Elle Belle

by Corey O'Flanagan

Christopher Pappas comes from a musical family in Auburn, New Hampshire. After getting a taste of local celebrity by opening for his dad's band in his early teens, he knew that finding a career in performing was what he wanted to do.

After establishing the act Elle Belle in 2013, he released a handful of records, always expanding on his never-ending search for new sounds. On November 13, 2020, he'll release the album Post Everything. Recorded mostly live with a full band, he hopes it will capture the soundscapes of this moment in time.

In this episode, we talk about this new album, his beautiful song "WKND," and how his personal "Big 3" of grunge influenced him.


Back to the beginning

I grew up in a tiny town called Auburn, New Hampshire. My dad was in an acoustic trio when he was growing up and he was a professional musician before I was born. Music was always a deep passion for him, but he was never a songwriter. Growing up there was always music around the house and I learned how to play from him, but not how to write. My mom was an art teacher and loved to paint, and I think the creative side of myself came from her, while the music aspect came from my dad. My dad was actually our first sound guy.

My first gig was in a bar when I was 13, playing in between my dad's set in a '60s cover group. It was the greatest night of my life. I remember my mom and I were actually in Home Depot the following day and this guy recognized me from the gig. My mom said that was when I got bitten by the bug and had stars in my eyes.


Inspiration

When I discovered grunge music, the three big ones for me were Nirvana, Sonic Youth and R.E.M. I remember getting a copy of R.E.M's Murmur, and this was the pinnacle of songwriting for me. The way it made me feel was really important. It gave me a nostalgia for a time I never had. These songs made me feel like there was this bigger life out there and I think those three bands make up the bedrock of my songwriting today.

The album Post Everything

Post Everything is really the product of the way I recorded it. For the first time ever, I went into a studio and recorded with a band to tape. The process of doing that really informed the sound. It's looser, there's a lot of space, and it feels like there's a band playing in the room. There's some songs that break that mold where I did them in my studio, but the bulk of it was recorded in this way.

We got a bottle of tequila, did a bunch of takes of each song, then took the best ones, did a few overdubs, and that was that. Misty Boyce, Rob Humphreys, Zach Jones, Pierre De Reeder and Phil Krohnengold all played on it.

I listened to a lot of Guided By Voices, and if I had discovered them as a kid, they would be the other pillar of my musical vocabulary. Bee Thousand is definitely one of my top records of all time. There's something about the trashy, demo style of recordings that just attracts my aesthetic taste. They feel so honest and raw and it really lures me in.


The Post Everything album cover

Searching for the sound

I would say that the majority of the time spent on a song, I spend figuring out the sound. I'll have songs where I'll do them more loose and grungy or more rhythmically sounding, and there's usually three or four different versions of the song.

I would generally look at a song and say it is neutral. That the genre is how you dress it up. I don't think people really appreciate what actually separates different genres and how you dress the song up. I spend a lot of time thinking about where each song fits best and instead of just forcing it into a category, I will follow it in the genre it fits best in.


"WKND"

When writing a song, I try to take away all assumptions and never go on autopilot. When I initially sang the chorus, I didn't like my voice on it. I said to myself, "Why would I be the one to sing it?" It's like the Steely Dan method. I wrote the part, realized I wasn't the one to sing it correctly, and brought in a few girls to come sing it. Kat (Myers) was the first one, and I just knew it was fire. She nailed it.

We often joke about the things that make us most vulnerable, or at least I do. In this song I am the protagonist. There's a comfort in glib sadness. My real life vibe is, I'm sad, you're sad, we're all sad, isn't that hilarious! You tell it as a little joke and at the end of the punchline, the laughter fades, and you're left with being true and it's too much of a burden to bear.


Lessons learned from Elle Belle

Elle Belle was formed in 2013. I feel like there's one big lesson that I continually learn and forget, and then relearn and reforget, which is to trust your instincts.

I don't feel like I have reached the summit of the mountain and had that "aha" moment. I feel like I continually have that moment. I find gratitude in getting this feeling. Life isn't linear, it's chaotic and ever changing. It's waving and dynamic and as we grow there's always forward progress. I have accepted that it's always going to be a work in progress. I'm always going to feel confident, proud, scared and excited in what I'm doing. Another lesson is being OK with that being the way things are.


"Didn't I"

This song is very light and fun. It's about not understanding why you love somebody, but not fighting against it. Very much so, "I don't know why I love you, but I do. This is great, right?"

It's a song about relieving yourself of the burden of trying to figure out why you like something or someone. It's about trusting your instincts.

Different styles of songwriting

I wrote a musical comedy with a buddy of mine. I approached writing the music for that as more of a comedian. It was essentially my impression of making fun of musicals and a lot of the writing was through that comical lens.

I'm not a musical guy - I've never even seen Grease. It's hard for me to find a musical I like, so making fun of it was really enjoyable for me. I definitely felt a lot less pressure from writing in this way. It was a very collaborative project and everyone wrote a bit of everything. I primarily wrote the melody and the music, and Justin primarily wrote the lyrics and the script. We are actually working on a musical horror now.

October 28, 2020
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