Posted On 06 Dec 2017
With co-signs from The Roots, Betty Wright, and electric blues pioneer Marshall Chess, Elise LeGrow is redefining music history with swanky sophistication and robust rasp. The young Canadian crooner’s “dreamy and velvety” (Billboard) aura is inimitable.
On February 16th, LeGrow will release her debut album, “Playing Chess.” Produced by S-Curve Records founder Steve Greenberg, R&B legend Betty Wright, and studio wizard Mike Mangini (the same trio of Grammy-winners behind Joss Stone’s twelve-million-selling ‘Soul Sessions’ album), ‘Playing Chess’ is drawn entirely from the catalog of Chicago’s iconic Chess label, home to pioneers like Muddy Waters, Etta James, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry among others. Rather than faithfully recreate such revered material, though, LeGrow’s interpretations completely strip the tracks of their previous identities, transporting them to a world where the past and present are inextricably intertwined. A mix of beloved classics and obscure rarities, the album’s eleven tracks showcase LeGrow’s stunning voice and wildly inventive arrangements, which manage to collapse the whole of pop music history down into a singular point in which any song and genre can come together in an endless array of possibilities.
“We definitely had a vision for what the sonics of the record would be,” reflects LeGrow, “but we also left a lot of space for experimentation. The album’s eclecticism results from the spontaneous collision of my own musical influences with those of everyone in the studio, spanning decades and genres.”
Those influences truly run the gamut, touching on everything from Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey to Nina Simone and Martha and the Vandellas. LeGrow first became obsessed with singing at roughly the same age she began speaking, and by the time she hit her teens, she was working her way through the American songbook at nightclubs in her native Toronto and touring with an indie rock band on the side. When her voice first reached the ears of Greenberg and Mangini, they understood at once that they’d landed on something special.
“We hadn’t been tempted to make a soul album with anyone in a very long time,” says Mangini, “because no one’s voice had moved us to do so. As soon as Steve and I heard Elise’s voice—possessing such depth and versatility, gliding effortlessly from silky smooth to raunchy rasp—we immediately knew that it was time to put ‘the team’ back together and make this record.
Raves for Elise LeGrow:
“dreamy and velvety…the singer’s innovative arrangement makes for a delicate piece of music that LeGrow fosters as her own, creating her personal vision and story.” – Billboard, on “You Never Can Tell”
“Her voice is suited to singing the emotional complexities of the genre with its natural richness and tone.” – MOJO
“LeGrow’s groovin’, infectious, bluesy interpretation stands out and demands attention…electrifying” – Huffington Post, on “Who Do You Love”
“new arrangements that shine a fascinating, instructive light on these classic compositions.” – Relix
“Simple, restrained and soulful, it’s quite the performance.” – Clash, on “You Never Can Tell”
Connect With Elise LeGrow Here:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What’s a song you are loving these days? What music instantly lifts you out of a bad mood?
I’m at home watching Goodfellas, which has a solid soundtrack including “Baby, I Love You” by Aretha. Song I’m loving these days…Leon Bridges’ “Smooth Sailing.” Song that lifts my spirits, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.”
Did you approach the start of this year any differently then you did last year? What have been some of the highlights for you this year? What are you excited for in 2018 which will be here before we all know it?!
I was in New York recording my new album at the start of this year, so it was a really exciting time. highlights…getting to tour this record, especially in Europe. We went on Jools Holland, which was surreal. And it was there I was introduced to the fantastic Jorja Smith, who was awesome. In 2018, I’m looking forward to my record coming out and more touring in North America and Europe. And closer to home, I’m excited about Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit coming to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there ever a time where you thought about doing something completely different? What do you think it finally was that pushed you to this career?
I’ve been singing forever and scarcely thought about doing anything else. My earliest memory is being told to use my “indoor voice” in kindergarten…anyone who knows me will confirm I have yet to master that skill!
I always like to know how a particular city has influenced an artist. How do you think your hometown has affected the kind of music that you are making today? How has your current city influenced your music?
I love Toronto. It’s been home my whole life and I’m grateful to have been exposed to and embraced by the vibrant art and music scene here. That said, most of my musical inspiration has come from outside Toronto, and, in many cases, outside my lifetime.
Were there any unexpected challenges when you were making your debut album, “Playing Chess”? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
Finding a decent Tinder date in New York.
What was it like working with Questlove, the Dap Kings and Betty Wright on this collection?
I feel truly honored that these incredible, internationally renowned artists contributed to the album. Looking back on the recording process, it all feels a bit surreal!
I know it’s hard to choose but what are some of your favorite songs on this album? Can you talk about how a few of them came together for you? What was inspiring you to make this kind of a collection?
It’s hard to pick favorite songs, but “Rescue Me” and “Who Do You Love” are definitely up there. “Who Do You Love” was interesting because what you hear on the recording is pretty much the way it initially came together. We worked it out pretty spontaneously in the studio and I think the recording captures that live energy.
Now that the summer is over, what was something fun that you did or tried for the first time?
How do you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Where do you think you are truly the happiest- on stage performing or elsewhere?
I’m the boss and I love my job. I’ve always loved performing live, and when I do I feel in touch with the 4-year-old me who first took to the stage, completely of my own volition. But I love working in the studio too. I’m already hard at work recording my next album, which features my original music.
Do you believe that the music being created right now will be greatly influenced by the intensely politically charged times we live in right now? How has it affected you as a musician in general?
Hopefully, it will be the other way around and politics will be influenced by music. And because music is a universal language, it is inherently unifying. music = peace
What artists have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I love Janelle Monáe and her music. She is a real-life intergalactic princess. I’m also very much inspired by another Toronto-based artist, Maylee Todd, who just released her new album, Acts of Love.
What advice would you give to a young person who is considering becoming a musician one day?
Don’t let people push you around. If you have a vision, stick to it. When someone offers you charcoal ice cream, say no.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music? What do you hope is the message of your songs?
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
I love kitties and can often be found spending hours watching cute cat vids online lol. You can check out my kitty, Olive, on Instagram #olivelegrow!!