Sydney's Elizabeth Maniscalco – otherwise known as Elizabeth Rose – has traversed a fascinating growth arc since arriving on the scene back in 2012 with her stunning electronic pop masterclass "Ready". Quickly climbing up the Triple J airplay charts and into Australian music lover's hearts with irresistible hits like "The Good Life", "Sensibility" and "Out Of Step", the multi-disciplinary pop powerhouse has evolved from a one-woman band behind a stack of keyboards to a singing, dancing extraordinaire, perfectly at home onstage and constantly ready to challenge herself creatively.
Last week, Elizabeth unleashed her hotly-anticipated debut album 'Intra' (out via Inertia). Featuring singles like the thumping "Shoulda Coulda Woulda", the politically-charged marriage equality anthem "Division" and the impassioned Remi collab "Playing With Fire", the thirteen-track LP is an eclectic mix of everything that's played a part in her exciting development as a beloved local popstar.
We took some time out with Elizabeth on the launch day of 'Intra' to unpack the process and themes behind the album, and to find out how she feels as she's gearing up for the next stage of her burgeoning career.
Best Before: Hey Elizabeth! Happy 'Intra' launch day! How are you feeling?
Elizabeth Rose: Thank you. I'm feeling amazing! I feel like I'm bringing a little newborn baby to show all the relatives. *Laughs*
What does today look like for you?
ER: Just a lot of press and interviews and dropping into places to say hello. I'm about to head over to the venue for my launch party tonight to set up, so I'm really looking forward to that.
Are you excited to be playing new material?
ER: Very excited. I've had a bit of a chance to play the singles here and there, but I'm debuting one new song tonight. I've got a choir lined up for my live shows, actually. I'm so excited about that.
Let's dive into the process and themes behind 'Intra'. I picked up on a real '90s RnB influence across the album, particularly in the songwriting and the melodies. Was that a purposeful choice or point of reference for you?
ER: Yeah. I mean, I didn't sit down and write with that exactly in mind, but it always automatically comes through in my songwriting because I am – and always will be – obsessed with that era of music. There are some other tracks on there that are quite dancey, but my melodies are usually embedded with that sound because it's all that I listen to most of the time.
There's just a lot of anxiety behind social media in general. I think it even translates for people who aren't in the public eye – normal people who find it hard to show their true selves online. Social media is entirely universal, and that can be scary.
One song that particularly stood out for me as '90s-inspired was "Same Old Song". Can you elaborate on the process behind that track?
ER: I wrote "Same Old Song" probably around halfway through the process for 'Intra'. The lyrics are about me being frustrated with all the closed doors I faced earlier in my career, when I didn't have a lot of music out, and no one really know what I was all about. I used to email artists that I really wanted to work with, but a lot of them would dismiss me without even listening to what I sent through. The song sort of says, "I get it – you're too busy for me." *Laughs* It's a cheeky little one.
There's actually quite a few cheeky, no-bullshit songs on 'Intra'. Your latest single "Playing With Fire" is angsty as hell.
ER: *Laughs* It really is, but it's funny because I actually originally wrote that to pitch to a K-pop band. Because of that, there were no inhibitions for "Playing With Fire" at all. I just wanted to make it as fun and energetic as possible.
So there's no personal motivation behind the song – you're not out to burn a former lover?
ER: *Laughs* No, not for this one, at least. When I wrote it, I was in a serious relationship, and it had nothing to do with me. I guess I can apply it now, though. Now it all makes sense...
How did Remi end up rapping on the track?
ER: I've been a fan of his for so long, so I just hit him online. He ended up really liking it, and he sent back a demo within two hours. Of course, he completely nailed it. It was way too easy.
Were there any tracks or collaborations on 'Intra' that didn't come about as seamlessly? Were there any 'struggle songs'?
ER: Not really in the writing process. There was a lot of back and forth on "In 3's". I worked with a duo called Damn Moroda on that song. It was great working with them, but in the end, the production didn't fit the track as I'd envisioned it. We eventually got there, but we were hesitant to include it. We took it to the label, and they were adamant that we put it on the record. I'm glad that I stuck out with it.
What about a song like "Anxiety"? It's a beautifully honest track. The lyrics "On air how do I sound? / On print how do I look?" are particularly striking. Is that a really personal track for you?
ER: It is, actually. A lot of people who aren't musicians or performers don't know what really happens behind the scenes, or understand the pressure that comes with putting yourself in the spotlight. A lot of the time, it's really exciting and rewarding, and you feel good about your success. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming. You know how people on the internet these days can be straight up ruthless.
There's hordes of keyboard warriors out there.
ER: *Laughs* Exactly. There's just a lot of anxiety behind social media in general. I think it even translates for people who aren't in the public eye – normal people who find it hard to show their true selves online. Social media is entirely universal, and that can be scary.
I think I've learnt that if I want to give my best, I can't do it all. I used to be a one-woman band, and that was quite stressful. I've given up control of the whole thing, and that's been so much more rewarding.
It's been a while now since you dropped "Division" as a single. What spurred you on to write a song about marriage equality? Were there any personal experiences or views that encouraged you to speak up?
ER: I just think it's so stupid that Australia is still stuck on that issue. I thought it needed to be addressed through music. I'd wanted to write about it for a long time, and I thought we'd arrived at the right time to talk about it. When the song came out, there were all these developments happening in parliament, and then Marriage Equality Australia got on board, and we partnered up. I just felt a genuine need to voice my opinion.
Have you had people contact you and respond to the message behind "Division"?
ER: I have, actually. I've had a lot of people contact me privately to tell me what "Division" has done for them, or what it means to them. I've had messages saying that it's helped them to voice their opinions, or express where they're coming from. It was actually really sad, though – this guy reached out to me on Twitter recently and told me that his own mother verbally abuses him for living as an openly gay man. He said that his mum doesn't let him listen to my music. Seeing things like that reminds me that we still have a long way to go here. I wrote back to him and told him to turn it up louder. *Laughs*
I can't believe that's even a thing – let alone a thing in this day and age.
ER: It's sad. There's a lot of backwards things happening here.
On 'Intra', a lot of your lyrics are direct and straight-up. You don't beat around the bush. It's like you're saying, "This is exactly what I mean. This is what I think, and this is how I'm feeling. Deal with it."
ER: That's exactly what I wanted the whole album to be, so I'm glad. I think it's really important nowadays to just say what you mean. People are there to listen to it. "Division" is an example of that.
It's been a few years now since you released your first single "Ready" all the way back in 2012. What have you learnt about touring and playing live since then?
ER: I think I've learnt that if I want to give my best, I can't do it all. I used to be a one-woman band, and that was quite stressful. I've given up control of the whole thing, and that's been so much more rewarding. I can get into it so much more. I have a wonderful keyboardist who plays everything I used to play, and she takes care of the computer and the general schematics of the show too. It allowed me to dance and move and properly connect with my audience, instead of hiding behind the keyboard.
Is there a golden slice of advice you would give to an artist just starting out in the electronic pop world?
ER: Don't overthink it. And open as many doors as you can.
Even if people keep shutting them in your face?
ER: Yeah. That should spur you on to keep opening even more!
Maybe they could write a song about it one day and put it on their debut album too.
ER: It worked for me! *Laughs*
You can purchase 'Intra' through iTunes right here.
Elizabeth is heading out on a national tour in support of 'Intra' – purchase your tickets through her official website.