Elissa Mielke
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Elissa Mielke

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | SELF

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF
Established on Jan, 2014
Solo Pop Folk




"Interview: Elissa Mielke"

DrunkenWerewolf has a box. In its treasure trove we store the best of the best; the music that we adore, our most cherished conversations and trinkets from the past. The people allowed to visit are those undiscovered musicians who may or may not be on their way to the stars. To us and our treasure trove, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the music.

Elissa Mielke currently holds residency. What comes out of her is a beautiful reminder of why we began writing about music; to try to give our treasure trove artists an avenue to their audience, and to at least let them know how much we appreciate their work.

A singer songwriter from rural Ontario, now based in Toronto, Elissa grew up listening to Slipknot and singing German hymns at her local church. The years have stripped her of the nu metal era, but the husk of choral folk still affects her voice.

Mielke has been playing gigs since she was 14, and over the past few years in particular has drawn a likeness to Laura Veirs and Regina Spektor in her ability to manipulate her voice to imitate a song’s melody. She’s as original as her juniors, breeding a special concoction of Canadian Americana, folk, pop and sonic exploration in place of using a traditional piano and guitar arrangement.

To celebrate our new find DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels speaks to the leading lady about writing songs in Mumbai, her forthcoming debut album and what it’s like to grow up without music. The result is one of the most interesting, compelling interviews on this site.

You’re currently out song writing in Mumbai. What inspired you to go there in the first place?

My sister is working in India and she’s one of my best critics because she says it like it is. When she loves a song I know it’s an honest reaction. So I went to visit her, but I’ve also always wanted to see India, and the greyness of winter was trying to pull me into a musical rut, so it was the perfect time to go.

Do you often travel for musical inspiration?

I find getting lost and being vulnerable are both good pathways to self-discovery and inspiration.

Last summer in Japan, someone shared a quote with me; it essentially says that travel is the “greatest brutality”. It forces us to let go of comfort, and laziness, and makes us rely on other people. It strips us of all familiarity so we are left only with what is essential and linked to eternity; air, oceans, sleep, dreams, spirituality.

While I love to be comfortable, I become a better, more loving person (and more honest artist) when I’m not. When I’m lost, I forget what “normal” is - and this is a great freedom to me.

elissa3How has being in Mumbai influenced your new material?

Being here has changed the attitude that I have about writing music.

Last week an Indian musician told me that he can’t afford to record any of his tracks. I related with great empathy, saying with great passion that the music industry is sometimes so full of roadblocks and how it can be so frustrating, and had he considered grants?

But my new friend laughed at my comment as if it was the most ridiculous. “Music is a luxury,” he reminded me with delight.

He said how his family is grateful for water and enough food - to have a job so that he has time to even think of his music. The idea of a grant for music was hilarious to my friends there. “We should have such grants for families who need food,” one man said incredulously.

And here I was, frustrated by all the forms I have to fill out to apply for music funding.

These sorts of conversations affect me most when I travel.

It’s easy to live in a world of privilege, where the delight of reading blogs, and online shopping, and so much personal gratification that we forget to appreciate how great it’s to have more than we need to live.

Music is irreplaceably valuable; and its value to communities of all sorts is just as necessary as food. I would not say that making it is selfish or indulgent, but rather that we should not forget that every moment we have to sing is a great gift. I am grateful to those musicians for reminding me of that. I resolved not to waste the privilege I have been given.

Your FaceBook states that you work as your own publicist under the pseudonym of Ingrid Vernon. Is that still the case and why split the work by using another name?

I’ve found that people love to be among the first to promote a band that they think has great potential. But no one wants to be the first - because what if they’re wrong? As a teenager it was hard to find someone who would book a good venue for me, or vouch for my music. I created a publicist so that other people would give me a chance. Now that I have a network of bookers and friends who also support my music, I need Ingrid less than before. I’m hoping that eventually I won’t need to email people as her anymore. My website bio clearly states that I’m my own publicist under a pseudonym - so that hopefully, no one feels tricked but can appreciate why I’ve employed myself!

Secretly, I also have a super confident brazen alter ego named Olive. She plays all my shows without anyone knowing. This allows me to bare my soul through the songs but if people don’t like a performance, it’s Olive’s fault, not mine.

I don’t mind if I sound a bit crazy. We are all crazy!

Do you consider yourself a DIY artist?

Yes, but I hope that one day I can just do DIY singing and performing, instead of also DIY self-managing, booking, and advertising. It takes a lot of creative energy that I’d love to channel towards music instead. Some day!

You’ve worked with a few producers and labels in New York. Do you have any plans to sign up to a label?

Yes, eventually.

I think constructing a musical career is like building a house. You start with the right materials (talent, ability, potential). You create a sketch of what you intend to build. You make choices about location, style, size. And when you have those, then you build a foundation. At some point you need a team who can make the house into what you have dreamed it to be. When it’s time to build a roof, you trust the roof guy because that’s his thing. But the essence of the house, the soul of what it is and the finished product - those will always be in your name because you are the architect. And you have to be careful whom you give that control to.

I did meet with some producers, labels, and managers last year; and there were some offers from people who were interested in the house I was building. But at that point, I hadn’t even finished the floor plans and some of the materials were still arriving. I wasn’t ready to give up all control without a fully realized vision. If you don’t begin building your own house, someone else will build it for you.

Though you wrote your new material in New York, you recorded it back home. Was that a conscious decision to re-find your routes, or another reason?

I love New York because it reminds me of my smallness. One label I met with had 30 blonde singer songwriter girls they’d signed who play piano and synth and sing well. It makes you think, “Okay, what makes me different, what makes me stand out? How am I pushing the envelope or challenging the norms?”

I like New York for meeting people, for its collision of worlds.

But I think the competition and work ethic there aren’t the best for my creative process. I think too much about if a song will stand out or if it will be popular when I write in fast-paced cities. I hated writing a song with the end goal of making it a hit. Once I turn music into a product and my only goal is selling it, I’ve lost the whole point of what I’m doing. I’m not naïve about the way money drives the music industry. But it was cool to realize I’d rather have a less recognized, sustainable career playing honest music for a handful of people- than have a radio hit that doesn’t bring any good or light into the world. I can’t wiggle my hips and sing about being in the club because wiggling my hips makes me laugh.

I write my best songs somewhere quiet or strange. When they’ve taken shape in the dark, I sing them in the city to see how the light changes them. Does that make sense?

Your new demos document a mature sound, and sound quite similar to the world of Regina Spektor et al. Have your influences changed over time?

Thank you! That is a lovely compliment. I like how Regina can engage an audience using just her voice and sometimes just a few staccato notes of piano.

The artists that influence me are those who can sing of an eternal truth without ever being cliché. Joni Mitchell is a good example of this. I like Charles Bradley for his live performances - he sings like he is alone but you are also totally in his head. Antony and the Johnsons for making me feel the world is ending by singing one note.

Until early high school, I fully believed that any song that wasn’t a hymn was secular and evil and I would go to hell just for listening to it. This means my first songs where influenced mostly by the simple melodies of the hymns I sang at church. It also explains why I’ve always prioritized lyrics - they made those hymns holy.

In University I made a plan to discover all the music I’d missed out on in my youth. I still have a list of 130 bands I need to listen to, just in order to have a basic understanding... A few weeks ago I sat down and listened to the Rolling Stones for the first time, and cried. I sat down and really listened to the Beatles for the first time after seeing the ashram where they meditated in Rishikesh last week. That was also very beautiful and changed me for sure.

There is of course some shame in finding out about these important cultural things so late - but also beauty in all these things influencing me much later than my peers.

I think I am still finding the music I love most. It’s a journey.

Do you approach music in the same way that you did when you started gigging at 14?

My first glimpse of love was in junior high. I dressed in a gown, stood on a chair in the kitchen, and recorded myself improvising a love song at the top of my lungs, Mariah Carey style. It must’ve been a ten-minute song. I gave the tape to my beloved pimply preteen boy love saying “listen to this.” Obviously he showed it to his friends and I was ruthlessly mocked to shame.

It is good that I’ve learned to edit my songs, and not throw pearls to swine. But I love the freedom and honestly in that 13 year old version of myself. She teaches me bravery and I want to be more like her. Maybe I will record part of my album standing on a chair in a gown, improvising at the top of my lungs.

What have you learned from your experiences of gigging so young?

I used to write the titles of 30 songs in marker on my arm and then ask the audience, “Do you want to hear a song I wrote about love or about a dancer?” and they’d choose. I had no fear. If I forgot the lyrics, I’d invent them about audience members.

Now I’ve started practicing every day and I write set lists in advance. I do wish I could be less critical - I’ve become more critical for sure. But this is learning.

elissa4You’re planning a full length release this year. Have you started recording yet and do you know what kind of direction you want to take it in?

I have so many ideas and songs for this album. After years of releasing demos and self-recording, I’m so excited to share something that shows what I’m capable of. Right now – to be honest - it’s mostly about finding financial support for an album. Until then I am hesitant to share my dreams for it!

What else do you have lined up for 2013?

I’m going to focus on live shows more this year than ever before. I’ve been working a lot on my performances and I’d love to spend lots of time on the road touring - someday the UK! I dream of that. And writing, always writing and collaborating. I have a couple cool commissions coming up to write music for films and that sort of thing, so I’m excited for that challenge.

I’d love to write more synth-based songs, and am working on a few right now that are just vocals and percussion. Drums and clapping in music when I was young were seen as sensual and therefore no good and from the devil. So I love the idea of using drums more- reclaiming them as something good and beautiful and free. Maybe I’ll take drum lessons. - Drunken Werewolf

"The Model: Elissa Mielke"

Back in April, I went with a friend to watch a concert at Supermarket in Toronto. As the first band played, I noticed a woman in the crowd who I recognized immediately as a model I'd seen in magazines and through mutual friends on facebook. She turned out to be the second musical act of the night. She introduced herself as Elissa and began to play one of the best live sets I'd heard in years. As she played, her face grew more and more radiant and I knew I was in the presence of someone truly in love with their craft. She also just happens to be, as I described to my friend, "stupidly pretty."

The Business Model: When did you first entertain the idea of being a musician?

Elissa Mielke: Probably weirdly early. My dad and I always made-up songs together, and I grew up in a church where you were put up to sing from very young. So I think it was in my nature from a very young age. In grade five, I wrote a song in math class. It was a love song and it was pretty cheesy. In middle school, I made all these press packages with all these songs I’d recorded on tapes, and I sent them out with my school picture and a typed up note to 85 radio stations. I thought that’s how you got your music on the radio! I don’t think I got any replies, but I already assumed that it was a career I could do. But I always thought that I’d be a professional musician by age fifteen, so I was surprised that it takes a lot more time. It’s funny, both the industries I’m involved in, age seems so important. I definitely think about age a lot, and I’m very aware of time passing.

TBM: Is that hard?

EM: I guess so, I think it’s made me work really hard. And I’m starting to realize that I want to always grow and learn and let every day be full of the things I love. But I am aware that I can only model for so long, and that’s how I’m supporting my music right now. I am aware of that.

TBM: That seems like a good system; modelling to support your music. It reminds me of actors who do their big Hollywood action movies so that they can also do the tiny indie films that they’re really passionate about.

EM: Yeah, I think I find it tricky to explain that I’m a musician, and I model. And I totally respect people who model full-time. But I think people don’t realize that not all models are models first. Like, if I wasn’t a model, I’d be a waitress or a receptionist. It takes over your identity more than any other job. If I say I’m a musician and I model, then people think, “Her thing is that people think she’s attractive.” But I also don’t want to be too self-pitying because modelling is a crazy amazing way to be able to support what I love.

TBM: When did you begin modelling?

EM: About two years ago. I met my mother agent through a photographer friend. When I was younger, I’d model for a couple friends who were photographers. And then there was that thing when I was fifteen. When I was fifteen there was a modelling contest. Me and a few other finalists got to go to New York and they gave us this very exciting, glamorous side of modelling. Then I came home, and signed with an agency in Toronto, but I got sidetracked by the rest of my life. And I’m glad it didn’t work out for me then. Because I don’t think the criticism would’ve been good for me at that time. I just let the contract run out.

TBM: So two years ago, where you scouted?

EM: Well, I was in university and I started to realize that university was really expensive. So when I met Chantale the timing was just perfect.

TBM: Did you ever worry that the one job might interfere with the other?

EM: Yeah, I worry a lot about that. In terms of the way that people see me. I also come from a religious background that doesn’t necessarily see the fashion industry as a place where you can be a morally sound person. But I’m very conscious of my image as a musician. When I was in New York talking to some people that could potentially help me build my career as a musician, one of the things that came up was modelling and music. They said that with writing folk music or lyrically intelligent music, I probably couldn’t model or my image would have to be very different. The example they used was, when a model is interviewed, they’re not asked about politics or feminism. But I want to be a musician who has thoughtful lyrics and I really value music that connects with people on a deeper level. So although modelling is sustaining my music career right now, it strange to think that it could compromise that. - The Business Model

"Born To It"

... My favorite part of the evening was what happened after the screening of the film. The lights dimmed for a second time, the curtain came up and instead of seeing a screen the audience was pleasantly surprised to find four guitars, one piano and five amazing voices coming together as one joined group of people there simply to entertain. The candid humor between the five artists was so much fun and although they maintained their individuality through playing a couple songs each, the group as a whole seemed at points as if they had been playing together for years (this is probably best accredited to Hawkins and Stanley who have been playing together for over 30 years).

Last minute notes:
**Elissa Mielke’s “How”, which she performed live after the screening was the most powerful song I’ve heard in years, and is a testament to the talent of the young artist (she’s only 19). I believe that once she gets a firm grip on her voice, which at times seemed too powerful for the unassuming unvaryingly positive blonde, she will without a doubt move people to change the way they think about their lives. - Kate Morawetz Blog

"Roger's Spring Music Festival '09"

From May 7th to May 10th, 2009 was the seventh annual “Rogers Spring Music Festival”.

More than 30 bands came from all across North America and rocked the city of Hamilton, Ontario.

Some of the bands that stood out at this year’s festival include: Static Cycle, Chris Koster, Dame, Ghosthouse, Fairchild, Tyler Schwende Band, Jojeto, Mach 22, Elissa Mielke, Melissa Bel and Famous to name a few... - TSG Entertainment (www.tsgentertainment.ca)

"Cuff The Duke, Lowest Of The Low Members In New Documentary"

Cuff The Duke's Wayne Petti and former Lowest Of The Low members Ron Hawkins and Stephen Stanley are among five musicians that are the focus of the new Born 2 It documentary.

The film, which also features Alun Piggins and singer/songwriter Elissa Mielke, will premiere Nov. 8 at Toronto's Royal Theatre. Born 2 It screens at 7:15 p.m. that day, and you can buy tickets for $11.50 through victimlesscapitalism.com.

Born 2 It took two years to make and follows all five musicians "at various stages of their careers, and the roads they travel to sustain their artistic existence." - CHARTattack (www.chartattack.com/news)

"Hamilton Music Notes, Sept.17"

“We expect a party,” says [Max] Wray. “The people that I booked are
the people I’ve loved to watch because they’ll go up and do
different things every night. Elissa just drips personality; I mean,
she might write a sensitive song, like we all do, but it’s all about
enjoying the moment, getting people up dancing as much as we
can and having people sing on other people’s stuff that maybe
they haven’t tried. We like keeping it open and fun, that’s really
the vein of the stuff I’ve always liked to do, and the shows that I
book are exactly in the same vein. We just want people to have
fun, dancing and singing along, anything we can get, we’re just
looking for fun. The singer/songwriter is pegged a lot into the
dreary I’m–going–to–sing–about–my–ex–girlfriend and cry and
whine about my life but this is not about that. This is not a Friday
night of sadness but of fun.”

A Live CD Recording featuring performances by Max Wray, Carm
Milioto, Elissa Mielke, Matthew De Zoete and many more happens
this Friday September 18 at Club Absinthe. - Ric Taylor for View Magazine

"Night 5 of the Guelph Singer / Songwriter Contest"

Photos from the fifth night of our on going singer / songwriter contest held in Guelph, Ontario. Again the talent was unbelievable, thank you to all the musicians that performed, and a big congratulations to Elissa Mielke for winning this round. The finals are coming quickly and we've got $1000 cash, studio time, and new instruments, and a slew of other prizes all up for grabs. Thank you again to everyone who cam out to support the contest and the musicians. We still have four more Tuesdays then the finals. So come on out to Wally's Pub starting at 9 to hear some amazing music and have few drinks. We record both audio and video copies of the show you can check them out by subscribing to Aralie Radio which is our podcast feed, or by checking out our Youtube channel. If you subscribe to our YouTube channel your name gets entered into win 1 of 2 iPod touches we are giving at the end of February. - Aralie

"Born to It Premiere"

...I also got to fall in love with three new artists. I had heard of Cuff the Duke and the Morganfields, but never heard any of their stuff. Now I know what talented songwriters Alun and Wayne are and I'm adding them to the short list of artists I will be following and adding to my music collection. And, not to take away from anyone else on the stage, but Elissa is absolutely outstanding. I'm not sure I've seen that much talent in someone of that age in a long time. She's creative, energetic, pretty and talented beyond belief. She has the luxury of having the career of her choosing ahead of her. I hope she chooses wisely. To put it in perspective, I will get chills when Ron sings certain songs. They just affect me like that. When Elissa sang last night, it was as if nothing else existed. When she was done her songs, I could barely mutter the "wow" that I was feeling... - ronhawkins.com


Still working on that hot first release.



Elissa wrote her first song in a unicorn notebook with an orange pencil crayon. It was during math class and she was in grade two. She grew up in the forests of rural Ontario with limited exposure to pop culture and music. Her earliest musical influences were the traditional German hymns she sang at her familys church, and a Slipknot album she found on the sidewalk and hid under her bed so it wouldnt be taken away.

Her childhood was full of imagination- songs were inspired by invented worlds, snow foxes, and tree forts. She sang them for anyone who would listen. At 5, she began playing piano. As her skills developed, she discovered chord structure. "That changed everything," she says.

"I was taught that secular music was sinful, but once I heard it, I couldnt help loving it in a spiritual way. The hymns I knew didnt allow for emotion, indulgence, sensuality, and these were all things I craved. I wanted to write hymns that didn't hide from what the world really was." 

By creating music she was finally free to express herself; to share her darkest thoughts, and to understand the culture shed always felt outside of. Strong religious and spiritual influences have inspired hundreds of her songs over the years. Sometimes dark, sometimes metaphorical, but always laced with hope and honesty.

Elissa started playing shows when she was 14, and her audience grew quickly- she played in dive bars, at coffee shops, in cathedrals. 

 At 16, Elissa employed herself as her own publicist under the pseudonym Ingrid Vernon. Once she had representation, people paid attention. Ingrid booked festivals, radio spots, and television appearances for Elissa. A Toronto director featured Elissa in a 4-year feature-length documentary about Canadian music (also featuring Lowest of the Low & Cuff the Duke members). 

Once she moved to Toronto, shows began to sell out and she sold demos to help pay for university. Elissa is currently based in Toronto and lives with her keyboards, Nordbert and Synthia. Since parting ways with former band Decades (Dirty Mags, White Girl Records), she is currently writing songs for her first full-length album. She is also writing music for (and starring in) a feature film called Minor, filming this fall with Paradise Pictures.


Recent Tour Dates:

October 4: Silver Dollar Room, Toronto ON

November 22: MforMontreal Showcase at Nomad Nation, Montreal QC

December 4: The Cameron House, Toronto ON

January 21: Minor Film Production, Nashville, TN

January 25: Jerry's Lounge, Alamogordo NM

January 29: Guitar Merchant, Los Angeles CA

February 22: The Casbah, Hamilton ON

Band Members