Fresh from tearing up Notting Hill Carnival, Elliphant tells The Red Bulletin where it all began.
Ellinor Olovsdotter has the flu. The rising star known as Elliphant often gets sick when she visits LA, she explains, raspy-voiced and half naked, completely unself-conscious about her body. The globe-trotting former model from the wrong side of the tracks is part of a Nordic new wave of fierce dance-pop divas, alongside fellow Swedes Icona Pop, Robyn, Lykke Li and MØ, who are pushing the pop envelope.
In interview, Ellinor Olovsdotter is subdued. It’s on stage, in music videos and during a photo shoot for The Red Bulletin that she really comes to life as Elliphant – a wild, whirling, joyous performer who infatuates the camera with her exuberance.
It’s this sense of self that informs her music. Inspired by Jamaican dancehall, dirty dubstep, ’90s rock and techno, her sound has drawn comparisons to M.I.A. and Santigold. She’s also been compared to Rihanna, a likeness Elliphant isn’t entirely comfortable with.
“I’m a bit surprised by that because I would never have thought that people would think that we were alike,” she told Anthem magazine this year. “What I do is more experiential. It might be because of the way I use the words so it sounds like I have a Jamaican Patois dialect.”
With her ethereal, Jane Birkin-esque beauty and expletive-tinged honesty, Elliphant brings more to the table than your average pop princess. For starters, she’s lived a real life, growing up in the gritty Stockholm suburb of Katarina-Sofia, her mother a single parent with two kids by two different men, her father with four children from three different women.
“My mom was a junkie,” she says. “She had a lot of problems. Sweden was so rude to my mom. So rude to me. The Swedish system killed me. When I left Sweden for the first time, that’s when I turned into a human being. If I had never left and travelled places, this person, Elliphant, would never exist. I would have been angry. I would probably have two babies and be on drugs right now.’’
Despite the hardships she suffered, Elliphant says music was always a big thing in her family.
“My mom loved music and was into the whole ’90s thing,” she says. “I was pumped with music; we would stand there waiting for her for hours while she was going through albums in record stores. She bought maybe 10 CDs a week when I was a kid. Everything from David Bowie to the B-52s, early techno to Frank Sinatra. Everything.”
Olovsdotter suffered from attention deficit disorder and dyslexia as a child. She struggled at school and couldn’t envisage a happy future for herself until her grandmother took her to India at the age of 15. The country struck a chord with her, she dropped out of school aged 16 to return there on her own, losing herself just to find herself in the colourful, cacophonous streets.
She travelled to India regularly in her mid-20s, returning to Stockholm between trips, where she dabbled in making music and funded her travels with kitchen work. Then, in a series of fateful trips, she explored the urban music scenes of Berlin, London and Paris, where she met a Swedish producer, Tim Deneve. That’s where the latest chapter in Elliphant's story begins…
Check out the rest of this feature in the October 2013 issue of The Red Bulletin, the global monthly magazine. For access to the international issue, download the free app for iOS or Android now.