interview by Tone Swep
images by Nikki Gomez
mua by Eve Chen for Melange NYC
styled by Justin Xavier
hair by Priscilla Jay & Destiny White
shot in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York
(SEXEE) A couple years ago you started releasing all of this really dope music; racy and edgy. Songs like “Birthday” with 50 Cent and “Rover” with Wale, and then our personal favorites “Little Do You Know”, “Cold Case”, “Which Side Are You On”, and “Fuck It All”. What happened with the 4 Letter Word album? To this day, it’s still highly anticipated.
(Elle Varner: Elle) I loved the songs that were lined up for 4 Letter Word! I’m so thankful for the support from fans who followed that movement. It was so dope to be featured on Power with “Fuck It All”. I’m always creating and can’t wait for everyone to hear what’s up next! Those songs get lots of love when I perform them live and will always be special to me. I’ve grown as a woman and artist since first creating what would be “4 Letter Word” and the evolution of Elle is going to be seen, heard, and felt in my new music.
(SEXEE) How important is creative freedom to you? Your art work isn’t cookie cutter; very unpredictable. No two Elle songs sound the same, so listeners can’t really guess which format you’re going to deliver.
(Elle) I love the unexpected and I love all kinds of music from Soul to Rap to Country. I even love classical music. At the end of the day, I feel my job is to express an emotion and tell a story – how I achieve that sonically is always changing based on the feeling of the song. I come from a family with a long musical legacy, so it’s important for me to honor that, but I still love being in the studio creating art that will take us into the next generation.
(SEXEE) You arrived on the mainstream music scene with swirling tresses, big hair, rainbow glam, and this really fly highbrow urbane artsy vibe. Don’t you feel like you kinda made that style hot and now it’s like the going trend?
(Elle) (Laughs!) Thank you! I know I certainly disrupted the norm at the time of my debut. I had a lot of confidence about what I was representing, and I still do. Coming on the scene I just wanted to be myself but magnified for the world to see. I love that more women are embracing natural looks. When I was growing up, natural beauty was embraced by every shade, every woman. I like to carry this tradition of self empowerment and self expression. I hope others look up to me as they allow their own styles to shine.
(SEXEE) Trap Jazz is a sound and genre you created, and your second album was promoted as being the introduction of that style from you to the masses. Talk a bit about Trap Jazz.
(Elle) Trap Jazz was the perfect phrase to embody this potent hybrid of music I was creating at the time. Stylistically, I’m just a jazzy cat (Laughs!). I will usually approach a melody or a vocal styling from my Jazz background, but I also have this obsession with drum patterns and Hip Hop. You will hear more of it when the new music comes out.
(SEXEE) You have new music coming soon. Your millions of fans around the world are eager to hear your sophomore project. What can we expect to experience with your new material?
(Elle) I feel like this sophomore album is going to be incredibly special. The circumstances alone under which it was created give it a certain texture already. This is a passion project. This is me being fearlessly Elle Varner. I recently performed two new songs in New York for an intimate crowd of 600 and the response is giving me everything I need.
(SEXEE) As a musical prodigy and multi-instrumentalist, what is your approach to creating? In this electronic era of computerized production your acoustic abilities are a rare jewel.
(Elle) It’s really about the honesty. If you aren’t saying something you mean then forget about it! That’s how I was taught by my parents. My Mom would always make me check if a lyric was timeless. I truly love making music, I think that’s what gives my music that little extra something special.
(SEXEE) You give so much of yourself in your music, particularly in the songwriting. Is music a form of catharsis with a measure of autobiographical poetry for you?
(Elle) Absolutely! You can tell from my last response how Important it is to me. Songwriting is an art form that I highly respect. I just want to give it the best I have, and people can feel that when you do. When I write songs I’m also able to create worlds and escape reality.
(SEXEE) What art forms do you delve into besides music? I can’t imagine an artistic intellectual such as yourself having only one creative outlet?
(Elle) (Laughs!)… I do a lot of very random normal things like ice skating, coloring, making jewelry and cooking, to name a few. Creative outlets are a must!
(SEXEE) We have an idea how you changed the game since landing on the R&B scene in 2011. But tell us how the game, in turn, has changed you.
(Elle) During the course of my journey in this game I have become a woman. I have experienced things that could’ve easily destroyed me. My spirit and faith have been tested heavily, but before anything comes next – success, more fame, etcetera – I know I’ve already won! My spirit is in tact. My roots are planted. No one can take that away from me.
(SEXEE) You’ve always had this sunny disposition, a bright light within you that shines outward whenever you engage people. Where does that light derive from?
(Elle) Thank you so much, Tone. It comes from my Grandmother. She was full of light and peace. She could flip anything and make it somehow seem positive, (Laughs!). I miss her so much but she’s always shining through me.
(SEXEE) You are originally from LA but you are basically a New Yorker now, you’ve lived in the city your entire adult life. Did Hollywood lose its R&B star to the big apple, or does she still rep the west coast?
(Elle) I consider myself bi-coastal. LA is always home but I love NYC, too. I’m blessed to have the best of both worlds.
(SEXEE) Of all the instruments you play you seem to have a special connection with the guitar. There’s a unique relationship between you two. Tell us about that love affair, if you will.
(Elle) I think because I could take it with me anywhere versus my piano, I took to it more naturally. It’s definitely my favorite to write on. The music speaks to me.
(SEXEE) With all of the societal and social media shenanigans going on these days, is real love still possible to achieve? Or are all of life’s collective misadventures too daunting a distraction?
(Elle) Anything that you truly desire is possible. Yes, I still believe in real love, (smiles).
(SEXEE) What’s a day in the life like for this SEXEE intellectual when she isn’t busy creating and performing? What’s an off-day look like in Gabrielle’s world?
(Elle) An off-day starts with a good dance workout, some tea, a nice smoothie, and then I write. I love being at my guitar, developing music, exploring Brooklyn, and I’ve gotten a new camera which I’m obsessed with. Be sure to follow my Instagram to see what I cook up.
(SEXEE) Is happiness a right or a privilege?
(Elle) I think it is both. We all deserve to be happy, but it takes work. So when you find happiness you have to cherish that moment, for it is a gift.
(SEXEE) Black lives matter, all lives matter, all people matter. When will we all understand, and accept, that solidarity not separation is the key to universal equality?
(Elle) I think we have to learn to accept people as they are in order to achieve universal equality and peace. Each human being is a One/One, we need to stop treating some like they are worth less than others. I try to stay involved with platforms that give a voice to change, and use my talent to shine a small light on issues such as Black Lives Matter or Standing Rock.
(SEXEE) If you, Billie Holiday, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix were all in a room what would the four of you be discussing?
(Elle) Wow! That’s a great one! I see us in a smoky club, after hours. I imagine Prince at the piano, Jimi on guitar and Billie on the mic. I would honestly just watch them jam in awe. I’d just soak that in.🌹