“I remember trying out for a musical in elementary school and singing ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’ I think you were supposed to sing something theatrical but I just sang what I wanted to,” Elke tells me before before her EP release show at East Village club, Berlin.
She’s always been an individualist. Elke is an artist with a very certain vision for herself and her music. She tends to go with her gut and it’s working for her. She’s been building a following in New York City, signed with Kobalt Records, and recently released her first EP, Bad Metaphors.
Full disclosure, Kayla Graninger (AKA Elke) and I have been best friends for seven years (she says eight). We met roughly nine guitars ago, soon after she moved to NYC from Las Vegas.
Though she was born in Louisiana, home for Elke was constantly in flux. Her family followed her father’s work in the casino business around the country. She’s lived in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Virginia, to name a few places. Elke started learning guitar and writing songs back in Pittsburgh. “I told my parents I wanted to become a rockstar and I needed to know how to play guitar to do that,” she recalls.
She’s been performing in the East Village and Lower East Side for the last seven years or so under various names and guises. Elke, pronounced el-key, is the final edition. Elke is found. “I didn’t come up with Pony and it never felt like mine. Kayla doesn’t resemble much for me creatively, it’s a personal name. Elke is what I want to resemble to others. It is something that I believe in that goes deeper than me. It was the name of the grandmother I never got to meet, also my mother’s.”
We’ve been chatting between sound checks before the show. There isn’t going to be an opening band for this show as was previously planned. That band reached out to Elke personally about a week prior. They felt the need to pull out of the show, citing their reasoning as wanting to “protect their crowd,” and noting an insufficient amount of PR for their typical threshold. Elke’s response? Cool and collected. She told the band’s front person to do what they had to.
“I don’t jive with that,” Elke says. “I used to play with bands who wouldn’t play shows unless everything was perfect. I’ve grown out of accepting that. I’ll play shows anywhere. I like to be around other musicians and meeting new people. I want to be playing more shows. There are a lot of new venues popping up and I’d love to start traveling to different cities. I would just play everyday forever if I could.”
In lieu of an opening band, Sid Simons and Foster James DJ sets for the pre-show party. Elke flits between friends and strangers, greeting everyone with excitement and gratitude, all of it genuine. She’s easy to pick out in a crowd. Not just by her height or shock of blond hair–she’s vibrant, white energy in the dim basement of the bar. Not a loose nerve in her body, nothing for her to worry about.
“We’ve played [the album] so many times live, Kevin [Kahwai, drummer] and I have probably played eight shows… I’m so confident and happy with the songs, and even when we went to work with the producer, he would come up with the craziest noises… The first mix that he sent us, it was completely away from what we do live. Our live sound is just very straightforward: Drums, bass, guitar, loud vocals. He threw in all of these theatrical noises and at that point in the mixing process, that’s when you start worrying about not whether you’re reaching toward an audience, but whether or not you’re reaching toward the place of sound you imagined the songs to begin with. I feel comfortable enough with my songs that there are going to be people who will like the album. I’m satisfied.”
Elke’s sound is a lawless mix of punk and rock, doo-wop and shoegaze, and occasionally a bit of country. Her voice is as ungoverned as her genre: often dropping to low, masculine octaves, sometimes exuding smoke and other times featuring high altitude airlessness. Bad Metaphors was produced by Shawn Everett (The War on Drugs, Alabama Shakes), and is comprised of three tracks: “Without the I,” “Two Lives,” and “Black and Blue.” Each track is a line by line examination of love and lovers past, an unraveling of self-destruction and a reach toward self-preservation. “Lyrics mean everything to me. It’s an opportunity to say something that resonates with other people. My point is to come to a conclusion with my own train of thought and give the listener something to feel themselves and build their own thoughts from.”
The DJs fade out and the band takes their place. Elke doesn’t introduce herself when she gets on stage, she just begins to play. What you miss in hearing Elke’s recorded output instead of her live performance, is her incredible ability to captivate an audience. Her stage talent is impeccable. She can transform a dive bar into a Tennessee honky tonk with Dolly Parton-esque country song “Asshole,” featuring a cheeky notion of female empowerment, and then fluidly transition to Courtney Love-esque sultry, siren-go-rock song “Cyanide,” her voice instantly blue and hypnotizing like a morphine drip.
You can dance to most of her songs, Elke certainly does. Watching her on stage— hips swaying, hair throwing, feet tapping — you just have to dance with her. The crowds at her shows usually do, and this show at Berlin is no different. They dance to every rock song and sway to every slow song. This concert seems to be a special one, the audience is eerily attentive during the quieter songs, as if respecting the reflective nature of the lyrics. No bar banter, no chatter, all ears.
“Some of the most special moments that I have with songs are influenced by a feeling that I’m already having, and the song kind of just decorates that feeling. So I hope that my album does that for other people, whether that be on a small or large scale. I don’t want people to learn anything from my music, I want it to be able to enhance what they’re already feeling,” she says about her hopes for the EP.
Elke often looks like she’s recollecting the inspiration for her songs as she sings them. In this show, emotion wears itself on her face as raw as the sounds she’s producing. It’s almost as if she’s moved by her own music and it’s particularly beautiful. “I sing the songs the way they feel. It also depends on how I’m feeling that night. I’ve sung some songs angrily that weren’t written from a bad place. I just follow my feelings, songs are a place where I really feel like I can do that without overcrowded thoughts.”
Like the rockstar she swore to her parents she would become, Elke has a tendency to get wild on stage. Finishing up the last song “Call of the Void”, like almost every show before this one, all six feet of her end up on the floor. This song is an aggressive and lively punk rock song, with a fantastic drum track. The crowd is moshing and jumping all over the place, beers and drinks sloshing about. It’s a tight venue and it’s getting pretty rowdy: Elke’s cue to join the party.
When she finally ends the guitar shredding from her place writhing on the ground, she stands to thank the crowd. “I’m really fucking lucky,” Elke says to the audience. “All of you mean so much to me.” They holler and clap back, but she isn’t finished. “I split my pants!” She shouts, and laughter erupts. She turns around and waggles her tail to show a full goddamn moon. She’s far from finished. There’s much more to come from Elke.