Get to know the heartfelt sounds of Parisian singer-songwriter Alma Elste.
If asked to guess, I’m sure not many of you would estimate 23 as the age of Parisian singer-songwriter, Alma Elste. With a voice as deeply mature as it is emotionally tranquilizing, which has been compared to London Grammer’s Hannah Reid, and lyrics that speak to all ages with heartfelt sincerity, Alma Elste may be young but she’s an old soul, and one that’s not going to be forgotten any time soon.
Although brought-up in the French capital, her dual citizenship encouraged the decision to later spend time living in New York and studying Harmony at Berklee College of Music. A move no doubt encouraged by her classical roots – another intriguing thread woven into an already adroit persona. Last year saw the release of ‘Heart Melter’ and now she’s back with her slightly more shadowy second single ‘Limitless’, which was written, performed and produced solely by the young singer. As tempting as it is to draw our own comparisons with other already established voices, her message may be familiar but the language that she speaks is too multi-faceted to pin down. Press play and your might just find yourself missing something you never knew you’d lost.
Your Grandfather was a classical pianist – was he/does he still remain a huge musical influence of yours?
My grandfather died before I was born. But my mother insisted that I played piano early in my life – I started around seven, so I think through her he definitely was an influence. He loved jazz just as much he loved classical.
Who is your favourite classical composer, can you remember the first time you heard one of their pieces?
There are so many composers that I need in my life. Depends which century we’re talking about. 16th century would be Gesualdo, 18th would be Bach, 19th would be Beethoven, 20th-21st would be Ligeti, Mahler, Scriabin, Ravel, Gerard Grisey, Philippe Schoeller… In human terms though identify a lot with Beethoven. He struggled all his life and was never satisfied with himself. He was a volcano. Very inspiring. I don’t spend a week without listening to those. But I believe in contemporary music in the classical world. I’m really open to that. We tend to think classical belongs to dead composers. It’s absolutely not true.
The early 2000s saw a huge change in the French music scene and this continued to grow through your teenage years with the rise of bands like Daft Punk – did you feel split between the new electronic pop and your classical childhood are they happily harmonious in your mind?
On the contrary. To me electronic music is the continuum of classical. I think electro is closer to classical than it is to pop. There is no chorus/verse. It’s just one long journey.
Did you have that textbook ‘teenage rebellion’ phase or did you unearth your music as an outlet where others found mood swings?
I wrote a lot of songs between 13 and 18. I used to record them with a 8track Boss recorder in my bedroom. Piano, guitar, bass and vocals. At the time it was innocent, just for me, I felt like I needed that. Now I realized how important this was. Coming from the classical world, I literaly learned all the fundamentals of pop music. How to write a chorus, how to make a bridge… I learned all the rules without even knowing it, and now I can slightly transform them.
Where is your favourite place to listen to live music in Paris?
The Philarmonic just opened last year. Simon Rattle said it has among the best acoustics in the world. I do agree. It’s astonishing, better than Pleyel. For electro I like La Concrète and Petits Bains. I must confess I dont go that much to pop concerts in Paris. I spend a lot of time on stage myself, so when I’m back in town I prefer bars. I would go anywhere if an artist I really love is performing though.
New York or Paris, you’ve got to choose one, which is the winner and why?
Don’t make me do this haha. John Mayer once said about the difference between NYC and LA: “New York is a long loving relationship and LA is a hot one night stand.” I’d apply that to Paris and New York.
What can we expect from your new track ‘Limitless’, what was it inspired by?
‘Limitless’ is a track I produced on my own. I’m currently working with two friends (Gui and Ant) and we’ve just finished my debut album. We are co-producers on that one. So ‘Limitless’ is more personal to me. It’s about a very difficult love that ends, leaving one of the two devastated. It’s an “ordalic” but luminous track. I see the colour red when I listen to it. It’s about pushing the boundaries. It’s my Mahlerian track, haha.
There’s no doubt it’s an incredibly heartfelt song, even without analysing the lyrics. When was the first time you felt truly moved by a song? Whether it had lyrics or not.
“Until Tomorrow Then” by Ed Harcourt changed my life. I was 15 I think. I couldn’t say why, I go back to this song every single year, around autumn. It’s always bliss. There’s also a song, without any instruments, by Bob Dylan called ‘Last Thoughts On Woodie Guthrie’ that I love. It’s very well written, reminds me of Faulkner. I get inspiration from that.
Would you call yourself a romantic? And if not how would you describe yourself, your temperament?
I can be extremely melancholic, almost nihilistic about life. I have that sceptical tendency where suddenly nothing appears to make sense. Damn, like Pyrrhic. Ha. But I can be full of joy and peaceful as well. I need to feel challenged by greatness. That’s what makes me want to keep living.
How does ‘Limitless’ compare to ‘Heart Melter’, one year on, do you think your style has changed in that time, matured even?
‘Heart Melter’ was a fun, naive song. ‘Limitless’ is me.
Words: Claudia Lloyd