Interviews

Artist Spotlight: Elohim talks mental health in music, new single and excellent breakfast food

Elohim has some unfinished business. The LA-based singer-songwriter-producer triple threat just cut her Group Therapy Tour short amid coronavirus concerns, but she has overcome plenty of hurdles before this one. 

Although it was the ultimate flex to use the Hebrew word for “God” as her stage name, Elohim got her start as an anonymous creator who hid behind long hair, masks, and a voice distorter because she hadn’t yet found the confidence to reveal her identity. She’s been open about her struggles with mental health since age seven and found empowerment in her transparency and building a community of friends and fans who struggle with similar demons. 

Atlas got to talk to Elohim in lieu of seeing her perform in Phoenix, and she spoke about her new single “Group Therapy,” The JED Foundation, and the best breakfast food she’s ever had. 

Atlas Artist Group: Let’s start with the present before we jump all the way back. What was the process of putting “Group Therapy” together? 

Elohim: So, the song was actually another song before. I haven’t told anybody this actually. [It started with] my best friend in the entire world, my friend Jared, who I’ve made a bunch of music with and is one of my favorite people to make music with because we’re just so close. It’s just so easy and so fun because we’re best friends and we’re laughing the whole time. We start with tracks usually, and whenever we get into a room we make music, we can’t not. With “Group Therapy,” it was actually a song called “Chaos.” We had written it and we made the track—the track was so fun, it’s my favorite part—and then we ended up rewriting the song over it because I had this thought in my head. It came from the track first and then we made the song around it and then added some children’s choirs singing on it (the L.A. Children’s Choir.) It was amazing, so it started with the track for sure. I’ve just been thinking about the concept of group therapy for awhile now.

Now let’s jump all the way back. How did you go from classical piano to making the sort of hypnotic electro-pop you make now? 

I was always sitting at a piano practicing what was written on a page, and it was classical. You know, you’re trying to practice all the time and take lessons and do competitions, and you get in trouble if you play it different from what’s on the page. For me, I was always playing a little different or I would move a lot and I couldn’t sit still, I’d get really into it. I always wanted to change stuff, so I started taking classical pieces and [in one instance] would take one part and repeating it a certain way, and it sounded really cool. And at the time, I was being introduced to bands like Radiohead where the sounds were so interesting and Animal Collective was another one that inspired me a lot. Even stuff like Death Cab for Cutie, the bands that would use interesting sounds. So I’d take the classical stuff that I was learning and mess it up, do stuff you’re not supposed to do and write songs around it. Getting a laptop and using GarageBand was the first time I realized I could chop songs up and make them sound weird and I would always think, the weirder the better.

I love that.

Yeah, it’s so cool. Like, there’s this song, let me find it. I don’t know if you can hear it. Obviously I’m already going a little stir crazy.

Hey, I guess now you can get extra weird with more time to create because there’s nothing else to do.

What’s funny is I finished my album before we went on the road. I told myself, “I’ll give myself two months to finish this,” and now it’s just like, “Oh.” I was wondering if it was a sign that I should keep making more music.

Maybe! I’m a big believer in signs, so it’s very possible.

Oh, me too. Me too. 

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So, you’re taking music and chopping it up, making it weird, and creating using this anonymous persona with masks and a voice distorter. Was there a moment when you realized you wanted to actually reveal your identity?

For my voice, I definitely have a specific moment. I’m in this GoDaddy campaign right now, it’s talking about my struggles with my mental health. They sent a driver to my house last January I think, and I was in the back of the car when we were in traffic, and they had sent me the script. I was going to put it into the app that has the voice distorter, and I was typing it in, and I was like, “Gosh, I feel like I need to say these words.” I felt really strongly about that, so I got to set and went straight to the director and [told him] and he was like, “Really?” They had planned the whole thing without my voice, and I was like, “I have to do it,” and they said, “Okay, let’s go to the audio trailer and you can do the voiceover right now.” So I did it, and that was really empowering, so that was the start of it. I wanted to keep doing it. GoDaddy also sent a crew to my house and I did on camera interviews with my real voice, which is on YouTube right now, and it’s really beautiful. They did such a good job. That was the first time I did a spoken interview on camera, and from there it gave me confidence. 

When I woke up to do the interview, I was so nervous because it had been three years without ever speaking, so I was like, “Oh my gosh, am I going to sound stupid? I don’t know!” and I didn’t, and it was super empowering, so I kept going. It gave me the confidence, and I thought, “Yeah, I can do this!”

Yeah, you can do this!

Yeah! And I feel like I have a story to tell that can help other people, so I want to tell that story.

Right, when did that click where you realized you had a platform and could help other people navigate their mental health challenges?

It really really clicked within the last year. I started getting involved with an organization called JED. Before I put out music, I didn’t know there was this world of people that are feeling alone and are hurting, and I thought it was just me that went through this stuff since I was seven years old. To finally meet people that are going through almost what I’m going through is crazy and amazing and it’s the most meaningful thing in my life that’s ever happened to me. And I have such amazing friends in my life right now who I met from putting music out. It’s so interesting that we’re all human beings and we all have this bond because we go through this unique weird thing. It’s interesting because I feel like I know so many amazing companies and friends, and I met them all through putting out music.

You’ve really created a community of friends and fans with super blurred lines.

Yes. It’s definitely friendship at this point. Even the crew, the people I took out on the road with me this time, some of them were new to my camp and they were just blown away. They were like, “I’ve never seen anything like this!” At the shows, everyone, they’re just the best human beings. I don’t think there’s a tier thing where because you’re an artist, you’re better than anybody else. You’re just the one that’s singing so they have an outlet because they can’t sing or they don’t want to, and that’s fine.

I was actually curious about your crew and your tour process. Do you have any rituals or practices to have everyone check in on each other and make sure everyone is doing okay?

Same with fans and everyone, of course when you hire people it’s always going to seem like there’s some sort or tier I guess? I finally after many years of many different people, I’ve found the most amazing crew ever who feels like my family and my people, and they understand me and are so caring. They understand that there are going to be moments when I get frustrated or upset or am in a mood and it’s my thing that I have to go through and knowing that because I got mad at them one time, it doesn’t mean anything. We’re all in this together. There’s no hurt feelings, which I think is so important on the road because you’re not sleeping, you’re not getting proper meals.

For mental health especially, the main main main most important thing is sleep. When you’re not getting sleep, especially for me, it messes with my head and sometimes when I’m feeling my most anxious I might not be the nicest version of me also. I think the ritual is that people are always checking on me, which is really nice, and I’m trying to check on everyone else. Asking, “Are you guys good? Are you happy? Are you eating? Are you getting good sleep? I’d rather go set up these lights and have you get an extra hour of sleep.” So I really try to take care of the crew, and we have the best time. I was crying when I found out the tour was getting postponed because we were having the greatest time ever and all getting along so well. I was so sad.

Girl, you and me both. But the universe is telling everybody to slow down right now.

Oh for sure, and it’s interesting because I’ve cancelled a tour before and that was because I was severely ill with horrible pneumonia, and it was terrible. I was in bed for two months, and it was gnarly. So it was nice to know that I’m not cancelling this because of me, but it’s because of the world. It’s a bit comforting to know that we’re not alone. We’re all going through this right now. 

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As far as your artist space, who are some of your peers who really inspire you whether musically or in activism?

Everybody is so great and doing so many amazing things. Like, my friends Louis the Child have been so great to me just checking in and seeing how I’m doing and if I’m doing okay. That’s the greatest thing in the world to just get a random text from somebody. They’re some of the nicest people I’ve met. And then there’s people I don’t know, like Toro y Moi is amazing and I love his music.

As far as activism, I don’t know. I feel like I’m in a bubble lately. When I recorded my record, I was in a bubble, and then I went into rehearsal mode and then went on the road. And the road is a crazy bubble. Everyone was freaking out about the corona thing, and I barely had my phone while I was on tour. You’re in this bubble of people in this amazing fairy tale world doing shows every night, and it’s so weird. I was so confused, like, what is going on? Once I got home, I was like, okay. Hearing my parents taking it seriously was real.

That’s what happened to me, too. Once my parents were on board, that’s when I realized it was real. 

Yeah! It’s so crazy. [Back to other artists] I toured with this dude blackbear, and he recently texted me asking to get involved. I feel like not too many artists are super involved but are starting to become more involved. It definitely takes researching and finding organizations that resonate with you, and that’s how JED was for me. I dove in, and all the proceeds from my Braindead project went to them, and I went to their gala in New York, and it was so beautiful and so moving. They were supposed to get multiple shows, and they got the New York show, which was the opening night of the Group Therapy Tour. We did a Q&A with the meet and greet, and it was mediated by someone from JED, and they put out cards at the show with their info and were speed messaging info on it. I’m trying to get people more involved. I didn’t even know that this was a thing, but the more research I did and the more music I was putting out about my own struggles, it was like, “Oh my god there’s this whole world, and there are people who are dedicating their entire lives to helping other people,” and [JED is] getting involved on college campuses and high school campuses.

And it’s such a relief to know—

I KNOW!

—that even if social media is sometimes a curse, it’s also a blessing in that you know you’re not alone.

Yeah, and that’s why with social media I tried to put an open, positive spin on it. Not even just that, but it’s a way for us to connect about real things. Let’s talk about it. I’ve been super open on social media and turned it into that kind of thing. Not just, here’s beautiful photos of me doing amazing things. I’d get really down because I’d see other artists traveling and doing other stuff and I thought, “How come they can do that without panic fits and freaking out?” It’s interesting because I started to get to know some artists, and they are going through this stuff. They’re just not sharing it.

For me, I want people to know that it may look cool and you wouldn’t think that I’m going through it, but I wanted to show that I am, and it’s not pretty and it’s not cool, and that’s when social media [comes into play.] It looks like everybody is doing cool stuff and is totally fine and not freaking out at all, and I’m sitting here in my bed and I can’t even leave my fucking house.

It’s a nightmare.

It’s totally real. But I think you can make it positive.

I totally agree. So, to switch gears here, I was reading about your cover of “Flagpole Sitta” being inspired by a KROQ throwback hour. How do you feel about them firing all their hosts last week?

Dude, that was so crazy. I don’t know if he’ll ever see it, but I sent Stryker a message on Instagram being like, “I feel so anxious and so weird.” It’s so weird that you say that, I was just reading about that today. Wait, how do you know KROQ? Are you from LA?

No, just a fan from afar. I started in music by working in college radio, and obviously KROQ is legendary in that space.

That’s so cool. For me, my mom always had Kevin & Bean in the Morning on while driving to school. I grew up listening to it, so I was like, “Holy shit” when I read about that. I didn’t know other people knew KROQ, that’s so cool.

Yeah, it’s crazy. Well, I was going to ask you about your live shows and how they’ve changed, but I guess by the next time you’re out on the road they could be different from the few you did this time around. 

The live show, I only got to do 10 shows or something on the Group Therapy Tour, but it’s changed. For one, I talk now, which is different. I’ve incorporated some of the reimagined show versions of the songs. I do a section of the show that’s acoustic where I’m sitting at a piano. That’s amazing. We have multiple cameras so you can see my hands and my playing and exactly what I’m doing up close, so the feed goes onto the wall behind me. That took it to another level I’d say. People would ask, “What are you doing?” so I said, “Alright, we need to put cameras on my hands!” So it shows that I’m not just a DJ, and it’s so cool and makes it so interactive I feel like. This show in particular is three acts, which has been really cool. The first is fun and let’s get this started, the second is really emotional, and the third one is sort of like the emotional purge. I sing “Buckets,” and we all scream together.

These shows have been the most fun I’ve had in my entire life and the most meaningful shows in my entire life, so I’m crushed. I’m definitely working on rescheduling the shows. But I’m always changing, wanting to make it perfect. I’m always wanting it to be the best experience for the person there because I know the feeling of going to a really cool live show, and it’s one of the coolest feelings. So, always trying to make the live show the best. This one is a brand new show that I just spent so much time putting together, so I’m not finished doing it. I’m going to keep this one and change a few things probably, like add a song or something.

What about what’s next?

I finished an album before this tour as well, and it’s such a weird time right now. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen and when my shows are going to be back. We’re in the midst of brainstorming what we can do right now, including putting out music from my album. Hopefully we’ll put the album out in the summertime or something. Maybe everything will work out in my favor, and I’ll get to put out the album while I’m actually on the road. That was the funny thing, I was on this tour wishing the album was coming out, but I thought, “This tour will be a way to reconnect and be together before the album cycle.” I think things weirdly do happen for a reason, and I kept saying I wanted to do a summer tour and now it’s pushed to summer.

Careful what you wish for! 

I knoooooow, oh my gosh. I kept saying that. So, yeah. Hopefully I’ll put out new music and hopefully all the shows can get rescheduled and the rest of the festivals this summer happen because I have some cool ones coming up.

Same here. I have a ticket to Hangout Fest, and they’re still holding out.

That’s such a cool festival. I played that one on the blackbear tour, and it’s amazing. Have you ever been?

Never. I’ve done Austin City Limits and then the Arizona festivals, so M3F and Innings and Dusk. 

That’s right, Dusk in Tucson. I played that one. But I love Phoenix. I was supposed to be there today! My favorite breakfast place is in Phoenix.

No way. Which one? 

I think it’s called be? Let me look at my phone. I’m an avid Yelp-er. I have to find it, I’m sorry. *Singing* I have to fiiiiind it! Oh my god, yes, it’s Be Coffee + Food + Stuff. Four and a half stars on Yelp! They have an avocado and egg sammie, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever had. The English muffins are so good, now I’m just looking at pictures. And where you eat is in a museum. You have to go here. I was telling everyone on the tour, “This is amazing, you have to go here!” Yeah, get the egg sammie. It’s unreal.

Okay, let me place an order. 

You’ll have to tell me how it is! I’m so excited for you. Okay cool, I’m going to go hike, but let me know how you like it.

“Group Therapy,” the new single by Elohim, is available on all streaming platforms. She’s hoping to release a new album this summer and finish the Group Therapy Tour with the remaining shows spanning the west coast. In the meantime, she’s active on social media and spending time with her foster dog, Pixie.

Story by Taylor Gilliam
Photos by Olivia Khiel

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