The ability to absorb information from our senses in order to make connections with the wider world… When implemented in the context of music production this becomes some sort of superpower, and it is one that East Sussex electronic-experimentalist Elsa Hewitt certainly possesses.
A string of captivating, independently released records have highlighted the artist as one of the most exciting indie-electronic sparks in the UK, with her ’19 record – Citrus Paradisi – getting picked up by UK mainstay Lobster Theremin for a reissue later this month, as the label slowly presses it’s foot harder on the pedal of experimentation.
We caught up with Elsa to chat about sourcing field recordings in local woodlands, her inspiration for the record and her abstract and visual methods in producing sonic, blissed-out beauty.
When did you first start dipping into electronic experimentation?
I was making music for quite a while before. I’d been making albums for a number of years, and there had been quite a lot of experimentation already but in a singer/songwriter and band context. I started producing and approaching that, in the ways I’d been thinking about, probably around 2014.
How did the reissue of Citrus Pardisi on Lobster Theremin happen? I read that it was one of Asquith’s favourite records of last year, did he reach out?
Essentially, Jimmy [Asquith] emailed me asking if I’d be interested in doing this reissue. It was at a time when I was wanting to start working with labels more, so it seemed like a good place to start. They were a label that I already knew of and it seemed like they wanted to branch out and explore other experimental indie stuff.
One word I’d use to describe the record is ‘dreamy’. Was this the intent, to create some sort of blissed out dreamscape to retreat to?
It was based upon some aesthetic ideas and things that I found appealing at the time. I tried to not over-produce it, and keep it comparatively stripped back and clear. I wanted to have something bright and clear, and minimal. The themes of the albums are always quite abstract, but there’s a feeling behind them. I usually can’t say exactly what it is until retrospectively looking at it.
As I – apparently – said in an interview, it was inspired by faith and synchronicity, and I definitely agree that it was inspired by the latter because of the way I went about the sound design and field recordings of things that were happening at the exact same time as I was making the music, and they just went together really well.
Using instruments and objects nearby, locally sourced sounds; it was also, for me, a combination of everything I had learnt about production over the few years I had been doing it. I basically wanted to create one sick album that brought together all the ideas that I had. It also got the point where I could just do music, I was making enough money from that to support myself. It was a special album for me in that sense, as it was a testament to the work I had done.
What kind of places do you go to in order to gather your locally sourced sounds?
For a while I would just take my recorder with me everywhere. So, there would be recordings from different places and events, like bits of conversations between friends and stuff. I’ve done a lot of recordings in my garden.
I quite often go to outdoor woodland areas and that sort of thing, especially if I’m going in search of specific sounds. I basically like going on a walk and seeing what I find.
Talk to me about your process: are you a planned-out type of artist or do you like to leave things to improvisation?
A little bit of both really. I guess there’s a lot of different parts to the process; whether it’s improvising, taking notes on stuff or just getting into the flow and making stuff without actually giving it much thought. At some point I’ll understand where it’s going and then I just have a mental picture of what it’s going to be like. Sometimes if it isn’t working out, I’ll re-start or re-sample the whole thing.
When it comes to album making; I don’t put a huge amount of thought into what the album is going to be like because I already know in my mind that it’s pretty abstract. It’s a mental picture, quite a visual thing.
When you say it’s a visual thing, what kind of things are you seeing? Do you see an image in your mind and try and create that sonically? Is it like scoring a memory?
It can be a structure, or tones. It can be any image, any memory. Or it can just be a very vague pattern or shape. Something that means something that is right at the back attached to a lot of other thoughts. It’s when you have any idea, or a concept, and a feeling behind something that doesn’t necessarily have words. It’s just an abstract feeling and you follow the form that that should naturally take.
Your music videos are incredibly captivating. I guess as your music-building process is so visually inspired, this must feed into your videos. Do you have all the creative input when it comes to creating these?
Yeah, I think so. It does increasingly since I’ve started doing more of them. I put more thought into them now. Before, I would often want the filmmaker to do whatever they felt fitted with the music, but over time I’ve started getting more ideas about the visual experiments that we can do with the visuals. I don’t really like music videos that make too much sense.
What else is on the horizon for you?
I’m working on lots of things at the moment. I’ve just been going over all the final edits for the reissue of Citrus Paradisi today. I’m also still deciding how that will be released. I’m quite torn between working with labels and self-releasing, as I’ve been self-releasing for a while now and I’ve built up quite a good platform for myself independently, which I definitely want to keep building on. Though, in saying that, there are a lot of labels I would like to collaborate with.
Citrus Paradisi will be reissued by Lobster Theremin on Friday 13th November. Pre-order it here.