Elyse Saunders has spent years building a career as an artist and songwriter. Creativity and a natural affinity toward the arts are ingrained in her family. She’s been singing since she was young and wrote her first song at just five years old.
Leading with a grounded perspective, genuine authenticity, and an openness to be inspired by the world around her, Elyse has created a listening experience that emphasizes positivity, gratitude, and freedom. Elyse has seen some incredible success with her most recent EP, Free, released in October 2021, with momentum really growing on her latest single, “Genes”.
Elyse placed in the Top 5 in 2021 for the CBC Music Toyota Searchlight competition and was a finalist in the Boots & Hearts Emerging Artist Showcase the same year. She also received CMAOntario Award nominations for Female Artist of the Year and Rising Star.
We recently chatted with Elyse on our podcast On The Porch with Front Porch Music about her path to country music.
Now, we’re highlighting some areas of the music industry where we believe Elyse has incredible perspective.
1. In building a brand around ‘Elyse Saunders’ as an artist, what were some critical things you did to ensure you’d be able to support yourself from a business and financial perspective?
Elyse has been working on the business side of her career and has always played that leading role in balancing the artist and business roles she plays.
It’s important to note that where she is today from both a creative and business perspective has evolved over time, through trial and error, and a process of growth.
First and foremost, she believes in finding a sound that is authentic to you and genuinely represents who you are as a person and as an artist. Through this process, you develop a brand that’s reflective of who you are. When you’ve defined this, it becomes the center from which you operate and make decisions day-to-day.
“You have to define your purpose. I try to create music that uplifts people or brings positivity.”
By spending time working on these core aspects, when it comes time to bring on team members to take over certain areas of your business, you can identify what you want to hand over, and who you feel aligns best with your vision and how you want your business handled.
For Elyse, she’s at this point now where she’s identified where she doesn’t necessarily want to put in the most time and is finding the right people to take on these areas. You have to know where you excel and where you should pass some things off to someone else.
2. Mentors are a vital piece of success for anyone in any industry. What’s your advice for seeking out a good mentor?
Elyse was connected to her first mentor, Cyril Rawson, quite early. He taught her a lot over their time working together. Something extremely valuable she learned though is the need to experience working with many different people. It’s important to be okay with parting with a mentor when it’s time to learn from someone new.
“You have to look for people who you know can support your growth. You also have to recognize when you start to outgrow one another and it’s time to move on.”
She’s had a number of exceptional mentors over the years, and her business mentor has been a huge driving force for her as well.
In seeking out a good mentor, Elyse emphasizes finding someone who is always looking out for your best interest and will always offer an unbiased opinion.
“It can be hard, but you need someone who is honest and whose opinion you can always trust. They will be your sounding board.”
3. In chatting on our podcast recently, you mentioned you take purposeful days off – you schedule time for you. What do you do on your days off? Why is it so important to carve this time out for yourself?
Elyse knows when she needs a day off.
When her day-to-day becomes frustrating and overstimulating, that’s when she knows she needs to take a step back. For Elyse, it’s about shutting off and having a moment for her brain to re-center … leaving behind the brand, the artist, the music, and having a self-care day is crucial.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Elyse knows how to self-care. She knows how to be reflective and introspective and she takes time to grow intellectually and mentally.
She journals every day (see what I mean) … she journals about what she wants to accomplish or change, and thoughts that are bugging her and clouding her mind.
“I just want to veg out, journal, meditate and watch some movies.”
She doesn’t get a lot of time with her friends and those close to her, so she really values this time when she has it. She’s had to sacrifice a lot in her personal life in order to have the opportunities she has and wants to be able to look back and be proud of her journey.
“When I’m 90 years old, I know I’m going to look back and think holy crap what an incredible life.”
4. It can be hard to balance what’s best for you as an individual and yourself as a business. How do you separate personal and professional when it comes to decisions that impact your career and well-being?
“My life revolves so much around music that, whatever happens in my music career, that determines what will happen in my personal life.”
A lot of decisions for her personal life are based on her career and for her, that comes with recognizing that her career as an artist, performer, and songwriter is truly her purpose.
Elyse has been in a long-term relationship since high school (cue the awe’s etc.), and because they’ve been together for so long, they’ve learned a lot about working together and within each other’s worlds.
He’s quite understanding of her schedule and lifestyle, and she’s very grateful for that.
They’ve come to an understanding around personal and career goals, and when the time is right, Elyse will prioritize personal time and having a family. But for her, all of this comes a little further down the line.
“You definitely have to sacrifice a lot in your personal life, but it’s the payoff to do what you love.”
5. What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given? Why does it still resonate with you today?
The most valuable piece of advice for Elyse actually came from Gord Bamford.
“One of the biggest things that made an impact early on and I’ll never forget is, I went to a private taping for Gord Bamford. He was doing a segment with a small audience. I went up to say hello after. I told him about my aspirations. He said to me, I’ve been in this career a long time, and it didn’t happen overnight. There was a lot of sacrifice, my family sacrificed a lot. You have to be in it for the right reasons, if you’re not, just don’t bother.”
At the time, she didn’t know exactly what he meant, but now that she’s been able to have some of these incredible experiences in her career, and had to make tough choices and sacrifices for the good of her career, she’s definitely learned exactly what he meant.
You really have to be okay with your journey. You have to love what you do because it involves a lot of hard work.
“This career path can overtake every aspective of your life, and if you really love what you do, it won’t ruin you.”
Elyse Saunders’ Journey as an Artist
Elyse Saunders was born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, and while she now resides in Toronto, she loves being there in the summer and spending her time up in the Kawarthas.
Inspired by seeing her mom songwriting in the kitchen, Elyse would peek into her guitar case when she was young and pull out the sheets of music and see this personal side of her mom.
“It was neat to see how you can express your feelings. It had a lasting impression on me.”
Reflecting on growing up in such an influential household, Elyse laughs at the many memories of her humming anything that would get stuck in her head, and her parents and brothers constantly saying, “Elyse can you stop humming.” She didn’t even notice she was doing it half the time.
Elyse’s First Public Performances
One day, her dad came home with a karaoke machine and that would be her first experience with a microphone.
While she loved it, she also experienced a lot of fear at the thought of standing on a stage to perform. She felt more shy and afraid of what people would think about her when performing by herself in front of them.
Her mom helped to push her out of her comfort zone by daring her to sing in a school singing competition, and so she took on the challenge and performed “I Will Always Love You” for her peers.
“I remember being sweaty and cold and sick.”
What gave her a bit of confidence was when they cheered for her. She knew she had to get over her stage fright so she kept performing and going in singing competitions.
Port Credit was a great place to perform growing up, so her dad would get her into bars to sing a song with the band. She’d get up and perform classics and then quickly be shuffled out of the bar. These bar appearances are where she learned to be more of an entertainer here because in competitions it was so rigid, there was little room for expression and crowd engagement.
Her First Recording Sessions
When Elyse met Cyril Rawson at end of high school, he became her first producer and mentor. They spent a year working in his home studio. She’d sing on his demos and that’s what actually taught her the most about bringing her authentic voice and emotion as Elyse Saunders.
She had no idea what Nashville would be like, but took her first trip and was blown away. It was so down to earth. The studio she went to was in someone’s house, and it was such a neat experience for her to have early on. She learned that it was more of a community and family than anything. She’d been to Nashville and back before even graduating high school.
Performing with Deric Ruttan in her hometown at the Peterborough Music Festival was a gamechanger for Elyse.
It felt like her home, and she felt like the best version of herself on that stage. She couldn’t ignore that she also loved the adrenaline rush. That was a true test for her, and after that, she was addicted.
“These are really cool opportunities, but at the same time, I wanted to develop as a songwriter and grow into who I am as a person.”
She began working with Joel Feeney in 2015, and was grateful to receive Factor funding for her album, I’m On My Way. This project really was symbomlic in a way. She felt like she was on her way and moving on to the next chapter.
She’s feeling she’s at a professional level now, things feel right, and she likes the way her music is connecting with people. She’s now focusing on creating moments in her show for the audience to feel like they’re part of it and that it’s an experience for all of them together.
When Elyse wasn’t doing music, she spent her time with friends. She used to play soccer and lacrosse … lacrosse was her favourite though. She was also a dancer, partaking in hip hop and jazz dance, and she performed in choir.
Elyse is also a “movie person,” and if you happen to know what I mean when I say “movie person,” she likes to go to the movies for the entire experience. It’s not about what she’s seeing, she’s always down to go to the movies (I have a “movie” friend in mind, do you?).
Her and her friends would get quite creative. They’d use an old camcorder, she’d be directing, and they’d create stories and make their own movies. When they weren’t making movies, they were choreographing dances on snow days and weekends off.
Elyse loves spending time outdoors, loves nature, and animals. She feels so happy and at peace outdoors, and loves camping and four wheeling in the summertime.
She has two brothers, and she’s the middle child. Some may not know this, but she’s a bit of a tomboy and got that from growing up in the middle of two boys. Her younger brother is quite musical and while he mostly tinkers around, he’s quite good at it.
He has an ear for music and rhythm. Her elder brother isn’t musical, but he’s talented and artistic on the drawing side of things (I mentioned earlier, creativity and arts are in their blood).
Her parents have always been supportive of their goals and never taught them to shy away from going for what they really want.
RELATED: Check out Elyse’s latest EP Free …
Elyse Saunders will be opening for Jason Blaine at the Opera House in Toronto on April 29th.
She’s looking forward to getting on the road again this year and hitting the stage.
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Country music lover with an unhealthy collection of concert t-shirts. Always looking for up and coming artists. Believer in music's ability to soothe the soul. Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter.