From winning her first major songwriting contest to auditioning for The Voice, and most recently for America’s Got Talent, singer/songwriter Élishia Sharie’s star is on the rise. Last year, she released her first single, “FIGHT!,” featuring the electric and in-your-face accompanying video. In 2017, Élishia Sharie will also launch another new single and eventually will put together a collection of material to make up her first EP. The self-described “powerhouse” singer/songwriter believes talent and diversity knows no boundaries and categorization with regards to musical genre, in which she expresses herself creatively from R&B, soul, hip-hop, rock, alternative and punk. With her fierce performing style, eye-catching look donning a grey Mohawk, and black leather and lace wardrobe, she has performed at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles and at the Xen Lounge in Studio City. Élishia Sharie has her sights on much more, in which she aspires to become an international recording star and playing major music festivals.
During an interview with theartofla.com, the down-to-earth, yet ambitious artist, shared her personal journey from being a young child that could sing, discovering her gift very early, to suffering a vocal trauma that informs the single “FIGHT!”, and how she literally lost her voice and regained it through faith, hard work, and sheer determination. She also speaks on the importance of branding and marketing through social media to give fans a consistent image, and how she created a music festival in Riverside County, along with her producer/musician husband, to give independent artists like herself a space to perform, gain exposure, develop an audience and more.
Can you tell me about how music was an influence growing up?
I started singing around three. My major influence that young was Whitney Houston. The very first song I heard from her was “The Greatest Love of All.” I started singing along to it not really knowing the words. My mom heard me around the house. At that point, she realized I had a passion for music. From there, I started to sing in talent shows at school. My first talent show was in second grade. I was a very shy kid. I was scared of my own shadow, but anytime I got onstage, I felt free and open. I came alive. From elementary school through high school, I sang in talent shows. I was in choir in high school.
Did your parents have musical talent?
If you let them tell the story, they’d say no, but they have talent (laughs). They would walk around the house and sing. My dad’s favorite artist was Sade, and he liked Luther Vandross. They claim they are not musical, but I think they secretly have a passion for singing. I think that is the reason why they encouraged, and still encourage, my pursuit of music.
Did you go out and get professional vocal lessons?
No, not when I was young. I was just going out there and singing. I just imitated the artists I heard.
I tried out for American Idol a couple times, but at 17, I lost my voice completely. I suffered vocal trauma. I got food poisoning one night, and was vomiting for eight hours straight. After that, I had no range. I could barely talk. I don’t know what happened. I never went to a doctor about it. At that point, I was getting ready to leave high school, to go out into this great big world, and wanted to pursue music professionally, but had no voice to do so. I was moving down to Southern California from Lompoc, California where I grew up in Santa Barbara County. I couldn’t really sing anymore, so I came down here for school. While in school, I worked on my voice. It took me up until last year to really feel confident again in my voice and what developed vocally.
You mean from the vocal trauma?
When did your voice start recovering?
About five years after that trauma, I did start performing again. I did backup vocals for my husband’s band, but the range still wasn’t there. I have always been a powerhouse singer even as a kid, and to go from a powerhouse to nothing, it was devastating. I just had to take time and work on myself. I did take professional vocal lessons at one point. I did that for a few months, but it wasn’t working out with my vocal coach. I felt she didn’t understand the direction I was going in.
Was this at the point you were finding your own voice?
Yes. I will say that after I did those vocal lessons, I was even more determined to find my own voice. My vocal coach was trying to get me to imitate other artists, like I did as a child, but I really wanted to be my own artist. I have this whole raspy thing with my voice. I wanted to find a way to spotlight that. I played around with different things. Singing different things. I challenged myself. I sang songs I knew were clearly out of my range.
Like what songs?
Songs by some of the newer artists, like Janelle Monáe. She is one of my biggest inspirations. I would listen to a lot of her older stuff. I kept practicing different singing techniques to her songs. I sang every day. I watched vocal lessons on YouTube. I’m into both rock and soul music. When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. That was on the soul side. On the rock side, I really liked Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, and all of those great bands from the 90s.
But to be honest, being a black woman wanting to do rock music, I felt awkward about it because I felt like people expected me to do R&B and soul. I thought people wouldn’t get me if I did rock. That’s another thing I struggled with when I was trying to find myself as an artist. I wanted to get onstage and rock out to alternative music and throw my hair around and have a good time, but at the same time, I asked myself, “Is it going to be hard to find a market for me?” Eventually, passion took over. I felt it in my heart: this is what I really want to do. I think I can do it.
Last year, I released my first single, “FIGHT!,” which has punk rock influences and the soul comes in with some of the chords played on the song and my voice. My voice brings a soulfulness to this whole rock and roll thing.
Is the song your first attempt to write?
No. I wrote a lot as a child, especially in middle school and the first couple of years of high school. I had a best friend and we were like a music duo. We wrote songs together and sang them. We sang in talent shows together. Then during my senior year, for my senior project, I wrote a song and recorded it on my computer with my busted microphone. Also, that year, I won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest with a song I wrote for The Santa Barbara News Press. The John Lennon Songwriting Contest and The Santa Barbara News Press sent me to Anaheim to attend The NAMM Convention, as my prize.
You went to NAMM when?
It was my senior year of high school. I won my first songwriting contest. It was very exciting being a small town girl from Lompoc. They even sent me a limo to take my mom and I to Anaheim for the convention. We stayed at the convention for two days.
Did you do a showcase at NAMM?
No, but I did go on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus with a couple kids from other regions of California, that had won the contest, and we wrote a song together and recorded it on that bus.
How has that experience helped your career?
I use it as a reference point now. When I get frustrated and I have a writer’s block, I do tend to look back at the times when I felt more fluid with my writing—when I was younger—and it helps me. It lets me know, “you can do this.”
Some time has passed between high school and now. You moved out to L.A. for a job and to pursue music?
I moved to Riverside at 18. I went to UC Riverside (Go Highlanders!). After college, I stayed out there for a few years, until I landed my first job in L.A. I then made the move from Riverside to the Valley, to Tarzana. I was working at NBCUniversal at the time. It was my first job in L.A. I had actually gotten that job from an interview I did on the news. I went to a job fair, and Fox 11 News; I was asked to be interviewed by them. I was asked questions about my job hunt. At the time, I had been on the job hunt for three years. My interview with Fox 11 News aired, and my future boss saw the interview, and really liked the jacket I wore. She asked HR from NBCUniversal to reach out to me via Linkedin, and had me come in for a job interview. I worked there for two years, until the network I was working for went off the air. After that, I thought “What do I do now? I’m here in L.A.” At that time, I was still working on my voice and my confidence. Since I had no job, I was able to put more time into my voice, but to pay the bills, I did freelance photography and graphic design. It was something I had picked up in college when I was working on my degree.
What is your degree in?
It’s in sociology and marketing. During my last two years, I got into photography and graphic design as another creative outlet, since I was struggling with music and my voice. I just picked it up and I’ve been doing it for quite a while now.
Do you have a day job?
I actually just got laid off from another job working as a photo editor for a website. I’ve been out of a job since this past December. I honestly looked at it as a blessing in disguise. I no longer had to be at a job, trying to juggle music on the side. I’m at this place in my life, where I feel really confident in my voice again and I want to perform. I want to write and release an album. I really have the time now. During my days, I’m working on music and it’s my main focus. I’m researching things like how to get my music placed—licensing for my songs.
You mean sync licensing?
Yes. I’m trying to get sync licensing in TV and film. That is one of my goals now. Another is to get out there and perform more to showcase my talents.
Molly Malone’s is one of the places you’ve played?
Yes. I’ve also performed at the Xen Lounge in Studio City. Then, on another note, I’ve performed at a couple of festivals my husband and I put on. It’s called The Simple Life Indie Music Festival. We have only done two. We put them on in Riverside County, outdoors, in one of their little towns called Perris. We have land out there. My husband built the stage and landscaped the grounds. We built fire pits where people can roast marshmallows while watching the performances. At first, we only had a couple of our friends we knew personally perform. We invited friends and family to come and watch them. The turnout was so-so, but one of the guys in the audience, who came with one of our friends, really saw the potential and liked what we were doing. He reached out and said, “If you do another festival, let me know. I would love to be a part of it.” So the second festival we hosted was with this guy involved; he invested money. We also had more artists perform.
Were they independent artists?
Yes. We wanted to give independent artists a platform. It’s hard to find places for them to perform, especially with the pay-to-play situation; that’s a big thing out here in L.A. We just wanted to say to these artists “if you’re good, we want you at our festival. No need to pay. Tell all your friends and family to come watch you do your thing.” At the same time, these artists were being exposed to all these other people and gaining more fans. We had people come from L.A., San Diego, and even Northern California. Some of the performers came from the Midwest, and others from the South and from Tennessee. We had a good little mix of artists. We do plan on hosting another festival this year, sometime in the spring. We don’t have a date yet, but we want the festival to be even bigger than the last.
Will you have the same investor involved?
Most likely we will.
So he helps to pay to put the festival on?
Yes. He is also a great help in organizing all the other things that go into putting on a festival so that my husband and I can focus more on the creative side.
It gives you the opportunity to promote yourself as well?
Yes, exactly. At both festivals, I got up there and sang a few songs. My husband and his band got up there and performed. They closed the night. We use it to promote ourselves, as well as other artists.
Would you like to talk more about your brand and image?
Fashion is very important to me, and is a key part of my branding as a music artist. I used to experiment a lot with my hair. I have friends that would comment “Every time I see you, you have a different hair style.” It was true up until last year. Last year, I decided on this grey Mohawk-y thing I have. I’m sticking with it for a while because I do want to establish my look and my brand. Going to school and studying marketing helped me because I got to take a few branding classes and consumer behavior classes. I try to apply that to what I do now. Consistency is really important when it comes to the brand. As for my look and wardrobe, I style myself—everything from music videos to my performances and auditions. I feel that helps to maintain consistency. I have a ‘Rocker Chic’ look. I wear a lot of black, leather and lace. I want people to say “Hey, there’s that chick with the grey hair. She is an amazing singer. I’ve seen her live and she’s awesome.” I put a lot into my brand and I try to be consistent. Across all of my social media, I try to be very consistent as well.
Can you tell me more about your involvement with America’s Got Talent?
Sure. One of the talent producers for the show reached out to me via my website, and Facebook, and said “I saw your music video for FIGHT! on YouTube and I love your sound. I think it’s amazing and unique. I think you would do really well on our show. I would love for you to come audition for us.” That is the first time I’ve ever had anyone reach out to me in that way, especially for something I put my whole heart into. “FIGHT!” is a very personal song. The talent producer asked me to come by the L.A. Convention Center on February 11 to audition. When I got there, he was the producer I auditioned for. I sang “Dream On” by Aerosmith, because that song is really inspirational to me. Then I performed “FIGHT!” considering that was the reason I was there. I auditioned for him and another talent producer. They seemed interested. So now I’m waiting to hear if I’ll be moving on to the next round, whether it’s a callback or going onto the show to perform for the celebrity judges.
What does that show represent in terms of your career?
It’s very important to me. I look at it as a major stepping-stone. My ultimate goal is to be an international recording artist. I want to tour the world. I want to perform for different people, and being on such a major stage would allow me to do that. I think that show is great and represents a wide variety of talent. I feel like I fit in with their show format, because I’m out-of-the-box.
More than trying out for The Voice?
I’ve auditioned for that too. It was a couple of years ago. Actually, The Voice was my first big audition since the vocal trauma thing. It was me stepping out again and saying “Hey world! I’m back and I’m ready.” I went and I sang my heart out. I got a callback for The Voice, but I didn’t prepare for the callback. I had just started that job I got laid off from in December. I wanted to take the days off needed to better prepare, but I knew that wasn’t going to fly. I auditioned on a Sunday and prepared for the callback a little on that Sunday night, and then Monday I went back to work. I worked late that Monday, and by the time I got home, I was exhausted. I still tried to prepare the best I could, but by the time I got to the callbacks on Tuesday morning, it wasn’t happening. I felt so ill prepared going into SIR Studios.
Were you devastated?
I wasn’t. I was still flowing off the energy of the first audition. I was just honored to even be recognized for this voice I worked so hard for. For a talent producer to sit there and say that I have a great voice, that they loved it and it’s unique, that meant a lot to me. Even if I hadn’t gotten that callback, I would’ve still walked away proud of myself for taking a chance.
The feedback I’ve been getting since I started this journey, tells me I’m on the right track.
Do you collaborate with anyone on your songs?
“FIGHT!” is a collaboration. I have a female rap feature on it. I was inspired by a performance that Imagine Dragons did with Kendrick Lamar at the 2014 Grammys for their song “Radioactive.” It’s one of my favorite songs. I thought that collaboration brought such a different energy to the song.
I met BRIELLE, a rap artist from New Jersey, out here in L.A. when we were part of the Hip Hop Choir. In the Hip Hop Choir, we performed different songs by Tupac and Lauryn Hill. I fit into the Hip Hop Choir as a singer, because even those songs have singing elements to them. BRIELLE and I became really good friends, and when the Hip Hop Choir disbanded, we stayed in touch. We also worked in the same building. My husband ran a studio out in Hollywood, and BRIELLE was down the hall from us. I would see her pretty often.
Sometime in 2015, I randomly put up a Facebook post about that 2014 Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons performance, and how I wanted to do a similar hip-hop/rock collaboration. BRIELLE saw the post, and said “let’s do it.” We didn’t get into the studio right away and do the song. Nine months past, and we finally got in the studio together to collaborate. I had finally gotten to that point in my life where I was ready to write again, to record, and to fight for this music dream. I went to the studio with my husband, Jay, who is a producer and songwriter, and I actually had no idea what direction this rock/hip hop song was going to take. The crazy thing is my husband asked me what I wanted to write about. I said “I don’t know, but here is the music video treatment.” I had already visually planned out, in my head, the music video. Based off of my vision for the music video, he started producing a track. I liked where the musical direction was going. BRIELLE and I started throwing around ideas for a topic. After that brainstorming session, I went home, stayed up late and it hit me—I knew what I was going to write about. I wrote the verses first and then I went back to the studio the next day to sing them to Jay and BRIELLE. Then the hook finally came to me, and BRIELLE wrote her rap verse. FIGHT! was eventually released the following year, in 2016, on July 3rd, my birthday.
What inspired you to write “FIGHT!”?
I based it on my battle with my vocal trauma and how I fought to be a singer again. In that 12-year span of struggling with my voice, I battled with myself a lot—I gave up on myself and my voice so many times. The song is about fighting for that thing that gives you purpose. Singing and music is my life. I do it not only because I love to sing, but also because I want to inspire people and make music people can relate to. I had to start this thing off with “FIGHT!” because it tells the story of what I’ve been through, and it sets the tone for what I’m going to do musically.
Right now, I’m working on another song. It’s very much inspired by The White Stripes. I’m going to release that song as my next single. Later this year, I plan to release an EP. I’m hoping, as I build my catalog, to get more gigs performing at festivals. I would love to do a little tour hitting different music venues, too. I want to be able to approach promoters and say, “Hey I want a stage for 45 minutes. Can I come and perform with my band?” I want to build up my material so I can be taken seriously as an artist.