Ellinor Olovsdotter, the angel-faced potty mouth commonly known as Elliphant, performed in front of a star studded crowd at the 2013 Grammis Award ceremony yesterday. Universally lauded with praise she is routinely compared to industry luminaries such as MIA, Santigold and label mate Diplo. We spoke with the he 27-year-old about mental health, smoking spliffs, and being a dirty girl.
Although Ellinor Olovsdotter’s Icelandic name can be traced back to the Sami, she was born and bred in southern Stockholm. During her childhood she was raised in Katarina-Sofia where she lived a humble lifestyle with her mother and a large extended family. An expensive soundsystem was one of their few valuable possessions – and the one that would leave the biggest impression on her.
“My mom had two kids with two different fathers and he had four children with three different partners,” she says. “It was a chaotic but we were very tight. We listened to music 24/7. Everything from Sinatra to Zappa and it drove our neighbours crazy.”
Though she enjoyed playing with words and writing poetry from a young age, school didn’t come easily. Full of energy and easily distracted, Ellinor was often in trouble, and much later in life doctors diagnosed her with ADD and dyslexia.
“The school system really fucked me up,” she says. “Doing bad in school kinda brands you as a bad person. I was a kicker kid and a bit too aggressive. I couldn’t sit there and if you can’t do that then the system treats you like you can’t do anything.”
Though the root cause of her behavior would eventually be identified, the damage had already been done. Her interest in the arts – specifically painting and Swedish history – was never nurtured.
At 15 she left school and a brief trip to India with her grandmother a year later awoke a desire to travel – something she admits would eventually have a profound influence on her outlook in life.
“After just three weeks in India I knew l needed to return,” she says. “It was an amazing experience. No-one hid anything. It was good, bad, poor and in-your-face. In many ways, India was and still is, just like me – a total mix.”
On their return to Sweden, Ellinor began waitressing in restaurants to fund other trips abroad. She worked until she managed to save enough money to return to India for six months. Around that time she began smoking marijuana and found it helped her concentrate.
“My travels in India changed me,” she says. “After years of being an aggressive kicker-kid I slowly transformed into a hippie,” she says. “I never took any prescription medicine for my ADD or dyslexia. Smoking marijuana is illegal, dangerous and expensive but it helped me focus and its something I’m not ashamed to admit I still do.”
India’s way of life was a stark contrast to Sweden and Stockholm, where the culture of consensus thinking never sat well with her.
“Everyone judges one another,” she says. “Sometimes you have to prove yourself a little more – especially if you are open about smoking marijuana. I am much more than a grass smoker but I have never felt part of any group. When we were kids, my mom never had any cash so unlike other girls, I was never in a choir or a dance group. To this day, every time I see someone in a group I feel like retching. In a way I guess I have always enjoyed being independent and doing my own thing.”
Throughout her 20s she grew more interested in photography, but her passion for travel and music persisted.
Grimas Om Morgonen, a song about alcoholism by Cornelis Vreeswijk, resonated with her and became the first song she learnt to sing. She began singing alone and occasionally at campfire parties on her travels.
In her mid-20’s extended stints in India were interspersed with excursions to Germany, France and the UK. In 2011, after a long night of clubbing she got talking to a musician called Tim Deneve at an afterparty in Paris. He also lived in Stockholm, was passionate about music and determined to work in the industry. Although they didn’t immediately hit it off, she admired his drive.
“Tim really felt we should do a music project together. At first I thought he was annoying but he was really, really enthusiastic. We met up a few days later and started messing around with overdubs and toplines. Initially we didn’t have a plan.”
When they returned to Stockholm they enlisted the help of Ted Krotkiewski to act as another producer. Soon after they divided the workload and settled on individual roles.
Ellinor Olovsdotter would become the heart, face and soul of Elliphant. She focused on writing lyrics, melodies and chorus lines while Deneve and Krotkiewski conjured up the beats and hooks. Over the next few months they poured all their energy into the project and were even a little surprised with the results.
“The guys would send me these naked beats and I would record straight into the computer to build a song, just like using a guitar or piano. I’m good with melodies and know how to write a chorus but the guys are great at mixing everything together. We compliment each others skills.”
Soon they partnered with Ten, a music production company that also works with other Swedish acts such as Icona Pop and Niki and the Dove. Throughout 2012, they released a steady stream of tracks that successfully smudged the line between dancehall, dubstep and electro.
Ellinor is no stranger to controversy. On the track Ciant Hear It she cries: “I’m like a finger up your ass, why not give it to me?” Similarly dirty lyrics can also be heard on Tekkno Scene. On Down On Life, undoubtedly their standout track, the brow-raising line “waking up in a pile of shit” is offset by driving beats, filters that swell and sirens that weep.
The band seem content to duke it out on the top shelf, which isn’t necessarily a band thing. Perhaps this is a formula that shouldn’t work – but it does.
“When you go to your first real club gig and you’re surrounded by beautiful sweaty people, its a primal experience that borders almost on a religious act. Our aim is to create that atmosphere at our gigs.”
It’s been a short ascension to the top and despite the hype her feet remain firmly rooted to the ground.
“Exactly a year ago I had my first real performance in Stockholm and I was so fucking nervous. I was overanalyzing everything. I remember ringing Tim about six times a minute to ask him what clothes I should wear and what facial expression I should have. In the end it was great fun and my confidence has grown with each new fan that we’ve earned.”
In person Ellinor is a bundle of contradictions. She’s as brash as she is sensitive and as tough as she is vulnerable. Unconventionally pretty, her take on Jamaican patois is as endearing as it is perplexing.
“There are too many perfect ladies like Rihanna and Beyonce in the music industry,” she says. “I want to change that. I love dark music and dirty words. Sometimes, when I’m writing lyrics I think ‘is this even ok to say?’ But thats me. I’m a filthy girl.”
Elliphant release the Live Till I Die EP today. Check out the video below. Gigs in Sweden will be announced shortly.