Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Boston’s Elisabeth Waters. Together we discussed growing up with music, their time at Berklee, their songwriting process, and so much more! Check it out below!
1. Hello! Mustard thanks you for being here! How are you doing today?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m doing well, although super busy. I’ve got some shows coming up as well as an EP that I’ve been working on, so things have been pretty crazy but good!
2. Your mother was/is a music teacher. What kind of music did you grow up listening too? Is there a quote or lesson you learned from your mother that you still use today as an artist?
I grew up listening to a lot of different music. My mom primarily teaches classical music and musical theater, so she would take me to the orchestra, and we would watch operas on tv. We would sing a lot of music from Rogers and Hammerstein musicals together, and she introduced me to jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. My dad, on the other hand, would listen to a lot of stuff like Billy Joel, Tears for Fears, Elton John, Steely Dan, Sting, and The Clash. Between the two of them I definitely got a variety of musical influences as a kid.
It’s funny, the thing I think that has stuck with me the most from growing up with my mom was just being super prepared. At my high school, she was a little bit infamous for being very strict. She was adamant that everyone had a pencil with them, was on time, made sure their sheet music was in good condition, just all these pragmatic things. It’s all stuff that makes sense to do, but when I go to rehearsals now, people are always so surprised that I bring pencils for everyone, my lead sheets are legible, I’m usually there early. All of these things seem like the bare minimum to me but really blow people away, and I guess I have her to thank for that.
3. Growing up you were a in school choirs, bands, jazz bands, and a cappella groups. Did these groups share any commonalities? Would you say being in these groups helped prepare you later for Berklee?
I was really privileged to go to school in a district that had an incredible music program. Many of those groups focused a lot on learning music theory, not just the performance aspect. When I got to Berklee I realized that this wasn’t the case for a lot of people in their high school music programs. I was able to test out of a lot of the basic theory classes, and the new concepts tended to come easier to me since I had the background that I did. A lot of people at Berklee really dread the theory classes, but those ones were my favorite and actually the reason that I ended up studying jazz composition.
4. When did you begin songwriting? What is your songwriting process?
I started writing songs when I was in fourth grade. My songwriting process honestly hasn’t changed all that much since then. My music is really just a journal for me. I remember the first song I wrote was about how one of my friends told this boy that I had a crush on him. As a nine-year-old this was a devastating blow, and I was dealing with feelings of anticipation at how he might respond, my friend’s betrayal, and just the general discomfort of having a crush (which I’m discovering doesn’t go away when you grow up… bummer). In the moment, I couldn’t really wrap my head around these feelings, but I could put them into a song. Doing that sort of clears my head a little bit and really helps me process the emotions after the fact. Sixteen years later, I’m pretty much doing the same exact thing. I often get overwhelmed with anxiety, and focusing the energy into a song not only clears my head but often gives me clarity about what I’m actually feeling. When I come back to what I’ve written later, I can see what was causing the problems and address them moving forward. Songwriting has become such an important part of my self care, and I’m so glad that little fourth grade me decided to start.
5. Who (or what) influences you?
My influences come from all over the place: jazz composers like Duke Ellington and George Gershwin, soft rock of the 70s and 80s, musical theater, Max Martin, and emo to name a few. One that I always come back to is Amy Winehouse. I can never get enough of her songwriting and her signature old-school sound. I think I connect a lot with her because she seems to write for the same reasons that I do. She had so much turmoil going on in her head, and we get a glimpse of it in her music. I’d say my actual biggest influence is my emotional state when I’m writing, and it seems like it was the same for her.
6. In 2019 you released “Blue.” a song that blew Mustard away when they first heard it. What inspired this single?
“Blue” is a really special song for me. I wrote it my first weekend at Berklee. They had actually just shown us the Amy Winehouse documentary at orientation, and I went home inspired. I went to my dorm and started writing this poem about how I fell in love with my then boyfriend. The verses describe different things that we would do together or different events that happened, but in a way that was still sort of secret. I don’t think I’ll ever describe the meaning behind the whole song, but one example is in the line “Red was the pain that we ran through.” One thing that brought us closer together was sharing our struggles with depression and anxiety, so we were running through that kind of pain together, but we were also both on the cross country team. We very literally were running through red foliage with lactic acid causing us physical pain. Almost every line has some sort of secret meaning, and it was the sort of thing where I didn’t even realize the double meanings in some of them until much later.
7. Mustard loves your vocals. How do you train your voice? What advice would you give to those trying to improve their vocal skills?
Thank you so much! The most important thing is really just consistent practice. It can be hard to do, especially when you may not have a deadline or something specific that you need to practice for, but when I’m singing practically every day and really focusing on what I’m doing, it’s incredible how much easier it is to manage breath control, intonation, agility, tone, etc. If you are able to, I recommend finding a voice teacher that can help push you to achieve your goals. I’ve been practicing a lot of bebop tunes lately to improve my agility, but I need to practice them because my agility isn’t where I’d like it to be, which means that when I sing these tunes they’re not really fun for me to sing, so it can be difficult to motivate myself enough to actually do it. Having a teacher to kick you in the ass when you’re slacking can be a very helpful thing. Otherwise you just have to work on self motivation.
8. “Pet Names” is such a vibe. Was this single inspired by humans calling you these pet names? Are pet names common within human conversation?
“Pet Names” came out of a very strange time in my life. I was going through a really difficult breakup and would kind of let myself fall into situationships in order to distract myself. Emotionally unavailable seems like a big understatement for what was going on with me. I was so detached and wouldn’t care that I didn’t even like the people that I would be seeing. I couldn’t really imagine any sort of long-term connection with anyone at all at that point in my life so it didn’t matter that I was distracting myself with people that I didn’t enjoy being around. Pet names were sort of the emblem of all unwanted behavior that I would ignore because I simply couldn’t bring myself to care. I hate it when people use pet names on me, but I wouldn’t say anything when someone did because all I was there for was a distraction, and it just wasn’t worth it to me to try and find something that was actually good for me. So it was only in part inspired by people calling me pet names which are used way too frequently for my taste within human conversations.
9. “No Good For You” is your most recent single. You let us know that you’re no good for that person you are with. Could you share more about this single?
“No Good for You” was a song I wrote about feeling like I caused my then boyfriend more trouble than I was worth. I had pretty severe issues with depression and anxiety at the time and would lash out at him. He was always incredibly understanding which would then make me feel overwhelming guilt. It can be hard to see yourself as a whole person, and I could really only see the bad at that time. It didn’t make sense to me why he would want to be with me if he had to deal with all my worst moments.
10. You are currently working on an album with Plaid Dog Recording studios. Could you share any news about this album? What can fans expect from this future release?
The album will be coming out this fall, and I’m so excited to share it with everyone. This project is going to be closing the door on “Blue.” It features songs that I wrote during the relationship and the subsequent turmoil of the breakup. In these new songs, I experiment with my style and explore my love for jazz. Collaborating with my producer has been an incredible experience and has resulted in a unique sound that I’m thrilled to be able to show everyone.
11. Where can readers listen to your music?
You can listen to my music on all streaming services!