Elle Varner Talks About New Album, Gives Advice to Aspiring Singers
With MBK Entertainment in her corner and a new album on the horizon, Elle Varner is quickly making a name for herself in the R&B game. An esteemed graduate of the Clive Davis Program of Recorded Music, this New York-based singer-songwriter made a big splash in 2011 with her hit single 'Only Want to Give It to You.' She plans to keep the momentum going with her second single 'Refill,' which features a smooth R&B groove and a hillbilly fiddle.
Before Varner releases her debut LP 'Perfectly Imperfect,' she dropped a new mixtape, 'Conversational Lush,' to introduce fans to her new sound. With so many blogs and music websites buzzing about her, expect some big things coming from Ms. Varner in the new year. PopCrush chatted with the 22-year-old songbird about her newfound success and her future plans in 2012.
2011 was a big year for you. 'Only Wanna Give It to You' was a radio smash. How are you going to top that in 2012? What are your plans?
'Only Wanna Give It to You' wasn't even an appetizer that was just an hors d'oeuvre. I'm about to blow that out the water with my next single 'Refill' and I have [the] mixtape out, and then my album 'Perfectly Imperfect.' It's gonna be crazy.
What's the musical direction you are going with on your debut album?
I would describe the musical direction as a mix between singer-songwriter over hip-hop beats. So a lot of it is songwriting-driven with a hip-hop-influence. I wrote all of the songs on the guitar with a lot of variety.
Who are some of the producers you worked with on your new album?
I worked mostly with Pop & Oak and Al Shux who produced [Jay-Z and Alicia Keys'] 'Empire State of Mind.' Pop & Oak are like my Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Did your dad [musician-songwriter Jimmy Varner] help you with your album?
My dad helped me with the vocal arrangement and production and co-wrote some of the songs on the album. My mom is featured as a vocalist on a few of the songs -- one of them is 'Soundproof Room.' It was definitely a family affair.
What was your initial reaction when you first heard 'Refill'? It doesn't sound like your typical R&B ballad with the country fiddling in the song.
When I first heard the fiddle my jaw hit the floor. I felt dizzy and uneasy, that's where the whole concept of 'Refill' came about. This song is how I would feel if I had a hangover or if I was drinking [and] off balance. I made it to be about how a guy was making me feel like that crazy fiddle and that nutty component when [you first meet someone]. I definitely took to the song right away.
Listen to 'Refill'
Another song that has garnered a lot of attention for you is 'So Fly,' which is about self-love and body image. Was that song biographical for you?
The song is completely biographical. I remember vividly the night I wrote it. I was in college and I was heavier at the time. I was so just tired of always being overlooked and every guy wanting to be my best friend and nobody was interested in me. It was always the same kind of girls that seemed to have the world at their feet. It's funny, I write linearly, meaning, I don't write the hook first and then the verses. So, in writing this song linearly, I didn't know that I was going to come to the point that I do at the end of the song. But I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm the definition of fly.' So it was a very therapeutic song that helped me get through a tough time. I hope that it does the same for a lot of women. It's a general struggle that we all go through.
Watch a Live Performance of 'So Fly'
In a past interview, you said that you were a nerd in high school. We don't believe you!
[Laughs] You have no idea. I was a total nerd and I was unpopular. I still feel that I am now. I might look different but I am still the same nerdy, corny, joke-telling, goofy person.
Now that you are on the same RCA label as Alicia Keys, comparisons to her are going to be inevitable. So many people have high expectations for your new album. Are you feeling the pressure?
I have never been so confident in my life as an artist about my [album]. It definitely helps to have so many people confirm that Elle Varner is great. Even when I finished the album, I said to myself, 'This album is no joke.' And so, knowing that for myself, even if it sold two copies, it wouldn't matter to me because I know that I made my best and my album is incredible and I'm proud of it. The only thing that I'm nervous about is that the closer I get to being famous it's getting kind of weird.
What advice can you give to an aspiring singer who sees you and wants to pursue a career in music?
My advice is make sure that this is a 1,000 percent what you want because it is extremely tough. I'm just at the beginning of the process and I can say that it's very difficult. For example, on Billboard, I was the only new artist in the Top 20 (with 'Only Want to Give It to You' ) in the fourth quarter, one of the hardest times [to come out] when you have every major artist [releasing] new music. It takes a lot more than just talent to make it through. It's takes luck and you have to be willing to wait it out and take the wins and the losses.
Tell us about your new mixtape 'Conversational Lush':
The mixtape is definitely an uninhibited side of me as an artist. [With this project], it wasn't much pressure to create it like an album, which is, like, this whole epic package and presentation. The mixtape is just me vibing off different tracks. I'm experimenting and there's a little bit of me rapping on it. I had a lot of fun making it and I'm excited about it.
Watch the 'Only Wanna Give It to You' Video Feat. J. Cole