el mar
credit: Ken Grand-Pierre

EXCLUSIVE: CelebMix chats with singer-songwriter El Mar

El Mar, aka Joey Primero, is a Brooklyn based singer-songwriter who is destined for greatness.

Taking on the world one song at a time, the artist has already proved her versatility through the release of ‘Just My Body’, ‘Drowning’, and ‘You’d Know Today’. Each track has been taken from her forthcoming studio album which is set to be released later this year. Having already covered themes such as commitment, women’s rights and dealing with a quarter life crisis, the album is set to be a truly personal offering from El Mar.

We spoke to El Mar about her ‘mystical mermaid rock’ sound, her recent releases, why she’s inspired by the likes of Selena and The Cure, and so much more.

el mar
credit: Sachyn Mital

Thank you for your time today! How has 2017 been treating you so far?

Of course! Thank you for talking to me! 2017 has been wild so far, but all good things. Minus the state of our country, but that’s a whole other issue I’ll do my best to avoid. ;)

You describe your sound as “mystical mermaid rock” – for anyone who’s yet to discover El Mar, what does that entail?

I think I was getting a little crafty with that description because I like the sound of it, but really I pull from folk influences and old school classic rock a la Fleetwood Mac. My friend and amazing band mate Paige Borden also throws in some ethereal vibes to it all when she adds in her harmonies. Lyrically, I just try to write what I know, what’s been happening or on my mind and be has honest as possible. I never really force songs out. They come and I hope to catch them.

We love your latest offering, ‘You’d Know Today’.  Can you tell us about the song and the inspiration behind it?

“You’d Know Today” is actually the first song I ever wrote on the ukulele about two years ago. This song really boils down to marriage. Are we ready? Do you want it? Is that where this is headed? It’s somewhat of an ultimatum, too. The song really evolved into what it is now once the band got together. Fred Sladkey plays guitar and is also our sort of musical director and he did some really cool things on this one with our bassist and my dear friend, Ryan Gleason. Elliott Klien did the crazy guitar licks you hear throughout, he’s based in LA, so he’s not able to play with us as often anymore but we’re so happy he was represented on the record. Shawn Crowder played drums, and he’s always so great about limiting himself and really stepping in when he needs to. He’s always thoughtful and does what’s best for the song as a whole, which is an amazing quality to find in a drummer.

You’ve also released ‘Drifting’ and ‘Just My Body’. Which is your favourite out of the three releases so far and why?

It’s so hard for me to choose a favorite because they all represent different chapters and emotions in my life. However, I was very excited about releasing “Just My Body” last Fall because of the political climate in the world. It’s about women’s rights, specifically abortion, it’s about having our voices heard and being able to choose to do whatever we want with our bodies. Ya know, kinda how men do. I also love it because it’s so fun to perform, it’s my rock’n’roll moment.

We’re eagerly anticipating your debut album – what can we expect from it?

Thank you! I’m so ready to share it. The record covers a lot of topics and pulls from all sorts of influences: rock, folk, Americana, even some alt-country moments I’m told. I think it captures what El Mar is and exactly what you’d hear at one of our live shows. I was feeling more confident in myself and didn’t want to layer vocals. It’s not filtered. I wanted it to sound like me. This is my voice, raw, without hiding behind anything.

What inspired the album?

Honestly, this record sums up my time in New York City. I moved here in 2010, with the dream and drive of being a struggling artist. After a few months, I got bogged down, worrying about finances, worrying about failure and not having a real plan B. I was lucky enough to land a job in music publicity, and then that sort of took over my entire life and I didn’t play music for about 5 years, but I kept writing. These songs are about giving up, regret, and just finding myself again. I worked with amazing artists when I was working in PR, but it always felt like I wasn’t giving my own art a chance. It was a very tricky spot to be in, and I was actually quite depressed. I’d cry often and just think…wow, maybe I should put some of this hard work and all of this time into my own dreams. I eventually quit with no plan whatsoever, and finished this record and have been playing a lot of shows. Things have really changed in the best way. It also touches on love, abortion, and just an array of issues that come up when you’re a 20-something. Doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but so much changes between the ages of 20-27. 

How did you find the songwriting and recording process?

It was very peaceful and therapeutic. I usually write alone and then play the final songs for Fred, and then he helps me put together a rough demo to send to the rest of the band. We recorded this album all over. Vocals were done in my Brooklyn apartment. Drum and bass were done in a basement apartment in Williamsburg. Guitars were done in our apartment and at MSR Studios in Manhattan before they closed down. A few of these songs were also written on Cape Cod, and started off as poems, so it was fun to set them to music.

Can you let us in on your favourite lyric that you’ve written?

That’s a tough one! One song on this record that I’m particularly proud of is called “Heavy Hand.” It’s written in the third person but it’s really me just talking to myself while I was in a very dark place. It opens with, “You were dealt a heavy hand, you have fallen on your face, were your dreams created so you would stick around? I don’t know, but I hope that you do.”

You’re based in Brooklyn – how has your surroundings influenced you musically and as a person?

There are so many great artists/musicians in Brooklyn, and so many shows to see of all the time. Checking out live bands definitely pushes me to grow as a performer and step out of my comfort zone a bit. It’s a very creative community, so someone is always raising the bar, which helps me push myself more and aim higher and strive to make better and more interesting art.

Some of your musical influences include The Cure, Stevie Nicks, Selena and Janis Joplin. What is it about these artists that inspires you?

They are all so unique and were/are not afraid to do their own thing. I also love musicians that have style and their own distinct aesthetic. Growing up, Selena was my first idol. When she passed away, my grandparents and aunt literally drove me to Texas to go to the cemetery and her house and boutique. I actually got to meet Chris Perez, her husband! The Cure changed my life and helped me find myself as a teen after my grandmother, who I was very close to, passed away. I listened to the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album thousands of times. I love Robert Smith so much. Stevie Nicks is pretty much life goals and my ultimate queen. She’s one of the best songwriters ever. She’s just phenomenal. I respect her so much. She’s just a rock’n’roll legend. As for Janis, she taught me so much about singing and just letting go and getting lost in the music. They all hold a special place in my heart, and hopefully, it comes through in the music.

Do you have any live shows coming up that you’d like to tell us about?

We just played a fun show at Rockwood Music Hall in the city, but no shows lined up for now. Hoping to do an east coast run this Fall once the record is out!

What else can we expect from you between now and the end of the year?

The album will be released soon, and then I want to get back to recording ASAP. I have some new songs I’m so psyched to record. I’d love to put out a EP by the end of the year, too! And of course, lots and lots of more shows.

Thank you to El Mar! Keep up to date with the singer’s journey on Facebook.

Let us know your thoughts on El Mar by tweeting us @CelebMix

Featured Image: Ken Grand-Pierre


Written by Katrina Rees

I'm Katrina, or Kat to pretty much everyone. I'm an editor for CelebMix, a content writer, a boyband lover and an all round music fanatic.
Twitter: @lifeofkatrina
Email: katrinanaomirees@gmail.com