For Elunia, creating music has always been a coping mechanism. Whenever things got rough, she’d put pen to paper to try and turn it into something beautiful. The New Hampshire-based artist dropped her first EP, “Deep End,” earlier this year, and the project is chock-full of complex lyrics and stunning soundscapes that capture a variety of layers and perspectives on her own mental health struggle.
“I strive to talk about [mental health] in a way that’s as far away from ‘trendy’ as possible and as authentic as possible,” she told HangTime. “So that means it’s coming directly from that place of when I need that spark of positivity or that spark of channeling that negative feeling into something concrete. So it’s very raw and very pure and it’s not diluted by any kind of commercial tendencies or tendencies towards trying to make it too universal.”
As part of our Women in Music & Mental Health series, we spoke to Elunia about empathy, feeling isolated, her songwriting process, and handling the pressure to conform.
HangTime: So, you mentioned that in response to one of [our screening] questions, your art is your healing process and that it helps you feel as if there’s a reason for everything. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on that and why you feel that your art has this effect and how it makes you feel this way.
Elunia: Yeah, for sure. So, I’ve used music as a coping mechanism for a long time. Since I was in high school, I used to escape to the practice rooms and write music because, especially with the issue of fitting in and bullying and finding my place in the social world that we live in, I always had a hard time with all of that. Anytime I would have an interaction that was very negative, I would write a song about it. I felt this sort of euphoric feeling, like something’s happening for a reason. It’s a strange sensation if you’re not a creator to empathize with but it’s this feeling like what you’re creating is significant. Even though the experience is negative, what you’re creating feels like something beautiful. It feels like something that’s going to bottle up the experience and express it in this strange, creative form.
HT: Mmm, right.
E: If that makes sense?
HT: Totally, totally. Would you say that music almost gave you a purpose and you felt like that was what you were supposed to be doing because you were able to take these negative experiences and turn them into something beautiful?
E: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s the difference between—like a lot of people struggle with mental health, but it’s the difference between sitting around and feeling like there’s no hope and then having that light in your life. That fuels this spark. Like you don’t have anything else, or it feels like you don’t have anything else, but music is there for you to channel that negative energy but turn it into something positive.
HT: Totally. That’s a very optimistic viewpoint. I really admire that.
E: Oh, thanks!
HT: So in response to another question, “how has other people’s art helped in your healing process?” you mentioned Broods’ vocalist Georgia Nott’s solo project, “The Venus Project,” and how she delved into mental health in a way that you hadn’t heard before and how that in part inspired you to strive to do the same in your own music. I just wanted to ask how you feel that she managed to do this and how you then also managed to do this in your music and what makes both of your approaches to tackling the topic of mental health in your music different or unique?
E: That’s a really good question. I think the distinction—and I’m sure her project isn’t the only one, like I listen to other artists who do this—I think the reason her project resonated with me is because she described anxiety in particular in a way. I think anxiety is such a broad thing: a lot of the population struggles with anxiety to a certain extent but there are different types of anxiety. The songs that she wrote for that project really resonate with how anxiety is for me in my life. As far as how it’s different, I would say that the distinction between—and this even distinguishes, for me, between who I think is a true artist versus someone who’s just, I don’t know…I think there are a lot of artists out there that just do things for commercial purposes or whatever.
E: In interviews about that project, she basically implied that she wasn’t trying to get tons of streams, you know?
E: It wasn’t about the commercial part of it, because she already had Broods. I mean, Broods is very authentic, too, but that’s more what’s actually going to create success for her, I guess. Well, I think this (“The Venus Project”) could [too] but unfortunately I think a lot of people don’t appreciate true authenticity. As far as what makes it different, I think mental health can be very trendy. I see a lot of songs that try to describe mental health and I don’t even know if I can think of an example, but there are a lot of songs that describe mental health in a very cliché way but that’s not really how it is. They try to make it this universal thing. But really, everyone is so individual with how they struggle with it. That project in particular is very similar to what my struggle is so if you’re asking how I strive to make it different, I would say I strive to talk about it in a way that’s as far away from “trendy” as possible and as authentic as possible. So that means it’s coming directly from that place of like, when I need that spark of positivity or that spark of channeling that negative feeling into something concrete. So it’s very raw and very pure and it’s not diluted by any kind of commercial tendencies or tendencies towards trying to make it too universal.
HT: Right. I’ve asked a few other artists in this series about how important the notion of relatability is in their music, if it’s something they initially strive for when they start writing or if it’s just something that if someone connects with their music then, great, but the priority is more writing about your own life. It sounds like for you, the most important thing is to express your own experiences and the struggles that you’ve been through in the most authentic way. So, would you say when somebody does connect to your music and when somebody relates to the things you’re talking about, that’s obviously a great thing but that’s not necessarily something that you’re considering right off the bat as super important to the music?
E: I would agree and that’s a really interesting concept because in thinking about other people’s music, I actually feel that when something is relatable in a general or universal sense, I find it less relatable. Because even if it’s not my specific struggle, if I hear in a song that it’s very authentic and very specific, it feels relatable to me but that might be because I’m a very empathetic person. I think that feeling of empathy is triggered when someone writes about something so deeply personal that I can’t deny it, I guess?
HT: Right. Yeah, that’s so interesting!
E: Whereas other people who maybe don’t have the same sense of empathy—and that’s sort of the mainstream public, not that a lot of people aren’t empathetic but just from my experiences in life, I know that I’m someone who feels things a lot more deeply than most people so I think when the general public hears something more universal, that triggers that empathetic response in them. That’s sort of interesting. I’m just talking this out and I haven’t really thought this hard about it.
HT: Yeah, I think, like you were saying, even if somebody is writing a song about their own personal experiences that is so specific to them and so true to what they’ve been through, even if you can’t necessarily relate to that specific thing, there’s almost a level of connection just based on how authentic and how loyal it is to their own experiences whereas when something feels too general and it’s playing it safe, a little bit, it’s harder to relate. Yeah, I totally get what you mean. That’s really interesting.
E: Exactly. Yeah.
HT: So you mentioned that there were other artists that you felt that way [about] similar to Georgia Nott’s project and I was wondering if there were any that you can speak to or you can think of whose work has had that similar effect.
E: I’m going to look at the artists on my phone.
E: Because I want to make sure.
HT: I know, it’s hard to think of some off the top of your head. I understand.
E: Georgia’s project felt the most specific to me but there’s a band called Echos and this is one of those instances—it’s not exactly what I was going through but it feels so deeply personal that I empathetically relate. I actually have gotten to know the singer personally.
HT: Oh, okay!
E: Which is a really cool thing.
E: Echos have an album called “Even Though You’re Gone” and that deals with sort of the anxiety and depression, the sort of cloud of mental health struggle that comes with the ending of a toxic relationship and coming out of a toxic relationship. Although I’ve fortunately not had a very toxic relationship like that, I find it deeply relatable for some reason.
HT: I love that. On the empathetic level, like you were saying. Yeah, that makes sense.
E: Yeah. The singer, Lexi, she has a real talent for expressing very difficult emotions.
HT: Okay, yeah. So you also mentioned earlier talking about how when you would have a negative experience in your youth, you would go write songs about it and that that really helped to alleviate a little bit of the pain of that because you were able to create art out of it. I was wondering if you tend to write in the moment about something and then gain clarity about it afterwards or if more often you experience things and give it some thought and gain understanding and then write the song about it, or if it’s a little bit of both.
E: I think it’s a little bit of both but I think maybe the former. Sometimes I’ll write a lyric and I’ll just be having a feeling—I’m someone who needs to process my emotions. I would say if I had to think about my emotions in a sort of analogy, I think about them in terms of organization and processing. When I’m anxious, for example, it helps me to make a list of all the things that I’m anxious about. I get very overwhelmed by chaos, so my songwriting process is almost like streamlining the organization of my emotions.
HT: Right. Okay, yeah. That makes sense.
E: Sometimes I’ll be having a lot of different emotions about the same thing and then I’ll start writing random fragments of lyrics—this is mostly lyrical where this emotional processing happens. The music usually comes second for me but sometimes it comes at the same time, too. What will happen is one of the lyrics will grow into a bigger idea and one of them might grow into another idea and they might both be about the same topic but they’re different dimensions of it. One might be me looking at the situation in a very cynical way and then one might be looking at the situation in a more depressed and gloomy way. It’s very much about sorting the different perspectives of looking at it so I think once I have all of those perspectives laid out that helps me get clarity and then I can see how I should be looking at the situation.
E: Or maybe as I work on the song, I’ll put in lyrics that even have smaller dimensions within that. This got very abstract!
HT: No, it’s great! I mean, you do say that music is your healing process and you use it as a coping mechanism so that totally makes sense that it would almost be something that helps to turn down the noise. Even though music, you know, is noise. *Laughs*
HT: Yeah, that totally makes sense. It’s funny that you mention analogies ‘cause I was going to ask you, on your new EP, “Deep End,” there are a lot of analogies and metaphors, especially the tunnel analogy on the song, ‘Tunnels’, and ‘Borderlines’ has a lot of metaphors as well. I was going to ask, why do you think you feel drawn to using these metaphors and analogies when you’re writing and if you feel like it makes it easier to describe difficult experiences through figurative imagery, or do you think it just sounds nicer lyrically?
E: I think all of those things to a certain extent, but I think mostly, that clarity that we were just talking about, I think the metaphors provide that clarity.
HT: Okay, yeah.
E: In a way. If we’re talking about ‘Tunnels’ in particular because that’s a really good example of when I have used it and it’s given me a lot of clarity, when I wrote that song—I wrote that song really quickly. I actually was in the car and the lyric, “they’re weaving tunnels ‘round me under my feet,” that lyric came to me and then I went home and wrote pretty much the whole song full out, including the music which is really rare. Because I had this sort of epiphany about my life that all throughout my life, I had been in this state of feeling excluded and this state of separation from other people and I think when I put it in terms of tunnels and a physical separation, it helped me come to terms with that, I guess?
HT: Yeah. It’s almost like applying the situation to something more tangible, it makes it easier.
HT: Yeah. I totally get that. That’s so interesting. Yeah, ‘cause your lyrics are so beautiful.
E: Thank you!
HT: You’re welcome! I feel like there’s a lot of this figurative imagery to describe things and I think it’s so beautiful because I feel like a lot of the generic or universal lyricism—not that every song has to be super lyrically dense but I think that it does help to just express things in a way that even if it’s not literal, it’s so specific to you and so expressive in an authentic way. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I also wanted to ask about “Deep End.” You described it in the press release as a path that the listener follows you through and it was also mentioned that each song shows the progression of your own development through a lens of mental health. It seems like the EP is almost mirroring your life in a chronological way and it does seem to be your own life shown through song, almost like the earlier times to more present day, so I’m interested in how that came about and how writing those songs—if they were written years and years apart or if it was more in the same time, and how you think that affects the way that the songs turned out.
E: I would say they were all written in a three year period.
E: It’s funny, I think the oldest one that had the oldest ideas in it was ‘The Cycle’, which makes sense.
E: But I think it was actually ‘Tunnels’ that was the most recent. I could be wrong. Yeah, I think ‘Tunnels’ was the most recent, but ‘Tunnels’ and ‘Pressure Points’ were kind of around the same time. Honestly, it’s hard for me to remember. But I would say ‘The Cycle’ I pulled from old ideas which is something I only do sometimes. The concept of ‘The Cycle’—I had a lot of those lyrics from like 2017, but then I sort of had to refresh them. Then I think ‘Borderlines’ came next, and ‘Borderlines’ I don’t think I changed anything. And then ‘Soak’, I believe.
HT: It’s interesting that you said that [for] one of them, you did go back and update and refresh the lyrics and then with ‘Borderlines’, you kept it the same. Why do you think some of them warrant that and some of them you’re [just] pleased with it? Is it just literally like, “oh I wish I had written it this way so I’m going to change it,” or is it like you have gained new perspective since you wrote a song? ‘Cause if it was written in 2017, it’s been several years now. Is it more just like, “I just want the lyrics to be different,” or is it like, “oh, I don’t actually feel that way anymore. I should change these specific lyrics to reflect how I feel now”?
E: You know what it was with ‘The Cycle’ was I hadn’t actually gotten any music yet.
HT: Ohhhh okay.
E: And when you put the music in, it makes you rethink how you want to say something. One, for phrasing purposes and two, the music says so much about the feeling that’s evoked with the lyrics. I often keep lyrics for years and then pull from them sometimes. So when I’ve written those lyrics, I’m not sure what I want the feeling to be yet, so then when I sit down and create the music, I need something more to ground them. Often they’re just random scattering fragments of lyrics. Sometimes I group these, like ‘The Cycle’ was a bunch of fragments that I had grouped together, and then it was like me molding them into a structure that I wanted. I also, in that process, created a lot of new material and discarded some of the old material.
HT: Right. I also wanted to ask about ‘Borderlines’, which we mentioned. I saw on Genius that you talked about how the visuals for it—the music video—and the song itself was created around the concept of duality and how mental illness isn’t a definite label but a fluctuating state of being which I think is a really interesting idea. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more to that and explain how you feel that the visuals reflect that, ‘cause it’s such a beautiful music video and I thought it was so interesting that this concept of duality was introduced in it, so I was wondering if you could speak to that a little bit more.
E: Well, thank you, I appreciate that.
HT: Of course.
E: The duality of the music video comes from my struggle. While I was writing ‘Borderlines’, I was struggling a lot with mental health and part of that was me coming to terms with, in this case, my own personality and how I wasn’t always going to fit in one place or be one thing, I guess?
E: When trying to fit into this social hierarchy of life and fitting in with other people, I found myself struggling between the right brain and the left brain. So if you think about what that means, your right brain is following the rules, thinking about things in a logical way, what you’re supposed to be doing. Then the left brain is this wild, creative expression or at least for me it was. So in the video, you see that playing out. I wanted the left brain to take over, I wanted that but I was just feeling so inhibited by the pressures of society to be a certain way and act a certain way and do certain things. So in the video, you’ll see on the right, it’s the state of almost being blank. You don’t have a personality because society has squashed it out of you, I guess, to put it bluntly.
E: And the symbolism of the airpod is it’s in your head, you just have to unlock it.
E: Like that left brain state of mind is in your head the whole time and everyone has this creative side that is their true self, they just haven’t let themselves be that. So it’s sort of that conflict, and at the end, you’ll see the left brain is trying to take over. The paint brush is dripping on the other clone and then she pulls out the airpod because it’s too much. I think for a lot of people, being their true selves is too much because they’re afraid of how they will be perceived by others.
HT: Totally. Yeah, I was wondering about the Airpods ‘cause I feel like that sense of, “this is becoming too overwhelming,” I could see that, but it’s so interesting that it represents like, “it’s all in you already, you just have to tap into it, you just have to find it.” Just that sense of being overwhelmed by being your true self.
E: Mhm. And how it relates to mental health is part of that left brain, at least for me, is feeling things very deeply, like I am an anxious person. It almost shows the two sides of anxiety, for example. That’s the main mental illness that I struggle with. The right brain in the sense of anxiety is being too anxious to let your true self show and then the left brain is like, “yes, you’re anxious, but it makes you be super empathetic and feel things very deeply.” So it’s sort of all involved there.
HT: Totally, and that makes sense with the fluctuating state of being. The two sides and how you’re not always one way. Cool, so I did just wanna ask also about ‘Pressure Points’ which was really interesting, the messaging and the themes behind it. You described it as “a song about idolizing someone through a struggle with mental health and the fear of losing them.” The message in the song does feel very positive and I think that there is positivity to it but I’m wondering if you viewed experiencing that as a positive or negative thing or do you have to sort of navigate between those two things?
E: ‘Pressure Points’ I would say came out of a time when someone was a hope for me but looking back on it I would say that, although that song feels very hopeful—the chorus is very hopeful—it’s almost like an unrealistic hopefulness that that person is going to be your 100%. And the only thing that you can rely on to get you through. I think, looking back, that that’s unhealthy because that person didn’t end up being that for me. It got me through that time but it’s sort of like, “don’t put everything in one place.” So, although it’s hopeful, it’s like, “this is not the be all end all, this is not everything.” I don’t know if that makes sense.
HT: No, it totally does. Yeah. That’s so interesting ‘cause it’s almost like at the time, it feels like a positive, hopeful thing but in retrospect it’s not necessarily that you look back on it completely negatively but it’s sort of gaining that perspective and having that awareness after-the-fact.
E: Yeah, and the lyrics in the verses sort of attest to how it could never be what I wanted it to be.
HT: Hmm, yeah. Yeah, totally. So, the whole series is focusing on how creating can be beneficial to your mental health and how the process of creating helps you heal from negative mental health experiences but I’m interested in the flip side of this, if it ever feels like the pressure to create negatively affects your mental health or if it always feels like it’s for you and that it is always a coping mechanism. Is there ever instances where you feel like the pressure is having a negative effect?
E: That’s really interesting because I think just emerging as a new artist this year, I haven’t had the chance to feel that way until now. I would say that now, to be entirely transparent with you, it is getting to me.
E: And that sucks!
E: And I would say that I try to keep the writing part of the creation process just for me. I don’t let any external pressures get to that. But when it comes to actually creating the music and making it real, that’s when the pressure starts getting to me because it’s like, “how am I gonna put this in a package?” I think a lot of people try to put it in a package that will be easily consumable and I’m trying to get as far away from that as possible. Obviously it has to be something that I like and it has to be something that maybe people will like but it can’t be too packaged and you can’t let those pressures seep in.