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Elvea – The Story of “Breathing Underwater”

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Elvea is one of those musicians who’s definitely an artist, in the fullest sense of the word.

I mean that she’s a creator to the core. But I also mean it in the first, more literal sense, too – like, she’s a painter. With music.

Something in the sounds she chooses evokes painting to me. There’s so much feeling to the blended harmonies, to the R&B-inspired subtleties of the synths and keys, to the achingly soulful vocals. It’s a soundscape that practically bleeds with vibrant colors, carefully chosen.

Personally, I’ve always bent more toward the lyrical side of writing – it’s easiest for me to focus on the words. But it’s artists like Elvea who remind me that music is a language, too.

And she’s fluent in it.

She’s fluent in a lot, actually. She’s from Italy (although she spends a good deal of time in LA), and her mother tongue is Italian. She writes in English and sings on two continents.

Maybe it’s from those circumstances – from gigs performing English songs in front of Italian audiences – that she learned to gravitate toward the universal language of music. Because anyone can relate to the vibrant colors of sound. Or maybe she was born with the natural ability to speak in melody.

Either way, her art makes for beautiful listening.

Dive into “Breathing Underwater”, and you’ll definitely feel something. Here’s betting that you’ll see a little more color, too.

Then, check out Elvea’s songwriting process below, and get the full story behind the music.


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And you can buy her music here.


When did you start writing songs? How’d you get into it?

I’ve been making up melodies since I was a kid, but I actually started writing songs maybe ten years ago. The first one I wrote beginning to end was for my grandmother. It was really hard for me to express feelings with words back then, so I remember that first song being very freeing. Weird enough it’s also the only song I ever wrote in my mother tongue, Italian.

After that, it took me years to feel confident enough to show my songs to other people. I was singing a lot, doing a lot of shows, but not really recording or performing my music.

Still, I couldn’t wait to be by myself and have some free time to exercise my writing, and I quickly realized that was my true passion: not only singing, as I thought before, but writing songs.

Why do you write songs? What’s your goal when you write a song?

I’ve always felt this urge to express and create things. I paint, studied visual arts and photography in the past because of this need, but music is my favorite creative channel. It’s a need, like eating or drinking water.

Most of the time I’m feeling some kind of way and it’s not really clear what’s going on in my mind, so I sit at the piano and I let whatever it is I’m experiencing flow out.

Real life is very weird sometimes, and writing helps me process the events more clearly, in a way I’m not able to accomplish with only words or thoughts.

So my goal is to create. Create and show my vision.

How did you find your current style?

My playlists are an eclectic mess – there’s literally a lot of different stuff in them, and it all plays a part in the way I write. I’m strongly influenced by soul and R&B, indie rock and jazz. I grew up singing in gospel choirs, therefore vocal harmonies are a must in my songs. My songwriting is constantly changing and evolving and I hope it’s never going to stop.

Who are your influences?

My top influences are Prince, Erykah Badu, Radiohead and D’angelo. And Joni Mitchell. An “acquired” one, because at some point a bunch of people said I reminded them of her (weirdly), so I listened to “Ladies of the Canyon” while I was living in Los Angeles, had a weird, mystic revelation and fell in love.

What is your favorite song of all time, and why?

It changes every other day, but right now it’s “California” by Joni Mitchell. She is so detailed in the lyrics and you’d think the song is not going to be relatable because of that, but she manages to make it universal. Genius.

What makes music or a song good?

This is the million dollar question. In my opinion, besides the technical aspects, it’s its impact on the listener. If I listen to a song and it affects me on an emotional level then it’s a good song. Personally it comes more from the music then the lyrics, but there are exceptions of course.

What advice would you give to other songwriters?

I’d like to say something I’ve been told by a very experienced songwriter once: do not get frustrated when you’re not inspired. Use this time to exercise the craft, play, study, go out and live life, experience things. Eventually the songs will be back.

Let the art come to you, don’t go chase after it.

How do you write? Do you start with lyrics or melody? Chorus or verse?

I usually start from the music. I sit at the piano and start jamming out on some chord progression I have in my head without really thinking about rules and technique, and I go from there. Sometimes I have a couple of words or a catch phrase and I try to represent it with sounds. Harmony is such a fascinating matter. I work a lot on the idea of chord quality and colors. That’s why I don’t like it when people want to re-harmonize my songs, because they were born because of those particular shades and changes.

Do you co-write at all?

I usually don’t and write everything myself but I’m getting into it more. The trick is finding the right people. There’s a song I co-wrote with a great musician, Antonio Dalì, in my album, and that was a lot of fun, but we both know each other pretty well and that song was born after spending a whole month in the studio working on my originals.

How do you write a melody?

By the time I get a certain harmonic idea on the piano I also have some melodic cues, so I start laying down the simple piano track in logic, loop it and focus on singing and polishing the melodic cue. When that starts making sense I try to understand if that idea is strong enough to be a chorus or if it’s going to be my verse. Sometimes I sit at the piano and I start writing everything at once singing non-sense words, and the melody just flows organically along with the chords, but this happens mainly with ballads and slower, emotional songs.

How do you write lyrics?

Lyrics are their own world – sometimes I love writing lyrics, sometimes I hate doing it. I have notebooks filled with thoughts, experiences and quotes from other songs or books that I use as inspiration to brainstorm for a new song’s story. Sometimes I have to break down my idea in key points to clarify it, sometimes I write six or seven verses and then I pick and choose. I’ve never been interested in lyrics as a listener, so sometimes it’s a challenge to care for them as a writer. Plus I only write in English which is not always super easy, given the fact that it’s not my first language.

Would you rather write on personal experiences or general themes, and which approach comes more easily?

I would say it’s easier to talk about personal experiences, but it’s not always simple to overcome the fear of opening up with the audience. Sometimes I get inspired from other’s experiences. Sometimes the two approaches mix. The important thing is honesty. Either way, if you’re not honest or don’t really feel what you’re saying, neither will the listener.

Do you put more emphasis on lyrics or sound? And which would you consider more important?

Sound, sound. Lyrics. Sound. I don’t know anymore. Sound has always been my main interest, the search for the right shade of blue or red to paint my songs. People can understand feelings through sound even without knowing the language. But in the past couple years lyrics have gained some more weight when I create. Maybe that happened when I started being more open about my experiences, or when I moved to the US where people would understand my songs right away, while in Italy that doesn’t always happen. Or maybe I overcame that fear I was talking about earlier. I don’t know. Maybe today I want to put emphasis on both equally.

What emotions, thoughts, or feelings do you want your music to inspire?

I would like it to make people feel something. That’s what art should do; it should awake something inside of people, because that’s what makes life worth living, feelings. For example, someone messaged me last year saying that my song “Rain” has been her best friend in a very difficult moment, making her gain the strength to get up and solve things. That one message was worth all the time and effort I put in the song.

What role does production play in your writing?

It plays an important part. When I write, I start envisioning the arrangement and the production in my head, and I begin laying down notes with the midi instruments in Logic. Later on when the song is taking shape I go back in to work more on the instrumentation. My piano playing is really basic, and creating drum tracks helps me to not fall into the same rhythmic patterns over and over again. It’s a work in progress. The newer tracks I’m working on are a bit more experimental and I’m trying to learn and go deeper into the production aspects on a technical level, trying to create synths and pads, and building my own drum samples. I turn to musicians to record for me when I need something I can’t do by myself but I try to make sure I can at least give them an idea or explain my vision with rough tracks or examples. Thankfully I have some really good friends who are amazing players and most of the time they pick up what’s in my head quickly and make it a thousand times better.

Let’s dive into “Breathing Underwater”. What was the first part of the song to be written? Lyrics, melody, riff?

It was actually the title. I was walking around and I overheard someone saying it for who knows what reason, got inspired, ran to the piano booth where I used to write when I was in LA and wrote the whole thing.

Is this about a specific situation or relationship? Would you be willing to share?

Well, it’s not easy to answer. I was in a very confused place emotionally when I wrote the song, and I can see that breaking through the chorus, but at the same time I wasn’t in that kind of situation romantically. I saw a friend struggling with a relationship that was obviously done – her boyfriend was even seeing someone else – but neither of them seemed to be able to put the word end to it. That inspired the whole concept:

breathing underwater

would be the same

Like, you need to breathe in order to live, but if you do it underwater it’s not going to be of any help. I still made it mine with the phrase,

all the songs we wrote when

there was only us

mixing my friend’s story with one of my experiences. I had a relationship with another musician once that was similar. I don’t think he ever cheated on me, but he was never supportive of my music, and would unconsciously tend to drag me down in order to feel better. I was stuck in this really dumb fear of letting go of him, losing all confidence in my art. That felt like breathing underwater.

Did you write this for yourself, another person, or an audience of people?

I wrote it for me and for whoever is stuck in that kind of situation. When I say

what kind of love is this that

is stealing my voice

…I was trying to express that. It’s not love if you feel like you don’t have a voice anymore.

What do you want listeners to take away from this song?

Wrong relationships are everywhere all the time. Most of us experienced a bad one at some point in life. You go through it, learn, leave, and hopefully never make the same mistake again.

Still, too many times I hear of people staying stuck in abusive, painful, or just wrong situations. I hope my song will tell people, “Hey, if you feel this way, just run. You deserve to be able to breathe and be happy”.

I decided not to write a sad-sounding song to give that sense of hope, and even if the lyrics don’t say if the person actually takes the courage to leave or not, I wanted to make the instrumental part tell the end of the story.

When did you know the song was finished?

I didn’t. I just decided it was. If I don’t force myself into sending the songs to the mastering phase I wouldn’t have finished anything yet, and I would still be tweaking that first song for my grandma. lol

Are there any details you’d like to share on the recording or production process?

When I recorded the scratch track with piano and vocals I was in LA and I went to a drummer to get the drums recorded. I then edited them and changed them up a little bit because of a different direction I took on the second verse, and at that point I was back in Italy working on the album with Antonio Dalì, who really helped me step up my production.

He recorded keys and guitars and we worked a lot on the groove to achieve that laid back feel, and I am very satisfied with the outcome. He is the musician in the video, and he helped me with filming and lights as well.

What’s next for you in terms of upcoming music or shows?

I’m releasing my debut album, Nightversation, soon (“Breathing Underwater” is the second single from it) and then I’m planning on putting together a band and starting to play.

I’m also working on new tunes, and I will be releasing a new music video sometimes in the next month or so. On the side, I’m collaborating with some other musicians from around the globe for a project that will involve music and visuals, but it’s still a work in progress.

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