22-year-old Ansel Elgort has quietly been building a name for himself in the music realm for almost five years away from the spotlight of his acting career. He’s already seen success as on the big screen (gut-wrenching YA-novel turned blockbuster The Fault In Our Stars, the Divergent series), but a true vigor for music stems from a childhood of musical theater. His computer offers refuge during hours upon hours of downtime on set where he is able to hone his craft on his own terms.
It’s no secret that a built-in fan base has been beneficial, but Elgort is insistent that he wants to build his sound and position organically. His big screen reputation might bring fans to the table, but he aspires to make music that will make them stay. As Ansolo, he is quickly becoming a festival circuit staple, playing Electric Zoo twice and Ultra shows all over the world. However, it’s debut single, “Home Alone,” that could be the catalyst for everything that happens next.
We caught up with the native New Yorker, who is currently working in Los Angeles to discuss his debut single, upcoming collaborations, his spontaneous sessions with Jamie Foxx, and why he feels it’s urgent that he use his platform to speak about movements that matter.
You’re Just a few weeks off a tour where you played your new song, “Home Alone,” live for the first time. How was that?
It was really cool. I didn’t expect do that, but then I sort of it did it spur of the moment. I wanted to see how the vibe was going to be and get a feel for how the audience was going to respond since it was an electronic show and the song is more of a pop track. I put the track on and stepped out in front with the mic and walked towards the floor. Everything just felt right, and I got a huge reaction from the crowd which was awesome.
A video posted by anselelgort (@anselelgort) on Jun 11, 2016 at 2:56am PDT
Your debut single as Ansel Eglort, “Home Alone,” dropped officially July 22. Were you nervous to sing on it
No, you know I always knew I was going to sing on it. When I wrote the record, it was a very personal song. I wrote all the lyrics and ended up putting the song together over a three-year period. Originally, it was going to be over a dance record, but that didn’t feel right. It felt kind of forced. So I thought, maybe I can just do production for it so that it makes it electronic and emotional. I’m really happy with the final product.
You’ve remixed a track for Alesso. Former Swedish House Mafia members Axwell and Ingrosso have played your music at their shows. How important has it been to cultivate relationships with other DJs?
I think it’s been really great. It all happened really organically. Maybe three years ago, the first person I ever met was Pierce Fulton, who is also a DJ. We moved in together in Williamsburg. We have a common language and both love music. Of course, it was definitely nice to have the support. I’ve actually never met Axwell and Ingrosso though. They just played my record because they liked it. That’s what I really want. I don’t ever want… I never want anything to be unfair, you know?
That’s a wrap Asia tour. This was so fun, I made new friends, caught up with old and saw so many new things. It all was amazing timing right around the release of To Life. So amazing meeting all the fans and coming to your beautiful countries. ❤️ Ansolo
A photo posted by Ansolo (@ansolo_music) on Sep 24, 2015 at 8:52am PDT
Will you collaborate with any DJs in the future?
Yeah, totally. Martin [Garrix] and I, when we were in Korea together recently, we rode to the airport together and played each other a lot of music and had the idea of doing a record together that I would sing on. So, we’re definitely going to do something.
Your Instagram is peppered with pictures with pop stars like Justin Bieber, Charli XCX, and Halsey. Any chance you would recruit a singer or rapper to jump on one of your tracks?
Yeah, definitely. I’m already working on a record right now with Logic that I wrote and produced. Logic is going to do a verse on it. I’m really excited for that.
A photo posted by Ansolo (@ansolo_music) on Jun 20, 2016 at 10:09am PDT
Charli XCX had a huge hit with “Boom Clap” off The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack. Would you ever want to lend one of your songs to a featured soundtrack or score a film in the future?
Definitely. I’m going to start scoring movies. That’s definitely a goal of mine and something I want to do. Whenever I read a script, whenever I’m in a movie, I always have idea of what the music should sound like and that seems like the natural, next progression for me. I would love to one day score films as well as act in them. It’d be something that’s really cool and something that isn’t common.
Definitely not. Speaking of movies, you co-star with Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, and Sky Ferreira in the upcoming Baby Driver. Who was the biggest highlight to work with?
It’s been pretty amazing. Baby Driver was great because of course, Kevin Spacey is great. Musically, Jamie Foxx is in Baby Driver and actually, Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers is also in the movie. What we ended up doing is…I spent a lot of time with Jamie at his house. He had a studio in his house in Atlanta and I played him my music. He liked what he heard and we ended up spending a lot of time in the studio together and he gave me a lot of feedback. I actually wrote and produced a record for him that he is going to sing on that Flea played the bass for.
That is incredible.
It was crazy. I had an electric bassline that Flea came in and tour up in like 10 minutes. And then Jamie came in and and sang a rough idea. I arranged it and wrote lyrics for it. It’s going to be for maybe one of my other side projects, Shirts and Skins, which is my techy, more underground, house project that I’m doing with Pierce. Whenever I make a record that I’m not sure where it fits or what exactly to do with it, Shirts and Skins feels the right place. It’s our outlet for fun, upbeat house music that isn’t overly commercial. It’s not trendy or cheesy at all. It almost sounds like a Daft Punk record. So as a result of the movie, we all got to work on a song together, which was so cool.
You mentioned Daft Punk. What other artists are you inspired by in your music?
I love Frank Sinatra. And on this new song, I really sang. I didn’t just whisper into a microphone and they auto-tuned it into something. I never want to rely on tune. I wanted it to be me and I wanted it to be my voice because that’s where I came from. I came from musical theatre where you have to get on stage and sing. No production, no autotune, or no backtrack is going to make you sound good. Now that I’m doing this kind of music, I don’t want to go away from that. I want to embrace that and I want to try and have a real voice because I respect vocalists so much.
Following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, you tweeted that Black Lives Matter. Is it important to you to use your platform to speak out on causes you care about?
Yeah, definitely. I’m from New York and I’m outspoken and I speak about Black Lives Matter in my daily life, but I hadn’t really spoken publicly on it before then. The thing is when you put something up on social media, it becomes such a thing. Some people get worried about using their voice in that way. In fact, some people that agree with me were saying, “Oh, he’s just saying that.” What really matters is that I feel really strongly about the movement and I think there is a huge problem in our society. Black Lives do Matter. My hope is that this movement will lead to other movements that create equality between the sexes, the races, religions and that we can relinquish the hatred. Of course, I stand by my tweet and I felt strongly at that time to use my platform to speak out.
Black Lives Matter
We have a problem. A major problem. It’s time to break the silence. Speak up, speak out. Black Lives Matter.
— Ansel Elgort (@AnselElgort) July 7, 2016
What can we expect from you going forward? Is there an album on the way?
Yes, Yes, absolutely. I hope to put an album out within a year—that would be great. But, I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to rush it because I’m doing music because I love to do it. I’m not doing it so that a label will be breathing down my neck telling me, “You have to get this song out.” I just want to put out good music. “Home Alone” is a labor of my love over the course of years of producing the song over and over again. It went through multiple productions and multiple rewrites because it was something I just wanted to do. I almost didn’t think anyone was ever going to hear it, so it’s crazy to see it out now. I probably have about 10 ideas that I’m really excited about right now. And, I definitely plan to do a lot more shows.
“Home Alone” is out now on Island Records.