Interview: Party Nails

Party Nails is the musical project of Elana Belle Carroll, a New York native who now lives in California and makes glittering electropop songs. The name “Party Nails” suggests that her music bears the kind of buoyant, engaging sound you’d want to blast while getting ready for a fun night out, and it definitely does. Even when she’s singing about heartbreak, Carroll keeps the vibe positive and empowering, which shows in her Come Again EP (released on February 10).

We were lucky enough to be able to chat with Carroll just before Come Again hit iTunes and Spotify. Read on to learn about to her new songs, her influences, and the kind of music she was making and listening to at age 11.

TYF: Let’s start off by introducing you to the readers who haven’t heard of you yet. If you had to describe your music in three words, what would you say?

Elana Belle Carroll: I would call it fun, pop, or grit.

TYF: According to the website of Rock Steady Music, you were signed after “a serendipitous conversation with a pizza guy/saxophonist.” Can you tell me some more about this serendipitous conversation?

Carroll: Sure. That was a while ago now. I was living in Brooklyn… and… I’m actually not in that deal anymore… I’m now releasing my record with this group called Killphonic, and we’re kind of doing a collective model and it’s just very different from what was going on with Rock Steady. But it is a cool story. Basically, I was at a pizza place and I was reading a book about audio engineering, and a pizza guy was like, “Hey, I like that stuff too!” I invited him to a show. I had a different band at the time. And he ended up not coming, but inviting another engineer, and through him, I met a bunch of other people that basically… It was like the domino effect of Party Nails from that point, you know? So that’s where it all started.

TYF: What’s it like working with the new label? What do you like about it?

Carroll: I really like it because ideologically, it matches what I think is relevant in music right now… Everybody has different ideas about what is happening and how to approach business in general, but I think that in music, there’s a lot of mixed ideologies about what’s new-school, what’s old-school, what’s working and what’s not working, and… It’s not that I don’t agree with other people’s ideologies, but I really need to be around people who are going to nurture a grittier, a little punkier element to the way we like to make things and roll things out, and I believe that Killphonic possesses that energy to them, as well. I really wanted to work with people who have the same sort of gusto and elements of risk-taking beyond just, like, business risk-taking—like, Let’s try this other sound or, Let’s try writing this song in this different way. I didn’t want it to be like we were stepping in somebody else’s footprints. I wanted to try stuff that was a little bit different. And obviously, we still have a million things that we can do to sort of keep going, but I’m finding that we’re fitting nicely.

TYF: By the time this interview is published, your new EP Come Again will have been released. Which song on the EP are you most excited about?

Carroll: That’s really hard to say. I feel really connected to “Come Again,” which is part of the reason that [the EP] is named Come Again. To me, it represents a little bit of what is to come in the future. Musically, I think that it hits on a couple of different dancier elements that I’d like to expand upon. I think it sounds new, I think it sounds old… And I just really love anthemic, kind of nostalgic pop, so for me, on a personal level, I like that stuff. But I really, really feel close to all of the songs. They’re all really fun to do live. I’m having fun getting feedback from people. I have more and more people who have started listening to it, and it’s fun hearing everyone’s… ‘cause everybody, when they listen to music, your music, they’re like, “I know the one that’s the best one!” and they try and tell you. But everybody’s idea of that is different. I’m very, very happy with that reaction. I think that means that there’s kind of something for everyone. Each song seems to garner the same level of excitement in different people, which is really… To me, that’s a goal that I’ve met. Absolutely. But yeah, “Come Again”’s kind of my baby, I think.

TYF: On February 6, you had a release party for the EP. How did that go?

Carroll: Oh my gosh! It was the best. It was so fun. There were balloons everywhere. I had this friend build a prom-style archway for people to take photos in, so it was, like, really sequin-y, and my logo was, like, life-size in glitter. It was so fun. I really wanted to have a fun way to bring Party Nails to real life, make the cover a little bit real life-ish, and I wasn’t really sure if it was going to end up translating or being that engaging for people who were experiencing it for the first time, but I was really, really happy with the level of engagement. And we ended up packing the house, which is really good. We worked hard to get a lot of people there. And our performance was really fun, too. I just kind of got in the zone with the live band. And we started selling merch for the first time, too, so that was really fun. I’m really happy with all of our designs. I collaborated with friends to come up with some really fun designs and I’m just really happy with how they’re translating to print and clothing.

TYF: Was it your first time playing any of the songs live?

Carroll: Yeah, there were three new songs—well, three new-to-live-set songs. They were “Better,” “Outside Heaven,” and “Come Again,” actually. I’ve sang a lot of kinds of music over the course of my performing music, and I always find that pop music is kind of hard to learn. Even stuff that I write myself—it just takes a second to kind of get it under your belt, ‘cause it’s very engaging. It’s not slow, either—like, the phrases are very quick and they require a lot of breath—so I’m excited to keep performing them. I’m really, really happy with how they came out… These new ones, I have to think a little bit harder [about], so I’m excited to dig into them more.

TYF: You mentioned that you experimented with different genres in the past before deciding to create your style of pop music. How did you realize that this was the genre you wanted to keep going with?

Carroll: A lot of it happened through the domino effect of the saxophone player at the pizza place. I met a group of people in New York—not really a huge group of people, just a handful of people in New York—and in L.A., eventually, that kind of got me acclimated, threw some stuff at me that, at the time, I was thinking of as something that would be temporary, that I would just kind of feed to challenge myself. I was thinking I would be more interested in composition or weirder, more left-of-center art music… and I still am, but I think once I realized that I was really intrigued by this skill set that I needed to develop in order to become a better pop songwriter, I just kind of became obsessed with what that was. To me, it’s very much like a puzzle, and it kind of married my obsession with the puzzle of songwriting with all my interests in production stuff… And it ended up being something that became pop music for me, you know?

TYF: Your Facebook profile says you’re “in the happy/sad music business.” What kind of songs do you prefer to write: happy songs or sad songs?

Carroll: I really like for songs to hit the mark right in between. The song that I always use as a reference for that is “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn. I live my life by that song. It’s one of my favorite songs ever. And it’s definitely a sad song. There’s also an acoustic version that she does that makes me cry every time that I watch it. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. But it’s incredible. And she says herself, it’s definitely an anthem and it’s meant to make you feel good, but it really is… about heartbreak. That’s pretty much how I like to operate, too. And in some ways, there’s times when I feel that it’s almost a cop-out, because writing about heartbreak is easy, in a way. But it’s hard to write about it in a way that feels fresh, and it’s definitely hard to do it in a way that feels fresh and upbeat… There’s one song from the EP that’s coming out on the 10th. It’s called “One By One,” and it definitely doesn’t feel nostalgic. It feels almost angry. If you really look at the lyrics, it seems almost angry. But the more that I live with that song outside of just me as a creative person, [the more] it becomes a song that people are experiencing in their own lives. The more I realize, it’s almost, like, defiant. Like, “I’m about to move on from you.” And it doesn’t feel like a romantic song, but it kind of is. It’s like, “I’m about to move on, because I would rather have a good time than deal with all your bullshit.” There’s always, like, a bittersweet mix.

TYF: You’re from New York, but you live in L.A. Do you think the new setting has influenced the way you sound?

Carroll: Absolutely. I haven’t moved back to New York at all. I’ve only been here for two years, so I can’t say for sure what it would be like to go back, but I’ve noticed that I have a much lighter outlook on pretty much everything. I think that the cold and the long winter really affected my perspective on a lot of stuff. And I don’t think it’s any less real… I’m just happy to be able to creatively articulate a more positive kind of a vibe to people. I’d rather put positivity into the world than sadness. And when I was making stuff in New York, I found that it was all very expressive of that sadder kind of vibe—which is also totally legitimate, and I still appreciate people who do that in a good way… but I’m glad to be on the other side of it. For right now; for the time being. We’ll see what happens.

TYF: You’ve been writing music since you were 11. Do you remember the first song you wrote, and if so, what was it about?

Carroll: It was probably this song called “I Am a Puzzle.” (Laughs) I had one electric guitar and one amp, and it was a muted, chunky kind of a thing, and I was listening to a lot of PJ Harvey, which sounds really weird for an 11-year-old. But I was really into PJ Harvey, and it just had that guttural thing, and it was about how, you know, all the pieces are somewhere, and you have to find them and put them together. And it wasn’t about anybody else. It was about yourself—seeking your own self. But I had a lot of fun playing around with that with my friends at the time. From there, it was mostly, like, me imitating really old blues guys, which is kinda funny, because I was, like, an 11-year-old white girl. (Laughs)

TYF: What specific artists did you listen to a lot when you were young?

Carroll: When I was really young, like, back in that time, I listened to PJ Harvey a lot. I listened to… The one blues person I listened to a ton, his name was Blind Boy Fuller. And I was also really into Johnny Cash back in the day. But I think the pop started happening when I got into Robyn and Daft Punk and that kind of thing. That early songwriting stuff, I think, came more from blues and country influences.

TYF: Do you have any advice for readers who might be interested in singing and songwriting?

Carroll: Yeah! I think if you really wanna do it, first, figure out if you really, absolutely, 100% percent wanna do it. And if you do, then do it as soon as possible. Just completely immerse yourself. Get better at absolutely everything that you find yourself interested in, even if it’s not something that you know anything about. Like, there was a time when I didn’t know anything about singing pop music—when I never could’ve imagined being on a stage without a guitar. And now, I love doing it. (Laughs) You just can’t know. And also, surround yourself with people who know more than you, and move on when you’re ready. That’s my biggest thing, too—be confident, but don’t be overconfident. Be aware of what you’re really interested in, and really pursue that, if you’re seeing ways to do that, and then you can be honest with your creative self.

TYF: You said that you played the guitar. What came first for you—singing or guitar playing?

Carroll: It’s really hard to say. I think that I cared more about the guitar for much longer than I ever cared about singing. In retrospect, I realize that I was singing even when I was very, very little, and I didn’t pick up the guitar till I was 11, so I was a little bit older. It took many, many performances and feedback and bands for me to start thinking of myself as a singer and not as a guitar player.

TYF: Finally, is there anything else that you’d like to say to our readers before the end of the interview?

Carroll: I just like to remind people to be kind and to remember that other people matter. They’re different from you, and try and take a moment every day to remember that. It’s especially important at this time, but it’s important all of the time. If your grandma’s a nice person, just think, like, What would your grandma do? and try and do that. (Laughs) Just try and do that everyday. And thank you. Thanks for this awesome interview.

TYF: Thanks so much for agreeing to do the interview! And I think it’s funny… The last person that I interviewed said the exact same thing about being kind as his final words.

Carroll: Oh, good! Oh, that makes me happy. It’s true. I think a lot of everyday kindness is, like, a smile, or a chip, or… Just “How are ya?” goes a long way. Sometimes when I ask, “Good, how are you?”, like, when somebody asks me if I get into a Lyft or pop into the grocery store… They’re shocked. They’re like, “Thanks for asking.” And I’m like… Think of all the hundreds of people that come in here every day. And I’m the first one? That’s obviously not always, but… It really does matter, and it can add to your morale.

Brittany Menjivar is an eighteen-year-old music enthusiast who listens to everything from Britpop to EDM to up-and-coming Warped Tour bands. She is passionate about many things in life, including (but not limited to) flower crowns, Foster the People, S. E. Hinton novels, scimitar-horned oryxes, The Great Gatsby (both the book and the 2013 film), theatre, the music of Damon Albarn, blue raspberry ICEEs, and thought-provoking films. Brittany loves spreading the word about interesting ideas, which is why she writes for TYF and serves as the editor of her school newspaper and literary magazine. She also loves metaphors and similes, which explains why she enjoys reviewing music so much. In addition to being a member of the TYF staff, Brittany is a poet who has been published in The Noisy Island, Crashtest, YARN, and Canvas. If you're reading this, she hopes your day is full of good art and good vibes.