Right around the time the chorus of album opener “Who Do You Love” hits, something magical happens. A moment arrives when the tumblers deep within your subconscious begin to align, when you suddenly realize that you’re listening to a tune you’ve known for decades, albeit one that’s been so radically reimagined as to become brand new again. It’s in that moment, as the warm rush of recognition meets the exhilarating thrill of discovery, that you fall in love with Elise LeGrow and her debut album, ‘Playing Chess.’
Produced by S-Curve Records founder Steve Greenberg, R&B legend Betty Wright, and studio wizard Mike Mangini (the same trio of Grammy-winners behind Joss Stone’s twelve-million-selling ‘Soul Sessions’ album), ‘Playing Chess’ is drawn entirely from the catalog of Chicago’s iconic Chess label, home to pioneers like Muddy Waters, Etta James, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry among others.
Rather than faithfully recreate such revered material, though, LeGrow’s interpretations completely strip the tracks of their previous identities, transporting them to a world where the past and present are inextricably intertwined. A mix of beloved classics and obscure rarities, the album’s eleven tracks showcase LeGrow’s stunning voice and wildly inventive arrangements, which manage to collapse the whole of pop music history down into a singular point in which any song and genre can come together in an endless array of possibilities.
MiLLENNiAL caught up with Elise after her intimate performance at No Name in Los Angeles to learn what inspired her unique sound.
You have an uncanny retro sound with a modern twist. Where do you draw your inspiration and how has that influenced your music?
I’ve been listening to music from the ’50s and ’60s my whole life. My parents always had music on at home, and then as I got older I did a lot of digging myself. My new record features music written during that era and my own music is also heavily influenced by it.
How did you get your start as a singer/songwriter?
I got my very first singing jobs doing radio jingles for a music production outfit in Toronto when I was 15. But things really started to take shape in 2010 when I began working with Sony/ATV Music Publishing and was connected with writers way out of my league. Since then songwriting has become a much bigger focus in my life and my career.
What has been a defining moment in your career?
Working with Betty Wright on my new album. She is a soul legend with so much skill, wisdom and experience, and it was really an honor having her lend her expertise.
Tell us about your forthcoming debut Playing Chess. What themes or messages does it convey? And does the title have anything to do with blues pioneer Marshall Chess?
There is a lot about love, loss and regret on this album. The songs featured are all from the famous Chicago-based Chess Records label, so it was an amazing experience meeting Marshall Chess at one of my recent concerts in New York. A bunch of us had a big dinner with him after and he regaled us with tales about Chuck Berry and other music greats. What a night.
Who does your music typically attract and what is your hope for expanding that audience?
I love collaborating with other creative people and that’s a great way to reach new audiences. Sometimes I even get to meet a hero of mine in the process, like recently when I got to meet Mike Smith (Bubbles) on the ‘Trailer Park Boys’ podcast #119! He asked about my cat (Olive!) and even played one of my original songs live with me. So many dreams coming true in one day.