Russian-American singer-songwriter and pianist Elizaveta released iTunes Sessions EP on July 17, 2012, joining the ranks of the notable artists who have put out these EPs over the years. Available exclusively on the iTunes Store, these six songs have been bundled with six videos from the session
Recorded at the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood, the EP is comprised of 5 song selections from Elizaveta’s critically acclaimed debut album Beatrix Runs (Universal Republic) as well as a very special cover of George Michael’s “Hand to Mouth.” It is an up-close-and-personal look at the songstress recording live, where classically trained voice and enchanting piano-playing are front and center.
Glide recently chatted with Elizaveta to find out she’s just not all classical all the time…
You have a classical music upbringing but have moved more in the direction of pop music – who are your primary pop influences and how did you go in that direction musically? Was there a particular album or artist that spoke to you?
I was very influenced by Queen growing up, and the way they brought classical, operatic elements to rock and pop songs. I wanted to be able to sing anything and everything, like Freddie Mercury. Also Nina Simone. I was obsessed with her for a while. I loved The Police. Then I had a Stevie Wonder phase where ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ was on constant replay. Billy Joel and Elton John and Annie Lennox come to mind. I also love Italian and French writer-performers: Claude Nougaro, for example.
Growing up in Moscow- what type of music outside of classical were you introduced to and would you say you were cultured musically in a variety of genres? What was your first concert experience like?
Yes, I would definitely say that. Between the ages of eight and eleven, I got to see probably the entire repertoire of the Bolshoy Theater: that included operas and ballets. On top of that, I had all these music books with classic songs by Burt Bacharach, from musicals, etc. And then I started listening to The Police! I loved the minimalism of their music and its punch. I saw Sting in concert and was hooked. Russia also had its share of good underground rock music, the emphasis of which was on the lyrics.
What was the transition like for you moving to the states and going to USC? Did you feel a need to stretch beyond your classical background?
When I came to USC I had already been studying in Europe. I went on to double major in composition and opera performance. I was encouraged to keep pursuing opera performance professionally, but at heart I had always been and remain a writer: I like to make up stuff of my own and perform it. I did start writing more songs. There are still some very good ones from that era that are waiting for me to dust them off and reinvent them.
You decided to release the iTunes Session EP– why did you decide to go in that direction?
It was an opportunity generously presented to me by iTunes themselves: iTunes Live Sessions are a series that they do, although most of the time with more established artists. I had felt for a while that the string arrangements on the record, done by Joel McNeely, worked really beautifully in a chamber setting, and so this was a chance to get that recorded.
Did recording live in that studio help bring out something in your sound you haven’t heard before?
Yes, there is an immediacy and a vulnerability to the recording, that comes from it being recorded live. We didn’t have time to do it over and over again – all songs got three takes maximum. We had to keep moving if we were going to make it, because we were there for an afternoon. So no time to think about it too much, no edits: just sit down, do it. It is actually harder for me to listen to it because I can hear every single little imperfection in my performance. However, I also think it is those things that make it what it is and why people appear to like it.
Your album Beatrix Runs has been out for six months now – what has the reaction been to it so far? What’s the most encouraging critique you’ve gotten on it? If you could change anything about it what would be?
I have had some amazing feedback on the record. Just this morning I got an email from a 16-year-old girl who lives in San Bernardino, CA, who listens to ‘Dreamer’ every night before going to sleep. I often get mail like that. It seems that the record has inspired more than one person, and also challenged a few to listen with an open mind because it’s such a mix of genres and sounds. It was the first time that I, with the help of my producer Greg Wells, managed to bring together my influences and musical loves in a cohesive fashion, while keeping it contemporary. I wouldn’t change anything about the album. As my first full-length debut album, I stand behind it 100%.
What direction do you hope to go with your next album?
I have so many new songs. I need to figure out first which ones are on the short list. I want to keep moving in the direction I have been moving in, though: bridging sounds and genres, using opera, electronica, acoustic elements. Maybe even bring in elements of ethnic styles. We’ll see. It’s all about the songs in the end, even if I decided to just do a piano & voice album.
What is it that inspires you to pick up a pen or pick up an instrument and write a new song?
I call it my cosmic mailbox. Sometimes I don’t write for a while, but I only need to sit down at the piano or with guitar for a minute and all these ideas and melodies come tumbling out. I found a while back that I have to live a life where I am true to myself, whatever that means. If I do, then I am always inspired by something. If I box myself in somehow and pretend or try then I compromise with myself to a point where the heart is not in it, I pay with ability to create: everything dries up.
Do you get compared to any other contemporary artists like Regina Spektor?
I do get compared to Regina, and sometimes Adele, and other times Sara Bareilles, and then there is Florence, haha, and I am sure there will be more. At the end of the day, people always need a reference point, especially because my music is just getting out there. I think time will tell if any or all of those comparisons are correct. I just try and be myself as much as I am able – that is really all any of us can do at the end of the day. Also, all of those artists are supremely talented and it’s an honor of sorts to be compared to someone you admire.
You are know recording as Elizaveta, as opposed to Elly K, why the change? Were there other names you were considering?
I am now using my real first name, which is Elizaveta. Elly K was ok but I never really felt it was me. I picked it in the first place because I was afraid Elizaveta was too long and complicated. My close friends call me Elly. People in Russia still call me Liza. I feel that Elizaveta fits – and it is my name, after all, so it’s not like I invented it. I also don’t worry so much anymore about whether it’s hard to pronounce – it is actually pronounced phonetically, so quite easy – I just enjoy being Elizaveta and hope for the best 🙂
What was your first tour like? Do you have any particular memories that stick out from it?
I went on tour with Missy Washington, who is my stylist and designer. She is also my best friend in the States. We make a good team. She chronicled our adventures and all of her work – sketches, photos, etc. – is going up on my new site, which is about to launch. What stood out particularly was the tiredness for me. I realized that if I was going to do this a lot, I had to take really good care of myself and be as close to an athlete as I possibly could. Touring is draining, but also exciting and rewarding at the same time. Also, you lose all sense of time. It stretches and you feel like you have been gone for weeks, when in reality it was only ten days or so.
If you could collaborate with any artist (s) – who would it be and why?
Out of legends, I would love to collaborate with Annie Lennox and Sting on a song. Producer-wise, it would be great to spend a day with Mark Ronson in the studio, having a play with things. I love the French band Phoenix – I would love to do a song with them. And I want to work with Eminem. I have some very cool ideas. And I love Gotye’s voice and writing style, so he’s on my short list. Actually, Florence and the Machine, too – I think we could do something amazing together, vocally and stylistically. If I could meet up with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, well, it would make my day, as well.