In this interview spotlight, we chat with singer/songwriter Elliott Middleton about influences, the latest project, the digital music world and more.
Full Q&A along with links and streams below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I grew up in the New York City area, 12 miles west of Manhattan. The city’s skyline could be seen from Eagle Ridge Park, and I remember ending up there at dawn one teenage morning and watching the sun rise over the city.
Harmony moves me the most in music, so growing up I dug the Beatles and the Beach Boys the most for their vocal harmonies and their changes. Recently I saw the Subdudes, a New Orleans band, who have some of the same thing going on, in a Cajun kind of style.
I love pop music, all kinds of music, and listen to Beethoven quite often. The harmonies blow me away. The production values in pop music today are incredible, with lots of subtle background harmonies, but as another songwriter said recently, a lot of the songs use the same four chords. Like “Shape of You,” it’s like a groove on four chords, incredibly complex, amazing production values. I love story songs with a strong melody and build, the kinds of stuff Adele can do. She did an amazing “Carpool Karaoke.” Even though I live in Nashville, I don’t listen to country—didn’t grow up with it, and I don’t agree that it is the new rock ‘n’ roll. Phillip Phillips is all right, but doesn’t have enough harmonic interest for me. I like Ed Sheeran a lot, he’s got quite a lot going on, and I like careful super-technical songwriters like the Weeknd, Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm,” and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” even though the harmonies are pretty standard. Listening to Taylor Swift makes my teeth hurt. The song I most wish I had written is “To Make You Feel My Love,” by Bob Dylan, because it has an amazing chord progression and is otherwise so utterly simple.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
I was an English major in college and was originally going to be a novelist. I have written a couple of novels that are now on Amazon. But from high school on I have been improvising off fake books on the piano and getting a huge amount of satisfaction from just improvising on my own when the ideas are flowing. When I moved to Nashville a dozen years ago I picked up the creative spirit in music here going to songwriter rounds and started writing songs. I’ve gone to critique groups, taken courses and read books. It takes a long time. I am staying the course now in hopes of getting fans and getting my music heard, so I can take it to the next level, as they say.
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
My new release, “Those Fools,” is about the current mood in this country. It hearkens back to Bob Dylan’s early work, when he was young and angry. Now he’s old and rich. We need to stop the hate that is separating us and preventing positive change. On a related theme is “Empire’s Fool,” an anti-war song.
The problem is inequality. The rich have become very selfish, and they have brainwashed the people not to raise their taxes saying this would destroy the economy (just like bailing out the banks). Americans need to come together and get back to a progressive tax system and paying American workers reasonable wages. Corporations should be required to share profits with workers, not just with management and stockholders.
In the last 30 years the game has been rigged, and we’re in danger of going feudal.
The other new release I am proud of is “What Once Was Love,” which is a ballad with an R&B beat that could be cut by a major artist and land on the country charts, even though I didn’t write it as country.
Do you face challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? How has technology helped you (assuming it helps)?
A couple of years ago I got a Mac and Logic Pro X and have been learning production. This has enabled me to achieve reasonably good sounding results that I can put on Spotify. I call them demos, hoping a big-name act will cut one of them, but for me, it is getting the sound in my head onto a clean digital file that is the kicker. I sang in community choruses in Nashville for many years to learn how to sing. I have a friend at work, Gary Reynolds, who adds guitar and slide guitar on some songs, but otherwise I play everything myself and do the singing. Paying for studio time and demo singers is very expensive, and for me, working a day job, this is way of potentially building a fan base over time while keeping the expenses down. I certainly hope some folks will get some enjoyment out of the songs.
Where can we connect with you online and discover more music?
My artist page at Spotify. I post about a song a month, so please come back and visit (and like).
Anything else before we sign off?
Thanks for celebrating Middle Tennessee Music. We’ve got a lot going on here.