ABOVE: FEMME (LEFT) AND ELLIPHANT IN NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2014.
The music of Elliphant (Ellinor Olovsdotter) is blend of ’90s pop, EDM, reggae, alternative hip-hop, and dubstep with an appealingly aggressive swagger. A statuesque Swede, Elliphant, who released her debut album in Sweden in 2013, has collaborated with the likes of Niki and the Dove and Skrillex. British producer and singer FEMME (Laura Bettinson) makes electro-pop; she writes, records, mixes, produces, and performs all of her tracks, in addition to directing and producing her own music videos. She was awarded the International Emerging Talent Award at the MUSEXPO Awards in L.A., and was handed the Rising Star Award at the London Music Awards in June. Her debut album will be released this spring.
Together, Elliphant and Femme are supporting British alt-pop singer Charli XCX on her 20-stop North American tour this month, which began in Florida and will end up in San Francisco on Friday. We met with Elliphant and FEMME shortly before their show at Webster Hall last week. The two women were affable and not at all nervous. It seems they had no reason to be—the show was a big success with young audience members dancing through the evening.
GERRY VISCO: This tour is basically all-female? That’s cool!
ELLINOR OLOVSDOTTER: Yes, it was Charli XCX’s idea.
LAURA BETTINSON: It’s deliberate.
OLOVSDOTTER: Her whole band is girls.
VISCO: How did it come about?
BETTINSON: She put my tune “Fever Boy” on Twitter and started talking to her fans, saying “You’ve got to check this tune out,” and literally a month later we got the invitation to come on the tour.
VISCO: Are you two friends with her?
BETTINSON: We’ve hung out a little bit but we haven’t had much chance to hang out on the tour. We’ve been busy.VISCO: So you didn’t know each other before?
BETTINSON: Not really. I knew of Elliphant and her music, but we met for the first time on the tour.
OLOVSDOTTER: I met Charli at some parties in L.A. before and we got along well. It was before she did the blow up track, “Boom Clap,” so she still had some working time and it was still a bit chill. I had a chance to hang out with her and we had a really good time. So from there it was like, “Oh, we’ve got to do something together!”
VISCO: Would you say, in terms of your musical styles, that there’s some correlation? Do you just all do your own thing or do you feel like part of a movement?
OLOVSDOTTER: [To Bettinson] I can really see why she picked you, because you’re an amazing pop writer. I don’t think it’s similar in sound, because your music is more electronic and Charli still has a little bit of the punk rock thing. But the way you write is very similar. My project is the one that’s peeking out, it’s a little bit all over the place.
BETTINSON: So you’re bringing the cool then?
OLOVSDOTTER: It’s a lot of cool. It’s a lot of swag.
VISCO: It seems like your careers are really taking off. How do you feel about it? Is it a lot of pressure?
OLOVSDOTTER: Well, my whole interest in music is from hip-hop—I never went to music school, I never had a dream about being a musician. So for me, I needed this to work out fast. The only reason I really do this is because other people put their rice on my fire. So as long as I’ve got rice on my fire, I’m going to burn. But I’ve got an artist’s soul, so I have many other ways I want to explore myself.
VISCO: How quick has it been? Two years?
OLOVSDOTTER: Yeah, from my first single until now, it’s been two years.
VISCO: And prior to music you had other artistic interests?
OLOVSDOTTER: Yeah, music is the last on the list. Not last in what I care about, but the last that came into my life. Before I did painting and photography.
VISCO: Are you still doing that?
OLOVSDOTTER: Yes. Not photography though. Photography was too big a space in my life. I had to let go of that. But it’s very good on photo shoots to have that background. You know what it’s like behind the camera, so all those things in front of the camera seem a bit easier.
VISCO: And video too.
OLOVSDOTTER: Video too. I have more of a picture in mind about how I want to be presented, so that’s a good thing to have in the back pocket.
VISCO: Femme, how about you? How long how you been on the brink?
BETTINSON: I put my first single out July last year.
VISCO: Were you always a musician?
BETTINSON: Well, I always sang. I started writing music when I was 16, but it wasn’t until I moved to London that I started making my own beats and doing the studio stuff. Before that, I got to a point where I had to decide what I wanted to do, if I was going to pursue the art thing or to do the music thing, and I decided to do the music.
OLOVSDOTTER: You can mix in art with music—like photography, you can bring so much else in. If you work in art, you can’t bring in so much other stuff. But in music you have a platform for all this other creative work.
VISCO: Do you see film as a possibility?
OLOVSDOTTER: Like, making a film?
VISCO: Or being an actor.
OLOVSDOTTER: Actually, I got some really, really weird but super-interesting proposals for that.
BETTINSON: Well, you do some acting in your music videos.
OLOVSDOTTER: It’s the last thing on earth I thought I was going to do. I’m so scared of that. But I got two amazing opportunities. I said no to both. If I get a third one, I will probably say yes.
VISCO: I get an acting vibe from you.
OLOVSDOTTER: It’s also being comfortable with your movement. When it comes to my videos, performing the song, I’m there.
VISCO: So, what is it about these Swedes that are taking over the music business?
OLOVSDOTTER: I have this philosophy about that. I think it has something to do with that fact that in Sweden we had at one point, like one hundred years ago, a kingdom, like in England, ruled by a very, very old queen. Her king died a long time ago. We didn’t have anybody to rule when she died. So we brought in a king from France. And he brought a big change. Sweden was a farming society before this king came in. He was interested in music, and he put a lot of tax money and a lot of focus into culture in Sweden. I think that’s the base of it. And then it’s pop music, Ikea, and H&M—those are the big things we export from Sweden. I think it’s because of the freedom and intelligence and the focus that came from not being in any wars. We were outside of all conflict in the world, but still very much a part of the world. We have travelers. Even if there are only nine million people in Sweden, there is still a Swedish person in every part of the world.
VISCO: And the facility with the languages.
OLOVSDOTTER: Yes. We never dubbed any of our films or TV, like they do Germany or France, for example.
VISCO: Sometimes your English is better than ours.
OLOVSDOTTER: I think that’s actually the reason. Sometimes people think that’s a bit of a harsh answer, because pop music is not always a bubbly thing—like there’s a reason why there’s amazing soul and R&B coming out of America and not from Sweden. The whole ABBA thing, it’s a little like, [sings] “I don’t give a fuck about the world, I’m just happy in my own little world.” But at the same time it’s intelligent, because it’s been out there. We travel, and we’re peaceful. I think that’s the reason.
VISCO: What about you, Femme?
BETTINSON: Well, I’m U.K. born and bred, from the Midlands, a couple hours north of London. There are a lot of Swedish pop writers in London as well.
OLOVSDOTTER: The simple language is interesting. The way we speak, you know?
BETTINSON: It’s probably investment in culture. A lot of those Scandinavian countries invest a lot of money into the arts. Everybody’s had the chance to play an instrument and learn it and they get more opportunities. There’s a higher quality of life.
OLOVSDOTTER: I think also it has a lot to do with the Swedish language and the fact that we are the only country in Scandinavia and Europe that had English television. We had MTV and all this other stuff. There has always been American and English culture pushed on us and the way we express ourselves, I’ve heard that most of the Swedish pop writers who write in English, how they put the words [together] is exactly how in Swedish we put the words [together]. And I think that’s a very simple way of telling a story.
VISCO: What were your musical inspirations? What turned you on before you started performing?
BETTINSON: I drew a lot from ‘60s Pop Art culture—like Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, all that visual side of things. Phil Spector girls—the Ronettes,. Classic kinds of melodies. But O consciously try and compliment that with a more masculine, contemporary beat. Divas—strong women like Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield, even Tina Turner. Early ’80s Madonna with that assassin attitude and a lot of personality that I think the in some UK pop sounds is lost—a lot of the music we have in the charts is devoid of any kind of personality, and I think it’s important to try and get that back. Like Prince and Michael Jackson, these icons of the pop industry always had that in such abundance. Even Queen, a rock band. I think sometimes we get a bit lazy, making pop music.
OLOVSDOTTER: Well sure, it’s become a product more than an expression.
VISCO: What about you, Elliphant? What were your inspirations?
OLOVSDOTTER: Definitely ’90s music. I listened to B-52’s so much when I was a kid. I know all the songs. I love them so much. I need a bit more than a good song. I need a personality behind it, otherwise that song will die very quick for me. Prodigy, Portishead, Coco Rosie has been a big inspiration for me. It’s more ’90s, early 2000s.
VISCO: And what about your tour, how is it going?
OLOVSDOTTER: We’re really busy. We don’t get to hang out much. We all travel different. I’ve been on tours before with shared buses and stuff so it’s like a little bit different but it’s a very good tour.
VISCO: The audience has been responsive?
BETTINSON: Yeah, they’re so young. They’re just teenagers and they’re lining up there for sound-check. Like today we were walking into the building and I got handed this picture that literally a 12-year-old had drawn of me from one of my videos and Elli got handed this soft, toy elephant. It’s so sweet. I’m a newcomer to all these people.
OLOVSDOTTER: It’s very appreciated. I did other tours before, but the performance wasn’t really appreciated because one of the bands had a different kind of fan crowd. So this is a perfect crowd.
VISCO: What are you going to be doing after the tour? Do you have something planned?
OLOVSDOTTER: The first thing that’s going to happen after the tour is a music video for one of the songs on the EP. Then I’m going to get into more recording.
VISCO: And you do everything in Sweden?
OLOVSDOTTER: No I live in L.A.
VISCO: Oh that’s right you’re living in L.A. now. Along with all the other Swedes!
BETTINSON: Yeah, a takeover!
OLOVSDOTTER: I wouldn’t have ended up in L.A. any other way. Life took me there. I’ve always been hunting sunshine my entire life so I’m not really sad about it. I’m turning 29 today.
VISCO: Oh, happy birthday!
OLOVSDOTTER: I started traveling to India when I was 16 and I was doing business in Goa for 8 years. I was making clothes in Bali—bikinis and stuff. And I sold them in Goa, in India.
BETTINSON: Wow, amazing.
OLOVSDOTTER: So for me I feel like I’m ready for L.A. New York stresses me out. I’ve been partying so hard for 12 years and I’m fucking through with it. I want nature experiences.
VISCO: They don’t party in L.A.?
OLOVSDOTTER: They do, but it’s terrible. If you want to party and you go to L.A., you’re going to be miserable, because that’s like the worst party place in the world. If you want to go to amazing yoga, or if you want to go for brilliant hikes or stuff like that it’s perfect.
VISCO: What are you up to now?
BETTINSON: My new single just came out yesterday so I’m going to go back to the UK and do some more promotion for that. Probably going to end up doing a few more European shows and finish up my album, which will be out in spring next year.
VISCO: Do you have anything else to say.
OLOVSDOTTER: Don’t take medical drugs! Don’t do it. Be evolution. Cry every time you want to cry. It’s like keeping the shit inside a womb.
VISCO: Let it happen.
OLOVSDOTTER: Let it happen. That’s what I want to say.