As the screen opened for our preliminary meeting with Monarch Music Management CEO, Bella Bowman, Ela sat alert, exuding the same infectiously effervescent energy that she routinely brings to conversations. Once the talk of the minutiae of music management and marketing had fizzled, and Bella excused herself, Ela relaxed into her chair giggling about her excitement for the interview.
Ela, an old friend with whom I recently reconnected is one of the few people I can honestly say lives up to her Instagram bio. She joined the Zoom call today very much in the manner that I have become accustomed to – sitting in her Chicago apartment turned music recording and production studio, wearing an oversized t-shirt (today’s with BIGGIE written across the front). The “androgynous pop star kid in chicago” effortlessly switches between appearing to be a 90s grunge muse and an indie-pop darling. The kind who would post pictures of herself dressed as Yoko Ono after a Tame Impala reference. This versatility transcends her wardrobe and has taken root in her music – the connective tissue in our friendship and the reason she joined me for the interview today.
To start: What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you go by?
My name is Daniella Brigatti, or, that’s my legal name. I perform under the name Lelia. I am a singer, songwriter, producer, and composer… among other things. My main thing is writing and recording music.
I am originally from the Washington, DC area – specifically Rockville, Maryland… shout out Rockville. I now live in Chicago, so I’m based there.
And your main thing is singing and songwriting?
Yeah… and producing for the most part.
What drew you to that?
Um, it’s funny ‘cause I feel like nothing drew me to it. I think something would have to draw me out of it because it’s always been a part of my life. Ever since I can remember, I have been writing songs, so it’s hard for me to know where the passion for music came from. I started taking piano lessons when I was four and I would always get in trouble because instead of practicing songs, I would be writing songs. Um, so ever since I was little I just had this kind of natural will to write my own music.
Would you say you have a process for writing music?
I would say that for me, music is really like therapy… another thing that drew me to it is having an outlet through which to express my thoughts and feelings.
My process these days really revolves around me waiting for a moment of inspiration where I feel ready to sort of organize my thoughts about a really difficult emotional situation and it comes together in the form of a song. So normally, I sit down with my guitar for several hours, see what happens, and if I’m pleased with the song I’ve made then I’ll bring it to the studio and see if there’s production that comes to me. Sometimes it starts with random lyrics that I have to catch and write down and sometimes it starts with a chord progression that I really like. It’s usually one or the other.
What is your favorite thing, of your own, that you have worked on or written?
Oooh! Does it have to be released?
So I’m working on an EP called Selfish and Improper and I think up to this point it’s the best songwriting, the best production, that I’ve ever been able to do. I think I’m always growing and I’m always gonna grow with my music, but at this point, it feels like a project that reflects my true self as an individual and my abilities as an artist in a way that none of my other works have at that level. So it’s called Selfish and Improper and I’m really… I think that’s going to be the best thing that I’ve ever made.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve made that IS released?
Um, so I released an EP last year called Moderately, with feeling. Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about the whole EP anymore, but I think the opening song, “The Celebration” might be my favorite song that I’ve ever released. It’s something that I honestly refer to still in my production. It was really, like, it came from a really deep place inside of me and I think it really, of all the songs I’ve released, just highlights what a song means to me in terms of the messages that I’m trying to send and the kind of production that I really like.
What is your favorite project that you have worked on that wasn’t yours?
Oh! That wasn’t mine… So I have a frequent collaborator named David Feigelson and we release a lot of covers together of other artists’ songs that we try to turn into duets. He makes music under the name Snow on Mars and usually I get to take the lead on the production aspect of all the songs we release.
What I love about working on covers is that you know, the song’s already written, I know everything about the song, all that I can really do is spice up the production with my own choices. So it sort of takes out the element of having to write or really get to know the song before you produce. I already know the song really well and I think that these projects we have worked on together are where I have grown most as a producer. It’s also what showed me that I wanted to start producing for other people in general. So, yeah. I haven’t worked on too much yet, though…
If you could have done something differently in your art, what would it have been?
I think I would have been less afraid to pour myself completely into it sooner. I think that a lot of artists spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves not to be artists, but I don’t think that it’s really a choice. I think that this is something that I’m going to do either way – it’s keeping me alive and it’s what I live for. So I think I wish I had silenced every other voice but mine much sooner, and told myself that if you have art inside of you, that’s worthwhile more than anything else. That took me a minute to realize, but now that I have embraced it I feel so much more able to create freely.
I also think that I would have just cared less about what my parents thought, about what my peers thought, about what my family thought. I sometimes write lyrics or create videos that have content that makes my mom want to cry, but at the same time, it’s my truth. I think that if there’s one thing that I could change about my art it would be just fully stepping into my truth comfortably sooner. If that makes sense.
It does make sense. I think I know the answer to this one, but I want to hear it anyway. What is something that someone said at one point in your life that continues to motivate you?
Ha ha… I went to a Jon Bellion concert with you. This was right after my senior year of high school and I was going into college. And I wasn’t planning on pursuing music. I think, I mean, I knew inside of me that that’s what I wanted but I was too scared to pursue it full time.
At the time I thought I was going to study biology or something, you know, normal, and we were at this concert and we were watching the opener and you just turned to me and whispered in my ear and says “that could be you up there someday, that could be me and you up there someday,” and, um, I thought about it. I really thought about it when you said that, and I guess I had never realized it actually could be me up there someday. I thought that this was a massive pipe dream… But I think about that all the time now when I’m feeling discouraged. I think, “no, that absolutely can be me up there someday.”
It was incredibly moving; it is incredibly moving when somebody else sort of recognizes your passion and supports you and motivates you. Especially at a place like a concert where it’s like all right in front of you. I sort of realized in that very moment that that really could be me someday and that’s what I want.
Oh here’s a good one! I should let you know by the way that these questions were written by Morgan, so some of them are sort of passive-aggressive towards me…
What is your favorite niche techno-babble topic that your friends still don’t fully understand and don’t care to hear about anymore? Explain in as few words as possible. Go.
Haha, okay. Weird techno-babble topic… Can I think about this for a second because there’s quite a few and I want to pick a good one?
Yes, take your time.
Um, so I’m just going to spitball because there’s a few things. So I’m a really really big fan of hyperpop. I am often trying to convince people of hyperpop’s merits. I think it’s like the dadaism of our generation.
Have you ever heard Mr. Brightside hyperpop?
No! But I want to.
You have to! You should look that up after the interview.
I will! That’s incredible!
I feel like hyperpop really inspires a lot of my production these days. Not like fully hyperpop, but maybe someday… I feel like there’s a lot of technical production aspects to hyperpop that just blow my mind that are really hard to explain to people. There’s a lot of, like, harsh distorted noises – a lot of noises that sound really rough and metallic. And I have an affair with compression. So I think that when you use incredibly loud, disruptive noise in a song and you’re able to make it sound beautiful and not jarring and painful to the ear using compression or the right reverb… it’s such a skill and such an ability that, with something like hyperpop, is so difficult to pull off. It’s like screamo, it’s like metal, like, that’s how hard it is to pull off. And I think that all of the production innovations that are coming out of hyperpop… I will, like, fangirl over and nobody understands unless they, like, make it.
What artists do you admire the most? What about their work do you find so inspiring?
Let’s limit it to three…
The first one that comes to mind is Phoebe Bridgers.
She is my mom… I think what I find most inspiring about her work is like how – she’s not actually my mom, for the record, I’ve never met Phoebe Bridgers. But I think she is such an individual, and in every single thing that she creates, you can see the honesty and the reality and the truth that she’s conveying. Her lyrics are beautiful, they’re ironic, they’re funny, they’re painful, and they’re always honest. I think she captures something about the human experience. Her first album she wrote during a bout of depression, her second album she wrote about dissociation and what it’s like to heal from trauma, and these are two things that I have experienced a lot in my life. I find it so wonderful how she’s so openly, honestly, and shamelessly shares her life and her story in such a beautiful way.
I guess the second person I can think of is Grimes. She inspires me because of her process. She dropped out of college her senior year to pursue visual art and music full time. She produced her first album entirely on GarageBand, she has seen so much acclaim both critically and from, you know, the “Billboards” and whatever. She’s just been successful, however you choose to define that, but she still has done it through ground-breaking in music – doing things that had not been done before and she did it for a really, really long time, entirely by herself, which is very hard to find in artists that are known and successful.
And I guess the third one would probably be Tyler the Creator because he’s another one of those artists whose music really really inspires me in terms of work ethic. He grew up kind of poor, worked at UPS for a while and had this dream, and unapologetically went all out with it. He is a black man that came out as bisexual openly in his music; his earlier work, his lyrics are really just things that are supposed to, like, aggravate old people – that’s how he would put it. It’s really jarring lyrics, it’s really good music, but he then sort of has continued his technical process to the point that, in my opinion, he has released three perfect albums in a row, starting with Flower Boy and ending with his most recent album. As a performer he’s incredibly creative, he’s incredibly good at performing and he really has captured production and lyricism. He’s always changing up his style and always executes so beautifully. I think that he sees all of his albums as works of art – these projects, these concepts – and that’s how I see my albums. So, yeah, I have a lot of love and respect for him too.
But there’s too many, there’s a lot of artists…
Alright, here’s an interesting one. I’m not sure why Morgan put it on the list, but I’m going to ask anyway. (Morgan snips from the background that she only put interesting questions on the list and that I am being very difficult.)
Why did you agree to this interview when offered?
Um, because I love Second World and I love everyone I have met through Second World. I have worked with Second World for years and years and years and have had nothing but wonderful experiences, both in my professional life and my creative life – and socially – and I think that I love talking about my art, so if someone asks me to talk about that I will answer.
Damn good answer. That actually brings me to my next one… how are you related to Second World?
Let’s see, I was an actress in one Second World film called Empire Fallen, which was a really awesome experience – a lot of fun. I do really love acting, I know it’s not the focus of this interview but it’s another one of the, like, things I do so, um, I met them through film and acting. More specifically, one of my frequent music collaborators is you, who is the director… founder…
CEO! Who is the CEO of Second World, and Second World is also the label under which I will be releasing my second EP. So, yeah, I have a lot of connections with Second World through various different forms of entertainment because they’re, like, always innovating and creating new stuff, and there is always a creative process underway that I can be a part of which is just fantastic.
Last one: just for a few minutes, tell me more about this EP that you’re working on.
Sure! Okay, so, this EP is called Selfish and Improper. The title comes from two words that I was called a lot throughout my childhood by my parents or by, like, adults, and I think the whole concept of the EP is me as an adult – I’m 21 – finally living independently in this city, and there’s been a lot of existential shit that comes with that. A lot of reflecting on my childhood, a lot of reflecting on my relationships, and more importantly reflecting on who I am as an individual. All of these songs were written as I have begun to process of lot of trauma from my childhood, specifically relating to my parents, so this EP is a mix of my traditional singer-songwriter, folk sort of music, but also, as I said, I am really influenced by hyperpop, so there are way more elements of electronic music in this, of down-tempo trip-hop, that type of thing, and the idea was to bring together every musical inclination that I have right now and have them meet in sort of a symbiotic way and see how I can tell my story of being hurt and recovery, of forgiving, of not forgiving, of reflecting on my own story and identity, and reclaiming the label’s “selfish” and “improper.” Because okay, maybe I am and that’s not too bad actually. I’m really excited – a lot of songs about my mom, a lot of songs about my parents, a lot of songs about me. And I’m really excited to be working with you as one of my co-producers, I’m really excited to be working with Second World, I’m really excited to be working with Monarch, so it’s just really the most authentic, the most truthful piece of work that I have made to date.
I lied, I have one more question. When people hear this new EP, when they listen to it, what do you want them to feel? What do you want them to think?
When people listen to this new EP, I want them to feel held.
Music for me has been a place to find fellowship and to be reminded that, in all of the plights of the human experience, I am not alone. That there are other people screaming these truths as much as I want to. I really hope that when people hear it, there’s something about the songs that they can find their own truth in and feel absolutely confident in listening to themselves first and foremost and to know that healing is possible… it’s difficult and it’s something that nobody does alone. And that everyone is healing.
I want people to feel held, heard, seen.
Thank you very much for this!
Cool! Thank you!
And then we talked about hex codes and fonts for the next 30 minutes…
Interview by Benjamin Kapit
Transcription and Editing by Morgan Aspinwall