Interview by Annar Veröld.
Houston-native, Elaine Greer has been basking in Austin Music Scene lime-light for a short while now. Performing in her own solo project and along with Austin-based band, The Sour Notes, Greer’s music is gaining momentum. Her debut full-length album, Annotations, will be released June 30, and Elaine Greer will be leaving to tour on July 1. In the midst of all of the chaos and momentum, Greer was generous enough to sit down with Red River Noise to discuss an array of things regarding her inspiration, how her album came together, the interesting way she came across award-winning record engineer, Steve Christensen, and her personal experience being a female solo artist.
What resulted in your decision to move from Houston to Austin?
Greer: Part of it was that I was in a relationship with someone that lived in Austin, but that is a little bit of it, not the whole reason. I grew up in Houston for my entire life, and I was kind of stumbling around now knowing what to do with my life– going to school, not really knowing what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to do– So, part of it was sort of rebellion for me. I was thinking “I want to go to another city and do everything”. At first it was kind of lame because I didn’t have any friends, but now it has gotten a lot better, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.
What inspires you as an artist?
Greer: Really what inspires me the most tends to be experiences that I have in life. Those are the things that will make me sit down and write a song. If something happens that for some reason or another moves me in some sort of direction or makes me feel something, then that’s potential songwriting material for me. But, I am trying to expand on the things I write about, because no one has that much to write about themselves. I guess I would say regular life things.
It has been about 2 years since your first EP, Making Plans and Going Places, in 2009– how have you grown as an artist since then, and what do you now do differently?
Greer: Some of the main differences are, when I first made that EP, I was playing in a band in Houston at the time. We had kind of come up with sound arrangements for that EP, so it was kind of a band’s project. Also, they had a lot of influence on how that ended up sounding. Also, I was writing songs differently then, because my band was a bit louder, so I was kind of writing in a way that accommodated that. At that time I was playing acoustic guitar, and now I am playing an electric guitar. These songs are a lot more intricate, with a lot more finger picks. Whenever I worked on this album in the studio, I went in to do the vocals and the guitar first, before everything else and then layered everything else after that. So, it was more of a solo effort; there weren’t that many people involved in it. I guess that is more on the technical side of things.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a solo artist?
Greer: I think it is always more of a challenge performing as a solo artist on several levels. There is kind of a stereotype, and people are like “Oh, you’re a singer-songwriter.”– and they automatically put you into a group and automatically assume what your sound is, and what they think you do. I feel like my music is a little different from the typical singer-songwriter in the folk scene. That’s always frustrating, because I’ll say “I’m a singer-songwriter”, and they’ll blow me off. Ontop of that, there is having to do everything by yourself. If you’re in a band situation, everyone feels equal parts and responsibility for making things happen. For me, I have to do all of those things alone, and that can be really frustrating. Also, if I’m playing a solo show, it is harder to get people’s attention than if I’m playing with a band. I like playing both kinds of shows, though.
What are some advantages and disadvantages on being a female musician?
Greer: It is a weird place to be. There is this assumption when I get up on stage, as a female musician with a guitar, people assume that you’re not going to be that good. People think I’m just going to get up there and strum a couple of chords. Just the other day I had someone say “Wow, you’re actually pretty good at the guitar for a girl.” I was really offended and he didn’t understand why I was. There are things like that a lot. Egotistical dude musicians don’t realize girls have just as much ability to be great at music. That’s really frustrating dealing with that stereotype that I’m not going to be as good. The benefit of it is that if you are good, people are even more impressed that you can shred on guitar. People just assume you’re up there to look cute, but now I’m like “No, this is my project and I did everything for this project.” It is frustrating, and I feel like people think that you’re not taking this seriously or something, which makes no sense.
Tell me about performing with The Sour Notes and having your own solo project. Does that experience contribute to your solo music?
Greer: It does, because between the two bands I am playing constantly. That helps, because a day can’t go by where I’m not practicing with one of the bands, or songwriting with one of the bands. I’m singing every single day and also, playing with The Sour Notes, I’m playing parts that I would never really get to play with my band. It’s totally different kinds of music. It really does help expand upon the things that I can do. Also, there is kind of a trade off going on, because Jared from The Sour Notes, is currently playing with my band, and I’m playing in his band. I think there is kind of an understanding between us. Each of our projects are the most important to us, but it’s kind of like “Okay, I’ll give you my time and musical talents, and you give me yours too. It keeps us busy and works out well.
Annotations, will be released on June 30, and I read that your debut album was created in a series of places, such as Steve Christensen’s apartment, Sugarhill Studios, and your place here in Austin– what was it like writing and recording the album?
Greer: I think that is part of why it took so long. I started it in Houston when I was still living there and transitioning to Austin. I started recording it in Steve Christensen’s apartment– The Tree House– where had a studio set up and everything. We did some of the basic track recordings. Then, we went to Sugarhill Studios and did some piano parts because they had some pianos there. Then, since I was living in Austin and the commuting kind of hard for me, I ended up doing most of the over-dubs in my apartment. Steve lent me this microphone and I rented some stuff from Rock N’ Roll Rentals, and ended up recording a lot of the album by myself. I recorded the viola by myself.
Why did you decide to work with Steve Christensen from Sugarhill Studios to record your first EP and, now, your debut album?
Greer: He mixed my first EP. I had recorded it elsewhere. He came highly recommended in Houston. I had a lot of friends that worked with him, and everyone liked him a lot. So, I guess I had decided to try it out. I really liked working with him. One day, at the Houston Press Music Awards thing, we were in the artist lounge taking free shots, and I was like “We’re going to make this album together, and it’s going to be awesome!”. Really, that’s how it happened. I knew that I had a lot of stuff I wanted to start recording, and initially I was just going to do another EP, but I had so many songs and I was writing so much throughout that time, that it just turned into an album. I really like working with Steve a lot; he’s a really awesome person to work with. He’s super laid back. By the end of it, I felt like he was not only my engineer, but also my therapist. “Steve, let me tell you all my problems.”
You’re headed on tour at the end of this week– what are you most excited about in regards of touring?
Greer: I don’t know. I’m really excited to go on tour again, I’ve only gone once, and it was with The Sour Notes. I’m really excited to be taking my own music on tour. It’s going to be a bit hectic, because I will be playing twice everyday/night, but that’s what I really want to do. I figure it will be a good exercise and I’ll see if I can do this all the time. It’s always really fun; I’ve always loved traveling around. I get really stir-crazy when I’m in one place for too long. So, being on tour is really fun because everyday there’s something new to see and new people to meet.
It looks like your headed in a successful direction. With your new album coming out this week, and a tour starting on July 1, what kind else can we expect from you in the near future?
Greer: Quite a bit, I’m hoping. Once you get that momentum going, you don’t want to lose it. I plan on continuing to play a lot. I already have half of the new album written, so I’m probably going to start recording when we get back. I really want to be productive and get new things out. When you fall off the radar for awhile, you have to pick it all back up again. I already have all of these new songs that I’m excited to start playing. So, definitely going to start working on new songs and recording.
Made in Austin is regular Red River Noise feature that showcases some of Austin’s best up-and-coming independent bands. Check back often to see what undiscovered talent we’ll interview next.