- Words Saskia Postema
South London musician Eli Moon discusses his sophomore EP, 'Angels, Devils & Empty Vessels', musical journey, constantly questioning his belief system, and much more.
Having just released his sophomore project, an EP titled ‘Angels, Devils & Empty Vessels’, South-London artist Eli Moon is well on the way to stardom. With a beautifully rich voice, slick production and intriguing lyricism, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Moon’s music.
The tracks are all equally fascinating, easily spanning across various genres that reflect Moon’s own personal preference for rock and R&B. At the core of it all is a hunger to explore the darker side of the human psyche. The insecurities, doubts, disappointments, and our constant search for purpose and connection within wider society.
The EP, produced by Eli Moon himself and his collaborators Koala and Mojam (Sam Smith, Bugzy Malone), follows the release of the standalone track “killmeinmysleep”, which deals with mental health issues and was born out of Moon’s own experiences in isolation. The music couldn’t be more timely – in a world that’s in crisis, feelings of loneliness and regret are widespread. Playing into these themes by using religious metaphors and poetry, ‘Angels, Devils & Empty Vessels’ takes you on a dark, but ultimately uplifting journey from beginning to end, mirroring the story of a fallen angel looking for redemption.
We talked to Eli Moon on his personal rise and fall – or more aptly, fall and rise – that brought him to create his latest offering of music.
Congrats on the release of your new EP ‘Angels, Devils & Empty Vessels’! This is your second EP, what are the major differences or moments of growth if you compare this body of work with your previous EP?
I think everything was different about this EP. The first body of work was a real impulsive expression of a whole heap of emotions. ‘Angels, Devils & Empty Vessels’ was way more thought out and streamlined. From the creative process to the environment that the songs were created in…everything was different this time around.
I read somewhere you used to be in a rock band, prior to branching out as a solo artist – how did you get into music; what were your influences growing up?
I did! Rock music has and always will have this power over me. There’s something in the dark romanticism of rock that is the fundamental pillar to all the music I create. I grew up singing, playing various different instruments like guitar and piano as a lot of kids do; But music theory was never a strong point for me, so I turned to performing music where I could improvise on the spot and use my instruments to accompany my voice. That’s where the rock band was great; complete freedom amongst chaotic noise with my best friends. That’s a feeling I’m still searching for to this day. It didn’t matter what we looked like, or even how we sounded….It was as close as I have ever felt to the artists and bands that influenced me. My main influences include anything from Prince and MJ all the way to Kurt Cobain, Oasis, The Stone Roses. Then in more recent years I have of course had admiration for artists such as Frank Ocean and The Weeknd.
There’s definitely that rockstar allure on the ‘Angels, Devils…’ EP as well, musically it reminds me of a mix of The Weeknd and Post Malone. What were your main influences going into this record specifically?
It’s funny you should say that. I would agree with you, but at the time I didn’t intend to make music that reflected these influences. I guess I am hypersensitive to the environment around me and these two were on top of the world when these songs were created. As an artist I think it’s hard not to be influenced by popular culture, especially when you appreciate and love all forms of music. My main influences for this project were my emotional and mental state post ‘Bodies EP’ and how I was going to continue on this journey I had started. That was where it all came from, within.
Thematically, and as the EP name already suggests, there are a lot of religious concepts that you refer to throughout the EP, which is something that was also present in your previous EP. What is it about these concepts that makes you return to them in your lyricism?
In life I’m always questioning the belief systems we are given and my own belief system is changing everyday. I’m a poet at heart, and growing up I studied ‘Paradise Lost.’ The poem literally changed the way I viewed society. Religion is still something I don’t believe in, but spiritually there are a lot of concepts that are so interesting to me. I love how it is possible to feel empathy and to connect emotionally to a villain, or to see how even in the earliest teachings, humans have been conditioned by the patriarchy to believe that women are subordinate to men. What a load of rubbish. I just think it’s interesting, how so many of these concepts created or supported by religion have shaped our society, and I am always looking for ways to debunk them in order to provoke thought and debate.
This EP also has a lot of dark themes lyrically, mentioning loneliness and depression. I can imagine that writing about these can feel liberating and cathartic, somewhat therapeutic even. Do you find it important to open up the conversation on topics like mental health through your music?
I’ve always said that writing is my therapy. It is very liberating…going into a moment of mindfulness and pouring my deepest darkest feelings out in order to help figure out what I’m feeling. It’s really helped me and I think if there was ever a time that the world was ready to have a conversation around mental health it is now. In recent years, my own mental health has become something I have had to work hard at to maintain, and music provides me not only the opportunity to help myself, but to let others know that they are not alone in whatever feelings that they are experiencing. Music is something we all feel within our souls, so right now it is the perfect vessel for me to connect with and move people, which is all I’m aiming to do.
Because of the gravity of these topics, do you sometimes also have songs that you keep to yourself – that are too personal to share?
Absolutely. I have so much music that I fear is too heavy, or too personal for people to understand. But I think that there is irony in that. In a world where we all experience very different but very similar versions of society, we are obviously going to be experiencing some of the same things, and it only creates more pain if we suffer alone in silence. I’ve found recently that the more personal the work is, the more people are going to connect with it, so future releases are going to be those very songs that are ‘too personal to share.’
It’s been about a month since the release of your EP – which song stands out to you now as the one you’re most proud of?
For me there is no one song that I am most proud of. I love them all, individually and together. I write with such attachment to my work that I could never place one over another, as each song is such an authentic moment of real expression. I suppose each song represents a tiny part of who I am, which is why I can’t deny or favour any in particular. Each song is a chapter of my story, and they all hold equal weight in representing me.
A lot of people will have no issue understanding the angels and devils reference in the EP’s title; but can you expand on how ’empty vessels’ fits in with this analogy?
Since the beginning of time, a by-product of society has always been this judgement system where as a functioning member you are either good or bad, a hero or a villain…But I actually feel that most people in society are ‘Empty Vessels.’ I guess I am referring to the inner emptiness of a lot of people nowadays, just merely floating around during their time on earth, doing as they are told, working a job that they hate, to pay for a house they can’t afford. Part of me has always believed that it’s better to at least choose one side; good or bad and to live with real purpose, rather than to sit on the fence and be a tiny cog in the wheel.
You’ve said that the tracklisting was in this particular order to reflect your own journey of trying to find your place in this world – do you feel like you’ve gotten closer to that notion of embracing your own individuality which you present on “Pray”?
I don’t think I’ll ever truly find my place in this world. But I have definitely moved closer to fully embracing my own individuality. As an artist, all I am aiming to do is inspire others to be the most authentic, fullest version of themselves and before I can do that, I have to accept myself first.
There’s a lot of duality on this EP, emphasised by this angel versus devil dichotomy, as well as good versus bad. You even mention that you lived through “two polar-opposite alter egos” – can you explain what you mean by that?
I think we all do it. Whether it’s through how we behave in different social groups, or how we portray ourselves to society. There is so much pressure to meet other people’s ‘expectations’ and to live a certain way. Society never has and never will really allow for full-blown freedom of thought, so I think I meant that it is more entertaining to me, to play the game where necessary, in order for me to live out my highest desires. Sometimes to be a devil, you have to be an angel or an empty vessel first. It works whichever way you look at it.
In the track “Phases”, the song is fast-paced but also seems to filled with self-doubt, as if you’re afraid to let yourself consider an uncomfortable or inconvenient truth. It’s interesting, because that duality returns here in both expressing a desire to change, as well as the accompanying fear in doing that. Perhaps change is not going to come, perhaps expressing our desires won’t make a difference – that a different path is unattainable. What was the inspiration for this song in particular?
I think a different path is always attainable. There is never a moment that does not lead to infinite other moments. The inspiration for this song was my life. I was at a crossroads, not knowing where to turn, and I needed a change. The biggest thing I am still learning is that, whilst expressing our desires is the first step, it is really action that makes a difference. Just sitting around suffering will not change much. But really embracing that suffering and accepting it for what it is, will light the biggest spark for change. Change is always daunting, but I am learning that growth is uncomfortable and the route which will require the most growth is usually the better one.
I noticed the colour red and the balloon featuring heavily in the visuals accompanying the EP, do they have a special meaning? Were you involved in designing the creative concept as well?
I love the colour red. It has such complex connotations such as love, seduction, violence, danger… the list goes on. I developed the creative concept for this project, and it was a natural choice to have red as a main colour. Shot by my girlfriend…I think we saw a version of me which is my most vulnerable or pure…a side that many have never seen. Red also has ties to the devil, and white is commonly used for angels, so the two colours seemed perfect for the artwork.
A lot has happened in 2020, from COVID-19 to the global Black Lives Matter movement – how has that impacted your songwriting process compared to your normal process?
If anything, COVID only enabled me to spend more time developing a creative process that I love. I am a very social person, but when it comes to creation I love to drive myself mad, locked in one room, really soul searching for answers. So being locked down, disconnected from the world around me enabled me to delve deeper into myself and write from a place of ultimate truth.
You also recently released a song ‘killmeinmysleep’, which is perhaps similar to some of the EP in terms of lyrical content, but is sonically very different. What made you decide to release this song as a separate single? Is it also a direction you’d like to go in the future, or was it a standalone project?
KMIMS is a stand alone song. It’s such an organic expression of one moment, that it didn’t feel right placing it next to songs that were curated over a longer time period. I would like all of future art to be more freestanding. Experimentation has a huge presence in my next works.
You also worked with two different producers on this EP – one of them you already worked with on your previous EP, Koala. Mojam has also worked with artists such as Aitch and Sam Smith – how did that collaboration come about? What did you take away from that experience?
I wouldn’t say I took anything particular away from the experience. These are all people that I enjoy making music with. It’s always great to be around people who inspire you or who you learn from, but it’s best when two separate creative ideas come together to make something singular. That was often to the process in these songs.
What are you most excited about in the future when it comes to your career? Any major goalposts that you’ve set for yourself?
I am most excited for the continuation of this journey I am on. I think releasing music teaches me more about myself than actually creating the music, so I am just excited to continue doing so. Everyone has goals, but ultimately I think if I can have inner peace, and make music that connects and inspires, then I will be fulfilled.
Bonus question: Have you ever watched the show ‘Lucifer’? I think you’d be a fan considering some of these lyrics would be a perfect match to the storyline!
I have! I can see why you would say that…. A great example of how someone can be portrayed as a ‘devil’ yet we are still able to find connection and identification with them.