London-based singer/songwriter Elanor Moss returns with her sophomore EP ‘Cosmic,’ striving to new heights of nuanced emotion and finding new ways to talk about them.
Stream: ‘Cosmic’ – Elanor Moss
I first met Elanor Moss at an open mic in the quaint English town of York.
With the most affecting lyricism, she had the ability to command the room with a powerful subtlety. In the years since, she has released her debut EP Citrus, played festivals, and toured alongside the likes of Benjamin Francis Leftwich. She now graces us with Cosmic — the second project to come from the singer/songwriter.
I keep having this dream
I’m in the clutch of a crime scene
Blood on the floor
But I always wake up before I find it
It makes me feel old
Keeping my past in a choke hold
I keep myself up
Counting the things I should feel guilty of
I just wanna feel loved by you
I want you to make me feel valuable
Even if it’s just for an hour or two
I just wanna feel loved by you
– “Catholic,” Elanor Moss
Released in early February, Cosmic represents moments of healing and recovery. But most of all, these six songs present growth. Lush arrangements pull you into each world of the Cosmic universe, uniquely stretching conventional genre while honing honesty and vulnerability in fresh ways. “Sorry Song” ushers in Moss’ vocals with layered woodwinds, while indie rock guitars dominate “Catholic.” The tongue-in-cheek lyricism of “Cosmic Memory” sees Moss poke fun at moving on, with the project closing on the expansive and enchanting landscape of “Mary.”
Moss sat down with Atwood Magazine to discuss Cosmic; she reflected thoughtfully on creativity as an inner resource, and the importance of creating environments conducive to experimentation and play. From quiet rooms in York to an upcoming headline tour, Moss has seen great success in the short span of a few years — and she’s only just getting started.
Stream: “Catholic” – Elanor Moss
A CONVERSATION WITH ELANOR MOSS
Atwood Magazine: Congratulations on Cosmic! I've always loved your music so much, and it’s such a joy to see everything you get up to. How has the response been on Cosmic so far?
Moss: Aw thank you so much! Yeah, good! It’s so strange when something has been your world for so long, and keeping it a secret, I guess, for so long. By the time it comes out, I’m sort of over it. But the craziest thing is having it be new to other people, and then getting their responses breathes new light and a different appreciation for it. I’ve been really tickled by the response. I’ve been super lucky to have a bunch of BBC Six support too. As a big fan, to see how much they’re doing for me. My favorite thing is getting personal messages from people about what this music has meant to them. It’s been great. My little heart is very full.
You've described Cosmic to be about recovery, but a different phase of recovery from Citrus. Tell us a bit more about this project in terms of concepts and the writing.
Moss: I write quite autobiographically, but it’s finding that line between autobiographical and relatable – the parts of my own story that might resonate with other people. With the first EP, Citrus, I’d been through something very challenging and quite traumatic, and I was just trying to make sense of it. It was just, this is how I’m feeling, this is how I want to represent how I’m feeling. It was very unfiltered. Everything about the way me and Oli [Deakin] – my lovely friend and co-producer – approached the production was very bare and raw, which is how I felt. It’s how the songs needed to be presented. It was sort of this intuitive thing, which was really necessary for me at the time.
I was very lucky that the first EP opened some doors and built some infrastructure around my music. So my life changed quite a lot in a positive way, it’s quite overwhelming! I moved away from my university town and was suddenly thrown into doing tours. I got quite obsessed with the craft aspects of songwriting whilst I was writing this. It’s much more playful, because I was in a slightly different headspace emotionally, viewing and finding new ways to process things, and listening to a lot of different music than before. Cosmic is just a much more playful record, it’s a lot of experimentation. But underneath, there was a lot of anxiety about all the changes happening in my life. When I listen back, it feels like there’s a fusion between that playful edge, and discovery on the anxious edge of change.
I love that! I’ve heard many of the songs from the first EP in York, so listening to them when they came out was so nostalgic and lovely for me! Cosmic definitely brought more color and playfulness, I loved hearing this new side of you. What do you feel this project symbolizes to you in the trajectory of your artistry?
Moss: I think I very intentionally set out to broaden my scope, so I had room to experiment and play. I get quite paranoid about boxing myself into one thing. In this early journey finding my voice, sometimes you don’t know where the edges of your identity are until you run up against them. Getting to try something crazy in the studio, and seeing how far you can take one thing. It signified figuring out how far we can push things in one direction or another for it to still feel like an accurate representation of me. I’m sort of allowing myself some kindness when I listen back to it because I can really — I think every artist probably feels this — but I can hear if there’s ever a moment of unsureness. It just represents growth. When it comes to the next project, I do feel quite free to do whatever I want with it.
With anything creative, the most limiting thing you can do is to box yourself, but at the same time it's the hardest thing not to do! I know you worked on this in New York too, what was the creative process like for the EP?
Moss: Yeah, it was super fun! My first time in New York. We recorded it in Brooklyn. That was a huge amount of change from the first EP, in terms of the setup, where it was just me and Oli. He was trapped in London all through the 2020 lockdowns and that’s where we made the first EP – in his living room, just the two of us. For the second EP, he was living in New York again, so I flew over, recorded it with him and a session band of some incredible musicians. We had Stuart Bogie, who played the woodwind, saxophone, and flutes. He’s absolutely amazing. He plays with a lot of bands that I like, like Cassandra Jenkins – who I opened for at Leeds last year actually – he played on her album, which is one of my favorite albums of the past couple years.
Such a dream to have them on your projects, on top of getting to work with them.
Moss: Yeah! It was a huge inspiration. It really added that bit of magic and feeling of growth and expansion for me. He’s such a gem as well – shout out to Stuart, big fan. I worked with a very dear friend of mine, Morgan [Laura], who is a great drummer. We’ve been friends for years, so that was a real treat for me. And then Francesca [Dardani] who plays all the strings, she’s exceptional. It was a lot of fun. Oli and I were really scratching around in the dirt for a long time, throwing stuff at the songs and seeing what stuck. But I think there’s a thread that runs through them, which holds them all together, but they’re also quite different. Each track has its own little world. It was a little adventure. We really did have trouble making “Catholic” work. We had about four different versions of it, and ended up recording it all remotely in the end because we didn’t nail it on our last attempt in New York. We finished it remotely last year. I actually recorded the vocals for “Catholic” with this unbelievable hangover. I think something about the vulnerability and the anguish of that hangover meant that I got the vocal just the way we needed to get it, haha! And Sam [Griffiths], who helped me write it, was there. So having him in the room, me with this raging hangover, yelping the lyrics into his SM 57 – it was a religious experience.
If it had to be any song, that fits! What were the other versions of “Catholic” like?
Moss: We did a version that was quite a lot slower. It was more trackin’ than rockin’. There was a rock version that was a bit faster, had a bit more oomph to it. The other runner up was slower and lounge-ier, a bit more shoegaze-y. And another version that was acoustic guitar. It was a bit more Sheryl Crow. We had a version that was really HAIM-esque. And none of them quite nailed it. In the end the motto just ended up being, all service to the song. Like, what does the song need? So yeah, we ended up with a little indie rock song.
Did you have any influences on this EP?
Moss: I find it quite jarring to listen too much to other people’s music in the midst of recording. Otherwise I just get really in my own head and I’m like, this is rubbish. I had to be really careful not to overdo that because it just drives me in circles. But I guess when I was conceptualizing the production, the album that came up a lot was The Reminder by Feist – a longtime favorite, which I grew up listening to. One of the reasons it’s so appealing to me is because if someone asked me what genre it was, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell you. It’s sort of folk-y, it’s also an indie rock album… but is it an indie rock album? It just oozes personality and character. It’s quite a free album. So I think that was a huge inspiration in terms of the ethos of making Cosmic. Joyful album. It deals with nuanced emotional topics with a joyful, playful edge, which I really, really like.
Circling back a bit to your collaborators – you’ve always worked with some really established collaborators, and I can’t imagine how rewarding that must be. Do you think that’s had a big influence on you as a musician?
Moss: Yeah! Yeah, I love collaborating. There’s so much to learn from everyone all the time, even in how people talk about, and engage with, music. How they think about songwriting or production, how they approach things. It’s super, super rewarding to get to be around people that just love what they do, and are really good at what they do.
Moss: Totally inspiring! It’s so wonderful and contagious. I think Stuart is a really good example — he played all the saxophone and woodwind. He came in, and it was the first time he listened to the songs. He is a really talented improviser, so we really captured his honest, emotional, musical response on the day. I think we’ve captured something quite ephemeral, which is funny — this is gonna sound really wanky, but me and Oli were just talking about the ephemeral-ness of New York as a setting. We were walking through Bushwick and he was pointing out buildings he used to have a studio in, and he’d be like, “Yeah I had a studio there until they bulldozed it and put something else up.” It’s just quite an ephemeral place in that sense, and how that relates to the free aspect of making music. Even though these stories are on a record, it’s really capturing where you are in that moment — in your journey, in your development. You can work on something forever and ever, and never release it if you weren’t comfortable showing people your messiness, showing yourself as a work in progress. I’m always going to feel that about myself and the music I release. If I’m trying to do it in an honest way, then I’m allowing people to see myself in all my imperfections, and that’s what it needs. With Stuart he kept that creative energy and followed it down the rabbit hole. That provided for me my favorite moment on the record, which is the outro to “Mary,” with the woodwinds.
That outro is really beautiful!
Moss: Thank you! It’s a song set at Christmas time in York. For the sonic storytelling aspect of the production, we wanted it to sound like Christmas time. Cold, almost church-y, carol-like. We had this idea to honor Joni Mitchell, where she opens ‘River’ with Jingle Bells on the piano, but like an improvised jazzy version. We threw the idea at Stuart like, “Okay, hear us out. We’re gonna do like a minute and a half long outro. Can you improvise God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen or O Holy Night over the outro.” And he did it! And I cried. I was like, “Stuart. You’ve single-handedly outdone everything else on this record.” In short, it’s amazing. I love collaborating. I get so much out of it.
I love that little story behind the outro, I'm gonna have to go and listen to it again after this. Did you write these songs when you were in New York?
Moss: The writing process was almost entirely done in London and York. I wrote them between 2019 and 2022. It was a span of just collecting things. I wrote with a bunch of friends. Again, in terms of collaboration, I learn a lot every time I’m in the writing room. It’s all stuff to arm myself with for the craft aspect of writing, and it’s really good for your confidence as well. Especially when you write well with others for their music. It’s again part of that experimentation and play – which are two words that I’m using a lot in this conversation, haha!
To have the confidence to throw the net out in ways you haven’t before, there does have to be a sense of security coming from inner confidence… I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can create conditions that are conducive to creativity and play in a way that I can take it with me.
It's the overarching theme! Experimentation and play. Do you think locality influences your writing?
Moss: I think it’s not really something I’d think about at the time. But what I will say, something I’ve been thinking about is creating conditions that are conducive to creativity. To have the confidence to throw the net out in ways you haven’t before, to put yourself in a position where you could fail or do badly, there does have to be a sense of security coming from inner confidence. I think environment does affect that. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can create conditions that are conducive to creativity and play in a way that I can take it with me. If I feel really creatively free, whether it’s by myself in the countryside, or at a writing retreat – how can I make sure I bring that with me on tour in the green room, or at a Holiday Inn in Dublin. So I think that, to me, it’s my interior environment that affects it, which is affected by the outside… That’s a really long-winded way of saying ‘kind of’!
You’ve touched on struggling with writer’s block in the past, how do you re-establish those spaces to experiment and play?
Moss: I was struggling to write after I’d finished Cosmic. It was in the middle of festival season, I was really having trouble finishing a song or anything new. I was touring the EP that I just released, being in a lot of flux and new environments. I was listening to something really helpful, I think it was like a Tori Amos Sodajerker episode, where she said — I don’t believe in writer’s block. One of the helpful things was contextualizing. Creativity is like pouring out the things you’ve absorbed, influences, stories, experiences, empathy, and trying to reflect that humanity back. You can’t do that if you’re not absorbing. When I realized that the reason I was having trouble writing was because I was having trouble, full stop, I’ve found it easier to treat myself with compassion over it and not beat myself up for not being able to churn songs out. I feel like it’s natural to have time periods where you have trouble writing so much. But I do think when that’s happening it’s because the cup is empty, and you need to fill it again. And if you’re not able to, there’s probably something in the way of you fulfilling that; emotional or physical things that stop you from engaging with the world. And also, the bottom line is – it’s not that deep. It’s very easy to put an awful amount of pressure on touring and writing and recording. But it’s really not that deep. It’s meant to be fun. It’s meant to be playful. Creativity is, at its heart, a very childish thing. I think the joy gets pushed out of it when you take it too seriously. I got some good advice from different people that I was on the road with last year, who I admire greatly, it was basically just like, easy does it. We’re making music. We’re not surgeons. It’s meant to be a playful thing.
Creativity is, at its heart, a very childish thing. I think the joy gets pushed out of it when you take it too seriously.
Do you feel like you’ve had to readjust the way you see creativity now that it’s also your career?
Moss: Yeah, I think I’ve come into this year thinking about how to engage and live well, whilst having a career in this industry. It is fucking hard, the pressures of it are many and great. I’m very fortunate to have good friends who have been doing this for a long time, to lean on as I enter into this. But yeah, I’m still figuring it all out. I’m trying to utilize curiosity as much as I can. It could be very easy to be incredibly fearful. I think that because of all the unknowns that are associated with a career in the industry – especially with all the COVID stuff – it would be very easy to be terrified of whatever’s next. And the antidote to that is curiosity. Creativity is curious. And now that I’m trying to make a career out of it, I try to protect that from the stresses of the music industry, while having the business head that has to go out and make things happen and deal with rejection – and not allow one to jeopardize the other, which is quite a difficult balance.
I really love what you said about creativity being curious at the heart of it… Okay, let's talk about the visuals that accompany the EP. Can you tell us a bit more about how those came to be?
Moss: I worked with two very dear friends of mine: Mon Levchenkova, my longtime collaborator, who’s done all of my still photos since Citrus. She’s brilliant, she’s like a box of stars – the way she thinks about the world and the way she engages with art and other people. She’s a big inspiration to me. And Alessia, who did all the styling for that EP. When it came time for the second EP, we asked her to come on board as the videographer and director. Me and Alessia worked together to conceptualize all of the music videos and deliver them with a very small team. It was a group effort.
Can you tell us a bit more about the concepts of each video?
Moss: We wanted it to feel like each song was its own little world, its own planet. And initially I was gonna call the EP ‘Cosmoss’ as a reference to the new lyrical tinges that were there. But weeks before we announced it, Kate Moss launched a cosmetics brand called COSMOSS!
Oh my gosh, that's so funny!
Moss: So we ended up calling it Cosmic. Yeah. One of the things that we did was assign a color to each video. My friend, Natasha Sweeney, who is a freelance knitwear designer, styled everything. We worked with her to pull together the looks for each one. We just wanted each of them to be a different world. We wanted “Sorry Song” to feel really textural, that surrealism. We recorded pretty much everything on either an iPhone or a camcorder. We got into the concept with the lyric about wanting to scrub away the things you feel ashamed of. “Cosmic Memory” we were just like, late 90s, early 2000s rom-com, leaning into the When Harry Met Sally reference in the lyrics. And then “Catholic” we wanted to deviate, having gone full color for everything else. We really felt strongly from the beginning that it had to be a one shot video. We wanted something Catholicism adjacent and landed with the medieval Joan of Arc image. The concept of the video was an unburdening of your defenses, essentially, taking off the armor, literally. And the EP cover with the little hand signal – I wanted it to feel a little bit like iconography, but with a very contemporary edge to it. So that is a piece of Catholic iconography. It’s quite popular in paintings of Christ the Child and Mary as well.
Oh, that's so interesting! Speaking of, you’ve got a headline funded by the PPL Momentum Music Fund, which is huge. Tell us more about that!
Moss: I am super lucky to have gotten that funding and I’m so grateful. I remember I was working a lot before Christmas, and I was like having a nap. Some TV in the background between shifts or something. And the email came through. I opened it up, like squinting, and it said that the application had been accepted. And I just cried!
Aw I love that! What can we expect on the tour?
Moss: The London show I’m extremely excited about, I think it’s gonna be a special one. I’ve got an incredible session band playing the London date, and it’ll be my first ever full band show. I also have an exciting little treat in that. A friend and collaborator of mine, Chris Riddell, does this live drawing thing where he sets up the camera, sits side of stage, and he sketches the songs as you’re singing. So it’s projected behind you during the show. You get a live drawing of your narrative. It’s a very interactive, cross media sort of storytelling.
Oh my gosh! You have the perfect music for that.
Moss: Another thing I’ve got, but I haven’t announced it yet. My very dear friend, Sam, from The Howl and The Hum, is opening the tour. I’m amazed that he said yes and that I’ve somehow tricked him into opening for me, when it’s usually the other way around! But he’s absolutely wonderful. So you can expect he’ll be there, sometimes he’ll pop on stage and we’ll do some bits together.
Oh, that's so lovely! York artists! Okay, so to wrap things up, what do you hope people will gain from listening to Cosmic?
Moss: Well, the EP rings out with the track “Mary,” and the refrain is, “You don’t have to be alone.” I think for me, if anyone gets anything out of these songs beyond enjoyment of some kind, I hope that there’s something comforting to be gained by seeing parts of yourself that maybe you’re not happy with, reflected back at you and being told that you’re okay.
Stream: “Mary” – Elanor Moss
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? © Mon Levchenkova
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