Elif Dame Main Press Photo

Singer Elif Dame Wants Her Voice To Be Heard

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Elif Dame Main Press Photo

Amsterdam’s own Elif Dame is writing a new chapter in the alternative R&B scene. This week, the rising starlet debuted her latest offering titled “Killing It.”

As Dame traversed the tumultuous terrains of depression, anxiety, relationship woes, and family drama, she turned her personal trials into a fountain of creative inspiration. Fusing her raw emotion with the hypnotic beats of producers like MF DOOM, J Dilla, and Madlib, she penned her first songs that resonated with the listeners, amassing nearly half a million streams on her debut single.

But the constant push for creation began to overshadow the joy of her art. In response, Dame took a courageous step back from the music scene for a self-care hiatus, turning the spotlight on her own mental health. Documenting her journey, this respite gave birth to her forthcoming EP, Securely Detached.

The EP is a testament to Dame’s journey of self-discovery and healing, a diary of her efforts to discern her own emotions from the influence of others, and learning to prioritize her own happiness. The project debuted with “Celexa (Buy Me Time),” a deeply personal recount of the singer’s struggle at her lowest, contemplating the idea of medication. Her story continues with her latest single, “Killing It,” an exploration of the complex emotions associated with recovery and the fear of impending mania, crafted with the help of fellow Amsterdam artist GANZ.

With Securely Detached, she’s poised to connect with audiences on an even deeper level, promising an exciting journey ahead. Check out our interview with Elif Dame below.

When did your music journey originally begin? Was there a particular album or artist that led you to wanting to start your own music career?

My music journey began in the womb, I’d say, as my maternal grandfather owned a Jazz Cafe situated in an old farm which is where my parents met. My dad’s a Jazz pianist that rented a rehearsal space there at the time, and my then 15-year-old mom hung out there often. My parents divorced shortly after I was born, and all the time I spent at my dad’s was filled with him playing and arranging Jazz records.

My mom had a huge collection of CDs, so I grew up with her listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Jacksons. One of her stand-out CDs to me that I was personally obsessed with was Kelis’ “Milkshake.” I got my first MP3 player when I was seven years old, and my dad had put three songs on them: “Rock With You,” “ABC.” and “Thriller,” and I was mesmerized by Michael Jackson’s singing. I always sang a lot, too, and as I taught myself to speak English quite early, I would memorize the lyrics to all music I listened to immediately. I wonder now if that was any kind of foreshadowing, haha.

I don’t know why exactly, but when Michael Jackson passed in 2019, my innocent child brain decided that it was me that would have to continue his legacy. Somewhere around this time, “Sister Act 2” was on TV, and when I saw Lauryn Hill’s performance of “His Eye Is On The Shadow,” I was so captivated by her that this solidified my feeling of wanting to do what she did and be a singer. 

Talk to me about some of your music inspirations! Who were some of your favorite artists growing up, and how do they compare to your present-day faves?

My first ever CD was the soundtrack to Shrek. As aforementioned, I was (and always will be) a huge Michael Jackson fan, and I was obsessed with the Black Eyed Peas and Christina Aguilera in her “Stripped” era. As I grew into a teenager, I dabbled more in Hip Hop – especially old school Hip Hop, but I was also very fond of Nicki Minaj and Eminem. I think music served me as a means of finding and securing my identity, and since I never really fit in, I tried on a lot of genres in order to do that.

I never settled on one specific genre though, and throughout the years, I’ve rather just accumulated a huge list of inspirations that I’m sure all shaped me into the artist I am today. India Arie definitely played a huge part in me finding my own singing voice, Aaliyah taught me to access the more delicate parts of my register, and MF DOOM helped me as a lyricist. I’m still discovering new music to inspire me every day, but the artists that I promise my ears to for life are Stevie Wonder, Solange, James Blake, Kelela, Rosalía, Kendrick Lamar, and Frank Ocean.

Congratulations on your new single “Killing It”! Tell us more about the record and what inspired it.

Thank you! “Killing It” was inspired by a wine-drunk night, solo in my apartment. I got a private Soundcloud playlist from GANZ with some of his beats because he asked me to record some vocals for his personal projects. I stumbled upon a minimalistic whimsical beat, which eventually went on to be the main structure of “Killing It.” I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, and around October of 2020, I definitely hit rock bottom.

During this time, I decided to start taking anti-depressants, and luckily this almost immediately caused quite a turn-around in my mood. I found out that my depression was greatly fueled by anxiety, and a lot of that anxiety was about my choice to be a musician. Was I good enough? What if it doesn’t work out? This last line comes straight from “Killing It,” and the answer I came up with to that question was, for the first time in my life, genuinely “I don’t care.”

I knew music made me happy, and as long as I got to do it, I would be OK, no matter the outcome. I realized that my way of living was not sustainable at the time, and the only way to make it sustainable was to chill TF out sometimes. That’s why I got myself a bottle of white wine, sat at in my home studio, and made “Killing It” — an anthem for self-reassurance. I think my more stabilized mood helped me to discover this mindset. In hindsight, it’s also very likely that I was experiencing some light mania at that time, which was also a big part of my depression cycle. 

I read that you took a year off from music to focus on your mental health among other things—if you’re comfortable talking about it, what helped you get through that period of your life?

Now we’re getting into a very big theme of my upcoming album which is self-care: the one thing that undoubtedly helped me get through this period in my life. After basically a lifetime of trying to crisis-manage everyone around me, especially in my home situation, I had to completely relearn to take care of my own needs. It started with the more basic needs: eating, making sure I got enough hours of sleep, resting, keeping my house clean, and taking time to de-stimulate myself.

When I was depressed, I barely ate or slept or slept way too much. I was always tired and therefore allowed my house to become a mess. I overworked myself and allowed myself to get overstimulated by doing a lot of people-pleasing. Learning to challenge and slowly change this behavior was a big thing. Taking care of my emotional needs was next, and this entailed creating distance between myself and the people that I would get so unhealthily invested in, setting clear boundaries, spending time with and talking to friends, and also learning to self-soothe by meditation and journaling.

I didn’t plan on making new music during this period, but these journal entries quickly formed into lyrics. By radically decreasing the pressure I’d put on myself to create, I actually found that there was nothing I wanted to do more than go to the studio. 

That being said, how has your music, specifically songwriting process and the way you express yourself as an artist, changed since you first started back in 2020?

I think my songwriting process has changed in the sense that it’s become even more candid and to the point now. I had to dig deep in order to find out what was going so awry in my head. Over the years, I also learned to give more space to my words and not try to fill up the whole song with my voice. Much like the other instruments in a song, my voice is also an instrument, and everything must be balanced, and it’s good to try and remove the fluff. This is something I’m still learning though, as I’ve always got a lot to say…

Talk to me about your new EP, Securely Detached. What does the title mean and why do you feel like “Celexa” and “Killing It” were to perfect records to kickstart your new beginning?

The title of the album Securely Detached can be interpreted in the very literal sense that it took me detaching from my family and others, in general, to focus on myself and tackle my own problems, and that the outcome was that I felt very good and secure in taking this approach. It’s also a play on a term in psychological attachment theory, as when someone is “securely attached,” it means they grew up in a healthy and stable environment resulting in them having a consistent and confident style of relating in a relationship — something I definitely did not have.

It’s also the title track of the album and the conclusion that I accept myself, even if I sometimes strangely detach from my own feelings or others. I took great steps in healing, but it’s an ongoing endeavor. It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. To me, “Celexa” and “Killing It” were the best songs to start off with, as “Celexa” is the beginning chapter of the story the album tells, and “Killing It” was the first song off the album was completed — and also the first song that helped me set the new standard for the production quality I wanted my music to have.

Lastly, what soundscape can we expect to hear during this new chapter? Are there any new themes or topics you’ll explore throughout your music too?

There’s a lot to come! The album contains skits, whimsical, electronically produced arrangements adorned by drums, bass, guitar, and piano by real instrumentalists to give it a more organic feel. Many songs have a supernatural vibe, especially the ones that deal with themes such as generational trauma and addiction. I wanted my harmony arrangements to sound Alien-esque and almost “perfect” to emphasize my detached nature in dealing with my own issues.

The lead vocals are more raw and vulnerable. It’s a dichotomy that reflects the mood swings that are still a part of my life, though now less intense. Overall I’d say the album takes a Major tone, even though it deals with Minor topics, if you know what I’m saying.