RH Interview: Elton.

On a cold afternoon I met up with Elton. In his apartment to talk about his music, his process, what drives him and where he’s going. Since he released his debut EP Elevated in August he has been steadily performing around town as well as releasing the video for “Callin”, the lead single off of Elevated. He is a meticulous artist who has been showcasing his creativity. I was able to meet up with him before he goes on tour with Noname starting January 2nd, you can get your tickets here.

rubyhornet: I want to start off by asking about your name. Did you drop Aura?

Elton: I dropped it, yeah.

rubyhornet: Where did that come from?

Elton: Two different things. Pretty much I just felt like I could be known by just Elton and it’s kind of heavy because the only other Elton we know is Elton John. But I feel like why can’t I be solidified as Elton., just Elton without having to… It’s like putting LOL at the end of something that could be interpreted two different ways, but you put LOL to soften it up a little bit. That’s what Aura was for me, that distinction, but I feel like when you know who I am and you hear the music, see the music, and know who I am as a person you don’t need it.

rubyhornet: Yeah, and then you put the plus and minus. I think it’s tattooed or at least in the video it was.

Elton: It’s tattooed.

rubyhornet: What’s the significance behind that?

Elton: I got this tattoo while I was still living in the suburbs. It was a very spontaneous thing, but I know why I got it. I’m a Libra, on my balance shit already. You know, cliché, whatever, it is what it is, but I looked at it more so like a light bulb. If you know, a light bulb has the positive and negative pieces of metal and then the filament in between. If that gets too close or that’s too far away, that’s when that shit breaks. That’s when the light goes out, you know what I’m saying? But when it’s perfectly where it’s supposed to be, that’s when the light is on. That’s what I envision myself as, so these are the positive and negative, a representation of my positive and negative sources, and then me just making sure I’m where I need to be before my light goes out.

rubyhornet: That’s cool. That’s kind of like Aura in a sense. Light idea and energy generally seems to be important to you.

Elton: Yeah, Aura,it’s just not my name. But it’s still me.

rubyhornet: Yeah. How has it been since you dropped Elevated?

Elton: It’s been a little odd, bro. I didn’t know what to expect. Right away it didn’t necessarily get like a huge response and I’ve been working on it for a while, but I don’t know. You want people to hear it, but it’s like why did you make that? Did you make that shit for you? Did you make that shit for them? I know I made that Elevated for me. A lot of things with the dropping and the release didn’t necessarily go exactly how I thought they would go and for some time I was just like, damn, this shit I don’t know, but then the tour thing happened. Then it was like, oh shit, it might not have looked how I thought it was going to look, but that shit just happened.

rubyhornet:That’s the difference between making content and making art, I think. It’s like there’s obviously deep meaning behind everything that you wrote into that album and it takes a while for people to get hip to that. You can’t just stream it. It’s not like 6ix9ine or something, you know? Because he’s just dropping bullshit and it just goes crazy. There’s a lot of rappers that take that approach and that’s why I think even Noname is a perfect combination, because she does the same thing.

Elton: Yeah, she’s awesome.

rubyhornet: Your approach to media is really interesting, I think. It’s like-

Elton: How do you mean?

rubyhornet: The way that you’ve used technology to your advantage has kind of set you apart in my mind, like you dropped a music video on Instagram TV and I’ve never seen anyone do that, you know? Or I remember the “Callin” video actually had a phone number that you could call to hear the song.  Does that come from somewhere specific? Do you just have crazy ideas and you make them happen or do you know the right people?

Elton: It’s both, bro. I don’t know. I feel like ever since I was young I had just the ideas, but it was the resources that I didn’t necessarily know that I had. I’m not going to say that I didn’t have them, but maybe I wasn’t tapping into them. Now I can just figure out how to kind of just make them happen. You know what I’m saying? Just talk to the people I need to be talking to just to make it work, you know what I’m saying? The hotline shit, that was fun. Just, I don’t know, even the IGTV shit, I didn’t think too hard about that. I was just putting it out.

rubyhornet: But it’s like you’ve figured out how to engage with people where they are. That’s the most important thing.

Elton: That’s where I am. I’m on there maybe too much. Everybody is. You know how it is, like you’ll be on there and you don’t even really want to be on there that long. You just find yourself scrolling through.

rubyhornet: What inspires you like visually? Because it seems very intentional.

Elton: You mean in terms of the video or just period?

rubyhornet: Just overall.

Elton: Setting up a natural habitat for whoever is engaging in it. It’s really myself, bro, like I don’t know. At a certain point I’m not even thinking about other people. When I put it out, yeah, I might be, but in the moment it’s not about nobody else or nothing else but that moment and shit, so I don’t know. If I’m in this room and I want to be talking about how I’m feeling in this room, like I’m going to set that up, you know? That’s just accurate.

rubyhornet: That’s obviously what you do with the video, but was there some sort of other inspiration for that?

Elton: Me and the director, Brandon, we kind of just were throwing ideas back and forth of what we wanted that shit to be. I knew when people listened to the song they’re thinking of it as a girl but in the video I didn’t necessarily want it to be about a girl. I wanted it to be about something that could be enticing you or something that could be overarching like an energy. You know, trying to have an influence on you and you don’t know what it is or how it’s affecting you, but it’s just drawing you in some way. Me and Brandon were kind of just talking about that and figuring out what we wanted that it to be. He had this movie. I don’t necessarily remember what the name of it was, but he knew the inspiration for his shots, the tone of it. Once we put the two ideas together, I knew I just didn’t want it to be necessarily about a girl and he knew it needs to be darker toned. We kind of just came up with the shots, like the phone floating around me and shots of me on the court.

rubyhornet: Yeah.

Elton: He’s just talented. I’ll have an idea like I want the phones to be floating around me and he can do that shit. He’s like the first videographer that I’ve worked with who is really on that dope ass editing shit. The shot of me like on the basketball court, I don’t know how he did that shit, but that is inspiration of some shit that I posted before of me in my crib when it’s like a bunch of mes. I posted it like a long time ago, but it’s like a bunch of images of me in my living room, my living space, just doing shit that I would be doing, reading a book, or on the computer just making some shit, walking through, getting dressed, looking through the refrigerator, shit like that. We’re all super complex and have these different sides. I love the activity and where my mind goes when I am playing sports or getting my mind off of making music and some shit.

rubyhornet: There’s an idea of like being in the zone, you know? Are they different zones for you, like athletics and music, or is there just like, oh okay, now I’m in the zone?

Elton: It’s different zones, but they’re kind of one in the same. I’m kind of like striving for that same feeling. It’s just coming in a different way. That rhythm- rhythm is like the one word that I can think of. You’re just in it without consciously thinking about some shit and you really can just flow, whether it’s making a beat with a pen or on the court or whatever. You know when you’re there.

rubyhornet: Definitely. That’s cool to hear. I like the idea of like a rhythm like that. What is your musical background? Where did you start doing all this?

Elton: In church really. It was both. It was cohesively church and also a music group that I was in with my homie. We were in a group, like a hiphop/R&B duo, singing and rapping and making soul. Neo-Soul type shit. I was in high school. I was like a freshman. Also singing on the praise team at church. My parents are pastors, so I was doing that at the same time, but I feel like-

rubyhornet: Both of your parents are pastors?

Elton: Yeah.

rubyhornet: Wow.

Elton: Yeah, but I felt like when I was going to group stuff that really put me in the mindset of  “being an artist.” Like how to really be an artist and not just be locked into some overarching shit, but just be your own person. You know what I’m saying? Like who you want to be.

rubyhornet: You stepped out of the church and that’s where you felt like an artist?

Elton: No. I mean, I was kind of doing them both at the same time, you know what I’m saying? Because I had to go to church. I was a kid, you know, so I’m doing that and also when I’m at school me and my homie are doing our thing outside of all of that. We’d go to the studio and write shit. Once I got to be like 18 or 19 I moved out of my parent’s crib and I was in a band. We were trying to do our thing. I kind of just really made the distinction right there.

rubyhornet: I’ve noticed that kids who grew up singing in church choirs, there’s some sort of innate ability to hit insane harmonies all the time. I’m working on this theory just through interviews with people of trying to figure out the influence of church on music.

Elton: It’s really the whole thing about changing the atmosphere. That’s something I really have taken from that because it’s not about you. Yeah, that one person might be like the craziest singer in the church, but it’s not about how crazy their singing is. The reason that they’re singing is important. It’s because it can take people from maybe being like a dark place to giving them hope just from this person singing. It’s like that’s why people believe. That’s what I’ve just taken from it. People are using their gifts and their talents to help a situation. I feel like we all do it, we all should do it, you know what I’m saying, but I feel like when it comes to the music shit that might be what you’re hearing. I don’t know, like that same energy that’s used there, you can use it in another way. You know what I’m saying?

rubyhornet: Yeah. Especially throughout Elevated there is a lot of spirituality,most obviously on  “Demonz” but also in other places when you talk about the holy ghost. There’s a whole lot of it. Does religion or spirituality play a role in your music?

Elton: Yeah, bro. I can’t not. That’s in me, you know what I’m saying? That shit especially, like in the time of making that project that’s where I was. I mean, that’s just me. I literally have had to realize my relationship with spirituality throughout my entire life. For a majority it was a certain way, but I feel like it’s been developing and broadening. You can take the positive aspects out of a lot of different viewpoints. You know what I’m saying? I feel like especially with Elevated I was discovering that while making it.

rubyhornet: The other thing that’s very strong is love and conflict, more to a certain degree conflict, but definitely love. Is that coming from a more personal place or is it kind of conceptual?

Elton: Like I said before we started, I feel like it’s both because I’ve gone through a lot of the shit that I talk about, but some of it is things that I’ve seen my family go through. I guess that does mean it’s personal, but I’ve just seen certain shit, like certain patterns, certain things that go on with friends, family, or whatever. You only really feel that shit if you put yourself in those shoes, you know what I’m saying, to channel that, so yeah. With a song like “Callin”, I was there. In all of these I was there, like I’ve been through that shit, but in Rewind when I talk about my dad and his dad I’m like … That’s from kind of an outside source. That’s like an outside look at the pattern that they went through in life. I could see myself maybe being that, so do I want to become this? The two different sides of that shit.

rubyhornet: What role does Chicago play in your music?

Elton: I love Chicago, man. I’ve always had a conflict with saying exactly where I was from because there’s pride in that, you know? I didn’t move around necessarily a lot, but I moved around a few times in my life. I grew up in three different sections in my life, the early years in Hillside and then I moved to the burbs and then I moved back to the city. I feel like I grew up in a bunch of different places, but the valley is where I got my like real inspiration and work ethic. When I moved to Chicago I was really exercising it more, and got the inspiration from just being in a city where you’ve got to go hard. You’re pretty much have to do something.You can’t just be here and not doing something. You’re not here for no reason. It’s cold as fuck. It’s like you’re taking life seriously. Not too serious, but you know what I’m saying? It’s like you want to be something, you want to be somebody, you want to be contributing.

rubyhornet: This is the city that works.

Elton: Yeah, and in the burbs it’s cool, but it’s so slow. Out here shit is happening. There’s construction outside. I’m not saying I want that, but it’s just attesting to the structure. It’s just how the city goes.

rubyhornet: Yeah, there’s always something.

Elton: That’s what it’s helped me with, Chicago inspires me and all these dope people. It’s such a great place to be right now. The energy is definitely electric.

rubyhornet: I guess my last question is what does success look like for you?

Elton: Being able to help. It started out with me just being able to help my family and shit, but now there’s more people that are touched by anything that you do. It’s like just knowing that I was able to help somebody in some way, whether it’s through the music or just being around, whatever, whatever it is. I just want to be able to support myself and help out other people. You know what I’m saying? That’s literally it, bro, honestly. It’s kind of as simple as that.What else do we really need? We don’t really know what happens after this. We don’t know shit, bro. All we can do is the shit we can do right now, so that’s it.


Stephen Kaplan