In the eyes of Nashville-based Kayla Graninger, who performs art pop under the moniker Elke, words are gifts. As a lifelong reader of poems, books and lyrics, she turned her attention to music full time at the age of 24 after having an epiphany when talking to a friend and fellow writer. “She always told me, ‘Don’t miss an opportunity to say something.’ That was super essential as I’m trying to find a voice,” Elke tells Audiofemme. “I think words are super important and I think they get taken for granted, so I see myself having a purpose in that way. I’ve always paid attention to words. When somebody says something that uplifts you or it’s an arrangement to say something that wakes you up in a way, I really was striving for that.”
Raised in Illinois, Elke left high school at 17 to pursue a modeling career in New York City, yet came to the city equipped with a guitar in hand. She channeled her passion for words directly into her 2018 debut EP, Bad Metaphors, as well as the singles she’s released since. “The Bad Metaphors EP was really honing in on words and what they meant to me. I went about that wanting every word and every part to say exactly what it meant to say,” she says. “That was really good practice for me and a good confidence booster too.”
The EP was something of a musical experiment where she flipped the idea of what a female vocalist is expected to sound like on its head: embracing a rock sound; leaning into the masculine side of her voice; challenging the traditional gender roles foisted upon her, first by her conservative upbringing, then reinforced when she began modeling as a young adult, with her appearance under constant scrutiny. “I was sick of this whole privacy, feeling reserved, feeling like I need to sound a certain way. I really wanted that to be the focus for that EP specifically,” she explains. “I was really inspired by not feeling like I needed to be tied to a genre or a gender. That was really important for me at that time to feel like I could freely write about experiences and singing in a way that I felt empowered by.”
All of these efforts have paved the way for Elke’s upcoming debut LP, No Pain For Us Here, out September 24 via Nashville imprint Congrats Records. The album marks new territory for the singer, as she rediscovers her feminine voice. The refreshed sound is a result of calling on boyfriend Zac Farro, drummer for Paramore and producer behind Becca Mancari’s 2020 album The Greatest Part, to produce the record and help broaden Elke’s approach. “I got to express myself in different ways that have inspired me to not feel so trapped behind a guitar and to perform more,” she explains. “It’s brought out more of this feminine side too, which I enjoy now. I feel balanced in a weird way because of this entire journey. Being able to find that voice was super helpful with this balance. I know moving forward, I’ve been thinking about even more different ways to sing. It’s definitely helped me grow and look in an upward direction.”
Her artistic reimagination is exemplified by her latest single, “The Pink Tip Of A Match Turns Black,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. While the song honors her rock roots with electric guitar, Farro’s production efforts accentuate the lighter, more delicate aspects of Elke’s naturally rugged voice, tinged with warm, feminine notes.
The song is deeply personal for the eclectic artist, as it was born out of a falling out with a close friend in New York that left Elke feeling pained and lost. “I wanted clarity from it because it wasn’t a pretty ending. There was no closure and I got really hurt from it,” she shares. “That was heavy on my heart at that moment, so I wanted closure.”
She compares the frustrating experience to watching one’s favorite TV show with foreign subtitles while stating point blank, “I may have lost this one/What I thought was a friend/Your face was easy from familiarity/The pink tip of a match turns black.” The song ends with an extended interlude as she softly repeats the word “bye,” the process of writing the song helping to heal the wounds that inspired it.
“I want every word to mean exactly what it means, and if I could have achieved that with that song to help me move on, it did,” she proclaims. “I think that you can really feel jaded by certain situations and I wanted to walk away from it feeling tall. It was meant be light, it was meant to be abstract. I really like the words for it, which makes me feel like I could find some clarity and meaning so I could move on, learn something.” Rather than focus on the dissolution of her friendship, Elke chooses to portray the feeling of waking up, or “feeling like you’re in a daze and then you see something and you feel enriched.” She hopes that fans won’t simply listen to the song, but truly hear it and be present in the moment to absorb its message, and “understand that life is actually quite good,” she says.
“The Pink Tip of a Match Turns Black” symbolizes the release of a dark personal experience, coming out on the other side more secure in who she is. It ties in to the album’s overall theme of freedom, each song representing a different stage of liberation in Elke’s journey. “Every other step of the way is either self-reflection, feeling like I know who I am and I’m cool with that. Every song ties together in that way of the steps to feeling free,” she conveys. “It was a part of the journey of freeing myself too from this New York attitude – feeling like I love being in love and feeling free and there being no boundaries to that. I still really held myself to every lyric saying everything that I wanted to say.”
While the album is inspired by her love story with Farro, its messages hit on a deeper level, celebrating fearless connection with one another as humans. “It’s definitely Zac and I falling in love, but not every song is really about that, but more so about the freedom that I felt after the conclusions of ‘I’m loved and people can be loved,’” she explains. “The idea that life is painful and that you need some sort of edge to feel present or to feel like you’re making it, I wanted to let go of all of that. I called it No Pain For Us Here because I think that the message is more important that there doesn’t need to be pain and that you can feel that to be a free person and you deserve love and your worth is so relevant. Everybody has a worth.”
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