“Anything is possible, it’s just I believe that at some point you have to believe in your music and not wait for anybody to do that for you… I think at first you should be able to do it the way you want to do it and not thinking about the marketing way. Play for the love of music and then think marketing as the next step, not the first step.”
With critically and publicly acclaimed album simply entitled “Music” garnering more and more favourable reviews from around the globe, singer/composer/guitarist Ellene Masri has definitely made an impact with the warm, inviting and wholesome sounds of her new release; even attracting legendary Cameroonian/French bassist Etienne Mbappe to contribute extensively to the set. UK Vibe’s Michael “The Dood” Edwards received further lowdown and insight on the talented Miss Masri’s nine track composition via telephone link to her home in Las Vegas, Nevada where she was recuperating after a brief promotional tour of the album.
The Dood: Where did it all start you with regards to your music, growing up etc?
Ellene Masri: It started at first with the love of music very early. My parents were and still are music lovers and music has always been a part of our daily lives. Music in the car, music everywhere, piano lessons when I was five. Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Classical music like Mozart – my parents are music fans. So the love of music in general is where it was at, and it was hard to give it up later for a while.
The Dood: Aside from you; do any of your family sing or play instruments?
Ellene Masri: Yeah, my sister sings. My sister is a professional singer and teacher. And my father sings on one of my tracks, not on this album, but may be on the next album.
The Dood: Did you attend any particular music school?
Ellene Masri: I went to the American School of Modern Music, but just for the one year. I also learned basic harmony on the piano early on. I knew the basics of piano and I was already reading music, but not using it a lot. I’m also focusing more on my guitar playing and I wrote a song recently on the guitar only, an instrumental. I like to do that.
The Dood: Do you like the sound of the acoustic guitar?
Ellene Masri: I have three guitars; two are nylon and one folk. On the album I have only two songs where i’m playing a nylon guitar, everything else is folk guitar.
The Dood: Are you pleasantly surprised at how warmly your album has been received by the public and championed on radio by such influential DJs as Chris Phillips of Jazz FM and Mi-Soul?
Ellene Masri: I’m so overwhelmed and so grateful. Especially since the distance between France and London is not too far and I’ve been very influenced by the music. I remember listening to a lot of English pop back then such as The Cure… So I’m really grateful for the support and it just makes me love this country (England) more, it really does.
The Dood: Over what period of time was the album written?
Ellene Masri: The oldest song on the album is “Stay Awhile” which I wrote when I was seventeen or eighteen. The last song I wrote was probably “Happy Love Song” which was about three years ago.
The Dood: The album has a lot of emotional depth to it; you seem to write with a maturity beyond your years. I trust that not all the songs are drawn from your personal experience thus far given your tender years?
Ellene Masri: I think that when you’re young, your emotions can be even stronger and even more true.
The Dood: Pure?
Ellene Masri: Yeah pure. Sometimes people say that this child is only twelve years of age, how can they sing like that? Well it’s probably because they feel stronger than anybody else (chuckles).
The Dood: I asked the question because the tracks are all full of content and emotions that usually come after one has lived and experienced life little, but that’s great to hear. I do notice that you share writing credits with Nicole Masri?
Ellene Masri: Nicole is my mother.
The Dood: Alright! That explains a little more. So your mother Nicole shares writing credits on three or four of the tracks – All good. And who is Sana Masri, who shared writing credits on the track “Rain”?
Ellene Masri: Sana is my aunt, my father’s sister. She wrote the Lebanese lyrics that you can hear on the bridge.
The Dood: Who are your vocal and instrument inspirations?
Ellene Masri: I love Stevie Wonder; he’s a great inspiration for me! Bob Marley, I like a lot of male artists.
The Dood: I take it that it’s their writing style as well as their vocals that appeal to?
Ellene Masri: And probably the emotion too; there’s a different aesthetic.
The Dood: I’m impressed by the quality musicians you’ve assembled for this album, especially “The Man with the Silk Gloves”, aka Mr Etienne Mbappe on bass. How and when did you first meet him and subsequently convince him to play on your album?
Ellene Masri: It’s funny because he looks like a superhero with his gloves (laughs). My cousin who’s a percussionist, he played on the album and he had two gigs with him (Etienne). I didn’t have a bass player and I love Etienne Mbappe of course; I know the music, but I didn’t know the man. So my cousin said, “Just call him, if he like’s the song he’ll play on it!” So I sent him the songs that had been recorded already without the bass on them, and he loved the songs and he wanted to play on them – he really loved them! Of course I had that feeling of not knowing if he was going to like it, but he loved it and he came over to the house and dropped some baselines.
The Dood: Did he record the baselines to all the tracks on the same day?
Ellene Masri: Yes, the same day. And it’s great because he’s really a great support, telling me that he’ll be there for me at any time. I definitely hope to perform live with him soon.
The Dood: That would be great! So he’s like a mentor for you, guiding you through the industry?
Ellene Masri: Exactly!
The Dood: Where was the album recorded?
Ellene Masri: A part of it was recorded in my house. I recorded the guitar, the vocals and some of the percussions.
The Dood: Your house where?
Ellene Masri: I was in Paris at that time and I had a home studio. The piano and the drums were recorded in the studio. We were in the studio in the South of France for one week, it was funny and nice, and we had a good time!
The Dood: Do you write on the piano or do you write on the guitar?
Ellene Masri: I write on the guitar. I play all a little keyboard on the album, but that’s all I play.
The Dood: Did you put the album out on your own independent label?
Ellene Masri: Yes and my label is called Music Talks.
The Dood: Have you ever considered approaching a major label?
Ellene Masri: Anything is possible, it’s just I believe that at some point you have to believe in your music and not wait for anybody to do that for you. But if I find a major that’s interested, I can still license it probably, even if it’s been released the ready. I believe that anything can be done.
The Dood: I suppose a major label can help you with distribution but they may also clip your creative wings?
Ellene Masri: I think at first you should be able to do it the way you want to do it and not thinking about the marketing way. Play for the love of music and then think marketing as the next step, not the first step.
The Dood: The title track “Music” has drawn a lot of people into this album, which naturally leads to them discovering the other gems which lie within. Was that track written quite quickly and why did you choose it is the title for the album?
Ellene Masri: Yes it was written quickly. Songs usually come easily, not very often but easily. When the inspiration comes it’s usually not very long. The title came about because people kept asking me what type of music do I play, and I said I just play music. So I titled the album “Music” in answer to all questions i was getting.
The Dood: I know you’re great fan of Omar’s sound. Is he an artist you would like to duet with?
Ellene Masri: Oh definitely! Definitely! I’ve met him already recently and he told me that he really enjoyed the music. He’s shown me great support and he likes it, so I think it’s something we can do, we just have to wait the right moment. Things happen naturally, you can’t force them.
The Dood: Which are your favourite songs from this album to perform live?
Ellene Masri: I like to play “Rain” a lot. “Rain” and “Music” – Slow jams, I like to play slow jams.
The Dood: How would you describe your sound?
Ellene Masri: I would say natural, because of the natural organic instruments, there’s not a lot of programming. I prefer real guitar and percussion- I like that. Before that I had done a lot of people’s programming and when I listened to it again it sounds dated, and I didn’t want that for this project.
The Dood: You’ve been roaming the globe recently showcasing the album and are currently enjoying a time out. What plans do you have to further promote this album?
Ellene Masri: I’m doing more live shows. GLP are interested, George Leitner Productions. He’s a booking agent and he has artists like Chaka Khan and Chic. I’m also probably looking for licensing for my next project.
The Dood: Have you started writing material for your next project and will it be in the same vein?
Ellene Masri: Yes I have, and it won’t be in the same vein but it will be music. It won’t be completely different, but yes I think I want to do something else, maybe a little more mature emotionally and musically. I’m working with Sir Gant right now aka Dean Gant, he’s a music producer. He is responsible for arranging “Sweet Love” by Anita Baker. He worked with Randy Crawford and male artists such as Maurice White. We came up with songs that we’ve written together already and I think it’s going to be something special. On the next album I would like to play a little bit more guitar, and with Sir Gant playing piano a lot more songs will be written for the piano which will give another flavour to the album. It’s a much different result when the piano is the central instrument.
The Dood: Thank you for your time Ellene. We at ukvibe look forward to watching your career blossom over the coming years.
Ellene Masri: Thank you very much Michael.
Michael J Edwards
Essential Album: ‘Music’ released Oct 2013 on Music Talks
Essential Website: http://www.ellenemasri.com/