Self-Portrait: Elsa Hewitt

Music had always been the end goal for Elsa Hewitt, although it may have taken her a while to admit it. The London-based singer songwriter picked up a pen and wrote her first ever song at the tail end of primary school, which marked the beginning of years worth of songwriting and producing to come.

2016 saw her win the Lynsey de Paul prize from PRS, then last year be inducted into Gilles Peterson’s Future Bubblers, which culminated in five full length releases that gave us an introduction to the organic textures and dream-like melodies that set her apart from the rest. Transcending genres, Elsa’s sound is built around guitar loops, field recordings and vocal harmonies, falling somewhere between dream pop, house and experimental electronica.

Ahead of her appearance at We Out Here she welcomes us into her dreamy world with an original mix of unreleased material, alongside a chat about how she approaches her productions.

Elsa Hewitt plays We Out Here Festival (15th-18th August).

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?

I think the earliest/haziest memory is the sound of my mum singing old cabaret songs with nice melodies.

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

I had an all round creative upbringing. I was free to create, which I did relentlessly. It was definitely filled with music and instruments and singing.

What led you into music?

I’ve known that music is what I’ve want to do since the day I started playing guitar at the start of secondary school. It took me a while to admit that to anyone, I struggled with the idea that I should get a ‘normal job’, that was always a source of grief. After college I spent two years focussing on my band and doing day jobs, and then made a last minute decision to get a degree, before the tuition fees went up. That experience was so worthwhile though, it changed and enriched my mind in many ways. I also went back to being solo and met many great people in the York, Leeds and Toulouse music scenes, so I came out being even more sure that I should pursue music.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?

These days I get inspired by certain aspects of a track. Something that grabs my attention and causes me to think about what it is and how it’s done. But going back to the start, some of the producers who initially made me want to make electronic music and beats particularly were Burial, J Dilla, Four Tet, Aphex Twin, Little Dragon, Them Yorke, Nicolas Jaar, Jan Jelinek, DJ Koze, Christopher Rau, Gerry Read, Moodymann, William Basinski, Herbert, Steffi, Dinky, Laurel Halo, Julianna Barwick, Bambooman/Segilola, to name some of them.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio? Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

Not really any studio rituals except tidying the space and setting up but I can’t really call them rituals. I guess yoga is my main ritual but I do that regardless of my plans for the day. I never know for sure where my jams will end up, but it’s exciting to happen on something amazing that you didn’t expect, or that evokes something really strongly.

Are you the type of musician to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?

There are a lot of first takes in my music. I like finding the magic and subtlety in a good take, and often the first ones are the most natural. When it comes to making the initial ingredients of a track I’m very free and improvisational, that part is extremely quick and instinctive. I’m quick to drop something or jump on something. It’s like a search for the seed. But then cultivating that into something greater I become more of a perfectionist, honing in on details, continuing until it seems finished. And then there are several stages of fine combing that follow to make it ready for mastering. I’m trying to slow down a bit at the early stages to better control the resulting sound quality.

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track? Where do you take inspiration from when songwriting?

My approach was initially inspired by remixing myself, and from there it started verging more into Musique Concrete. Essentially, I play or mess around with an instrument, do some recordings, and then I resample them. I actually write something and then use that as a source to create something else.

Songwriting is a different process though, I have been doing that for so long that my main aim now is just to surprise myself. I keep notebooks and phones topped up with new ideas and lyrics which I browse through to find one that fits the music or the way I feel. When I look back on tracks I can remember the story behind it, remember the room I was in, and pinpoint what was going on at the time, because it reminds me where the sounds came from and where my head was at.

What are the most important bits of kit that make an Elsa Hewitt track?

Depends what era, but if this was my desert island kit: field recorder, guitar, computer, any old synth or machine that makes noises.

This mix is comprised of 100% original, unreleased Elsa Hewitt material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

I have delved into what I have available of all my unreleased material, and found it to be an all round strange experience, pretty moody and peculiar. I have selected mainly electronic cuts from the last five years. It hasn’t been easy because they’re mostly unfinished. It includes an ambient soundscape I made for an installation, an extract from my score for a silent film, tracks that could have been on recent albums, others that didn’t fit anywhere, extracts of jams, one of the many loop pedal jams I made when living in France. ‘Cat Jam’ is actually in response to getting 35/100 in a French oral exam. I included the whole ‘Alien 8’ EP (Clung To Part 1 to 3) which came just before ‘Cameras From Mars’; and then there are some new bits from my upcoming project, which I should probably keep secret until they’re finished…

Anything on the horizon for you? Any bookings or releases we should know about?

I’m making this new album. I somehow seem to have already made most of it which is weird as I haven’t purposefully started making it yet. It’s gonna be a very progressive, largely ambient one, dedicated to animals. Loads of festivals coming up including Forbidden Fruit, Brainchild, We Out Here and Camp Mountain Music Festival.

Elsa Hewitt plays We Out Here Festival (15th-18th August).

*soundtrack for art installation extract* (2018)
*soundtrack for silent film ‘suspense’ extract* (2018)
Don’t Be Too Long (2018)
Katie Do (2015)
Pickin Up Ma Toolz Ft. Deqa (2015)
A Sea (2018)
Gods Playing Games (c.2015)
Friendly Guitar Jam extract (2018)
Misdirection (c.2015)
Croon (c. 2014)
Adults Like (c. 2016)
Pull up a Pew (c. 2017)
Cat Jam (c.2015)
Norms (electronic version) (c.2015)
Printemps II (2018)
Clung To Pt.1 (Alien 8, c. 2015)
Clung To Pt.2 (Alien 8, c. 2015)
Clung To Pt.3 (Alien 8, c. 2015)
— undisclosed — (2019)
— undisclosed — (2019)
— undisclosed — (2019)

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