Artist/Band: Ellisa Sun
Hometown: Seal Beach, CA
Latest Album/Release: Moon & Sun/April 2017
Influences: Amy Winehouse, Lake Street Dive, Lauryn Hill, Norah Jones, Alabama Shakes
TrunkSpace: How do you describe your music?
Sun: Ah, such a difficult question! When people ask me this question I generally say “jazz/soul”. My band and I create a sound that’s equal parts easy listening and rockin’. Let’s say Norah Jones and Alabama Shakes had a baby, but then the baby was raised in a chaotic household by Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill. The baby was also heavily influenced by her godmothers Alicia Keys and Brazilian singer Elis Regina. Simple enough, right?
TrunkSpace: When we first heard the remix for “Past Noon,” we said to ourselves, “This is has a very sexy vibe to it.” After listening, we went to your Twitter page and saw in your self-description section that you wrote, “I make sexy music.” We were right! Do you view “sexy” as a genre or is it a component of what you create?
Sun: This question makes me so happy. I constantly use the word “sexy” to describe how I want my music to sound, and it drives my bass player Niko crazy. He literally just gave me shit a couple months ago and said, “You need to come up with adjectives other than ‘sexy’ to describe music!” Now my band and I try to use the word as much as possible. I grew up listening to a lot of R&B/Neo-Soul, which is the sexiest music. Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and Alicia Keys’ first album “Songs in A Minor” were the first CDs I bought, and the element of sexiness is undeniable. The feeling I get from listening to R&B/Neo-Soul heavily influenced my musical tastes. In my opinion, “sexy” is both a genre and a component of what I create. It’s a way to describe music that really turns people on (figuratively, of course), and everyone has different ideas of what that means. It’s that moment when you’re watching or listening to a performance and you say “UH!” or physically respond with your body without being aware of it.
TrunkSpace: We can hear so many different styles of music within your own signature sound. Is bringing in those different elements a conscious effort or is what we decipher just a natural blending of who you are creatively?
Sun: It’s definitely not a conscious effort. Lately this has felt like both a problem and a gift – my band and I are influenced by many different types of music, and we want to convey that in our performances. As I continue to “build my brand” and navigate the music business on my own (I am my own manager, publicist, etc.) a lot of people have told me to pick one genre and stay there for continuity and success. I understand this perspective, but have a difficult time putting it into motion since I’m so passionate about simply creating the best art that I can, and sometimes that art doesn’t fit into one box.
TrunkSpace: Are you comfortable in your own songwriting skin? If so, can you pinpoint the moment you found your voice?
Sun: Here’s a fun fact about me: it was my dream to be a singer and musician since I was 10 years old, but I didn’t start writing songs or singing in front of people until I was 23. I’m 29 now, so I still feel like this is only the beginning. My songwriting is an ever-evolving process, and I think it will continue to be a process for the rest of my life – and that’s the beauty in it! If I was done growing, then my music wouldn’t grow.
TrunkSpace: What does your writing process look like? How does a song go from inception to
Sun: Usually I write my songs on guitar, coming up with a melody and lyrics either at the same time or separately. When I feel comfortable performing it, I’ll play it for my band and they add parts. It’s truly a collaborative effort and takes lots of open minds, communication, and love. Quincy (drums), Niko (bass), Ethan (trombone/trumpet), Daniel (saxophone), Chuck (lead guitar), and David (keys) are such talented, creative, hilarious guys and I am so, so lucky to have them – we work together really well and we truly have fun! After several rehearsals and lots of trial and error, we decide it feels ready and we perform it live to get a pulse on how people respond. Then we go back to rehearsals and make changes as necessary.
Late last year and in 2018 we’ve started writing songs a little differently – right now we’re working on a song that started with a guitar part Chuck wrote, and a song that started with Niko writing the chord progression and feel.
TrunkSpace: What is your favorite part of the songwriting process? What gives you the biggest thrill?
Sun: I’d say there are two favorite parts for me: The first is when I finish the song on my own – when I sing and play it on guitar and it feels more or less complete. The second is when I bring it to my band and they start adding their parts/ideas. Watching them play around with parts at the beginning of the process is so much fun because they’re not taking themselves too seriously and they’re simply feeling the “sexiness” of it.
TrunkSpace: Many songwriters have said that the process is a bit like therapy for them. Do you find that to be the case with your own songwriting?
Sun: Absolutely. I feel so lucky to have found songwriting as a form of therapy. I think everyone needs something to process their crazy, whether that’s singing or dancing or writing or drawing or running or knitting or playing Scrabble. Songwriting is a way to get something out of me. If I didn’t have it, I’d probably be locked up in a room somewhere.
TrunkSpace: Creative people are infamous for being extremely hard on themselves in the creative process. Does that apply to you, and if so, where are you hardest on yourself?
Sun: Ah, yes. This most definitely applies to me. I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself sometimes but I think it’s been built into me – might have something to do with my childhood but that’s another story! I tend to be hardest on myself when I first perform a new song in front of my friends or bandmates. I’m always critical of the quality of writing and my vocals, and I worry a lot about what people will think. We all have our inner critic, and mine is definitely mean sometimes, but I try to use it to make my music better and improve my work.
Another fun fact about me: I have several day jobs to make ends meet – I’m a Yoga instructor and a private voice coach. I am essentially running three businesses at once: my music, my yoga classes and my voice classes. I am incredibly busy and running around from job to job, and it can be very difficult to make time for my music. My inner critic tends to make its way into my brain during those moments, telling me I’m not working hard enough or doing enough for my art. But alas, I must work to make ends meet, especially in the expensive Bay Area.
TrunkSpace: You released your debut album “Moon & Sun” about a year ago. Are you creatively a different person than when you wrote those songs? Has your musical POV changed?
Sun: Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost a year! I don’t think I’m a different person now, but I do think I’ve grown creatively a great deal over the past year. I’ve been taking guitar lessons to improve my chops. One of my biggest idols is Lianne La Havas (if you don’t know her you better look her up NOW!) and she is a badass guitarist in addition to singer/songwriter. I’ve been listening to a lot of her music and hoping to get to that level someday. It’s also important to me that I stay a good guitarist because I play a lot of solo shows in addition to full band shows. I’m also collaborating with a couple producers on electronic music. Meanwhile, my band is more solid than ever, and it feels so good to have a group of people dedicated to my music.
TrunkSpace: What do you want people to take from your music? What messages do you hope they uncover and decipher in a way that they can apply to their own lives?
Sun: Above all, I want people to be inspired by my music. I honestly never thought I’d have the guts to do what I’m doing now. When I was growing up, the thought of singing in front of people paralyzed me with fear. But it was my dream to share my voice. I finally found it, and I hope my fans can find theirs too. Whether “finding your voice” means to literally write a song and sing it yourself, or maybe just finding some other creative outlet for yourself, do it. Don’t doubt yourself – just “jump and the net will appear!”
That’s not my saying by the way. (Laughter) I believe that’s some famous quote from someone I can’t remember right now. (Laughter)
Music has always been a really cathartic tool for me to process what I’m feeling – you can go to a therapist, talk to your friends, or drink as much alcohol as you want, but nothing helps me work through my thoughts and feelings more than listening to a really good song or album. I hope my music can do that for people.
TrunkSpace: What can fans expect from Ellisa Sun for the rest of 2018?
Sun: Big, big things are coming in 2018! I don’t want to disclose too much, but let’s just say I’ll be doing A LOT of touring in 2018. Right now me and my band are recording a 5-track EP entitled “Just A Little More”. We hope to release it by the summer. Stay updated with me by following me on all the things – i.e. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – to know exactly what I’m doing and where I’ll be.