Elliot Lee Talks About Her Artistry and Writing Songs For Her 13-Year-Old Self

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainz

“I think music can be an amazing way to reach people and say things that otherwise wouldn’t be very moving at all,” Elliot Lee told American Songwriter. “Like, if someone were to just say something to me I would be like ‘okay, cool, and?’”

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Lee is a rising voice in the pop world in the same vein as Twenty One Pilots and Billie Elish. Yet, despite her aesthetic and tonal similarities to other voices who are being gobbled up by Generation Z, Lee has established herself as a unique artist with a distinct presence and message. Part of that message is her aforementioned belief that music is a better tool for communication and change than just mere conversation. This — as well as her individuality and palpable artistry — is on full display in her new songs “Pink (Freak)” and “Dirt.” 

“When you talk about things to someone face-to-face, there tends to be a feeling of pity or worry,” Lee said. “For me, that’s always been hard to deal with. Being able to have a way to talk about things that doesn’t entail talking about them face-to-face has been amazing. My whole life I’ve kept everything inside. Anything I went through or feelings I was feeling… I was always worried about whether people would accept them. With music I can say these things in a pretty way, putting it into a little package for people who enjoy listening to it. People can also relate to it and realize that they’re not alone. In that way, it’s like a therapy back and forth for the listener and for me.”

That therapeutic nature has not only been paramount in Lee’s creative output, but in her life as a whole. Moving often as a child, music has long been a source of security and comfort for her. She began writing songs on her ukulele as a form of therapy, but the endeavor eventually grew from hobby to career. 

“I went through a dark time in my life and I was really struggling mentally, physically and emotionally,” Lee said. “I had a hard time opening up to people and was keeping everything bottled up. I started listening to music that really spoke to me and I realized that I could use music as an outlet for myself. So, I pulled out my ukulele and started thinking while playing chords, which became a venting experience, like I opened a door that I didn’t know could open. I realized it’s the perfect way for me to speak about things that I have a hard time talking about otherwise. Music is a platform to say things in a way that really conveys the emotion that you felt when you thought the thing you’re saying. It’s a way to say ‘I really care about this thing and this is how I felt when I thought about caring about it, so maybe you’ll care about it too.’ When I write I want to make sure that people feel the same urgency that I feel. It’s about making sure that people feel allowed to talk about what’s going on in their heads and in their lives. Music is a great way to be a mouthpiece for change.”

And Lee is trying to implement change. An advocate for the destigmatization of mental health and an outspoken defender of the underrepresented, Lee addresses many political topics in her music as well as personal ones. 

“There are so many people out there who are unrepresented,” Lee said. “I couldn’t possibly represent all of them no matter how hard I try, but I think I represent people who are like me. Especially when I was younger, like in middle school, I felt like I had no voice and nobody to talk to about what I was going through. I think I’d like to be a voice for those people especially, and anyone else who listens to my music and feels heard. For me, that’s really important because I didn’t have that.”

Throughout the interview, Lee mentioned her former 13-year-old self several times as an inspiration for her current work. 

“I think about my 13-year-old self a lot when I write because she was a person who didn’t have a voice and always felt alone,” she said. “I think that there are a lot of people right now who are just like me when I was 13, so that definitely helps me focus my thoughts when I’m writing for those people. It always bothers me when people look at me and think ‘oh you’re in this lane’ or ‘oh you’re just like this person’ or ‘you’re trying to be like this.’ That kind of stuff worries me because I don’t like to be defined by it. Obviously, people have to look at things and put them into boxes to feel comfortable, but at the same time, I just want to create what I want to create. Idolization worries me, so I try to make sure that I am the kind of person that I would want my 13-year-old self to be.”

Yet, despite the confidence and hope she innately exudes in her music, Lee mentions that she still sometimes feels like the lonely 13-year-old girl she once was. However, that feeling doesn’t come from a place of regression, but from a place of strength. It serves as a reminder that all of us, to some degree or another, are still the children we once were. Lee uses it as a reminder to stay genuine to herself.

“As long as I stick with caring about the people I’m speaking to, I’m not too worried about being someone they shouldn’t look up to,” she says. “I honestly feel that whenever I write the most genuinely is when people respond the most positively. I don’t have to worry about what people may want to hear or any rules like that. I can make sure that I say what I need to say.”

Listen to Elliot Lee’s new songs “Pink (Freak)” and “Dirt” below:

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