Q&A: Elle Casazza

Ella Casazza is nothing short of energetic. The Chicago singer-songwriter bounces about her Bucktown home, preparing French press coffee in excitement for the completion of her first full-length album. With its catchy lines and pop melodies backed by her signature full band sound, Proof is everything fans love about Casazza. It’s sassy, organic and unapologetically authentic to the modern retro-ness of Elle.

Of course with a new album comes a variety of other projects for the young musician. In the upcoming months, Casazza has planned an extensive tour, new music videos and the formation of a songwriters’ circle. There seems like so much to do, but Casazza reminds herself to “just keep on keeping on”. At the end of the day, things may feel overwhelming and hectic, but that’s all part of this crazy life of music.

LLL: You’ve released an EP before, but what was it like putting together your first full-length album?

EC: It was beautiful. I’ve been working with the same band now for three years, so it felt like a long time coming. We’ve had all these songs, and it was time to put them out there. We worked with Jeff Breakey. He’s a great engineer and friend. We spent three days just tracking the band. This is the first time I used horns and strings on an album. It felt like it made all of these songs larger than life, which was great. Plus, sometimes when you do a recording project, you don’t feel good about it, just because you’re your own worst critic. Or you don’t want to listen to it anymore because you heard it so many times in the mixing process, but I could listen to this all day. It’s very eclectic. I like that.

LLL: Which songs on the album mean the most to you?

EC: I love them all, but I think if I said ones that were super important, definitely “You”. That one I actually wrote for the album. I decided we were going to do nine or ten songs and at the time I decided that there were five or six that had been written, so I was like, “I have to write shit for this album”. [“You”] was the last one written. It came from a very organic place. It’s a very sad song, but it’s also very hopeful. I feel like a lot of my songs, especially on this album, are on one hand [encompass] this negativeness, but with a positivity that can come out of that. I have one song about a girl who is with this shitty dude and she’s like “I listed all the things you never said, and you treat me like shit” and then at the end she’s like “yeah, so fuck you! I’m moving on”. “The Last Word” was a little cathartic for me because it was a real situation. It was a dumb fight and there was clearly no reasoning with the other side. I wanted to tell the other side off, but I just was like “no, you just got to walk away”. That’s what “The Last Word” is all about. If I actually was able to tell them off and not take the high road.

LLL: You’ve released a music video for “Too Bad”. It’s quite fun, upbeat and sassy. Where did the idea for that video come from?

EC: I love that song. It’s funny because a lot of it was taken outside, and the day we were shooting, [it] was practically raining all day. The sun came out for a couple hours, so it worked out. I’m very visual with songs. When I hear a song, or when I’m listening to one, I see what’s happening. So, for “Too Bad” I had envisioned this high school couple because it is kind of a petty song. It’s like, “You want to be back with me? Too bad! Don’t care!” That’s so high school. I worked with Bummer Camp Media. I told them my idea and that kind of morphed into, “What if it’s this high school dance and your band is the band and the kids are at the dance?” Then we started talking logistics and concept and they kind of came up with the concept of like, “What if it’s you and three or four younger girls and you’re trying to show them how to be a badass bitch?” I was like, “Oh, that works!” Then it morphed into three girls who are really good friends like, “We don’t need a dude. We’re just going to have a good time!”

 

LLL: Do you have any other music videos in the works?

EC: We are filming one for “You”, so that’s exciting. We’ll see what happens. I kind of envision, well I don’t want to give it away, but I envision a lot more stoicism in it. Really simple, because I feel like the song is really simple too, in a beautiful way. There’s no need to overdress it. We’ll see what happens. It’s still all coming together at this point.

LLL: Any other upcoming projects? Maybe a tour?

EC: Oh yeah, summer tour! Scary! It’s only scary in the momentary sense. Otherwise, it’s very exciting. We have a date booked in Pittsburg, so we’re kind of basing an East Coast thing around that. I’m also hoping to do a Midwest leg of the tour. Pittsburg would be late July, and then Midwest would be late June. Just me and my band hitting the road. [We’ve never done a tour] to this extent. Usually, it’ll be in Michigan, where I’m from. I’m definitely crowdsourcing, but I do find that it’s helpful trying to book it around summer festivals [and] to try to book a tour around a gig that’s going pay you a bunch of money. One that’s going to be bankrolling the rest of the tour. I also learned that it’s good, since we’ll mostly be staying at people’s houses, to actually book a room where everyone’s got a real bed. Always key because everyone needs to fully recharge and not sleep on the floor.

LLL: There are so many musicians in Chicago. How do you make yourself standout?

EC: Well, I wear hats! No, I feel like I do have a thing. Now, if I could just put a word on what that thing is. I guess I could say I really try to stay away from doing stuff solo on guitar. I’m very much sticking to my guns; full band or nothing. I like that element of the full band and the funkiness. Not that there’s anything wrong with the other stuff, it’s just not me. I always kind of say that I do a retro pop thing. It’s kind of old meets new, but not in a stay old way. Actually, I’m trying to start [a songwriters’ circle]. On Sunday, I invited over five or six singers in the area. I’m hoping to do that every month at my house. It’s like workshopping songs and talking about the scene. A little community of lady songwriters. I think it was definitely good to workshop the song ideas because we’re our own worst critic. [And] I did find that it makes me feel less terrible about the world. We are all on this crazy path of music together. We’re all in the same boat. It’s just nice to have that support.

LLL: Who or what inspires you as a musician?

EC: I feel like just seeing other independent musicians in the area, that’s very inspiring. In general, definitely my old voice teacher from high school who is also kind of my mentor. Artistically, I think she inspired me to feel like I could do this crazy thing that is music. I love Sara Bareilles. She’s probably been my pop music inspiration since I discovered her when I was 15 and my mind was blown. I do teach voice, and some of my kids are very inspirational. I’m like, “Oh yeah, this 12-year-old can do this, so can I!” When it comes to booking a show, I tend to lean toward more female bands or female fronted bands. That’s not always the case, and it’s not that I have anything against male bands, but I feel it fits better usually. We’ve done shows with like The Fox & the Hounds and I’ve worked with Layla Frankel. I haven’t seen her yet, but I really like Jennifer Hall. I also really like Sarah Marie Young. I’ve only seen her with The Oh Yeahs, but I also love the concept of The Oh Yeahs. I just feel like there are so many ladies. Go ladies in music! I’m all for it. Especially all lady bands. When I see a lady play an instrument I’m like “YESSS!!”

LLL: Any fun facts you’d like to share with your fans?

EC: My fun fact is that I starting singing because of the song Hakuna Matata.

Elle Casazza’s next show will be on Thursday, March 31 with Sofar Chicago. You can also see her on Friday, April 1 at Harvest Moon.

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