Elyse Saunders is ready to break free. The rising country singer-songwriter from Peterborough, Ont., says her upcoming third album — fittingly titled Free — will live up to its handle by showcasing the different sides of her personality. To get to know her fun-loving side, check out the video for the summery title single below. To get to know more about her, read the thoughtful answers she gave to my silly questions.
Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and other details you’d like to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Hi there! My name is Elyse Saunders and I’m forever 21, currently based around Toronto. I’m 5’7″ and I don’t have a single tattoo or ear piercing. I could if I would, though! I have bad scarring problems, so it’s best for me to avoid both at this time. I have a weird scar on my left shoulder because of my scarring problems … a mosquito bit me and the mark never left. I’m an Aquarius baby!
What is your musical origin story?
Well, my mom used to sing, play her guitar and write songs in the kitchen when I was a little girl. I thought it was amazing to be able to express that way and was fascinated by her songs. I would dig around in her guitar case when she wasn’t looking and pull out her lyric sheets, so I could try and learn how to write my own song. I wrote my first song when I was about 5 or 6 and knew early on that I wanted to be on the stage. Fast forward and my first opportunity to start singing on a stage for people was at my high school singing competition. From there, I did more competitions. Soon after that, I met my first mentor and producer who took me to Nashville and we recorded my first album. I was only 17! After I came back, there was an opportunity to open for a country artist at my hometown festival, so I did it in front of 10,000 people. It was at that moment that I knew I could do this and I was hooked. I’ve been working in the industry ever since and would now call myself a professional at this thing!
What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
My latest project is my new album, which is currently in the works. I recently released my new summer tune Free, which happens to be the title track for the album and suits it perfectly. Free not only represents my single but it also encompasses what my album is to me. It’s the freedom to creatively express myself, to be bold, and to showcase the different sides of who I am. This project is really going to show a whole new side of me as a writer, entertainer and performer. It’s a new chapter in my musical journey! I’m currently in B.C. recording the rest of the album. I was originally supposed to be here a few months ago, but the pandemic put a stop to that. I was so sad and worried that I didn’t know when I’d be able to get back into the studio to make this happen, but fortunately we’re making it happen now! While I’m working on these new tunes, it’s pretty exciting to see how well my song Free is being received. As a singer-songwriter, I can only hope that a song will connect with people like it did for me. It’s been really cool to see that it is, especially since I feel that it showcases my new direction really well.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I just try to be myself! The more authentic I can be — whether I’m writing songs, singing in the studio, or playing on stage, the more I will stand out on my own! I love being an entertainer and I believe that shines on stage. I’ve also been told that I have a big voice with a unique tone, so I guess there’s that too … and I love writing songs that come from my own voice as a songwriter! But ultimately, I am who I am.
What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
Each of my songs share a life lesson that is drawn from my own personal experiences. I try to write music that is relatable with fun hooks and picturesque lyrics, but ultimately the core of each song has a message that I hope with help someone in some way or act as a personal reminder when they might be going through something or need a boost. As example, Free is really about making time to be in the moment, celebrate the little things, and to not let life pass us by. In our current times especially, I feel like this is an important message for all of us to be reminded of.
What album / song / artist / show changed your life?
Dolly Parton’s song I Will Always Love You. It was the first song I connected to as a kid which helped me to use music as an emotional outlet.
Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
My very first show I sang in as a solo singer was at my high school in grade 10. I grew up singing and writing songs at home and had been on stage doing plays and for dance recitals, but my very first vocal performance was then. My mom had dared me to sing in my high school’s singing competition in front of all of my peers, so I did it. I wasn’t paid anything to do this! My very first paid gig would’ve been at a local restaurant in my hometown. We played as an acoustic duo and I maybe made $50 or something?
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
I’ve had many in my career, but one of the most recent ones would’ve been last summer before the pandemic. I played at Sunfest Country Music Festival on Vancouver Island. I spent some time exploring Vancouver first and then took the ferry over to the island. I picked up my band from the airport, we had a family BBQ at a home we were staying at, and then played in one of the most beautiful settings I’ve ever performed in. The stage was surrounded by mountains and beautiful faces in the crowd! And Jason Aldean and Terry Clark were there too, so that was also very cool.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
I was in Nashville at CMA Fest. I was promoting my very first album at Fanfest and went to watch a bunch of the big acts playing. One of them was Martina McBride. I was way up in the nose bleeds, but that didn’t matter to me! Martina was a singer I always looked up to. Her powerhouse vocals seemed effortless, and were something I would strive to be vocally — and still do, to this day. She sang her hit Broken Wing and every single person stood up in the arena all the way up to where I was sitting, and she had a standing ovation for probably two minutes. She was blown away, I had goosebumps and was tearing up. The energy of the crowd, her performance and her reaction was pretty special.
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I want to still be on tour, recording music, writing songs and have a full team behind me. I’ve always thought it would be pretty cool to open up my own small label to give back to my industry and bring other artists up. And of course — I want a family, too!
What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
I would love to collaborate with Chris Stapleton, Ed Sheeran or Little Big Town. I think each act puts out incredible music and I would be honoured to work with any of them on a duet of some sort. I think our vocals and styles could go really well together.
What style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I love all types of music and always have. Country music always has felt the most like home to me and the place where I can be myself and write songs that tell a story. Even so, my influences come from a lot of different styles of music. Good music is good music! No matter if it’s rap, electronic, R&B, pop, rock, indie, or country. If it hits me, it hits me. I don’t judge the genre and I believe that overall, this also rounds me out as a songwriter!
What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
I’m loving Tenille Townes’ The Lemonade Stand album right now, but I’ve also been kind of obsessed with Parker McCollum’s song Pretty Heart, and Lee Brice’s One Of Them Girls right now. Ask me tomorrow and it will be something different. 🙂
How about some other favourites? Authors / movies / painters / philanthropists / you name it.
Since I love relaxing with a good flick, I’m going to throw some of my top fave movies at you right now! It’s going to be an eclectic mixture but here we go… Stand By Me, Lord of the Rings, The Shack, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Forrest Gump. I’ve got more but that’s a good start!
Who would you be starstruck to meet?
Elvis and Shania Twain.
Tell us a joke.
I’m not great at jokes, so here’s a dad joke for you. “How do you make a Kleenex dance? Put a little boogie in it!” — I told you I’m not great at jokes…
What do you drive and why? What do you want to drive and why?
I drive a little red Toyota Matrix. I honestly did days of researching the most efficient, most reliable, best of gas, best car for cheap replacements and all answers said Matrix, so that’s what I went with. I just need a car to get me from point A to point B and it’s been an amazing car to me. I’ve been to Nashville and back in that thing, driven to countless shows, songwriting appointments, crazy life things, you name it. I would love a Dodge Charger though. They’re so much fun to drive, they look pretty and they have the bells and whistles that make for a fun car.
What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I would love to be able to breath underwater. I could spend hours snorkeling around and checking out the beautiful fish and wildlife we have in our oceans. It would be so cool to be able to swim around and see what’s going on in our beautiful oceans!
What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I’m realizing that mostly all of my skills are centered around music in some way so this a tough one! I’m learning to become a YouTuber by creating video content and editing it all myself, but that’s still related to music, I guess. Well, I can read people’s minds! Okay, not exactly, but I’ve been told that I’m a pretty intuitive person!
What do you collect?
It’s going to sound really weird but I’ve been collecting fun and unique water bottles and if I lose one, I’m kind of sad. I have to drink a lot of water as a singer being on the road, or exercising, and I don’t want just a plain boring water bottle. It has to be one that keeps the water cold and looks really pretty, too!
If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Probably some home baked cookies! Who doesn’t love cookies?
What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
Toilet paper out of stock during the pandemic, that still boggles my mind.
Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
I have two tuxedo cats who are sisters. They’re named after country artists — Dolly and Pearl!
If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I would most likely be a music manager, as I find the business side of the industry interesting, but since that’s still related to music, then a teacher because I love kids!
What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
Best advice is to enjoy the journey, worst advice is to find a “real job”.