Ansel Elgort On Balancing Music and Movies

Niall Flynn /
Apr 13, 2017 / Music

You know who Ansel Elgort is.

Of course you do. The question isn’t whether you know him or not – it’s where you know him from. Ansel Elgort from The Fault In Our Stars? Sure. Ansel Elgort from the The Divergent series? Damn well could be. Perhaps, maybe, it’s Ansel Elgort from the latest, high-octane trailer for Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver? Wouldn’t bet against that one, either. Regardless of where you trace him back to, Ansel’s an important part of Hollywood’s next gen – and Wright’s forthcoming flick looks set to only increase his stock further.

But, among the glitz and glamour of tinsel town hullaballoo, there’s another Ansel Elgort you might know – an Ansel Elgort that doesn’t immediately jump to mind: Ansel Elgort from music.

You’d have to have known me for a long time,” he laughs, with extra modesty. But, to an extent, he’s right. When you think of Ansel, you think of movies – that’s just how it is. As is the way with modern polymaths, whatever comes first tends to stick and for Ansel, what came first was acting. But, since 2014, the 23-year-old has been writing, producing and releasing music, firstly under the DJ moniker Ansølo, then as an artist – and singer – in his own right.

It’s always been what I’ve done. Up until I was eighteen, all I did was musicals. I was on-stage all the time, singing and dancing. Music was what I did – vocal lessons twice a week, dance lessons five times a week I started teaching myself the piano cos I really wanted to be able to play ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. From there I just started playing more and more songs and writing them too.

It just so happened that [becoming a massive movie star] was the way it happened. I had people from an agency see me in the play, then I was in movies, then the rest is what you have seen. I guess people who knew me when I was younger would always have thought I’d have been on-stage, singing and dancing. It’s probably no surprise to them, but to everyone else, it probably is.”

Ansel Elgort On Balancing Music and Movies

While many are quick to roll their eyes at the prospect of an actor ‘giving music a go’, Ansel’s situation is a little different. “I guess I’ve kind of always felt like a musician,” he admits, when asked whether he has to switch between two different modes. While the success he found with acting certainly wasn’t an accident (I mean, look at him), it was never intended as a usurper of his musical interest. If anything, his on-screen career as acted as an enabler.

Acting is a weird thing. I don’t feel as though it’s a full-time job. When I first got started people started telling me that the way you’ll be defined is how you spend your spare time.

But they work hand-in-hand. Even when I’m on set I’m thinking about music. Like when I was working on Baby Driver, I worked on a lot of music when I was there on that set. It’s a big heist action movie, so there’s a lot of downtime when they’re shooting the action stuff, or when they’re setting up the next thing. You might have an hour in your trailer. What do you do during that time? Some people read books, some people take naps, but the wonderful thing about the modern studio is that it’s right on your computer, so I make music there. Whether it’s production or writing something.”

In essence, he’s a modern, multifaceted creative, though he’d probably never admit to it. With his articulate, drawn-out responses and thoughtful politeness, he’s not your archetypal, extroverted popstar – nor would you want him to be. Despite his stardom, there’s a recognisably human quality to Ansel (it’s part of what makes him such a draw on-screen) that sets him apart from other would-be renaissance men. You believe what he tells you.

In essence, he’s a modern, multifaceted creative, though he’d probably never admit to it. With his articulate, drawn-out responses and thoughtful politeness, he’s not your archetypal, extroverted popstar – nor would you want him to be. Despite his stardom, there’s a recognisably human quality to Ansel (it’s part of what makes him such a draw on-screen) that sets him apart from other would-be renaissance men. You believe what he tells you.

So, about the music. It’s good. Really good, actually. Playful, powered-up electronic pop that gives a spotlight to the young artist’s vocals. “It’s pop-orientated, but the productions are all sort of pushing the sound of pop production,” he explains. “I started as a dance producer and felt like dance music was always a step ahead of pop production, so I’m trying still to stay one step ahead of pop production. I’m making future pop music.”

He cites producers rather than artists as his biggest influencers (Daft Punk, Skrillex, Flume) and maintains that “good songwriting” hasn’t really ever changed. “I can still look to Freddie Mercury or Jamiroquai or The Beegees or Earth Wind and Fire or Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder. If you put out a great Stevie Wonder line with a slightly updated production it would be a hit record. I don’t feel like songwriting has changed that much, it’s production that changes. I guess I look to modern producers and older songwriters.”

And for the critics – those that write him off as another Hollywood son with too much downtime?

Of course. They find anything they can insult. That’s just people, I’m finding that. Even as an actor, people like to say ‘his career is finished, he’s done, he’s not even acting anymore’. People want to criticise cos it makes them feel better – that’s just the way it is.

There was a lot of negativity coming in all at once and I realised because there were a lot of articles written about the video. These articles were giving traffic to the video – people might not have heard of me, or maybe only knew me from Fault In Our Stars and didn’t know that I was doing music. All these people decided they were going to be negative. It’s an easy target I guess – I’m dancing around in a leather outfit and I’m the guy from that movie so I’m a easy target.

The video in question is for latest track ‘Threat’, a sexed-up, racy number starring Ansel alongside his girlfriend Violetta Komyshan. At the time of writing, it has almost 6.8 million views – and 12,446 comments.

I looked at the comments and they definitely brought me down at first. I think it’s a matter of just experiencing it and understanding it. I’ve gotten one or two negative comments here and there – this was just something I had to understand. It happens. Okay. There are millions of people who follow me and who are positive all the time. There are a few thousand who hide behind profiles and say things. It’s not discouraging me from making more music or anything. If anything, it makes me think I need to get it together and put it out, let me people know I’m serious about it.

You better believe he’s serious too. There’s more music to come – and a talk of a live show on the way. It feels like he’s just getting started.

The most positive reinforcement I ever get from my fanbase is when I post a video of me playing piano and singing. Even if I post something about Fault In Our Stars, or something like that,” he says. While Ansel Elgort from all of those movies is going nowhere, Ansel Elgort from music doesn’t plan on staying in his shadow, either.

I have a lot of different music and I really want to finish it all up and get it all out. I’m also really looking forward to doing a live show. It’s gonna be a lot of hard work and it’s gonna take me some time.

It’ll be fun, though.”

Ansel Elgort On Balancing Music and Movies

Get Volume #17 here.

 

Words by Niall Flynn

Find Your
Closest Store

Use our store finder to locate your closest tmrw stockist.

Get a Copy of Our Printed Magazine

£9.99 (Excl. Delivery)

Take a look at our shop for current and back catalogue volumes to get yourself a copy of our printed magazine now. 2

2 Products avaliable as long as stocks last.