Born to a jazz pianist and retail-clerk, Elif Dame of Amsterdam embraced creativity early. Influenced by Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and gospel, she evolved from beat tapes to eclectic alternative R&B. Amid battling depression, she paused after 2021, focusing on mental health. Resulting in the EP “Securely Detached,” it reflects reclaiming her life, prioritizing self, and reframing co-dependency. Leading with “Celexa,” addressing medication contemplation, her latest single “Killing It” delves into medication’s effects. GANZ-produced, it captivates with honeyed vocals and hypnotic melodies.
Your musical journey has been influenced by various genres and artists. Can you tell us more about how your musical interests evolved from your early inspirations to the eclectic form of alternative R&B you embrace today?
I’ve loved music all my life, my dad is a jazz musician so I grew up to him playing and arranging this genre. My mom had a huge collection of CD’s so I grew up with her listening to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Jacksons. One of her stand-out CD’s to me that I was personally obsessed with was Kelis’ “Milkshake” so that’s when I got into R&B. At that time I loved the Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera (her “Stripped” era, naturally). I got my first MP3 player when I was seven years old and my dad had put two or three songs on them, “Rock With You”. “ABC” and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson and I was completely mesmerised by his singing. When I was 12 I saw “Sister Act 2” on TV for the first time and Lauryn Hill’s performance of “His Eye Is On The Shadow” was so captivating to me that I got a little bit into gospel as well. As I grew into a teenager I dabbled more in Hip Hop – especially old school. I think throughout the years music served me as a means of finding and amplifying my identity, and since I never really fit in I tried on a LOT of genres in order to do that. Also I keep transforming as a person and the music I listen to in certain periods of my life reflects this change. I think this allowed me to accumulate a huge list of inspirations that I’m sure all shine through in the music I make. The great thing about R&B in my opinion is that it welcomes so many genre influences while still being able to maintain its core – which is a certain style of singing that comes natural to me.
Your upcoming EP, Securely Detached, reflects your journey of learning to prioritise your mental health and put yourself first. Could you share some specific experiences or moments that inspired the themes and content of this EP?
Of course! I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety basically all my life and I saw a certain therapist at the age of 8 and 12 but had to stop due to a conflict of interest. I then went a few years without but developed an eating disorder as a way of coping when I was sixteen. I went back into treatment and recovered from my ED when I was 18. Shortly after I started working in a nightclub and came into contact with alcohol, which was actually just my surrogate coping strategy for the eating disorder I thought I’d left in the past. When I was 22 I started getting panic attacks because of the drinking and lack of sleep so I quit the nightlife work and looked for another way out of my own pain, but also the pain of seeing one of the closest people in my family go through drug addiction. I started working full-time at a notaries office and focussed all of my free time on music. When I was 23 I got into my dream music school and finally felt happy but sadly the depression came back after half a year of attending that school. It’s very clear to me now that I’d always self-medicated without getting to the core of the problem. In the summer of 2020 I decided to get help, but I was waitlisted. In October of the same year my depression and the pandemic brought me dangerously close to suicide so that’s when I asked my health care provider for a short term solution and something to bridge my waitlisting period. This is when I got prescribed the antidepressant Celexa. I started medication at the end of October and released three songs that I’d made prior because I had a bit of a writer’s block. I decided to go on a hiatus because pouring myself into my career (working addiction, another coping strategy) contradicted what I had to do to get out of the depths of my depression.
Relieving the pressure was clearly all I needed to start writing again, because in march of 2021 I got sent a list of beats by Amsterdam producer GANZ and the lyrics and melody for “Killing It” poured out of me as I genuinely felt like I was doing so well. This sparked my hopes because it meant I was able to write again and so I was inspired to make an EP. I sketched the outline for the project and asked my friend and classmate at the time Pepeijn “Penchi” Koevoets to make it with me. The EP accidentally turned into an album though I guess (8 tracks, 3 skits?) but that’s cool. The working title for the project was “Going Through The E-motions”, because I felt that in order to recover I had to surrender to my feelings and learn to feel them and identify and regulate them while I was painstakingly waiting for treatment. I had to distance myself from my family because I have a compulsive need to save everyone but myself. I eventually changed the title of the project to “Securely Detached”, which is the title track that draws the perfect conclusion to the story which is “I don’t perfect, I progress”. Recovery is something that takes a lifetime of showing up for yourself every day and it’s about improvement, perfection is unattainable.
Going on a self-care hiatus to focus on your mental health must have been a significant decision. How did this break impact your creative process and your perspective on making music?
It taught me that as much as we like to romanticise the idea of the tortured artist, true creativity can flourish more often when we have our basic needs met. Though my depression gave me something to write about, it also kept me in bed without eating for days on end. It was a true obstacle and now I know I really don’t want to go back to that. I will always work my ass off because music gives me life but it also needs to be sustainable. This for me means rest, taking breaks, eating, sleeping, journaling, doing fun things, and providing myself with a stable income to keep a roof over my head.
“Celexa (Buy Me Time)” and “Killing It” are powerful tracks from your EP that touch on mental health and medication. Could you elaborate on the emotional journey behind these songs and how they reflect your personal experiences?
Thank you! You could translate the title of “Celexa (Buy Me Time)” into “antidepressants, please help me to live a little longer”. I really didn’t want to go on medication because of the stigma and stories I’d heard about going numb on them – which for me meant no writing material, but I also did not want to end up killing myself. Choosing to take antidepressants in spite of knowing they could pose a risk to my creativity was the first time I chose my own well being over everything else I thought was important. Luckily I was rewarded for this decision, because they helped AND I was still able to feel a lot. I wrote “Killing It” one evening while drinking wine in my apartment, because I was feeling so much better. I never allowed myself to take a load off, have a drink and chill out, so doing this again for the first time in years was something I wanted to commemorate and put into a song. It really is an anthem of relief after several difficult and tense years.
“Killing It” features collaborations with fellow Amsterdam artist GANZ. How did this collaboration come about, and what do you believe GANZ’s contributions brought to the song’s overall atmosphere?
GANZ was a teacher of mine in music school, and I liked his work from day one. His work reminded me of Kelela (whom I cut 4) and I thought his atmospheric electronic approach was cool because he taught a Hip Hop major. I think in year two he asked me to sing some random topline vocals for his own use and I basically hijacked one of his beats and made a whole song on it. He was gracious enough to let me have it and to let me expand on the production with a new pianist and the amazing guitarist/bassplayer Alan Aarts (also one of my teachers back then). I think what makes GANZ such a great producer is that he thinks outside the box, he originally mastered Bass music but allowed his style to expand into a mix of Bass, Hip Hop and R&B. He appreciates a lot of different styles and I think this makes a synergetic match. He contributed greatly because he mixed and mastered the project and sat with me through dozens of mixing sessions to make everything sound exactly how I wanted, which is something I’m incredibly grateful for.
Your music is known for its beautifully honest and vulnerable nature. What role does vulnerability play in your creative process, and how do you balance sharing personal stories while also maintaining a sense of artistic privacy?
I think what helps me is that I don’t feel shame for having these issues and I know I am just vocalising things that many people feel. I also want to get better and keeping things hidden won’t help my cause. Ugly things crawl in the dark, shedding light on my feelings helps me to understand and process them. It does take time though, because some things are too painful to immediately write about. I went through something recently that really knocked the breath out of me and I thought it would be too painful to share but I already wrote a few songs about it as I just can’t help it. Concerning the privacy of others, I don’t think I will ever name someone else but I’ll definitely make sure they know who I’m singing about. In everyday life I’m more of a private person and I don’t feel like people are entitled to know these things about me, music feels like a safe space. I guess that’s how I maintain a sense of privacy.
Your debut single garnered a significant number of streams, and your music is resonating with audiences worldwide. How does it feel to connect with listeners on such a deep and emotional level through your music?
Amazing! I think we all want the same things: love and connection, so to have a passion that allows for connection with strangers all around the world is a beautiful blessing. I can’t wait to see it expand.
The EP seems to touch on themes of family, relationships, addiction, and trauma. How do you find the courage to explore these sensitive topics in your music, and what do you hope listeners will take away from your songs?
I’ve gone through a lot of therapy so these topics aren’t new to me and neither is reflecting a lot on them. Music has always been my outlet and like I said before it helps me understand things better. I don’t really know what else I’d write about, like I could make songs about love but I’ve never been in it so what value would that bring? I could write about shaking my ass and though I would love that I only do that on occasion. Making music is so much fun and it’s what I want to do and the things I write about are simply my truth and my life. I often listen to music to feel less alone and more understood and to me there’s nothing like hearing an artist sing your exact specific feeling, I hope my music can do this for others too. I also hope my music can spread the message that you can embrace the ugly without it consuming you.
Throughout your career, how has music helped you cope with depression, anxiety, and other challenges you’ve faced? Have there been particular songs or musical moments that played a crucial role in your healing process?
All of them. Writing lyrics is nothing more than journaling and making it rhyme. Furthermore when you release a song, you quite literally release a piece of your story aka you let it go. It’s completely healing and it also turns the things I hate about myself into pieces of music I can be proud of.
As an artist, how do you see your music evolving in the future, and what are your aspirations for your future?
I hope I can truly become a master of this craft. Spend 10.000 hours writing, 10.000 performing and singing. I just want to get incredibly good. I hope I get to do a COLORS show one day in the near future. I want to build a loyal audience, refine my sound, collaborate with fellow musicians, tour and travel the world, create visuals and make art that will be remembered. I would also love to write for other artists maybe and help them tell their stories. I want to be able to live and breathe music and be completely free (financially and time-wise) to create what I want to create.