After reading this interview, it may not be hard to believe that Elliot James may be the busiest guy I know. From an early start with music growing up in England, moving to the states and forming a pop band, getting approached by two different labels, then shortly after playing for 18,000 fans at the O2 Arena, I think it’s safe to say that that would just about be enough for anyone – but not Elliot. Since his days in pop band, Hey Monday (Which was fronted by well known Season 3 “The Voice” Winner, Cassadee Pope) Elliot has moved on to expand and develop a different creative side. Elliot, who goes by the name Baallet, spends his time producing and recently made a debut in (recently featured Entertwine artist) Young Marino‘s new single, “Honest Liars.” We caught up with Elliot to ask him a bit about his musical upbringing, his experience playing for Hey Monday, and what he plans on pursuing moving forward.
Tell us a little bit about your musical background growing up and how that has shaped you as a musician and producer?
I was forced to play an instrument when i was growing up in England. Literally, in private school there everyone had to be good at everything, wether you were or weren’t. I was only 7 or 8 and picked saxophone, because pink panther played it. I was so bad after three classes they made me switch, i was killing the whole vibe. I picked drums after that thinking it would be cutting corners, all i had to do was beat them. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was harder and the learning was more tedious, and I couldn’t switch, and somewhere in the first month or two I began to love it, and that was that. I’ve always been musical, both my parents are artists, and i was never destined to work in a cubicle. That said I had never planned on a career in music either, stars just kept aligning.
Having to learn instruments the hard way, and then teach myself new ones made me better, the fact that it didn’t come easy was the best thing that could have happened. I know that isn’t the case for a lot of people, especially now with how accessible technology makes all this stuff to us. Its amazing, and totally bittersweet at the same time. For me its been the best of both worlds. Kids are lucky these days, they can get their parents to spend $500 on a macbook off craigslist, and right out the box they have a professional recording studio, they could even release something on iTunes that same day. When I was in bands growing up we spend an entire week everyday after school printing flyers and kinkos and walking around malls and downtown with headphones, talking to strangers and handing out flyers to our shows. We had to play months of shows, sell merch and work jobs to save up thousands of dollars to record two or three songs in a decent or not decent studio. Knowing I came from that, even though its not the old “old school” makes me appreciate the way stuff is now. Just knowing I have something to say in my writing because of all that changes everything.
Your first big gig was drumming for pop band, “Hey Monday.” What was that experience like, (the good & bad), and what did you learn from it?
Everything. It was the most brilliant and priceless experience anyone could have. Of course it had its bad sides, but thats the best part. The sheer brutality of the industry and the way the world works is the only conditioning that matters. Everything you’ve heard about the music industry, all the good things, all the terrible tales, every single one of them is true. And you’d be foolish to think otherwise. Its sad because despite all the amazing people we met and worked with, there’s always people that come into your life that you think want to be there as much as you do, but like everything, people can show there true colors in a really horrendous way, make the paint all grey and brown when you over mix your primaries. There were people that worked with us that I thought were gonna be homies for life, I guess time will tell if they feel the same way again someday.
Hey Monday was insane, because it happened fast for us, really fast. How many kids from wellington get scooped up by two labels at once and thrown on tour with The Academy Is? We were so hungry like all new bands, we wanted to represent our hometown and prove ourselves, there’s nothing we wouldn’t have done to make it work. And it did, but overtime the stuff that effected us is what effected everybody. Overnight things were changing, back then we thought record sales were at an all time low, everyone did, and look at it now. Here we are three, almost four years later and the traditional model doesn’t even exist anymore. Katy Perry’s got almost as many number ones than The Beatles, but her second week was a “joke” in terms of suits expectations of what an artist should be moving.
(Elliot & Hey Monday – Circa 2009)
Hey Monday was the college experience for my career in music. I got a degree in real life, a PHD in psychotic-survival. Its a shame it couldn’t last longer, and that we had so many people pulling our project in ten different directions. But at the same time, the problems the band had were bigger than us, and I knew it was only a matter of time before what I didn’t what to happen did. I loved everyone in our family, I still do, and I’m privileged to still have many of those relationships in my life to this day. A lot of people, you can talk to and explain it all, and they may or may not relate, but we were the only ones that went through it all, and no one will ever really understand that. It was wild. Brilliantly, wild.
As far as I know, you have (for a few years) been managing artists, and concentrating on producing. When did this start? Do you prefer being ‘behind the scenes’ producing rather than in the limelight, performing?
Its funny because i don’t intentionally manage people, I guess i fall into that guidance roll, but at the end of the day I just wanna help, and I’ll offer all that up to the people I think can use it. And thats a privilege I probably don’t deserve, to have people care about my opinion. I wouldn’t consider myself a manager though, and I don’t have a constant roster. I got into writing and producing around 2009, because I had all these ideas and songs I was never gonna use in my own projects. And to be a musician, I don’t understand how you can limit yourself to one genre or sound. There’s so much amazing music out there, and yet I’m still hungry to hear all these things other people aren’t doing yet, or just starting too. And I guess thats the real reason behind wanting to write and produce for other people. I get to write these pop songs for girls that are a nostalgia kick for me because like everyone toddler, I grew up on disney pop. But I further get to challenge myself and compete with the level of writing that Max Martin, Luke, Benny Blanco, and all these REAL pop writers are doing. I’m in no way comparing myself to the greats, but every time they raise the bar, I have to think that much more out of the box and learn the new rules. Its never dull, and its the best full time job I could ask for right now.
Nothing for me is better than performing and being in my natural element. The best drug in the world you can get high on is adrenaline. If you could buy adrenaline on the streets and shoot that up I would be the biggest junkie you’ve ever known. It’s not like chasing the dragon when you’re trying to reach that first high again, its as good every single time. It felt the same way playing Rays downtown when I was sixteen that it did walking on stage to 18,000 people at O2 arena in London. I love that feeling where everything slows down and then you’re moving at a million miles an hour and I’m just doing what makes me happier than everything, entertaining.
You recently were featured in Young Marino’s song (and video) for “Honest Liars.” This is the first time a lot of your fans have seen you as a solo artist, and under a different name. What sparked this change and how did it originate? Where do you look to go with this new chapter?
It was a happy accident in all the write ways. Bobby Keegan with Afflux Club and VONAA is my go to for all things production, and its been this way for quite some time. He’s the only dude I’ve met who gets exactly eye to eye every single time on how its supposed to be presented to the public. Half the time he knows how it should look, and how I want it to before the songs even done. I trust Bobby with my life, as a blood brother and also creatively. He would never paint me in a bad light for a release, we just work on the same playing field so well. He had come by my studio after lunch one day with YM and I had young around from time to time just through mutuals and what not, but I had no idea what he was into or that he did anything artistically at all. We just hung for a bit, but later that night Bobby told me he was going to push him and showed me ‘Better Man’. I knew 20 seconds into the song I didn’t need to hear anymore, he was that impressive. I reached out to Marino the next day and asked if I could write him a song. Told him my ideas vaguely and he agreed to give me creative freedom. I started stems of a few ideas and then Matt came in, I had this nasty synth sound, reminiscent throwback almost to the Daft Punk stuff they were doing on Yeezus. As soon as we heard that the whole song was written in hours start to finish. Matt went in to do scratches and every time I asked him to do something he over delivered in a two or maybe three takes. Right off his head he could say anything any way you wanted, and with so much vindication. The song was never supposed to have a hook, or feature me. It’s one of those happy accidents that just kind of came up after I had this ideas of breaking the rawness and aggression up with something soft. Next thing I know we go to lunch and they wanna go to NY and shoot a video for it in a few days. It was totally unorthodox, the whole way it had come together, and I loved it. I was so proud of it, and him, it didn’t even phase me how it would be received. I’m moved most of all by catching everyone by a total element of surprise. And fortunate that I’m still able to thrill people, even in a small way for a few minutes doing something unexpected. It makes you realize that even though you tell yourself all the time ‘people have seen you do something, they get the whole picture’, it really never is too late to change the rules again, even just for a little.
Without trying to build unnecessary hype, I do have a track and video that will be coming out before the end of 2013, and what a great year it was. Additionally I have a small feature in another Young Marino track “Wild Life” which will be premiering on X-102.3 FM (South Florida’s #1 Hip-Hop/R&B Station) next week. There’s also a video for that too.
(Young Marino Ft. Baallet – “Honest Liars)
Are your pop/rock drumming days over? What are Baallet’s future plans?
Not a chance! Part of staying ‘sane’ as an insane person is my self medication of having my hands in a bunch of jars. I’ll always be going back behind the kit, and always playing in my other existing projects, and hopefully always new ones. I’ve been working on something with SJC since August and its the first of its kind in every aspect. I think everyone’s gonna be holding onto their hats. As far as Baallet goes, I’m just enjoying the ride. I’m in no rush to prove myself. I’ve got some stuff that I’m really proud of, and its extremely humbling for me to release this stuff in my own manner and change peoples minds about me, in all the right ways. I’m realizing more and more that you can’t cater to everyone. You can’t always be in the right place at the right time when you want to be. And most of all, your fans and haters decide what good is and what actually matters. And you can argue with that all you want, but don’t be a fool. Kids are smarter than the industry gives them credit for. They know when its in-genuine, they know when they’re being sold too, and they’re the only ones who will ultimately decide any artists fate. So if you really want to know Baallet’s future plans, just ask them.
Finally, the most popular asked question online is the meaning behind the alias. Why Baallet?
It just made sense to pick something everyone wants to be.
Haha no. Beautiful.