People go, places change, nothing stays still. It was a concept that weighed heavily on singer-songwriter Elliot Moss' mind as he watched his friends move on around him whilst he stayed still working on his debut album, Highspeeds.
Three years on, and the 21-year-old multi-instrumentalist songwriter and producer has time now firmly on his side. Highspeeds was released in the US on Grand Jury in May and has seen Elliot hotly-tipped by The Fader and SPIN, support Cold War Kids and play the acclaimed FADER Fort SXSW showcase.
The momentum of Highspeeds is now only set to step up as the album is due for release in the UK on PIay It Again Sam on 25th September. It ’ s a breathtakingly emotive record that has Elliot effortlessly drawing on electronic, jazz and ambient vibes to create a truly immersive soundscape. This mélange is made only the more complete by Elliot’s rich vocals awash in a soul beyond his young years. Highspeeds is a debut that sits comfortably in the company of Bon Iver, Chet Faker, Washed Out and James Blake.
Elliot grew up in the sleepy town of Mamaroneck, just outside New York City. The third generation in a family of musicians and artists, Elliot was destined to become a musician. He started learning guitar at an early age, and later picked up drums to become “a part of the club.” Writing his first song at the tender age of 13, he quickly graduated to playing in bands in high school mainly in order to understand the dynamic of playing with others, which informed his own songwriting.
It was in his sophomore year of high school that the first seeds of Highspeeds were really sown by Elliot in a stroke of genius. He would spend time in his bedroom studio fleshing out the lyrics he had looping in his head all day, or laying down guitar tracks, programming beats and recording overdubs.
He’d also use the time to focus on making instruments and toying with equipment. “When I’m writing songs I hardly spend any time fiddling with knobs or playing with pedals” he says. “But, when the time comes to cash in on all of that experimenting, I can finally use the cool echo thing I figured out, for instance, or some other trick that happened while messing around.”
Most impressively, he saved up the cash earned from designing websites to build his own home studio to record the album, including customizing his own modular synthesizer. “I got a friend of mine to help me with the harder wiring aspects of it” Elliot explains. “It’s core is a vintage synthesizer called an ‘SEM’ and I built all of the panels and graphics that house the modules, it’s pretty extensively patched out. You can go to strange places with it, for sure.”
Collectively the twelve tracks on Highspeeds superimpose themes of hope and loss over powerful, repetitive rhythms. It's an atmosphere Elliot says was born from watching his friends move away while he remained static. “Everyone was moving on, doing their own thing … going off to college or traveling,” he says. “I felt like everyone was moving faster than I was, because all I was doing was sitting here making music.”
Opener and title track, ‘Highspeeds’, echoes this sentiment perfectly as Elliot’s celestial vocals methodically repeat the refrain, “you're traveling highspeeds and you’re fast, too fast to chase anymore ” to a lulling ambient beat and swilling orchestration.
The sensuously soulful jazz of ‘Slip’ disguises a mournful lament to a friend as Elliot’s voice, steeped in a maturity beyond his years, sings “where’s the light I used to know?” to brooding brass accompaniment. ‘Slip’ came together very quickly. “I have this old Pianet (a piano that Hohner made for a while) that’s sort of out-of-tune and I’d just been playing with this harmonizer effect,” Elliot recalls. “I started singing. 30 minutes or so and the song is written.”
When Elliot originally self-released the album online at 19, he had very modest ambitions. “I hoped to have some people hear it and I figured maybe this is something I could do as a fun creative outlet in my life" he says. Now in light of Highspeeds’ acclaim, his creative ambition has flourished as he hopes to follow in the footsteps of musicians like David Byrne and Damon Albarn. And continue to make expansive music, undefined by boundaries. “I look up to people who are multi-faceted in that way. They seem like powerhouses that could do anything, and change into anything in an extraordinarily genuine way” Elliot says before modestly adding. “I dream to one day to be just a quarter, no a sixteenth, of what David Byrne is.”
Only four months after playing his first live show at Rough Trade NYC, Elliot hit the road for the first time this year supporting Cold War Kids in the US and Canada. Playing live is an experience Elliot relishes as much as being in the studio as he fully recreates the album with his five piece live band. “At first it was pretty terrifying” Elliot confesses. “But, now I really love playing stuff live with my band as there’s a lot of interaction going on and different things happen each night. The set continues to grow and change all the time.”
With Highspeeds gathering momentum, Elliot still remains endearingly humble about his hopes for the album. “I would love for people to feel exactly what I felt when I was writing the songs,” he says emphatically. “To encounter the same emotions and maybe take away some of the resolutions I did from experiencing them.”
Only time will tell.
Highspeeds is released on Play It Again Sam on Friday 25th September 2015.