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March Digital Cover: Xavier Omär & ELHAE

The church is to R&B what radioactive waste is to superpowers: the nexus for great R&B singers' origin and lore. It tracks historically; from the accentuated vocal runs that convey heightened emotion, to heavy use of rhythmic instruments (e.g. drums and tambourines), music of the church has been the foundation for Gospel and Blues, which eventually evolved into R&B. 

Even as the genre grows and develops, the foundation of the choir (whether through participation or proximity) seems to set apart the good from the greats. Whitney Houston, Usher, Brandy, John Legend, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin are just some of the R&B greats born from the choir. 

Joining this esteemed catalogue are two artists that not only draw inspiration for their careers from the church and its sounds, but also started their friendship there at the age of four. Georgia natives Xavier Omär and ELHAE just happened to be in the same congregation, where they bonded over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle suspenders they both were wearing. And you can guess how the Ninja Turtles got their powers…

The two have since progressed into contemporary R&B standouts. Xavier through his merging of gospel and other early musical influences like Coldplay, Arcade Fire, John Legend and Kanye; and ELHAE leaning further into preferences for electronic and hip-hop, incorporating the essence of his acronym name (Every Life Has An Ending) into a specially blended sound he has cultivated over time. Alongside their individual successes, their friendship would go on to blossom into a bond that not only materialises in musical collaborations (like the very well received Favourite) but also feels like a consistent source of support amidst a dynamic music industry. 

It’s really interesting that you started on similar paths, and then diverged. And ELHAE you said that you learned a lot in terms of putting a song together from Xavier’s knowledge. So, Xavier, what would you say that you learned?

Xavier: He had a tenacity that I thought I had, and then when I saw him, I realised I didn't. I have a very core memory of him staying over at our house when we were maybe 14 or 15 and I was trying to show him how to make beats on this specific keyboard. Once I showed him the ropes on how to handle it and I went to bed. I came back downstairs the next morning and he was still going. I'm sure you went to sleep at some point, or maybe not, knowing you now. So it was seeing that fire in him. It wasn't necessarily structural things that I learned as much as I was just watching him and saying, okay, maybe I'm not going for it as much as I think I am. Because I would never stay up all night.

ELHAE: I think I just saw that he was further ahead and felt like I needed to catch up. I felt like his skill level was just miles away from where I needed to be. I used to listen to some of the songs he was writing back then; the cadence, the lyrics, and concepts. Even today. The way his mind works when it comes to creating. I just needed to put in my 10,000 hours and continue grinding and just make sure that I was working on my craft as much as I could every day. And I really was working on something every single day, and I would have something to show every day as well. It wasn't always good- no one's great immediately. But you work on it and work on it and work on it and eventually it will pay off. 

Xavier: And it has stayed that way to be honest. The amount of music he has put out since 2010 as ELHAE has been insane. 

ELHAE: Yeah and I don’t release as much these days. I have conversations with him about the output and he always reminds me that because I did so much, it’s okay to take time too, you know, experience life. And just come back when I’m ready. 

Speaking of ‘coming back’, [ELHAE] released Forgotten Flowers last year. And it's also been a while since [Xavier] released with b l u r r. So, it's clear that you guys take time in between your projects to chill and decompress. What does that look like for the both of you?

Xavier: I don't really know that there's a specific thing to do as much as that right now life demands that I be a husband and father. I also want to be in a community so I'm at my church making sure that I'm accountable there. But at the same time, I want to make sure that I don't feel like I'm in the same spot I was the last time I made music. To be completely honest with you, that's kind of how I felt with b l u r r. I was making music and I wanted to put it out but I didn't have a clear vision, which is why I called it b l u r r. In the cover image, my head is covered but I’m riding a bike, it's like I gotta move forward in life, but I don't know what's going on ahead of me right now. I do the majority of my music by myself in my house. I'm the writer, I think of the arrangements- I just work with the producer on the record. But I just needed to get around other people and live more experiences in life before I bring people a full project. I'm in the middle of that right now. So it's not like I'm not going to drop for another X amount of years, but I just have to deal with new emotions. What have I learned from my marriage that I didn't know before? And how can I put that into my next records? Life just demands me to play particular roles right now and bring a new perspective from that role.

ELHAE: I think on a darker note, I struggle with anxiety. I have conversations with [Xavier] daily, about putting stuff out and being judged for it. And that's something I've dealt with the last couple of years, since leaving Atlantic Records. I mean, a real ELHAE fan would be blown away by how many amazing things are in my hard drive, but I just don't put them up. My answer to why is often that I'm still working on it. I'll be working on something for months.

Would you say you’re a perfectionist?

ELHAE: It's a flaw, but I'm trying to get out of that this year and actually, you know, put my foot down and try to get things done.

It’s been just over a year since you went independent, what advice would you give to other artists that have gone independent or are on the same path? What have you learned from this year as well? 

ELHAE: For me, I was lucky enough to reach the audience that I started on SoundCloud. And from there, I got my deal with Atlantic and then eventually Motown Capitol. And then went independent. So I don't know what it means to be completely independent, like, start from ground zero. If you want to talk to me about independence, then that’s SoundCloud 2015 - that was real independence. I don't know what's gonna happen, I'm gonna put it out and just hope for the best. And I think that's what I would tell people today, just don't hold on to it. Put it out. I had something I did called Dreamland Fridays where I’d put out a song every Friday and from there came Halfway Love and Situations. A lot of the early ELHAE fans love those. 

It's clear from this conversation that both of you are fans of each other's music. What would you say is each other's favourite song?

Xavier: Oh Imma go with You because it was only you as the writer in full emotion. Somewhere between Her and Aura, that’s a moment in time I loved from you.

ELHAE: So when I was depressed? [laughs]

Xavier: Aura wasn’t depression. Her definitely was though. I’m actually going to go into All Have Fallen- I love Hartley Bridge. I’ve mixed it with Drake’s Pound Cake in the past, and it goes crazy. 

ELHAE: My favourite songs of Xavier’s are Protect, Deep End, Like I Feel too.

When you are touring, do different cities/countries react to your music differently? You mentioned how you don’t perform Protect as much because people don’t hit you up for it. How much do your setlists change when you're in different places? 

ELHAE: My setlist rarely changes. But obviously, we can see insights of who's listening to what and what has the most streams so I’ll go off that. There are some songs that we just enjoy performing and I’ll do those regardless. But yeah, the streams play a big factor in that decision.

Xavier: It plays a role to a degree but just because a song was streamed less, does not make it less important to a crowd you're about to perform in front of. It's a guessing game sometimes. But there are songs that you know for sure are going to work and I can't leave the building if I don't do this one. And other times, you're just kind of seeing how people react. Keep the type of city in mind, because Philly's gonna react differently than Seattle. San Fran is gonna react differently than Atlanta. 

ELHAE: There's songs too for me that I know people would love to hear, but I don't like them anymore. So I don't do it.

Xavier: Yeah, it's also how far removed you are from the record. Some people have life changing experiences to my song Poison, and I never really liked that song to begin with. And so it's like, the song can still help somebody but like I'm never performing that.

What about UK crowds? How do they respond?

Xavier: For me, up until two weeks ago, this was the crowd no matter what. And Johannesburg just beat y'all. There were more of them. They sold out. And they beat y’all in terms of energy. But prior to that, every time I came here, this was the crowd. London just cares more.

ELHAE: I’ll second that. I mean, I've had multiple sold out shows here. They just care so the energy is always great here. 

We just like good music here! So you've worked with UK talent before so ROMderful on Smile, and Mnelia is opening for you guys on the NEVERDREAM Tour. What’s your opinion on the UK music scene, particularly R&B. 

Xavier: There's a lot of artists and I'm not gonna be able to remember everybody's name, but I'm getting taught a lot and I'm just finding a good amount as well. There’s Shae Universe, Bellah, Mahalia. I’ve been learning about BenjiFlow; we were just listening to Odeal; Nippa’s great; Kadeem Tyrell.

ELHAE: There's a lot. Ya’ll have a lot of talent out here, it’s crazy.

Xavier: I love the way that it's become more apparent in recent years. I think in the past with R&B, the assumption has been that if it's not American, then it's not authentic. But honestly, just be black. [laughs] That’s usually the precursor or the requirement to begin with. But no, obviously not, but if you are black, and you want to, you're probably going to do it really well. It's very easy to argue that the UK R&B scene has become better than American R&B, especially right now.

That’s controversial

Xavier: Yeah but that’s an argument you could make and that's fine. And I would love for it to stay that way, one country does not have to be so much far above the other ones. Like, is the music good? Because at the end of the day, it's under one umbrella of the genre. 

ELHAE: It's pushing the genre forward and encouraging conversation around R&B which is great.

You guys have mentioned that there are a lot of features and that you're starting to make more music together. Is this leading up to anything in particular? 

Xavier: Yeah, it’s leading up to friendship [laughs]. Nah it's not a secret, we've told people that we're working toward an EP. 

ELHAE: I think when we put out Favourite, we didn’t expect the reception that it got. Queen Latifah, Chris Brown, we got all these people’s attention.

Why is that surprising?

ELHAE: I’ve talked to him about this. We take time away from the genre and just music in general for a long time. And for us to just throw something out there and see what happens, I don’t know. Like he hadn’t dropped anything.

Xavier: Yeah I hadn’t done anything.

Elhae: And I dropped earlier that year. But I think sometimes I forget the influence or further along I really am. 

Xavier: That don’t bother me at all.

ELHAE: Yeah he’s very confident. His last album was in 2020. Like he doesn’t care-

Xavier: No, I care 

ELHAE: Yeah but I’m just the one constantly thinking about that type of stuff. So, when I see those reactions it makes me think “oh you’re good at this, I’m good at this, we’re going to be fine.”

Yeah I’d say where you both are is testament to how good you are 

Xavier: Yeah, I mean to set the scene for that particular song; Favourite. Not the song itself, but the video that made the rounds. I was like, hey, we need to do something to get the song up. We were literally in the hallway where the green room is and we just walked down that hallway and shot a couple of things. And then we put it up. So it wasn't like we poured our heart and soul into it. We thought we needed something to represent the song and we have us, so let’s just use what we have. And so to see the people that it reached, and the people that love the song now, I think that was probably the surprise.

My last question to both of you is, what is something that both of your fans would be shocked to hear about either of you guys? 

Xavier: I don't have any intel that they'd be shocked about because he's not super closed off. In fact he’s pretty open with what he likes and doesn’t like. But just the fact that this man has 800 songs on the hard drive seems enough. I don't know what the idea of perfection is to him. But like, dang. I think that’s something they should know. 

ELHAE: You share with your fans so I don’t know that there’s anything they don’t know. Like you talk about wrestling all the time, they know how much you love that. I don’t know that there’s anything they’ll be shocked about

Xavier: I don’t make music a whole lot.

ELHAE: Yeah, that’s true.

Xavier: With my music, there will be a season where it's time to be productive and then there's a time to step away. I make a whole lot in my productive time, I will say that, but the majority of my year, I'm not locked in the studio trying to force music to happen. I really believe that when it's time you don't gotta force as much. I did half of If You Feel in less than two weeks. I did eight sessions in LA and in five of them, we did four songs and I never had to go back and change anything in those sessions. And then I came home and did six more.

ELHAE: That’s insane.

Xavier: It was just time. And I still have to work to figure out when it's time, but I'm just not gonna be in the studio 9-12 months a year. There’s other things to do. There's other ways to create as well. So yeah, that might be the thing. I just don't be in there a whole lot.

ELHAE: I think another thing people don't see is how you are as a father. You don’t present that publicly but I see it you know and I think it's admirable. And we’re best friends so obviously I see the personal stuff too but it's just cool to know that he's just a human being at the end of the day. Doesn't let it go to his head even though he just left 1000 People in Johannesburg. 

Xavier: 2000 actually [laughs]

ELHAE: [laughs] I thought he was humble.


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