ELIO’s new EP, ‘u and me, but mostly me’, features a song called ‘My Friends Online’, a sugary sweet pop tune that feels eerily prescient. “I’m socially exhausted / But haven’t looked up from my phone,” she sings over sleek electronics and 8-bit bleeps, later adding: “I just want my friends online to be around me when I die”. It’s the ultimate quarantune — the only thing is that it was written last year, well before anybody had even heard of Covid-19.
“I’m a psychic, I think,” ELIO, aka Charlotte Grace Victoria, laughs to NME over a Zoom call before explaining that ‘My Friends Online’ is actually about “travelling and being on your phone. Not about being stuck in your house and the only way to do things is through your computer.”
The lockdown anthem is one of the glossy millennial songs on ‘u and me, but mostly me’, which came out last week. A glittering collection of bedroom-pop tunes, the EP is the epitome of future-facing pop: sometimes it sounds like if Lorde and SOPHIE collaborated, others as if ‘Sweetener’-era Ariana Grande borrowed some of the expansive, genre-splicing production from The 1975’s raviest moments — but always sounding fresh and exciting.
The EP had been in the works for a long while, with the first songs being written two-and-a-half years ago. Influenced by the likes of The 1975, Charli XCX and Taylor Swift, as well as indie heroes like Sufjan Stevens, ELIO’s perfectionist nature meant that it took a while to get ‘u and me, but mostly me’ to the release stage. She even pushed its release back several months to ensure that “the songs were as good as they were going to get”.
While this is ELIO’s first release under her current moniker, it is by no means her first foray into music. Growing up in Swansea, her family relocated to Canada when she was seven after her older brother died at 19 from a drug overdose. After the move, she first started to get into writing music as her grandfather — a music teacher — began teaching her piano whenever he came to visit, and she started scribbling lyric ideas down. Was music cathartic for her during this difficult time?
“Yeah, I think so. I don’t know about listening to music, but [I was] definitely writing,” she recalls. “My grandma was telling me the other day that she found a notebook – a diary thing — from when we first moved to Canada. She said: ‘In the notebook, you just put: “I have to write a song”.’ So it was definitely a bit of an outlet, whether I knew it or not.
“Not much has changed,” she adds, lightening the mood. “I still have to write a song!”
In her teens, ELIO was into classic Green Day and Panic! At the Disco albums, but her music taste expanded while at university as she joined a shoegaze band with friends and was introduced to bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson. During her third year at the University of Toronto studying Art History, she made the decision to drop out and leave the band, but fully pursue music elsewhere. “I would write all the songs for the band, and I didn’t really feel like writing shoegaze anymore” she remembers.
Quitting her part-time job in retail at the same time, ELIO didn’t initially have a plan — there wasn’t a record deal lined up — and instead she spent the next 18 months writing, saving money and visiting LA as much as possible. Settling on the moniker ELIO (yes, after Timothée Chalamet’s character in Call Me By Your Name), she kick-started her music career through studio sessions and sheer persistence. “I would message literally everybody I knew in LA and be like: ‘Hey, I’m coming to LA for five days — I want to be fully booked.’ I would just fly out, and hour-by-hour I’d do meetings or three sessions a day, and just try and get as many ‘ins’ as possible.” After months of hard graft, things finally started to fall into place in September 2019 as “the whole sense of making music as a career started to happen”.
Around that time she also switched managers to Project Gold’s Twiggy, who looks after Charli XCX and who, in turn, joined team ELIO as a creative consultant. XCX and co. have already offered insightful knowledge to the artist, but as the buzz around ELIO begins to grow, the team have been conscious to ensure that people know that she’s responsible for writing and producing her own material. “I feel like maybe that can get a little bit skewed just because Charli is so artistic and creative, and obviously she has the [project] with Nasty Cherry as well,” ELIO explains.
With the EP now out in the world but touring plans put on pause for the foreseeable future, ELIO has been keeping creative in lockdown by remixing songs for other artists (including Charli XCX) and, over the past few weeks, writing new music. In terms of the latter, ELIO says she’s been enjoying the newfound freedom and honesty that comes with writing outside of the studio environment. “It’s really weird: when you’re in a room, you get used to the fact that you have to spill your entire life out to relative strangers.”
For now, though, ELIO can just celebrate the fact that her shimmering EP of bedroom-pop is finally out in the open just as lockdown is beginning to be eased in both the UK and ELIO’s home in Canada. When we come to look back on this challenging period, we’ll likely view releases like the ‘u and me, but mostly me’ EP as being part of an important and comforting soundtrack that accompanied, if not offset, the chaos of the outside world.
ELIO’s ‘u and me, but mostly me’ EP is out now.