El-Mean - EP

El-Mean - EP

If there’s one thing that drives Elmiene’s music, it’s confusion. “I always feel like I’m questioning something about my life, my beliefs or my will,” the Oxford-raised singer-songwriter, real name Abdala Elamin, tells Apple Music. “In a lot of my songs, I’m writing about it because I don’t know what it means, but I hope that by the time I finish the song, I’ll get a better picture of it.” On his debut EP, El-Mean (its title is an instruction on how to pronounce his artist name), Elmiene digs into that confusion against strikingly intimate yet atmospheric R&B/soul, inspired as much by Stevie Wonder, Boyz II Men and D’Angelo as by Joni Mitchell, The Beatles or Thin Lizzy. Like most songwriters of his generation, he’s relaxed about the definition of his sound. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s cool,” he says. You wouldn’t know from listening, but before working on the EP, Elmiene had never written music—or been very interested in making it. Poetry was his thing, and singing was just a hobby (“It didn’t go much deeper than singing in the shower,” he says). That all changed in 2021, when he uploaded a cover of D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” to social media. “By the next morning my phone was blowing up,” he remembers. “There were messages from labels. Missy Elliott retweeted it. It felt like a complete fallacy.” He thought, “Right, well, let’s do this”—getting into a studio to make music for the first time (El-Mean’s songs were made alongside producers and songwriters Jamie Woon, Lil Silva and James Vincent McMorrow). Things moved as fast as that video: In 2021, one of the first songs he ever wrote, “Golden”, went viral when it was played during Virgil Abloh’s final show, just days after the designer’s death. A year later, Elmiene was listed as one of the collaborators on Stormzy’s This Is What I Mean. Whatever happens after this EP, he hopes the spirit of making it will stay with him. “We kept it playful because of how early I was, and there were never any boundaries or restrictions,” he says. “There was nothing stopping me. It’s a mentality I want to carry on forever.” Read on as Elmiene walks us through his first chapter, one song at a time. “Before I Take a While” “I wrote this at a point where I was feeling like, ‘OK, this is what my life is going to be for the foreseeable future. I’m going to be this artist. I’m going to be Elmiene.’ It was me saying, ‘I just need to go home. I need to go to the people that I love and who I’m comfortable around before I start on this journey.’” “Why (Spare Me Tears)” “This is the one song that came from a place I’d never been before. I had never broken up with anyone. After I wrote about everything that I felt inside, I was like, ‘I wonder how I [would] feel from someone else’s perspective.’ It’s an outburst of an emotion that I’m not familiar with. At the end of this song, I was referencing Jodeci’s ‘Stay’. I was like, ‘I just want to do that!’ As soon as it did, I thought, ‘I could just quit music now. I’m satisfied.’” “Endless No Mores” “It was one of the first sessions I had with James Vincent McMorrow. We were getting to know each other and were put in this strange studio where there were no working lights. James kept playing this cool guitar progression, and I was just spiralling down into myself as the room got darker and darker. One of my favourite things about the song was at the start of it, you can hear the click of James pressing record. And I love that we kept it in. It just felt right.” “Choose You” “We were delirious and dreamy when we wrote this. James figured out this super-simple, almost Spanish-feeling guitar progression and we all just sat there, mumbling melodies. It was almost like a weird meditation thing—and out of it came ‘Choose You’. But we felt like there needed to be a lift because the song, especially in the first demo, was very minimal. We felt like we needed to bring the Elmiene harmonies back in, and thought it would be perfect to have this final triumphant feeling: ‘Yes, I’m not confused. I found the girl of my dreams.’ Six or seven months later, Lil Silva and I got back into the studio and wanted to run through it one more time. We added so many more harmonies to the song. I was like, ‘That’s it!’” “Guess We’re Leaving” “Jamie [Woon] and I wrote this not too long after we wrote ‘Why’, and we were still in the mindset of that song. As soon as we started it, I thought, ‘That’s an ending.’ In the instruments, we used a darbuka—there was an Arabian influence in it that I wanted to include from my homeland, Sudan; almost a sitar-y feeling, or a lute kind of feel. If ‘Before I Take a While’ was a celebration of my life before and an acceptance of my life to come, this was me comforting myself. We got to appreciate what we had. It was a brilliant era—the best time of our lives—but it’s time to move on.”

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