DISCOURSE: September - Lyndsey Elm
Welcome to DISCOURSE, my monthly blog series in which I shoot and interview a different individual each month and have a discussion on creativity, innovation, passion, and heart.
Lyndsey Elm is a friend of mine from my Cal Poly days. I've always known her to be an incredible singer and a super nice person, and I secretly wished that I was as good of a musician as she is. Shortly after graduation, something happened that thrust her into the national spotlight. This month, I got to spend a warm San Francisco evening in Lower Haight with Lyndsey doing a fun shoot as well as chatting over some delicious bacon-wrapped dates.
Tell me about your journey and what got you to this point.
I went to Cal Poly for 4 years and majored in Kinesiology. I loved it, but during the second half of college, I was feeling a pull towards music. I didn’t know what it was going to look like or how it would work out, but I felt that it wasn’t just a hobby anymore; it was turning into more of a passion. Through playing at Bible studies and conferences and other events, my confidence was building up, and people around me were encouraging to go further with it. After I moved back home to Vacaville, I told my parents “Hey I want to pursue music, and I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I feel like God has his hand on it, and we’ll just see.” A couple months after being back home, I had been applying for jobs with no results, so on a whim, I decided to sign up for The Voice. I’ve been a fan of the show since day one so I decided to go for it, not thinking that anything would happen. I made a profile, put some videos up there, and left it at that. A couple of weeks later, I got a call inviting me to an audition here in San Francisco. I prepared for a couple of months, and then had the audition in February of 2015, and then another one the month after that, and I ended up being part of the group that was selected to go to the blind auditions. There was a lot of waiting, a lot of not knowing what was going to happen, but I flew to LA with these other people who were all vying for a spot. The show had narrowed the pool down from 42,000 people to about 100 of us at that point, so just to make it that far was really humbling to me.
My blind audition was filmed in July 2015, and on that day, I made the team! It was so crazy and I was super pumped about it, and I understood why everything had happened the way it happened up to that moment. Over the next month I flew back and forth between Norcal and LA for various segments to film, and eventually, during the battle round, I wasn’t chosen to go on to the next stage. But I took everything I learned on the show and was able to apply it when I went home to propel my music career forward. Since then, it’s been a crazy whirlwind of a ride, and I’ve been able to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do if it hadn’t been for the show, and I’m super grateful that it happened. It’s been almost a year since the blind audition aired, and it’s been weird to have almost nobody other than family and friends knowing who I am to having national exposure and people from all over the country not only knowing about me, but loving my music. I’m humbled and it’s been a great journey for sure.
So you had experience performing even before The Voice?
I was actually more of an athlete growing up. I played basketball in high school, and that’s what I was known for. My brother was actually more of the entertainer. But I would say I was a performer in a sense, because on any stage, on any field, there’s an audience. So I was comfortable with performing in front of crowds, but as far as singing goes, I didn’t have that confidence yet. That came out in high school from doing things like singing the national anthem at our senior night basketball game, which was terrifying for me, but the response was great, so little by little, I began to step out of my shell. When The Voice happened and all four chairs turned during my audition, I got this sense of validation that it was what I was supposed to be doing. That moment was the biggest boost of confidence and self-esteem because it told me that these four people who are superstars and have been in the music industry for a long time heard something that they liked in me.
Since then, I’ve been growing as a performer, and any time I can get in front of people is good because I can hone my skills and get more comfortable. As long as you stay true to yourself, that shines, and people will see that. That’s who I want to be as a performer: someone that people can relate to, but also someone who’s good at what she does. I want people to leave one of my shows thinking “I want to root for that girl; I want to be on her team, and I’ll follow her throughout her journey”.
I’m one of those people! I followed you last year and I remember you picking Team Gwen. Why was that?
I was told that if I had the chance to pick any of the coaches, to take in everything they had to say in that moment and weigh it, and I end up picking someone I didn’t expect. Originally I went in thinking Team Pharrell, because he’s a producer and produces soul music, which is the vein that I wanted to go down. But in the moment, I was standing there (a lot of stuff that you see on the show has been heavily cut and edited) and what Gwen was saying to me really resonated with where I was at the time and where I wanted to go, and she seemed to want to impart all her wisdom to me and root for the underdog. I chose her because I felt that she was the best fit for me and would help me stand out. What was cool about Team Gwen was that we were all very eclectic, and everyone had a different style. At the end of the day, I don’t regret it. I’ve replayed that moment in my head over and over and I know I would have still chosen the same. If I think about what could have happened differently, I would drive myself crazy.
I believe that the amount of time I spent on the show was given to me for a reason, and I was just grateful for what I got out of it and the time I did get to spend with Gwen showed me how great of a performer she is. I see now why she has lasted so long in the industry: because she pioneered a whole genre on her own and she didn’t take no for an answer. She could flip the switch and turn into Gwen Stefani the performer, and then she could flip it again and turn back into a normal person. That was cool to see, and I was able to learn how to turn into a more heightened version of myself onstage and own it and rock it. Gwen gives it 110% every time, and it’s inspiring.
Sometimes you learn the most through disappointment and rejection. At the end of the day, everyone on the show is going to go home, even the winner. You have to ask yourself “is this something I want to grind out and stay in for the long haul?” The Voice was great because it gave me that jumpstart that catapulted me in front of so many eyes at once, which is something you can’t get any other way in such a short amount of time. I'm grateful for what I got out of it.
So moving forward, what are you transitioning into, and what have your musical endeavors looked like since then?
After coming home from The Voice, I knew that I wanted to “ride the wave” and use the exposure to my advantage. So I ended up writing as much as possible and I wanted to showcase who I was as an artist in the original sense. People had seen me sing covers and perform on the show, but I felt that I wanted to demonstrate who I am and the kind of music I want to make myself. I got in the studio with my good friend and producer Tim Atlas (who was also on The Voice on Team Gwen) and worked with him for a couple of months. He took the songs I had written and brought them to life, and they sounded exactly how I wanted them to. In the meantime, I set up a website and an email list, everything an independent artist should be doing. I also set up a booking email and started getting requests to play at various places, which led to some pretty cool stuff, the most notable of which was getting to sing the national anthem at a Golden State Warriors game. So I got to play at places like Brick and Mortar in SF and Silo’s in Napa, as well as downtown Vacaville for Fourth of July.
I finished up the EP and released it in May of this year. It got a lot of positive response, which has been cool because it’s really who I am and what I want to say. I want to make music that means something, songs that people can jam out to in their car with the windows rolled down, as well as songs that are emotional and explore the different issues that people face. At this point, I’m still trying to figure out what my sound is. I definitely have a soulful tone to my voice, as well as a bit of a country twang; what’s great about music nowadays is that you can blend different genres together. I want to mirror my influences, but I also want to sound like me, so I want to define “the Lyndsey Elm sound” and figure out what I want people to hear when they listen to me. So right now I’m writing as much as I can, and working towards a debut full-length album to be released independently. I’m enjoying being independent because i get to have full creative control and decide what direction I want to go, but it’s also tough to figure out how to stand out amidst all of the noise that’s already out there.
What’s your definition of success?
For me, success would be as long as I love God, I love people, and I’m using what I’ve been gifted with to make a difference, and that’s my career, then I’ll be happy. You have to have the talent, but you also have to put in a lot of hard work and be disciplined in doing the things that nobody notices; then when you do get an opportunity to be on stage like on The Voice, you’ll be adequately equipped for it. The fan base that I want to have, and that I’m already starting to have, is one that I make genuine connections with, person to person. I never want to reach a point in my life, with anything, that people feel that they can’t relate to me. I just got a message the other day from a fan who works as an EMT, and she said she had just finished working a shift in which see saw a lot of difficult things involving a car accident, but she ended up going home and listening to my EP, and it brought her so much joy. She reminded me that I’m making a difference and she appreciated how I made music that she could listen to and feel joy and hope. Stories like that are the kind of thing that no matter what are gonna keep me going, because when you can see that tangible result, it’s the best feeling.
Do you consider yourself to be more of a performer or a songwriter?
I’d like to think of myself as 50/50. I’m definitely growing in both areas. I’m getting more comfortable onstage, and I’m able to pour myself out there. Every time I do a performance, I think to myself, “People paid money to see this, and you’re doing something that they may wish they could be doing, so you want to put on the best show that you can.” I’m also growing as a songwriter. It took me a while to feel comfortable writing songs, and I’m still growing and feeling confident in knowing that what I have to say matters, and that what I’m saying is good. The challenge is crafting a song that’s creative and telling a story, but also makes sense. So I feel like I’m growing in both areas.
Did you write a lot in the past?
I wrote a lot in school, like essays and stories and so on. I wanted to be articulate and eloquent in what I wrote. I got into poetry a bit in middle school and loved rhyming words and putting lines together, and I guess you could say that those were songs, they just didn’t have a melody to them yet. So I’ve always loved to dissect a song and figure out what the writer meant when he or she wrote it. I wouldn’t have considered myself to be a songwriter in the past, but I’ve definitely grown in that area. The response that I’ve gotten to the original songs I’ve put out has given me a confidence boost and encouraged me to keep up what I’m doing because it’s good.
As a songwriter, you’re never going to crack the code of what makes a hit song, but for me, if I can write something that resonates with people and connects with them on an emotional level, and especially if it’s something that gets stuck in their head, that’s what makes a great song. It can be a tedious process, and I have days in which I get writer’s block, but to anyone out there who’s trying to write: if you keep working at it, you’re eventually going to come across the gold. It’s all about being patient and letting your own creativity happen, and not putting a timeline on it. There have been songs that I’ve written in a day, and there have been others that I’ve had to walk away from for a couple of weeks, then coming back to write a verse or chorus here and there. Each song is different. It’s a process, but it’s a fun one.
What kind of place did the songs on your EP come from?
The songs were coming from everything that I was going through those couple months after The Voice. There was a lot of joy, a loft of excitement... I had this adventurous spirit of not knowing what was going to happen, but being open to what was coming up next, but I was also dealing with the disappointment of the rejection of not going as far as I had wanted to on the show. I even tried to put myself in what other people were going through. I think as a songwriter, it’s important to take other people’s situations and make them into a story, by stepping into their shoes and figuring out how I would articulate it. The EP showcases a little bit of who I want to be as an artist: there’s the pop, there's the soul, there’s the singer-songwriter, even the country, and they all have a message, and they have my heart and soul.
The first track is “Nothing on Me”, and that’s a song about my doubt, fear, and insecurity wrapped up in a person, and what I would say if I encountered this person. “Superficial” is about where we’re at as a culture and figuring out how to get back into human-to-human relationships, but also pointing the mirror back at me, and realizing that I get too caught up in my phone, or in how many followers I have on Instagram, or how I can grow that following more... it’s kind of a cultural anthem. “Sweet Serendipity” is the love song ballad on the EP, and it’s an ode to my future husband and everything I’d want to say to him. The EP ends with “All my Love”, which is a statement of who I want to be and what I want to be known for. It’s definitely a happy, upbeat anthem, and I feel that it’s good for people to listen to anytime, no matter how they’re feeling. Each track is a little different, but it gives people a taste of what a full-length album would sound like, which I aim to release in the next year or two.
Tell me more about people who inspire you.
As far as musicians go, my biggest inspirations right now are Allen Stone, Tori Kelly, John Mayer, NEETOBREATHE, Switchfoot, Lecrae... definitely all people who are making music that either tugs on your heartstrings or makes you feel alive after listening to it. I’m a big believer of dreams, and I'm inspired by anyone who has a dream and then accomplishes it. For example, I loved watching the Olympics this year; athletes really inspire me. The Golden State Warriors: I loved following them in their journey (even though they didn’t win the championship this year), and watching them, against all odds, beat a record and stay together as a team under pressure was awesome. I’m also inspired by photographers, like my brother, who’s in LA. Anything that tells a story visually, I’m super inspired by. I feel like I can gain a lot from watching these people, and I try to emulate things that they do to make me a better creative person.
What is your definition of a good life?
Having my family close to me, making good music, probably living by a beach somewhere, or in the mountains, not getting stressed out by the little things, taking time to be content where I’m at, and appreciating the life that God’s given me. I never want to take any moment for granted.
What’s next for you?
I’m trying to play as many shows as I can to gain that experience in a live setting. I’m also building up my presence on social media and through my email list to get my name out there and build up a community of fans. I want it to be collaborative by having conversations with people and giving them music that matters. I’m writing as much as I can, and starting that process of getting that body of work together to record and produce a full-length album, so you might see a Kickstarter campaign in the future. I’ve also been able to meet up with some other friends who were on the same season of The Voice with me, and play some songs and record some videos with them. I’m open to whatever God’s going to do with this, but definitely putting in the hard work and setting the system in place to be independent, by learning about the business side of things. It’s like my baby.
I’m really excited for what the future holds, and it’s been a crazy ride so far. I’ve lived an unpredictable life for the past two years, but whatever gets thrown at me, I’m ready.
You can find Lyndsey Elm at her Facebook page, Spotify, iTunes, Youtube, and her website.
Gear used in this shoot:
-Fujinon 35mm f2 lens