With her debut single ‘My Friends Online’, ELIO displayed a knack for melodic and memorable pop songwriting that was simply impossible to ignore. But even when coated in layers of sugary production and relatable (and inadvertently prescient) lyrics about social isolation, what made the song stand out was the striking vulnerability that belied its addicting refrain: “I just want my friends online/ To be around me when I die,” she sings in a high-pitched voice, enunciating each word as if that anxiety is starting to take control of her breathing. It’s no surprise that people – including Troye Sivan, who name-checked her while undercover on Twitter, and Charli XCX, who has now become her co-manager – connected to it beyond its surface appeal.
Taking her moniker from a Call Me By Your Name character, the Canada-via-Swansea artist – real name Charlotte Grace Victoria – released her debut EP, u and me, but mostly me, in July of last year. Drawing inspiration from artists ranging from the 1975 to Taylor Swift to Sufjan Stevens, the 7-track project somehow melded the emotional swell of a Jack Antonoff production, the smooth R&B of post-Sweetener Ariana Grande, and the pandemic-induced intimacy of Charli’s how i’m feeling now. Now, she’s back with a new EP, Can You Hear Me Now?, which sees her refining her sound while continuing to explore different facets of it, from the shimmering synths on ‘Jackie Onassis’ to the soaring chorus of ‘hurts 2 hate somebody’ and the wistful melodies of ‘@elio.irl’. While the personal nature of ELIO’s songwriting allows her to transcend her influences, it’s her appreciation for the way pop music can make those experiences feel universal that ultimately makes her music resonate.
We caught up with ELIO for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about what drove her to pursue a career in pop music, her new EP, and more.
What are your earliest memories of being drawn to songwriting? Has it always been an important outlet for you?
I don’t really remember when I really started liking songwriting in particular, but when I was a kid, I would always listen to CDs and write down all the lyrics that I could understand. And then my grandma actually told me, I think it was last year – when I moved over to Canada, ‘cause I’m originally from the UK, she came over to visit and she was cleaning my room and she found this diary entry of me going, “Ugh, I just wanna write a song.” And I must have been like, eight or nine or something.
I read that you started out by playing in a shoegaze band in high school – do you feel that has informed the way you approach pop music now in any way?
Yeah, I think so, in a way. The music tastes that I have acquired over the years have definitely allowed me to kind of make this amalgamation of, like, pop, but also influenced by different genres and different styles of songwriting. I feel like when I started that project, it really allowed me to understand kind of the music business from the perspective of a band playing shows and independently trying to reach out to people. So it definitely helped a lot.
Was there any particular reason that you decided to make that shift towards pop?
Yeah, I mean, I was in that band until I was 19 or 18. And I left when I actually discovered the 1975, so I went from listening to like, purely alternative, shoegaze music, and then I found ‘Girls’ by the 1975 and I was like, “Uh, music can sound like this?!” And then I was addicted to writing pop melodies and really trying to improve my production and kind of think outside of the box in that way.
A lot of your songs so far have been about technology, but also, like, loneliness and feeling things very intensely and figuring out your identity while growing up. Do you feel that’s something that’s very personal to you, or do you also think all those themes are kind of generational in a way?
I think it’s both, for sure. I think I have a unique perspective on it because I spend a lot of time away from home and away from my friends and my relationship, so I think I maybe battle with it more than the average person. But I think everybody kind of feels that way. You know, even if you’re three houses down from your best friend, or even in the same room, our communication is through our phones; like, I’ll sit in the same room as my best friend and literally text her and send her memes and videos and TikToks and stuff like that. So yeah, I think it’s definitely generational, but I think a lot of those things are also very personal to me. Learning to communicate that much through my phone has been a real stepping stone to building those relationships.
Do you have a specific approach when it comes to capturing that through songwriting? Do you feel like it’s changed or developed in any way over time?
Yeah, I think just kind of taking down the wall of – I don’t want to say, like, your pride, but there’s definitely a part of me that’s like, “Do I really wanna put this in a song?” Because, you know, my mom and my grandma’s gonna listen to it. But I think once you get past being scared to share those feelings with a lot of people, then it actually gets easier to not only talk about yourself and your own issues and happenings or whatever, but also connecting to other people. Because a lot of the time people don’t actually talk about that stuff – they just can’t, you know, there’s not really a time or a place to talk about how much you communicate through technology and those conversations can be pretty rare. So I think just kind of breaking down that wall was a huge thing for me to be able to delve more into it.
What was it that helped you break down that wall?
Honestly, I think it was releasing it. I mean, I released the first EP, and I was really scared to do that. And that was kind of me of half opening up for a song. Or like, ‘My Friends Online’, it was personally about me, but the song perceives it as a whole generation of people communicating through their phones. And I think when I released that, and so many people related to it, I was like, “You know what, I’m just gonna keep going down this road.”
How do you feel this new EP is different from what you’ve released before, both in terms of the sound and the production but also in terms of songwriting?
I think it’s it’s definitely different, it’s a little more progressed. I mean, especially for ‘CHARGER’, it was kind of the song where I realized that I didn’t have to necessarily write about my unique situation and I could kind of create a story through an object that everybody has, which has been really enlightening. And yeah, I think production-wise, when we started it, we just wanted to make it ten times better. We just wanted to make a clean-sounding pop EP. I think the first EP was nice because it was very bedroom pop, but I think this one’s a little bit more clean and a little bit more finessed.
I think that definitely comes through, which is why ‘Fabric’ is interesting because it’s more stripped-back and raw. What inspired you to close off the EP with an acoustic track and also to revisit the chorus of ‘hurts 2 hate somebody’ at the end?
I think a lot of the EP is about realizing a lot about my relationships and my career and I guess just kind of generally my whole personality. And ‘Fabric’, I wrote that when I was 21 and I was working a part-time job and I’d just dropped out of school. I was really sad, and I kind of dealt with my lack of working on something that I loved and being happy by being resentful and thinking that I… not necessarily deserved it more than other people, but I felt like I was just as capable of doing things that I love as other people. And I guess I just wanted to close the EP off on something – like where I started off, because you listen to ‘hurts 2 hate somebody’ and it’s a lot about getting over resentfulness and blaming other people. But it’s definitely been a journey – I’m a very pessimistic person, so I think closing it off on the note of “my life sucks and I wanna change everything” is kind of interesting.
You mentioned how the songs are about figuring things out in terms of your personality and your career. Do you feel that pursuing music has brought you a sense of purpose, or have you found that it’s also important to keep that separate from your sense of identity?
Yeah, I mean, music and especially this project and the art that goes around it is a lot of my personality. [laughs] I think I would actually like to separate it maybe a little bit more, since it does take up a lot of my life. But also, I kind of embrace it; a lot of my friends I’ve made through music and through playing shows or creating music videos and stuff like that. So I think it’s just learning where to become your actual person who has relationships and, you know, a friend when somebody needs one and separating it from your career.
I’m curious – at the very end of ‘Fabric’, what’s the sound that interrupts the recording?
[laughs] That’s my boyfriend’s dad. So my boyfriend, Mickey [Brandolino], he also produces on the record with me. And we’re kind of doing this really emotional guitar part, and his dad was upstairs and the studio is downstairs. And he just does this massive sneeze. And yeah, we decided to keep it. I think it’s funny.
Did you decide it right then and there or did you do another take?
No, that was it. That was the last take. We just committed.
It definitely helps end things on a lighter note. With that said, what are your plans now that the EP is out? Have you been working on your next project?
Yeah, I just started writing two weeks ago. So yeah, definitely more music, and then maybe something in between then as well.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
ELIO’s Can You Hear Me Now? EP is out now.