Interview with Eleanor Hammond
Eleanor has been singing, playing guitar and piano, and songwriting since she was 11. She has been in at least two theatrical productions per year from ages 14-22. She often uses her theatrical background to incorporate storytelling into her lyrics. Her passion for composition became so strong that in 2019 she was inspired to write and produce a full-length feminist musical called Walls, the story of artist and founder of the Whitney Museum, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She then produced her second musical Newsflash! in 2021 with co-writer Em Beihold. She is now releasing a string of singles. Eleanor’s dynamic and confident singing, demanding stage presence, and prophetic yet relatable lyrics make her a unique and trailblazing artist. Her songs vary in genre, keeping the listener on their toes, yet still feel cohesive and of the same creator, one that has been honing her sound for years, inspired by her influences and growing worldview.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I always had an inkling to songwrite. When I was a kid, I would have rather written in the margins of my piano book than practice the actual piece for my lesson. The first thing that really sold me on doing music was a kids’ group songwriting class through Sessions Songwriting, led by Lauren Bruns. These songwriting classes were the first time my kid-self’s perspective and worldview was paid attention to. I loved coming up with ideas with my other classmates, and it felt like magic when we added a melody behind our words and then heard the final song for the first time.
If I hadn’t gotten into music, I’d either be an actress or a paleontologist. I majored in theater in college, so acting has been my other love, although I have since stopped it to focus on music. I would also be a paleontologist because I find dinosaurs fucking cool.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
One thing I love doing is looking at visual art. Paintings give me songwriting prompts. Can I write a song from the perspective of the person in the portrait, for example? I also love being with my friends. I am a verbal processor, so our conversations help me synthesize the happenings of our lives, and they often translate into my song concepts; I will get a line from one of our conversations and be like “that sounds like the title of my next song.”
How long has music been your career?
I released my first single in 2018. I would say I didn’t really start pursuing my pop music career seriously until exactly a year ago, when I graduated college in December of 2021.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am based in Los Angeles. LA is a sprawling metropolis of different cultures, so I was exposed to a wide amount of genres. My dad is a music manager and his favorite music is rock and pop of the 60s and 70s. Classic songwriters from that time like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, and Laura Nyro were a few of my idols. I also adore the unbridled rawness of 90s artists like Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, and Alanis Morisette. And I aspire to write as well as Bob Dylan. I’d go to shows for the independent artists my dad managed since I was little, and they inevitably shaped me. My dad would give me honest feedback on my music from a young age, which helped cultivate my songwriting. My musical theater and pop backgrounds are why I now call my genre “theatrical pop.”
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
The best show I played was back in August at the Hotel Cafe’s Writer’s Block. I absolutely love that audiences come to the intimate space to be quiet and listen to the music, and I love that the venue values singer-songwriters. The sound there is also so good, the staff are warm and welcoming, and it is in a great location. The worst show I played was also this year, at a little restaurant in Studio City, which I will not name. The actual owner of the venue, the bartenders, and everyone were super kind. It was just that the sound guy had no idea what he was doing, even though he was a sweetheart, and the audience was drunk off their asses, talking over Leo Decter (my guitarist) and me the whole time. I was thinking, “why are we even here, if we are just background noise? How do I get these people to care?”
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
My favorite venue to play at is the Hotel Cafe. And there are many places I want to play. The Troubadour is definitely a dream place of mine of course.If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?I absolutely adore Angel Olsen and Weyes Blood. I would be honored to perform alongside them, as I feel like our music would compliment each other.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
I would say you have to be ready to wear different hats. You have to devote time to practicing your instruments, marketing your music, finding your brand, recording, collaborating, writing, planning and shooting videos, networking, playing shows, publishing your music, finding sync opportunities, engaging with fans, and on and on. I’d say be intentional about how you spend your time. Everything helps. Don’t feel bad if you can’t do everything all at once. Instead find balance, taking it one step at a time. My voice teacher Griffith Frank told me to “put one brick in the wall a day,” and I say that to myself a lot.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
SLOW DOWN. Not being viral on TikTok does not mean you're a failure. I want a long career like Brandi Carlile, and I am definitely the tortoise, not the hare. My generation is so caught up with instant success. I want to enjoy the journey. Because once I am “where I want to be,” the mystery and fun is all gone. This time of not knowing is exciting, and should be embraced rather than feared.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
That’s hard, because I put a lot of blood and heart into all of my music. I’d say my song “Magnolia Tree” holds a special place since it’s about the tree in front of my childhood home. The lyrics personify the tree and talk about my younger self.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
“Nighttime Bitch” is always fun because I let myself just sing it, without accompanying myself on guitar or piano like I usually do when I perform other songs. I feel like I really get to connect with the audience because of the song’s vulnerability and edginess, and it gets the crowd going due to its high, building energy. “Anyone at All,” a song about wanting to be “the one” for someone, is the song I get requested the most, and I always close the night out with it.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
Whenever I have a breakup or a shitty moment, I often say “at least I can go home and write a song about it.” Music really is “my diary screaming out loud,” in the words of Anna Nalick. I love the idea that music says what everyone's thinking or feeling, but in a way that is original and describes a moment just right. I usually start by sitting down at the piano or guitar, letting any feelings come up from the moment I want to write about, and pour out a melody. Then I usually begin with the first verse. If I am able to get to a chorus, I know I can finish the song. Sometimes a song takes 15 minutes, sometimes years. It’s important not to force it, because the channeling of songwriting can be fleeting. As soon as my judgment or expectation comes in, the flow stops.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
My first single, “Run” (2018), is a very upbeat, happy song. When I was younger, I’d write optimistic songs like that one to keep me resilient. But now I really love writing from an inbetween, nuanced perspective, that includes the happy with the sad. A lot of my songs are about the difficulty of wanting a relationship (romantic or not) to be different than what it is. I want people to know that wanting to love and be loved isn’t shameful, and is actually a beautiful thing. I am a very sensitive person and fall in love and get hurt easily, and I want to see that as a strength.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Sometimes. Thankfully, my collaborators and I carry a mutual respect when writing together, so we don’t take things personally when we disagree on something. It is important to be able to argue for your ideas, but also to know when to back down or compromise. Learning how to say “no” and hear “no” is essential, as well as working with those who want to achieve a common goal.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I am performing at the Goldfish in Highland Park on December 20th. I am also scheduling shows at The Escondite and Bar Lubitsch for the new year. I also want to do another show in January at the Hotel Cafe to celebrate my next single “Best of Tonight,” out December 30th. The song is a celebratory, 80s pop-inspired dance track about a budding relationship and enjoying a night of spontaneous fun together. It celebrates the end of another year and the seizing of life's fleeting moments. Finally, I hope to release my debut album towards the end of 2023.
Pre-save “Best of Tonight”: https://li.sten.to/eleanorhammond