Elena Goddard would not be the first Bulkley Valley youth to spend her childhood filled with fantasies of musical stardom.
“It’s just something I’ve always had,” she told The Interior News via phone from her flat in London, UK. “Maybe it’s from how I grew up, being homeschooled on a cattle farm. I was in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t have a lot of social interaction growing up, so I had a lot of time alone.
“I had a lot of siblings, so we’d play together, but I listened to music a lot and spent a lot of time just writing, creating and being outside. I spent so much time outside as a kid daydreaming and I guess all those daydreams just ran a little bit wild.”
But now Elena is well on her way to being one of the few to realize those elusive dreams.
The 26-year-old, who now goes only by her first name, has most recently charted number 2 on the CBC Music Top 20 with her song “Build a Ship.”
“Honestly it’s really cool; I’ve been able to connect to so many more listeners in Canada,” she said. “So far, most of my music has just been released on streaming services, like Spotify, so I have a bunch of listeners worldwide, but not necessarily a huge amount in Canada, since I’m not there.
“This is the first time that I’ve had so many people just writing cool messages on my music videos and where they’re listening to it in Canada and they heard it on CBC, and that’s really special and it’s this cool homeland connection.”
Elena discovered the drive to succeed in music shortly after beginning piano lessons with Wolfgang Loschberger.
“I was initially forced, but then I loved it, became obsessed with it,” she said. “I was the one begging my mom to sign me up for music festivals, music competitions,” she said.
By 2012, she had parlayed her drive into completing her Royal Conservatory of Music certificates, top marks at the Lakes District Festival for Performing Arts in Burns Lake and a scholarship from the Pacific Northwest Music Festival in Terrace for winning the Beethoven category.
After graduating from high school, she spent some time working at Bugwood Coffee while taking online courses in preparation for going to music college. Through those courses, she decided she wanted to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
“I auditioned twice to get into Berklee,” she said. “The first time I played piano and I got a ‘no, try again next time.’ The second time I played piano and I sang a song I wrote and I got accepted, but without scholarship.”
That presented a challenge that would require immersing herself into extra-curricular life and the music business.
“I was, like, I know there’s no way; I can barely afford to stay here for one semester, so my first semester there I just got involved in every student program … transferred in a bunch of online courses and pretty much managed to persuade them to give scholarships to stay.”
She also took on music business and music law internships in New York City, also taking on any work she could find related to music from songwriting for other artists to studio sessions to teaching and working for music magazines.
It was during that time, she said, she “accidentally” got pushed toward a vocal career.
“I went to record a demo and the producers (said), ‘we like your voice, we’re going to keep it on the track,” she explained.
They encouraged her to develop her own music.
“I started singing a lot more and I still had a year of school left, so I continued these internships and songwriting sessions in New York and I would bus back to school to Boston every week, do my classes, then I would take a bus back to New York and work in studios, do internships, all of that, and I did that for an entire year.”
“As soon as I graduated, I just kind of up and moved and naturally slid back into New York full time,” she said.
Between commuting from Boston and living full time in New York, Elena would spend a total of five years in the Big Apple before the call of the other side of the Atlantic beckoned as the place to settle into to craft a new album.
London was relatively more open than New York when she arrived there during the first wave of the pandemic, which gave her a chance to work with a number of artists and do a bunch of recording of her own music for an upcoming full album due to be released this fall.
Critics have compared her to Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo and have praised her for her vulnerability, sincerity and freshness.
The style she credits to her upbringing in a rural setting where she was mostly exposed to country music.
“I love classic country, so I wrote a lot of country stuff,” she explained. “For a while I decided I was going to be a country star, but then I (thought), ‘if I become a pop star, I’ll be way bigger’.
“I kept the elements of country songwriting, which is a lot of storytelling and focus on lyrics,” she explained
And a lot of exposure of intimate feelings, discomfort and angst that she has come to terms with putting out into the world.
The story of “Build a Ship,” for example, begins with a one night stand, then the realization in the morning that the guy just isn’t into her as she explores the internal conflict of wanting to stay, but recognizing sailing away is probably the better option.
Despite the sometimes serious content of her songs, she delivers them, particularly in her videos, in a whimsical, humourous way that is disarmingly charming.
“I realized if I’m going to be an artist, I’m going to end up writing about my personal experiences and I realized, as an artist, the more personal I write about, that’s more therapeutic to me, that feels best for me and people also relate to it a lot more,” she said. “Somehow the more personal I write they’re able to, I guess, compare it to their own situations versus a vague storyline.
“I’ve also had to embrace that, as an artist, it’s going to encompass all parts of my life and putting out my stories and I’m OK with that, I guess that’s who I am now.”
Elena recalls her childhood with a lot of fondness.
“It was nice, I always felt very connected to everything around me,” she said.
“I think with farming, there’s a large sense of community and just that connection to the local community around you because so many people are also just involved with the farm or eat the food from the farm. It was a very wholesome upbringing.”
She is now firmly planted, however, in the world’s big cultural centres.
“I love everything about Canada and how it is, but there seems to be sometimes so much comfort that there’s a lack of an edge,” she explained.
“I think in these other big cities it’s, like, anything goes, which on the flip side can be really upsetting because you also have crime, no health care, just a lack of safety, but you can also do anything you want, explore anything you want. I think it really opens your mind creatively.”
While Elena’s music is starting to get some attention, it’s still not enough to sustain her by itself, and, of course, COVID-19 has not helped having shut down the touring and shows she had scheduled.
“Within music, I’ve always been a supporter of having multiple streams of income, so I’ve always done teaching, I work marketing for a bunch of artists and doing things like that, just to help support my music.”
She is optimistic about the future, however.
I’ve landed on some huge playlists on streaming services, which has been cool and I’m currently working with various distributors and companies here in London,” she offered. “There are some things I can’t quite disclose yet, but a lot of exciting things are happening with the new music.”
Elena is releasing an EP entitled “Have U Ever Met a Model with Feelings?” on May 21 and she anticipates her concept album “Holy Tender Artist” to drop in September.
She is also encouraging everyone in the Bulkley Valley to vote for “Build a Ship” on CBC Music to help get the song to number 1.