I'm at my second Holiday Inn of the day, this one looking like the HQ of some Disney supervillain, speaking to Elliphant's management on the phone. "You can't miss her," they say, when I ask where to find Ellinor Olovsdotter. I've seen pictures of her though probably couldn't pick her out in an identity parade, but I get what they mean when I eventually find her on a bench, chatting into her phone, cigarette in hand. She's swathed in a neon patchwork bomber, a giant pizza slice brooch on her lapel, "SERIOUSLY" stamped across her tee.
We're by a lake in Austin, Texas - the same one that my uber driver later will tell me he met Snoop Dogg at by chance - and Elli suddenly jumps into one of the sailing boats stationed on the bank, laughing "I hope nobody sees me!" The Stockholm-born MC/singer's give-a-fuck attitude is as carefree as her life motto ("blisseh"), meaning 'bless you' - her way of passing on a handful of positivity to everybody she meets.
She's here to play the Mad Decent showcase at The Main, and Clive Bar alongside The Cribs and MS MR, but SXSW also allows her to run into some old - and new - acquaintances in the music world. "Twin Shadow are in the same hotel - I was touring with them last year. Last night I was so lucky, just as I was going into the elevator I hear George say, "Elliphant!" It means so much when you're constantly on tour, to just see each other and reconnect, hug for a minute and have a beer."
She runs through some of the other names she wants to bump into - fellow Swedes Seinabo Sey and Tove Lo, ILoveMakonnen and his crew. But she's all too aware of the sacrifices of touring. "Life gets put on hold, in a way. All of the people I have around me are new people. I've always been super loyal, very close with my girl crew in Sweden, but I'm very separated from them now."
A nomadic lifestyle from a young age spurred an addiction to travelling that she hasn't been able to shake. "When I was seven, my mum had a restaurant with her boyfriend. They had to sell it and we just left the country, we went to Thailand and spent a really long time there. I guess that was a very intense moment of my life in my childhood, the whole Asia experience, and then I never went back there until I was 16, 17 - I went to India with my grandma because she wanted to go for some yoga thing and wanted us to spend time together. And I felt so at home, I think it was something already rooted in me."
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"When I got back from that trip I started working just to go travel and then I got so addicted - I went there 8 times," she continues, on her love of South Asia. "But I didn't go to school, I didn't do those things, so travel was really important for me. I made clothes and bikinis in Indonesia and sold them in hippy markets in North Goa. I had my own business running without the paperwork, without all the bullshit. I could create my own life - I had my own economy, my own house, my community," she states.
"India has everything. It has the desert, it has the jungles, it has the mountains. It has culture - so much culture. Coming from Sweden where everything's very strict - like, we don't really have a culture in Sweden - we don't have religion... so it's a total contrast. I think it's very good for your mind." The MC has been vocal about her distaste for the country of her birth, having stated that the system "killed" her, and had she stayed, she'd "probably have two babies and be on drugs right now."
Now, Elli doesn't have a concrete home but heads to LA in between tours ("I've had, like, 13 different addresses there these last two years...") But her initial desire to make music came after travelling round the UK, armed with a dubstep soundsystem - where she mixed the sounds of London with her own fiery pop. Her music embraces multiple corners of the globe; a chameleonic, in-your-face fusion of dance-pop and reggae, poured out under an energetic Nordic flow that's as unique as it is engaging. She's equally as emphatic when I talk to her, as her manager attempts to shoo away beeping cars in background, slowing down to catch a glimpse.
"The high is to feel that you matter," she replies, when I ask what have been the peaks and troughs of her industry rollercoaster ride since climbing on with debut single 'Tekkno Scene' in 2012. "To feel like you have a base, a platform, a channel to use for your own benefit. It's so cool because if I meet someone, an artist or a painter or someone I can be like, look, unite with me! I've looked for that my entire life. I've always had creative things going on - I just have an urge. But this is the first project where I can write to a Japanese painter and he'll be like, "Hi Elliphant, nice to hear from you, let's do something." That's the most magical thing about it."
On her forthcoming album, she's united with some big names - some of which have cropped up on her EPs so far. That's Skrillex, Tommy Tysper, (Lorde producer) Joe Little, Dr. Luke and the Kemosabe Records (Sony sub) crew, as well as TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek, who produced her 'Look Like You Love It' single. "EPs are fun, but this is more, like, you can listen to it when you have dinner with your kids, you know?" she says.
"It's really summery," she continues, before beatboxing a reggae beat and throwing her hands in the air. "Nothing dark. It's like, living life golden, wasted summer, like woah! Happy happy. It's lovely. It's a vibe that I feel like we need, definitely in the pop world - it's so sterile and so figured out, so it's a little bit goofy, it's fun. It's not so hysteric." Tracks like 'Club Now Skunk', with its balls-to-the-wall night out dialogue and hyper dancehall beat, are put next to recent single 'Love Me Badder', a stripped-back power ballad with a killer hook - and sure fire hit.
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...the pop world is so sterile and so figured out
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I tell her that when I interviewed him a few weeks back, Diplo was singing her praises, but this gets lost in translation. "Ah, I thought it was cool if he was singing about me," she says, disappointed. "I look at him like my mentor, he's been super loyal to me since day one. Though the first song I released, 'Can't Hear It', he hated it - but at least he tweeted about it! He was like "what the fuck, I don't know if I wanna laugh or cry about this"." But he promoted her next song, 'Double Life', by giving it airplay on Radio 1. "A little boy in Sweden made my song 'Booty Killah' - The Reef. And one day he was like "Elli, you need to get your Instagram and Twitter working because you get a lot of messages and don't reply to anybody, Diplo's been trying to reach you for a long time and you just don't reply to him." And I'm like oh shit, where is my codes for Twitter!"
That Instagram account is now used to reach out to fans and to gain creative inspiration from them - with a no idea is stupid rule. That, and to post pics of her getting butt injections, as well as raising awareness for her very own Save The Grey foundation - an initiative to stand up for elephants, rhinos, sharks, whales, and all the other endangered grey animals of the world.
Trailblazing not only with her brand of pop and philanthropy, Elliphant has big collaboration plans for the future. "I wanna work with Antony and the Johnsons. David Bowie, I wouldn't say no if he called! I like to do combinations of weird things... I'm trying to work something out with Tommy Lee right now. And I'm a big fan of Angel Haze, so hopefully I grab that bitch to do something..."
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'Love Me Badder' is out July 6th.
Words: Felicity Martin
Photography: Issac Solomon (link: http://www.thedreadedphoto.com/)