Singer-songwriter and actress Elle Winter seemed to have it all together by the time she was a teenager. She broke out on Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing” and embarked on a national tour at only 14 years old, then nabbed her first-ever film role alongside Susan Sarandon and Naomi Watts in 2015’s Three Generations. Following the independent release of her debut single “One More” in 2018, she was named Elvis Duran’s Artist of the Month, KIIS FM’s Next Up Artist, and was met with a record deal. On top of it all, Winter is currently enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania with no intention of slowing down her flourishing career.
But now, at 23, Winter’s new single “Help” indicates a newfound change in perspective. She had grown accustomed to a level of perfectionism that saw her forgetting her right to be human, and the retro-pop track is a reminder that growing up means learning how to admit when things aren’t going so well. The Untitled Magazine spoke to Elle Winter about “Help,” the music that inspires her, and turning vulnerability into empowerment.
Growing up in New York City, you got your start in music before you even hit your teens. What inspired your interest in music so early? Did you come from a musical family background?
I realized early on I loved music and performing for live audiences. I don’t come from a musical family background, but my mom says I started singing and talking at the same time. Growing up in NYC and experiencing firsthand all the city has to offer in the arts definitely inspired me to explore my innate creativity. I was able to take acting, singing, and dance classes from such talented people at a young age. Most importantly, I was fortunate to meet a super talented bandleader/musical director who took me under his wing when I was 9, and we began writing and recording music together.
Who are your biggest musical influences, and why?
I am super inspired by the strong female artists I grew up listening to like Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne, Beyoncé, and Britney Spears, but I am also very influenced by the women of the ‘60s like Lesley Gore and girl groups like The Ronettes and The Supremes. These artists really broke boundaries and revolutionized the way in which women could use their voices and tell their stories. I have also always been inspired by the music of Stevie Wonder. I have loved his music since I was a little girl and feel I have learned so much and grown as an artist by listening to his music.
How would you describe your sound in your own words?
I would describe my sound as anthemic and uplifting with a real retro quality that incorporates a lot of elements of the music I grew up listening to; live instruments, rich harmonies, and concepts that feature honest, vulnerable storytelling in an empowering way.
You were on Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing,” which had you touring and performing all over the U.S. by the age of 14. What was that like for you? Can you share some highlights of these early experiences?
It was a truly incredible experience that not only catapulted my career but taught me so many valuable life lessons of how to handle responsibility and juggle priorities from a young age. Being able to tour my original music across the country, do televised performances, meet so many amazing artists, and be a part of the Disney community were a few of the highlights. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I was so blessed to receive Radio Disney’s continued support of me and my music.
Speaking of performing, you’ve performed for the likes of the Today Show, KIIS FM’s Jingle Ball, and on tour with Chloe x Halle. Can you share some favorite experiences from touring and performing live?
It’s been very fulfilling to have performed at so many great events and with so many amazingly talented artists. I have met so many interesting people and visited so many different places because of this experience, and I will always cherish those memories. My favorite part of touring and performing live are the connections I made with both the other artists, such as Chloe x Halle, and all the incredible fans I met along the way. Live shows allow me to see firsthand the impact my music has on others as I watch people sing my songs back to me or come up to me after a show to tell me how it resonates with them and has helped them through whatever it is they are going through.
After you independently released “One More” in 2018, you were named Elvis Duran’s Artist of the Month and KIIS FM’s Next Up Artist. As an independent artist at the time, what did that do for your career and your confidence? Can you share the inspiration behind the song and why you think it resonated with audiences?
I feel so fortunate to have received these accolades with the release of my first single. At that time, I was juggling my music career while being in school, so it was rewarding to be acknowledged for all the hard work I had put in. Following the release of “One More” I began working on my first full EP that led to me signing a record deal. I recorded “One More” in London with the incredible songwriter Dave Stewart (Jonas Brothers, BTS) and producer Mati Schwartz. It was my first time working abroad, and I came to London with this feeling of starting a new chapter in my life after graduating from high school and just having broken up with my boyfriend. I wanted to be open and honest in this new body of work. I decided, instead of writing another break up song, I would talk about the possibility of meeting someone new and the excitement that comes with that. The song speaks of the coincidences in life and that perhaps things really do happen for a reason, and these lyrics really resonated with people.
Tell us about your debut EP Yeah, No – what inspired the title? How did you approach the songwriting on the EP?
My EP Yeah, No is a project that truly means so much to me. I wrote the title track after a breakup where my ex-boyfriend kept calling me to check in. I consider myself an independent person, and I felt so frustrated by his behavior because he knew me well enough to know I would be fine on my own. I had written Yeah, No as my way to reclaim my narrative. I approach my songwriting in an open and honest manner and write about what is important to me based on my own experiences, so the songs on the Yeah, No EP really embody this message of feeling empowered to control your own destiny by being independent and true to yourself.
For some of your new material you are working with Kizzo and Autumn Rowe. Can you share some insight into these collaborations? How did you start working together and what are you working on?
It has been so incredible to collaborate with Kizzo and Autumn on my upcoming EP. They are so talented and truly helped me bring out my most authentic and genuine work to date. I have actually known Kizzo since I was 14 years old, but we hadn’t had the opportunity to work together until I moved to LA last year. Autumn joined us following the initial session, and the three of us in the studio felt so right. We joke that the timing was so perfect that it felt like the stars aligned for this EP. The three of us spent a lot of time together in and outside the studio getting to know each other too. I have learned so much from the two of them!
What can you share about the inspiration for your new track “Help,” which released on October 13th?
“Help” was inspired by me wanting to write a song about something personal I had never written about. Starting out in the music industry at such a young age, I was always praised and rewarded for appearing put together and perfect at all times. As I got older, this perfectionism manifested as me being the shoulder for everyone else to lean on and feeling like I couldn’t reach out to others when I needed support. Writing “Help” is my way of saying that I don’t want to live that way any longer.
You’ve said that the single is representative of a turning point in your life. What was that turning point, and how did it allow you to find strength in emotional vulnerability?
I recently moved to LA, began working on a new music project, and even started a new relationship. I realized this was truly a new chapter in my life and I could either choose to continue to neglect my own needs and cater to everyone else in my life, or I could put myself first. I chose the latter. In doing so, I found so much strength in this vulnerability, finally living my life truthfully and unapologetically.
What inspired the look and vibe of the music video?
We shot the video at an incredible house in Palm Springs. I was so inspired by the colorful rooms and the mid-century modern aesthetic! We wanted the video to capture a retro feel while also incorporating modern elements – similar to my music. The video really reflects the message of the song, featuring two versions of me trapped in this house and showing me facing the internalized pressure I imposed upon myself, ultimately escaping the house, and therefore freeing myself from my inner critic.
As you’ve been on the rise in music, you’ve also maintained a steady stream of acting projects. Your first major role was alongside Susan Sarandon, Naomi Watts, and Elle Fanning in Three Generations. Can you tell us what that experience was like?
It was an amazing experience to be on the set of a movie with that level of talent. I learned so much from this role and really enjoyed getting to know the cast and the crew. It was filmed in my hometown of NYC, and it was truly a surreal experience leaving the set to go back to school once we finished. This experience definitely has me looking forward to working on more acting projects in the future.
Will we see you on the big screen again soon, or is music your main focus for now?
I hope so! Now that I am living in LA, I am able to focus on acting again.
On top of your creative career, you’ve been enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania since 2019. What are you studying? How do you balance school with your work as a performer?
I am studying cinema and communications. UPenn has been so supportive of me and my career as they allow me to continue to take courses online while living in LA and working on my music. Since I got my start in the industry at 13, balancing school and my career had always been nonnegotiable, so I learned at an early age how to prioritize my time.
Do you have any dream collaborations? Who are they, and why do you want to work with them?
I would love to collaborate with Meghan Trainor! Her fierce, sassy, yet honest and authentic lyrics are so empowering, and I love her energy and her music. My new EP is inspired by the music of the ‘60s and I think no one has brought that music back to life better than Meghan Trainor.
What else can we look forward to from you? Any other new performances or releases on the horizon?
I have lots of new music coming out in the coming months and some live performances on the horizon as well! I can’t wait to share it all!