In a recent conversation with the budding Grammy-nominated soulstress, Elle Varner, I discovered a young woman on the brink of a lasting career who hopes for her music to become synonymous with a ‘beauty from the inside-out’ perspective.
Born Gabrielle Serene Varner, the ‘au naturel’ Los Angeles native was born into a life of music inspiration. Her parents are Mikelyn Roderick and Jimmy Varner, music songwriters and publishers with credits that include work with music aficionados like the late Barry White, Gerald Alston, Kool & the Gang and Will Downing.
After years of professional music education and training, Elle Varner released her debut album, “Perfectly Imperfect” (RCA Records), in August 2012. The album hit number four on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 33,000 copies in the first week of release. Varner co-wrote and produced the music for the album. Not bad for a teen trained under NYU’s Clive Davis Program of Recorded Music.
While she is now an adult artist working to spread her own wings in the music industry, Varner still relies on the expertise of her parents, who are included as background vocalists on her first album. She’s gained a fan base in a range of generations, with the most prominent being the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, with first daughters Sasha and Malia.
In a recent branding partnership, Varner has come together with Clear Scalp & Hair Beauty Therapy Ultra Shea. Prior to the 2013 Grammy Awards, Varner invited her fans to vote on her hairstyles prior to music’s biggest night on television. The singer shared a few candid shots of her behind-the-scenes process along with black celebrity stylist Oscar James. Varner also recently embarked upon a college tour which included HBCUs in the Atlanta University Center and Washington D.C.
Here’s my Q & A with Elle Varner:
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. Where you’re from and, you know, all that good stuff?
A: I’m from Los Angeles, by way of Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn now. I grew up in a musical household. I play a few instruments and I went to NYU to study music and music industry. And here I am now, really just a professional in my field that I wanted to do and enjoying that and sharing my music with the world.
Q: Let’s talk about your music and also the fact that you did grow up in a household full of music. Your debut album, “Perfectly Imperfect”, an adorable title. It was backed by your parents; they did some production and some background vocals. Talk to me about the evolution of “Perfectly Imperfect”.
A: “Perfectly Imperfect” is really my coming of age story. It’s like how I navigated through being a girl that was bullied a lot and picked on growing up in high school and not a lot of people believed in me, but I was very ambitious and I always went for what ever was the hardest thing that I could do was what I went for. And my parents just always encouraged me to go after whatever I wanted, no matter how crazy it was, how big it was. And to have them working on the album was just…really it kinda tied everything together. They’re such a big part of my life and so a part of my music as well.
Q: [Your music is] complex and you know you have a very eloquent voice. It’s soulful, but it’s relaxing. Those are just my adjectives for it. Can you describe your music in your own words?
A: My music is full of soul, it is thoughtful. It’s a little sarcastic. It’s honest. It’s playful and believable. That’s how I describe it.
Q: Ok, let’s talk about the songs, “Refill”, and “I Don’t Care.” Can you go inside the lyrics? I know there’s a cute story behind “Refill.”
A: The story behind “Refill” was, there’s a combination of a few things that I’ve been through during my dating years and I kind of put it in the video in the visual for the video. I tie a lot of those things in. But the song is just about a conversation with a stranger and the awkwardness of not knowing when it’s supposed to end and you just met this person but she could really sit there for hours and talk and maybe it’ll happen you know, you don’t know. So I left it open for interpretation.
Q: When someone asks you are you having fun, what’s your long version answer to that?
A: Oh absolutely! I mean I get to live life and then create a story that people want to hear about. I mean, it’s kind of a real crazy situation if you think about it, like if people care about your life and what you go through and what you have to say, so I have to keep it interesting. I have to live. I have to experience things then otherwise I have nothing to sing about. So I try to have as much fun as possible.
Q: Where do you hope to be in your career in like, let’s say, maybe 2 to 3 years?
A: In three years, I’d like to be opening the Grammy’s, touring all over the world, on my third or fourth album, either doing films. I just want to be at a very, very prime time in my career. And I really see that happening with the foundation I’ve been building and the relationships I’ve been building, and it’s really a reality for me and a dream.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about your team, as an artist, your home team and I think that would also bring us to Clear Ultra.
A: Your relationships are sometimes more important than your songs and anything else that you’re doing. If the people around you aren’t helping you to be seen and helping you to secure your foundation, then you’re kind of lost and with Clear Ultra Shea it works in two ways. One, you know they’re incredible for supporting an up-and-coming artist and with the concert series that I’ve done with Clear and for HBCUs, the Grammy’s and – on another note for my hair which has become almost as big as my music at this point, like ever since I’ve been using Clear Ultra Shea I have a dramatic difference in my hair so it’s something that’s worked just tremendously. I believe in the product, they believe in my music and it just works really well and it’s um important to have those relationships and to just have everything be good and positive and making some kind of difference you know.
Q: My last question to you, Elle: What means the most to you, as a person, as an artist, as someone in the limelight right now? What means the most to you?
A: Self-expression means the most to me. I think that every year I realize more and more how much that is the reason why I chose this job, why I say …I never wanna work… I can’t work for anybody. I want to, I have to sing, I have to write. It’s all for self-expression and art… it’s for me as essential as food and water so long as I can keep doing that, I will be good.
Q: What HBCUs were you working with?
A: We were in Atlanta or in DC – and it was just an event that brought all the women of these HBCUs in the surrounding areas to an event where we were talking about beauty that starts deeper and it just goes hand in hand with Clear Ultra Shay’s message,not only about hair but about a woman and strength and beauty and celebrating those women that are doing their thing at HBCUs. It’s awesome.
For more info on Elle Varner, visit to www.ellevarner.com.
Erica L. Taylor is a national producer of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a writer, host & actress in the Los Angeles, CA area. She has featured extensive coverage of Hollywood’s most elite annual celebrity events. For more information on her most recent work and for event bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.