Following the success of her debut single ‘It’s Called Love’, upcoming Jazz artist Ellie Levy-Pepper spoke to BN1 about everything from the pressure of performing, why Marilyn Manson would be one of her dream collaborations and, of course, Brexit.
‘It’s Called Love’ was released on Oct 13 with a single launch at The Green Door Store, where Ellie and her six-piece band delighted crowds with a live performance of the track.
The single launch was a big success and something Ellie referred to as a career highlight so far, but her strive for perfection sometimes leaves her wishing she had done things differently, she said: “The feedback I’ve had has been absolutely amazing, which makes me feel better, it’s nice.”
“I’m such a perfectionist and I think that’s a real curse with Jazz singers. You can sound perfect but if you don’t feel it you think it’s an awful performance and unfortunately I got it that night. I was so nervous.”
Through the talk of nerves when performing, it didn’t take long into speaking with Ellie for her strong and bubbly character to shine through. It felt clear this was not just for the stage but Ellie being quintessentially Ellie. Conversation flowed and felt like a combination of chatting to an old friend and Adele.
However this is not surprising as Ellie openly describes herself as outspoken, she said: “I definitely rub people up the wrong way; I think that is holding me back. I am so honest on stage and that is the way I have been brought up.”
Though this is not the only thing potentially standing in Ellie’s way; the world of Jazz is seemingly a very male dominated environment that underestimates youth.
“Being a woman and going into Jazz is hard. The amount of times I have been into places like Bees Mouth and they look at me like you’re a young girl, what do you know about Jazz? Being young and being a woman, there has been a lot of difficulty, especially being outspoken as well. I think that is what’s good about me as well though, I’m breaking through the norms and I want to do music that is new and refreshing.”
While Ellie’s confidence with pushing boundaries and passion for her music is inspiring, she explained laying herself bare on stage is terrifying and enjoyable in equal measure. She would prefer to be the middle of the bill and just let the music flow through her, taking inspiration from Sarah Vaughan, who Ellie called a genius for switching up her melodies for each live set.
“I’ve been trying to tell my band for ages if I say something live you’ve just got to go with it and they are like okay cool, but we have been working together for a couple of years now and I think we are finally starting to get there, it’s all about trust, but it is terrifying. Sometimes I don’t even know what’s coming out my mouth. It is absolutely terrifying but I’m working on it.”
“I love going on stage and I always try and have a banter with the audience because you don’t want to be an audience member and sit there for half hour listening to the same song five times without any interaction. Even if I do get a bit nervous I will just go on stage and start chatting to the audience and then it’s gone really.”
For Ellie, personality and interacting with her audience is essential; she explained that for her, unlocking the ability to harness Sarah Vaughan’s melody switching during live performances and having a strong personality was the key to success.
It is easy to assume anyone who wants to break into the music industry is in it for the fame and fortune; this is not the case with Ellie. She has her sights set on a residency spot at somewhere like The Savoy in the future, but performing Jazz was not always Ellie’s dream.
“I wanted to be an actress when I was little. I wasn’t that great at acting and then music just caught up with me. I started listening to Nina Simone and I’d never really wanted to sing because it was always classical or musical theatre or pop and I was like I don’t have any affliction to this and then I listened to Nina Simone and I was like wow you don’t have to have a completely perfect voice, you can sound essentially like a croaky man and I love that. That’s when I started writing so thank you Nina Simone.”
Knowing her musical roots and inspirations inside out is incredibly important to Ellie as she continues her development as a New Wave Jazz artist.
“I like the fact that in that era it was really, especially Jazz vocalists, they didn’t really care, like they had a sense of this is music it’s not a business. There was no social media, they didn’t really give a s**t about that really, it was more about doing it live.”
Though most of Ellie’s influences are a bit more old school (as she pointed out, most of them are dead) and she credits them for getting her into Jazz, she does have some more modern influences in the shape of Amy Winehouse, Lady GaGa, Marilyn Manson, Lana Del Ray and Alexander McQueen.
“My top three inspirations are Nina Simone because I love that kind of androgynous grit that she had, I think it is just beautiful. Amy Winehouse, her first album Frank. I think that album is just genius. She paved the way for new wave and I think that is amazing. My other inspiration is probably Alexander McQueen, which obviously he was not a musician but I take such inspiration from him when I’m on stage because he had such a passion.”
Ellie went on to explain she would love to collaborate with someone like Marilyn Manson because his spontaneity would keep everybody on their toes; you would not know what to expect.
The passion Ellie has for her music felt as though she might burst with it at any second as she explains anything and everything has the capacity to inspire her and when the mood strikes she can write three or four songs in a day but authenticity is top of her priorities when it comes to her music.
“I might hear something I like or go and see a band and be like I can do better or I can have a couple of drinks and be like right, tonight’s the night. It’s anything really but that’s when I know its coming from the soul and that’s what’s so important about my music, that it comes from my heart.”
While Ellie hopes to plan more gigs next yet, she feels anxious about the mystery surrounding her future following Brexit and the easy access to Europe that could no longer be available.
“It’s just awful. How are we going to tour Europe? They have basically just shot us in the a**e. It’s basically stopped younger generations from pursuing their dreams. We wont have the money or freedom to tour as free. I wanted to tour Europe, that would have been nice. You save up all this money to tour around Europe and now you need save up more for a visa, you might as well go to America. If you are going to save that much money you might as well try in America, Australia or Tokyo.”
Ellie’s love and passion for her music is infectious, her big personality and soft Jazz tones combine together to make a truly likeable, talented young woman. Work is already underway on her second single.