Alt-R&B Artist Elujay Talks New Album ‘Circmvnt’, Shifting to a Darker Sound and Remaining Independent

Elujay sat down with Billboard to discuss creating “Circmvnt,” why owning your masters matters, and how psychedelics helped pull him out of a mental rut.

İnterviews, R&B

1/22/2022 1:18:00 AM

Elujay sat down with Billboard to discuss creating “Circmvnt,” why owning your masters matters, and how psychedelics helped pull him out of a mental rut.

Elujay sat down with Billboard to discuss creating “Circmvnt,” why owning your masters matters, and how psychedelics helped pull him out of a mental rut.

MoeshaAdojio. Contrasting against his previous work,Elujay sat down with What inspired the sound ofI think it was kind of due to where my head’s been at for the past two years. I went through a lot of pain and sorrow. I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. It was crazy. I like lost like 15, 20 pounds and I was bedridden for like two months. The uncertainty of being a sitting duck and all that pressure. The music needed to be a reflection of my experience over the past two years, and it was very dark times — so I wanted to hone in on that, and I just really love ambient atmosphere kind of stuff. I felt like I needed to push the envelope more with my sound into something a little bit [more focused and] different from what I’ve done before. Making it a breathing, psychedelic thing.

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Today, Elujay released Circmvnt , a melancholy-tinged offering, capturing the 25-year-old artist’s journey from detached to determined — with a little help from psychedelics — throughout the two years he spent working on the album. During his isolation, the genre-fusing singer spent his days binge-watching Moesha , now the title of project’s outro track, and one of Elujay’s favorite cuts, next to “Ratrace” and “Farewell.” To the unfocused ear, the 11-track album might feel light and groovy, but after a closer listen, lyrical themes of capitalism, addiction, poverty, protest and redemption become apparent. “I just felt like the music needed to be a reflection of my experience over the past two years,” he explains, “and it was very dark times.” While three years have passed since his last solo album, Adojio , Elujay has kept busy. The independent singer and producer modeled for and scored the TOMBOGO show during 2021 New York Fashion Week, and the year prior, released a collaborative album alongside artist J.Robb and Soulection, titled Gems in the Cornerstore . Contrasting against his previous work, Circmvnt presents a darker ambience and clearer sonic vision from the musician. “I identified the things that make my skin jump or my ears perk up. I don’t want to be put in a box art wise — I want to take the elements that I love and bring them to anything I’m creating because I’m always making music, art or visuals,” he says. “I have more conviction in my heart now than ever.” Elujay sat down with  Billboard to discuss the creation of his album, why owning your masters matters, and how psychedelics helped pull him out of a mental rut. What inspired the sound of Circmvnt ? I think it was kind of due to where my head’s been at for the past two years. I went through a lot of pain and sorrow. I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. It was crazy. I like lost like 15, 20 pounds and I was bedridden for like two months. The uncertainty of being a sitting duck and all that pressure. The music needed to be a reflection of my experience over the past two years, and it was very dark times — so I wanted to hone in on that, and I just really love ambient atmosphere kind of stuff. I felt like I needed to push the envelope more with my sound into something a little bit [more focused and] different from what I’ve done before. Making it a breathing, psychedelic thing. I wanted this to be one of those albums where it was like someone was speaking to you. I definitely feel like a lot of R&B [nowadays] lacks substance. I wanted to talk about some shit that’s real to me. “1080p” is about our addiction to technology, “rat race” is about how we’re competing against each other in a capitalist society. “Hummingbird,” that’s about like the early pandemic, food shortages, people dying, it’s very dark. I wanted people to be able to groove, but I think they’d listen to the lyrics and be like, “oh, s–t.” I definitely wanted to create that sad-happy music. What were some of your musical influences while working on the album? I was listening to Radiohead a lot. I was listening to Björk. I was listening to Joni Mitchell. This slowcore band called Duster, shoegaze rock, this avant-garde pop band called Broadcast. I was also listening to Sampha. Yves Tumor. Blood Orange. Solange. It really lit a fire under me. How do I make something my own? For the longest, I was making a lot of happy shit, but I wanted to use more minor chords and just push myself to think more. What else helped you in that process? I did a lot of shrooms. Psychedelics definitely enhance your frame of mind, just thinking outside the box. It was hard for me to get out of a depressive state because I was so detached after I had been sick for so long. So I think the psychedelics kind of brought me back. How collaborative was the project? It was a mixture of different people. I’d say the most prominent collaborator that I had on it was Simon Ajero. I’m gonna give it to him, he’s on almost literally everything. “Luvaroq,” “Ratrace,” “Switch Sides.” He has keys on “Farewell” and “Hummingbird.” There’s many more, but he’s just all over the album. Something really special about Simon, he was fighting cancer while we were making these songs. He was in the hospital, sending files back and forth. That guy deserves a f–king medal, he worked his a– off. He’s in remission now. He’s in my band as well, he plays keys. Everybody who plays in my band played a small role [on the album]. While working on the album you also scored the Tombogo show for New York Fashion Week 2021. What was that like? It was an amazing experience. It was draining, but it was still super fun, like super exciting. Yeah, I really f–king love fashion. I think that’s one of my second- or third-favorite things that I love to do. I’d love to score more fashion shows I really would love to know. Mason Margiela, hit me up. Technology and social media have changed the game for rising artists. How do you feel about the current digital landscape? I think it’s a great time period because there’s so much access to equipment, to marketing tools to people. you can work with virtually anybody in the world. I think it’s a great time period for people to be coming up now. As opposed to like 15 years ago, there wasn’t really much access. We didn’t have these technologies that we’re using now to make beats, like the software. Now it’s so easy, you can upload your own music. I think it’s wonderful. My advice is make music for yourself, make art for yourself. Make music with your friends. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Be annoying. It’s the only way you get s–t done. People’s attention spans are so fricking short. I mean, there’s a lot of negatives [about] this time period. People’s level of appreciation is like a week, or maybe two days. So when you’re putting stuff out, just try to be consistent. You can’t wait three years to put an album out again. I’ll never do that again. Going back to the short attention spans you touched on, artists are expected to drop music way more frequently nowadays. Do you feel impacted by the rapid release cycle? I’m for sure affected by it. The music that I make — I feel like it’s timeless. So I don’t necessarily have to compete with anyone, I feel like I’m competing myself. Just trying to make better stuff, but I do notice people’s attention spans are very, very, short. Even the stuff that I like, I’ll play it for a week then forget about it. I have to get myself off the ground right now. Once I get to the point where I’m pretty secure, I’m gonna take a lot longer. I don’t want to revolve my life around work and making music. lI want to experience stuff. I feel like a lot of people lose themselves to burn out, so I don’t want to be swallowed by overproduction and overcooking stuff. What made you sign a distribution deal with AWAL? I’m still independent — they just helped out a little bit more than than a usual distribution company. They just had a very good history of getting stuff off the ground and going hard for indie artists, and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to help them let me tell my story and get it to a wider audience. AWAL is awesome. Why is remaining an independent artist important to you? I love ownership, and I like the idea of being able to build generational wealth. If you’re already financially secure and want to sign a deal and you don’t care about seeing any royalties [many] years, do you, all power to you. It’s definitely about how much ownership you want. I don’t really knock anybody — because I think nowadays, there’s not necessarily a right way to make music, even if you are signed. Obviously, when you get to a Weeknd level, sometimes there’s incentive to make pop, charting music. But when you’re [a smaller artist] it’s all about how much ownership you want. It’s creative control. Who taught you the importance of ownership when it comes to your music? It was like a mixture of learning it from other people, and putting my hand on the stove and getting burned. My manager and brother, Hunter, really stressed the importance of trying to be independent. Also, learning from people’s experiences and watching how they operate. Chance the Rapper or Brent Faiyaz, the way that they’ve handled their independence and ownership, is a really big thing. I think that’s super dope. I strive to be independent as far as I can take it. I think it’s very doable now. You don’t have to sign a deal anymore. Get weekly rundowns straight to your inbox