As we ease into the spring of 2021, it seems fitting that Joey Donnelly – founder of musical project Elkyn – has blessed the world once again with indie-folk that is equal parts melancholy and uplifting, to carry us into a new season on a soundtrack of finger-picked guitar and ethereal vocals. Debuting with his EP ‘beech’ last year, Joey has now released new single ‘something’ with producer Mark Gustafson, a track that Joey chatted about with India – alongside his musical inspirations and how family has been a part of his journey so far. Settled at the moment in Leeds, Joey lives with his brother Mikey (otherwise known as Epilogues), and the pair recorded ‘beech’ in 2019 at home. Following on from this endeavour, Joey shared how he got in contact with Gustafson for recording.
‘I went on a little tour with Love, and it was on the London show where I met Mark, and he was just like: ‘Oh I really like your stuff, we should definitely do something in the future.’ And then, my manager knew him so he got in touch last year a bit and just talked about it, and we basically just started working together and recording a load of stuff. I’ve been working with him for about a year now. And obviously, he started working with Mikey so we were both jumping on it, it’s good!’
Having attended university for two years, Joey touched on how the experience influenced him, especially with ‘something.’ There’s an aching lament to the track, though the chilled guitar makes it perfect for winding down to, or situating it within a relaxing playlist. The lyrics are painfully relatable, drawing listeners in to what Joey is describing – though he now feels he’s happier, thankfully.
‘It definitely inspired me. ‘Something’ was about uni. But it inspired me in bad ways!’ he laughed, ‘I failed my third year and sort of went downhill a bit and that’s when I started writing ‘something.’ I think it was good as well, because I did a Music Production degree, so that was kind of helpful. There were some things that I did learn that helped with writing… It all got a bit too much for me, I’d say. I’m enjoying myself now, anyway.’
In some ways, where Joey lives has been a big part of inspiring his writing. The urban setting of Leeds has served as an influence in the past, and he always makes sure that he has a good vantage point to clear his head and escape to: ‘I did go through a period of trying to write songs from nice places around Leeds and stuff. I’ve lived in 4 different houses now in Leeds, and I’ve always wanted to be on the top floor. I’ve always had a really nice different view of all the tops of buildings and the skyline of Leeds, stuff like that. Definitely, especially when I’ve tucked myself away in my room writing, and a lot of the time I just kind of hang out my window and have a cigarette and look out, then just jump back into my writing. Yeah. We’re in Burley. There’s a little bench in Burley Park that we always go to, and it all dips down and comes back up so you can see everything.’
From speaking with Joey, it’s obvious that family is close to his heart and has played a significant role in terms of music: ‘My mum used to play a bit of piano and stuff. The house where I remember growing up in, we had a nice piano that my mum got. So, she played a bit and then Mikey started playing piano and he was playing drums as well. Yeah – I think we did have kind of a musical family! Especially Mikey, my mum – my older brother, as well, is a singer. I remember I always used to get him to try and teach me how to sing.’ Furthermore, it’s clear how his relationship with Mikey has helped his music to develop from the beginning, and says that ‘I’ve learnt from the best’ when complimented on the new single. ‘I learnt guitar when I was like 12-13 to play in Epilogues, because I really wanted to play with Mikey. I literally just picked it up, Googled chords and learnt a few, and then once I got some basics down I went to Mikey ‘cause he was self-taught as well, and he gave me some of the techniques he’s used.’
Surprisingly, the guitar wasn’t Joey’s first rodeo when it came to learning an instrument: ‘My first instrument was actually trumpet. I still play bits, I really need to start picking it up again, ‘cause I started learning that when I was 8. I got really good at it, and then when I got to like 18/19 I was like ‘I don’t really want to do this anymore, it’s not really cool,’ so then I kind of put it down. It’s under my bed right next to me! I need to get it out and start playing, ‘cause I am starting to get more into jazz and big band stuff again.’ Perhaps in the future we’ll hear some jazz-inspired pieces from Elkyn, though for now Joey’s sticking with folk. Is it his favourite genre, though?
‘I don’t know – it’s either like, folky stuff or pretty much the complete opposite, like heavy rock, stuff like that. I used to be in a band called Push as well, which are the complete opposite. They’re the two things that are my go-to for if I’m sitting down and listening to music. Depends what mood I’m in, I guess!’
As is the case for many artists, the local music scene has been an integral part of Joey’s own musical journey. He cited some artists in the region who he holds in high regard, and revealed his desire to add a few more people into the mix for Elkyn.
‘I’ve been trying to put a band together for Elkyn, and kind of just picked people from bands that I like, and I’m like, ‘can you please come and play for me as well!’ Charlotte Lynch is great – she does folky stuff. She’s got a really, really good voice. The drummer [Jake Sainty] from The Shakamoto Investigation also played a few gigs with me, and I’m really liking them. I used to live with Jake, and I remember when he started Shakamoto and we used to go see him live and that was always good fun. And then maybe Rosalind as well. She hasn’t got anything out, I don’t think, but I’ve been seeing her play for quite a while and she’s great.’
‘Talons was another big one, especially with ‘beech,’ my first EP. All the songs on there are less than three minutes. I spent so long writing stuff and getting to two minutes and then moving onto something else. My brother put me onto Talons, and all his stuff is really short and nice with good guitar parts. That was a big influence. When I first wrote ‘something,’ I wrote it a while ago, and it was just one riff, and it is a short song. But I think I did get a bit more influence for when we recorded it to make it into a full band thing. I’ve been listening to loads of Great Grandpa and Slow Pulp; chilled-out, emo, and indie stuff.’
Other artists he’s inspired by include Noah Gunderson – ‘I absolutely love him. I’ve been listening to him for ages’ – and Phoebe Bridgers. He describes her debut ‘Stranger in the Alps’ as ‘so special, just because it was an exciting thing for me to find and it was a big influence for Elkyn. I started properly writing about four or five years ago, so I can’t remember if it was out then, but I do remember listening to a lot of that.’ He further cited Lomelda’s 2020 release ‘Hannah’ as a favourite album of his, saying that: ‘I think that’s the album I’ve listened to the most since it’s come out, start to finish and again and again. It’s really nice – like indie-folk.
And if Joey were to collaborate with anyone, there’s one band that comes to mind: ‘I’d say Florist for who I’d wanna collaborate with or play with. I saw them in Fulford Arms like, three years ago. It was all seated and everything was candle-lit. It was gorgeous. After that, I got really excited about Florist.’ In terms of playing live, Joey shares his thoughts on performing, an aspect of the music industry that has been missing this past year: ‘I do like performing. Not at the start – I still get really nervous! I’ve been performing for more than ten years now and still before every gig I get really nervous and stressed. Once I get a song out of the way it’s nice, and if you’ve got a good audience in front of you it’s always worth it and I enjoy it then.’
So, does Joey have any big plans for performing this year, provided the world doesn’t fall apart again? ‘Yeah, as soon as I can. I’m gonna do as much as I can, ‘cause I have really missed it. Just the whole music community thing as well, it would be nice to be able to get out and be a part of that again. I don’t think I’ve got much planned, but I should do closer to the time!’
Elkyn’s new single ‘something’ is out now on all streaming platforms.
Words: India Fishburn