design the menu and the visuals and then just leave. I love cooking so much. Also, health cooking. I reversed and cured myself from a lot of health issues through food, so a huge mission for me is talking about food and how you can use it to heal without sacrificing flavor. I’m going to do a food guide for every city we go to on tour– How We Stay Healthy On The Road.
Is there a social cause that you feel passionate about? What draws you there?
Trauma. Trauma work has really become a thing for me. This next year I’ll be touring and doing talks about it. Talking about my own experience with it, but really everyone’s relationship with trauma. We all have it. A lot of people don’t think of their issues as ‘trauma” because when we hear the word, we think of sexual assault or a plane crash – but everybody has trauma. Everything about it impacts our personalities – this record is my way of helping people find avenues for creative expression to work through that pain, because that’s what it did for me. I think it’s kind of a neglected area of mental health.
A lot of people will just say, ‘oh you’re just being dramatic,’ but it creates so many mental health issues that you just have to work through. It’s really hard if you don’t have people who understand.
Absolutely. So true. This was never an avenue that I expected to find – I was talking the other day about kind of how the connection to people has become my favorite part of all of this, and for a long time it was just about creating the best art I could and pouring everything into that. When I started this project, though, all of this stuff came about that made me think, ‘I could really make a difference in this area, with this project, by taking it to people and connecting with them on trauma and mental health.’ It’s elevated the excitement of it to me even more than I thought it could.
I’m really excited to hear the project!
I can’t wait for you to hear it. I’ve been holding onto it for so long and I’ve known it so long, it’s crazy to me that nobody else does. It’s like I’m about to give birth to an 8-year-old baby.
That’s a really big baby.
Yes, the contractions are here and I’m about to have to teach this 8-year-old baby how to walk. That’s my analogy as an independent artist having a major label style project. I started it with a label and I wasn’t going to let the quality go down after that.
Our show is super visual. We bring the videos to life on the stage. We have lighting and all this state of the art equipment. My best advice to an independent artist is, ‘you don’t have to break your bank; you don’t have to only be with labels to have amazing things.’
You just have to give it enough time.
That’s what it is. It’s a lot of time. Leading up to this tour, there was a week where everyone was over sleeping at my house, and we hardly slept for that week, but that’s just what it takes. It’s hard work; it’s rewarding work though.
I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding.
When I’m on stage and can see the way people feel and react to things, it’s the coolest part. I love when someone will tell me, ‘oh I heard this song and really helped me get through my day.’
Do you have any shows coming up in Nashville?
We’re going to have a show some time in March at The Analog. I’m excited to play Nashville more. I’m so excited for this year. It’s been building for such a long time, and it’s starting to get to the point where it almost claws away at your insides when you leave it sitting for such a long time – and I can finally say, ‘okay, I’ll let you out.’
What’s the timeline like for your release?
There will be about six weeks in between each single.
Are you going to release it as all singles?
The whole record will be coming out as singles. I think the concept of an album now is a little bit outdated, especially as an independent when you don’t have millions to put behind marketing. I think drawing it out is going to be the best way to go. You can use your content longer. I don’t think people have the attention span now to listen to an album top to bottom. It’s really important to me that people hear my album all the way through.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hamblin