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Ela Minus talks collaboration and bilingualism

On her upcoming debut album acts of rebellion, Colombia-raised and Brooklyn-based electronic artist Ela Minus steps out as writer, producer and performer, brandishing hardware synthesisers and an appreciation for everyday acts which have the power to cause big change.

It’s so great to be able to speak to you about your upcoming release acts of rebellion. I wanted to start there, with the title – when starting to produce the album, did you already know that was the idea and the direction you wanted to head in or was that something that arose naturally throughout the process?
I had absolutely no idea before I started that that was gonna be the name or the topic of the album. It happened, uh, it happened naturally during the process, yes.

I feel like a lot of the time as artists, we feed into perfectionism and want to be almost controlling over our work, but you’ve described your process as very improvisational. How did you learn to trust your intuition when making art?
I’m not sure if I learned to trust it, I think I just learned to take chances and remove myself and my fear out of the equation. So, I think that helped a lot.

I really love the cover art for this album. Can you talk me through the process and inspiration behind creating that?
Yeah, absolutely – the idea was that I often share these moments when I’m on stage where I get off the stage and look at people in the eyes and make very direct eye contact, and I wanted to emulate that moment with the cover. And I wanted people to have that moment with them, at home. So I just wanted to be able to look at them directly in the eyes.

It definitely feels really personal. And it’s so simple but so poignant.
Thank you, that means a lot.

It helps a lot in the process to have a second pair of ears that just gives you some perspective really.

With a lot of your process being very independent, having written, produced and performed this album yourself, who do you play new music to first? Is there someone who you sort of trust as your second opinion?
Yeah, I have a friend who has been my friend since I was, like, 14 years old. He’s actually my manager now, too. And I always show him first, everything. And it helps a lot in the process to have a second pair of ears that just gives you some perspective really.

With the changing nature of the music industry this year, making collaboration not impossible but certainly much more difficult, have you found that your creative process has changed a lot, or has it always been quite independent?
I think since I started this solo project it has been very independent. Before this, I only – I did it the complete opposite way. Everything I did before was communal, and in bands, and in groups. I actually felt, after making this record, so disconnected from everything. I had wanted to start collaborating more which, as you say, definitely not the right year for that. But yeah, I think there’s a lot of valuable ways of working, and I think even if you get to collaborate with more people the, like, the initial part of it being very personal and very, uh – yourself by yourself. Like, writing the first ideas. It’s still the way I think I would work regardless.

I actually felt, after making this record, so disconnected from everything.

In future do you see yourself continuing this process? You have one collaboration on the album – do you see that increasing? Or how do you see that changing in the future?
Yeah well, I think more so, more than anything, I’m very happy that now I have, I feel like I’ve found more my kind of people if that makes sense. Having found Domino and the community around it, I’ve definitely been able to reach people that I think I would love to collaborate with so I definitely see that increasing. Also I’ve been very focused in getting to the bottom of what I can do with very limited resources, like with very limited machines and synths and just myself, and I really wanted to push the limits of how far I could go by myself before I could reach out to other people and other synthesisers also. And I think I’ve reached that point where I know myself enough to know what I can bring to the table and what I can’t, and I think that makes collaborations even better, you know. Because they’re truly you looking for something that you know you don’t have out of a creative idea and not out of, like, a lack of ideas, you know? Or like, not because you’re missing something but because you wanna, uh, you want something that someone else has specifically. And I think that’s the way to do it. So definitely increasing.

I really wanted to push the limits of how far I could go by myself before I could reach out to other people.

With this album being solo produced, I was curious as to why you felt that it should end on a collaboration?
Well, um, two things. One, more so it being a collaboration or not, it was always for me meant to be the closing song. Because I’m singing “I’ll keep you close,” and I always thought that was such a beautiful phrase to end an album with, like I’m saying goodbye to the listener and I’m telling them I’m gonna keep them close even if the album’s ending. So I always wanted to close with that. And then, when I invited Roberto (Helado Negro) who sings on it, I also thought it made sense because it’s like, you’ve been, you know, the album starts with a breath of air, from my mouth (laughs), that’s like you’re entering my world. And then we go through the album together like it’s a journey, and then we end and it’s like we’re getting close to the door of the journey, and you’re seeing someone outside of this world, which is him. And we sing together and it’s like I’m, you know, the journey’s over now – I’m moving on to the next thing and hopefully you will involve more people, I guess. So, I just see that now that I’m talking about it (laughs) but first it was more only because of the actual song.

I love that, it’s so visual. It’s a real story – as you were speaking I saw that in my mind.
Oh, thank you. That means a lot.

In listening to the album which has songs of course in both English and Spanish, I started thinking about untranslatable phrases and how sometimes when you speak two languages, one language expresses a certain feeling better than the other language is able to. I wanted to ask if that feeling, or that idea of being untranslatable, is that something that plays into when you’re figuring out which song will be in which language?
I often think about what you just said, because I think it’s actually a beautiful tool when you know more than one language to see it that way, because it’s like almost having two different universes and ways to express yourself in those universes. And I always have found English to be so much more direct, and rhythmic also but that doesn’t have anything to do with meaning. But it’s just so much more direct and concrete, which I like. But before, I used to only like it, and kind of dread having to write in Spanish, because it’s so much more… It’s the opposite really. You have to go around way longer paths to say the same thing at the end. Which, if you’re a master of language is beautiful and very poetic. When you’re not, I think it often gets confusing. So I used to use it as a tool more so. Like in Spanish, I would only use metaphors when I write the songs cos I think it’s way easier to say things if you use a metaphor in Spanish. But in English I’m, like, way more direct.

It’s like almost having two different universes and ways to express yourself in those universes.

But these are only things that come as second thought because I always start writing when I’m improvising, and usually a first phrase of the song comes out when I’m improvising, and it’s already either in Spanish or English. So I don’t really choose it consciously. I just go with it and then after I have the first phrase I consciously write the rest of the song. But it’s not like I ever choose a language because of the actual language. Just kind of happens, really.

For our final question, if you could collaborate with any artist in any medium, who would it be and what would you create?
Wow, that’s a very good question. I think at the moment I would stay in music just because I guess the thing I was saying before where I like first exploring everything I can in one medium before moving on, I guess. Just so I can, you know, really get to the deep parts of it. So I would stay in music for now and… someone completely different. Like, I’ve actually listened to Aurora, recently. She’s really famous, I’m sure you know her. I think I was the only one that didn’t know her or that didn’t listen to her music, but I think she’s from Norway… I was actually listening to her music last night for the first time and I was like, “How have I not listened to this before?” And I liked it a lot. So, I’m gonna say her.