Voyage Austin Interview

nicolette mallow

Imagery from VoyageAustin Magazine. Photography of Nicolette Mallow taken by Vivian’s Muse.

Last December, I received a note from an editorial team to inquire if I wanted to partake in a literary project called the “Inspiring Stories” series published by VoyageAustin Magazine. For the first time in 16 years, someone else interviewed me. It was so exciting since no one has ever asked in detail about my artistic journey. People usually only inquire about my writing career and forget about my performing arts history. I’ve conducted hundreds upon hundreds of interviews, but as far as I can recall. VoyageAustin Magazine is my first non-work-related interview where I was the subject matter instead of the interviewer. Perhaps on a few occasions like at The University of Texas at Austin. I spoke on behalf of the company. But this was the first time anyone interviewed me. http://voyageaustin.com/interview/check-nicolette-mallows-story/


Hi Nicolette, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.

My writing career began in 2005 at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). I joined the District, an award-winning student newspaper, and started to get published in my undergraduate program. After graduation, I left Georgia to begin an internship with the Editorial department at Texas Monthly magazine in ATX. Then I was hired as a contract employee to work in their Custom Publishing department for a different magazine. I wrote three stories for the Texas Monthly website and that was exciting! SCAD and Texas Monthly are the launchpads of my professional journey as a writer. 

Internationally published in the United States and Europe, I’ve obtained 110+ publications thus far, and counting. For 16 years, I’ve interviewed an extensive list of talent and collaborated with companies, directors, and PR teams from The Hollywood Reporter, National Geographic Channel, Prevention Magazine, HBO Films, SXSW, The David Lynch Foundation, Cine Las Americas, The University of Texas at Austin and more. Presently, my portfolio entails 12 national awards or scholarships, including both individual and group projects. Obtaining two degrees from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), I earned a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration and a B.F.A. in Writing. But, writing is just one of the art forms I enjoy creating. 

From childhood until college, I focused primarily on performing arts. Born and raised in Texas and NYC—I’m an artist: writer, dancer, vocalist, thespian, model & (amateur) photographer. As a little girl, I was fortunate to be exposed to a colorful variety of music, artwork, and a beautiful array of cultures. A third-generation American, I’m a Latina, Lebanese girl that has always adored theatre arts, dance and music. 

Even at three years old, I knew I wanted to be a bellydancer after seeing the dancers and their costumes. My mummy says I ran to her at Disney in Orlando and declared, “I’m going to dance like that someday, too!” A year later, when I was four, my family took me to see The Nutcracker. Immediately, I was hooked. I needed to be part of the action on stage. I needed to dance! That desire only became more intense after seeing Phantom of the Opera at The Majestic Theater. Then, I wanted to be a vocalist, too. The makeup, the lights, the costumes and the music were hypnotic to me.

Anytime I saw a film, concert, or music video that inspired and enticed me. I wanted to be in it. Life just seemed so much more enthralling within the art world. And it is, for me. Tantalized by theatre arts and the world of music, beginning in pre-K and throughout elementary school, I partook in ballet classes. I attended music and voice lessons at the Jewish Community Center, even though I’m not Jewish. I was also part of our church choir. We showcased big theatrical productions in the winter and spring, as well as hymns every Sunday. 

When I got to middle school, I hid myself away artistically, at first, overwhelmed by the culture shock and the harsh adjustment from San Antonio to Lake Travis. In private, I auditioned for Barbizon Modeling and was accepted. In private, I kept singing and dancing. But I chose to focus on volleyball, swimming and academics, instead. In high school, I came out of my shell, once again. After I quit competitive volleyball and stopped swimming at West Austin Athletics, I re-focused my energy on performing arts. I became an Honor Thespian. And I think my favorite production we showcased was Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will? and I got to play Marlene Turnover. 

So, it began with theatres, classes and choirs, year after year. I tried the piano, too, but enjoyed singing and dancing far more than sitting still in one place. Although, I wish I had mastered at least one instrument. Anyway, I grew up in a house of musicians and artists. I am very fortunate to have grown up with such gifted, talented and intelligent individuals. I could go on and on with praise about each member of my family. 

But yeah, as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the performing arts and playing sports. As a kid, I was always torn between the arts and athletics. My first swim team in Kindergarten was the Shavano Sharks, up until my Master’s swim team in college at St. Stephen’s. I would bounce back and forth between my two greatest loves. In college, when I finally had to choose, I chose the arts. A decision I do not regret; alas, it was one of the most challenging choices of my young adult life. True, I am still an athlete—that energy in my heart will never die—but my career and my greatest passions lie within the art world. Art heals me and gives me a purpose in a way sports cannot. However, dance is a sport, too, not just a form of art. Regardless, it’s been a wild adventure ever since I devoted my life to the arts.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

I laughed when I read this question. No, it has most certainly not been a smooth road, and it still isn’t, especially with COVID-19. Artists all over the world can relate to this struggle. First, the most obvious challenge is that I’m a dyslexic writer, an oxymoron. It took many years, tears, and many successes for me to fully believe: I’m a writer. When it came to my writing, my confidence was intermittent, inconsistent. Even if I always knew from birth, I’m an artist and an athlete. I used to doubt my writing skills. 

Writers are supposed to be flawless at grammar. My dyslexia was and is a constant challenge. For decades, there has been a harsh stigma about dyslexia: if you have dyslexia, you must be incompetent, which is far from the truth. Earlier this year, I saw an article with a video featuring a dyslexic woman, Laura Schifter, that graduated from Harvard. She spoke of her struggles with dyslexia. Right before she attended Ivy League Harvard, an older man said something to Schifter: “Well, if you’re going to Harvard, then you must not have dyslexia.” Oy! It was hard to watch, but she talks about the brutal comments and the misinformed judgments many people hold towards dyslexia. 

For years, I kept my dyslexia a secret from employers. I was advised that no one wants to hire a dyslexic writer. It was implied most editors see a dyslexic writer like a deaf musician, a colorblind photographer, or a one-legged runner. I heard from other professionals that employers see a writer like me as too much work. It’s unfair, it’s wrong, and it’s saddening—but it’s the harsh truth. So I kept my dyslexia secret, which ended up hurting me in the end. Sometimes, I still get hate mail from a reader like, “You should learn to improve your grammar if you consider yourself a writer.” Or people will stop to correct me, mid-sentence, while I’m talking. I’m often treated as incompetent by insensitive people. But, I do not see myself as disabled or having a disability. Regardless, I am blithely aware that my grammar is a bit more “colorful” than most professional writers. 

Thinking back on it, I was always writing. I even had some of my little chapter books laminated. My first research paper for this gifted and talented program was about Ramses II (Ramses The Great). Obviously, I had assistance from my parents, but I still picked the topic, read about it, and put together the project. I’ve always loved reading and writing! And no one should be able to take that away because I’m dyslexic. It makes me sad for younger generations, the children, because what kind of message does that send out. “Kids, you can be anything you want to be, so long as you don’t have a learning disability.” 

It’s funny because I learned to read at the age of three using Hooked on Phonics. So I was already reading chapter books on my own before I even got to elementary school. When I read books, I felt like I was entering this other world of daydreams and imagination. Writing, the written word, was a safe place to have a voice of my own. I loved my diaries! Art is a healthy escape for me from the real world. Through artwork, I can create, express, or alter my reality; convey my mind, heart, and soul in a safe place: light or dark. 

Sometimes it can be frustrating to create art when your mind gets the words, times, and tenses all mixed up. I advise reading aloud, helps you with pronunciation for public speaking, and catch errors or issues with chronological time waves. I hate it when I jump around from the first person to the third person in my diction. The worst! 

Nevertheless, I still struggle between writer versus performing artist: introvert versus extrovert. Initially, I was accepted to Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) to study Media & Performing Arts in my undergraduate program. In my sophomore year, I switched my B.F.A. to Writing and was amongst the first crew of SCAD Writing students to ever complete the program. I recall the exact moment I knew I’d become weary of performing arts. I remember the class and the assignment. Up until then, I loved being on stage! I loved being in the spotlight. I loved role-playing. And I was so thrilled to be centerstage: all eyes on me! 

I was always on a euphoric high each time we began something new. Suddenly, to much surprise, I dreaded playing someone else. I dreaded memorizing someone else’s lines and someone else’s voice. Because I didn’t know my voice. I felt like I’d been roleplaying my whole life and had no idea who I was. I didn’t want to wear a costume anymore. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be the center of attention. I wasn’t as extroverted any more. That’s a long story, too. 

Ultimately, writing helped me rediscover my voice and identity. Writing reminded me of my role in life. Writing helped me begin to heal from any secrets I was harboring. I could rewrite the story or not, but I had the control to make it fact or fiction. After college, I got back into dance and learned belly dancing through Stacey Lizette and Suhaila Salimpour. I performed at restaurants, nightclubs, and parties. Then I got into my Master’s, and I haven’t been on stage in a few years to sing or dance. Not including karaoke. I’ve hidden away, once again, for good and bad reasons. Of course, now I miss being on stage. So, I need to find that perfect ambivert balance of writer and performance artist.

Due to COVID, I’ll probably go digital until the pandemic clears. I do my best to keep my professional writing career separate from my performing arts interests and my nonfiction memoirs. I want employers to see the distinction and that the two are not intertwined. However, I’ve discovered that some employers dislike my modeling and dancing career. They think it’s too sexy or salacious, which saddens me because I’ve never been fired from a single job, and my credentials are pretty solid for my age. Thankfully, many employers do not feel that way and love having artists and creative types onboard. Who I am at the workplace is not who I am on stage or in a photoshoot. We all wear different masks and different costumes at work. I am grateful to everyone that believed in me along the way. I have so much work to do in the future. I am still far from where I need to be. But I am on the road. Books are my next goal.

So let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?

One of the proudest moments of my career is when my editors at WideWorld Magazine in London, UK, commissioned me to interview a photographer for National Geographic and a sponsored athlete for The North Face, Jimmy Chin. They flew me out to Washington DC, where I interviewed Chin at The Madison Hotel before attending a banquet at National Geographic headquarters in his honor. The interviews were published in 2010. In 2019, he won an Oscar for his Documentary, Free Solo. It’s amazing! 

This interview made me internationally published in the US and Europe, a massive step for me in my career. Plus, I’ve adored Nat Geo since I was a child, and this was a dream come true. Mr. Chin was also very kind to me, and I remember that kindness because I was so new to the game and trying not to look or sound like a rookie.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?

Well, I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone is eager to help you. Especially if they’re competing for the same goal, you might find cold comfort from those who want to see you fail. Even if they like you, they might be disinterested in assisting you on your journey. And you may never know why. So, I advise going where you’re wanted and trusting your instincts. My advice is to seek mentorship from someone that is smarter than you, possibly older and wiser, but definitely more advanced in their career. You should not be competing with a mentor. You need someone to look up to. Seek out the “angels” of the art world that want to help aspiring artists. People that love and adore the arts and see their value. Also, be sure to remain open-minded to constructive criticism. Negative enforcement is not healthy, and you will know it when you hear it, feel it… Artists can get a little egotistical and hypersensitive when it comes to their craft, and rightfully so. But it’s imperative to be able to take advice from others that hold your best interests. 

Contact Info:


ill-ēsha: Canadian musician, producer, songwriter and vocalist will perform at 2017 Euphoria Music Festival in ATX

Konnexionbw

Imagery provided by ill-ēsha

Recently I had the pleasure to interview ill-ēsha. Music producer, vocalist, songwriter, composer, DJ, musician and more; ill-ēsha radiates artistic talent and the more I read her artist’s bio. It was evident how vast her range of art forms within various industries could be applied to. On April 9, 2017—ill-ēsha will be performing at the 2017 Euphoria Music Festival at Carson Creek Ranch in Austin, Texas. Euphoria Music Festival is showcasing over 70 artists this year and even though ill-ēsha has visited ATX many times for festivals like SXSW and feels at home in the capital of Texas. This will be her first show at Euphoria and Austinites are delighted.

Formally known as Elysha Zaide and casually known as Elle, “Vancouver-born and Colorado-based music producer, artist and DJ ill-ēsha has crafted a long-standing soundscape of electronic bass music throughout her career, continuously evolving her musical stylings and bridging gaps between hip-hop, dubstep, R&B and future bass music. Ill-ēsha is recognized as an extremely rare and diverse, burgeoning artist in the EDM scene. Her live set showcases her incredible talent to sing, DJ, and simultaneously rock her keytar. She is one of few electronic artists to blossom throughout the progression of different musical trends while still focusing on her artistic vision and authenticity. Constantly evolving a dynamic stage show, ill-ēsha is a perfect example of electronic music’s transition towards live instrumentation and indie pop sensibility.”

P4180111

Nicolette Mallow: You have one of the most interesting music backgrounds out of all the composers I’ve interviewed. Your skills are so extensive, and you’re so musically gifted. A producer, DJ, vocalist, composer, songwriter and more. I loved reading your Bio… Did you always know you wanted to make music? Or did music and the arts choose you?

ill-ēsha: I was always very drawn to many different forms of art. As much as I loved music. I was also into theater arts and that was a potential path for me. Even in high school when I was already DJ’ing, I also partook in a theater company and visual art. Performing arts was my artistic expression for a long time. But yes, I’ve had a tendency towards the arts since I was a kid. I was born into a  family with lots of artists. 

NM: I read you love classical, world jazz and cinematic music—and that you completed Royal Conservatory piano training. That program sounds so fancy and challenging. Is this where you began to learn music?

ill-ēsha: (she laughed) Well, it sounds fancier than it is. It’s just another method to learn music, like the Suziki method. Royal Conservatory is simply one of many systems similar to a competitive sport or grade levels. The more you learn and excel at each level you pass on to the next. My mother was passionate about piano and she always wanted to play. I began taking lessons at 4 years old. I continued to take piano classes until I was 12.

NM: You have a spectacular voice. I loved the demos, especially the animation video… How did all this begin? Can you tell me a little about Speech Level Singing?

ill-ēsha: Seth Riggs created Speech Level Singing (SLS) in the late 70’s. It was a school of thought to help train vocal muscles. Artists like Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin studied it. Since I am a self-taught vocalist after years and years of rigorous piano. In my 20’s I got into Speech Level Singing to learn how to control my breath better. SLS was sort of a style that purely worked out your vocal chords. It appealed to me because I am not jazz or an opera singer. I’m not an Ariana Grande or Celine Dion with a big, booming voice. I am a musician of all types, not just vocals. Once you have a voice: you go all directions developing it and SLS was a way of developing mine. 

NM: What did it feel like to place in the top 3 finalists for The John Lennon International Songwriting Contest?

ill-ēsha: That was a long time ago, but the coolest thing about that award is I was given a few hundred dollars and I used it to buy my first Serato. (A DJ program with turntables and a laptop.) Up until then everything was pure vinyl, so, thank you John Lennon Songwriting Contest for helping me buy my first Serato. But yeah, songwriting is something else that I do. My roots is songwriting. 

NM: What is the title of the lyrics you wrote and submitted for the contest?

ill-ēsha: “Broken Windows”. 

NM: Vancouver is your hometown and I hear it is beautiful. I hope to visit Canada next year. Now that you’re based in Colorado, do you feel like it reminds you of Canada in any way? I would imagine it’s easy to miss the seaport of Vancouver but the climate in CO perhaps reminds you of home?

ill-ēsha: It’s 50/50. I love the mountain life in Colorado. Before I moved here, I lived in San Francisco. Honestly I considered moving to Austin because I love it so much there, too, but I chose Colorado. 

NM: Speaking of Austin, how did you come to be involved with Euphoria Music Festival? And what can we expect to enjoy during your live set at the festival? 

ill-ēsha: ATX is one of those cities that’s been supporting me for a long time, all the way back to my tracks with Gravitas. Over time I’ve interacted with most of the promoters. I feel very lucky to have played at SXSW and so many other venues. Austin has become a home for me. Really I was torn between Denver and Austin. Ultimately, the weather in CO won me over. But I love Texas and I feel like its one of my strongest markets. It’s very cool to be involved with the music scene in Austin… Euphoria is one of the first festival types I’ve performed, and I will be sharing a lot of new content. Anyone who sees me, even old fans, will have something new to look forward to. Over the years I have evolved. Now that I make so much music in the last few years. What I’ve found is that I want to divide the sets I do and remain conscious of the environment. Live shows are compelling and people enjoy festivals. But for instance, nightclub people want the DJ energy. They want to dance and they want the drum and bass. The booth is tall and people can’t see me or my live set up, they just hear me and my music. However, festivals are more intimate with an open stage. There are more live elements, like my keytar. I’ve been taking a lot of time in the studio to write, collaborate and create new art to suit the time and place of each set. 

NM: Will you tell me about your transition from DJ to headlining performer and Producer? I liked your quote about wanting to participate in the music and not just the culture. 

ill-ēsha: I’m not much of a bystander. I enjoy art from being part of the process. I love film but I don’t actually sit around for long periods of time watching movies. I want to score and write for them. I wanted to be part of it. I started off with singing and DJ’ing. I wanted to control beats and make music. The deeper I got into it, the more deeply I realized I wanted to be part of production… About 10 years ago was sort of the turning point. All in all I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, since I was really young. The first ten years were very much passion projects and you could really tour and do live shows. I worked other jobs, too, and went to college. Touring and other jobs helped pay off student loans. Right around 2008 or 2009, I started feeling discontent. I was not feeling inspired. So I decided to go back to music as contractor and post-production for TV shows and editing. I regenerated and began making a new style of music. It was fun and different. It wasn’t simply drum and bass. At that point I just kind of discovered new people without the pressure. Re-inspired an online chat forum and people became receptive and started signing it. And that’s when I moved to SF and production became a full time priority… Ultimately my passion project and my true underlying goal is to give back and inspire young creative people. I was sort of an angsty teenager. Bummed out by life. Music saved me. Being a mentor, a guide and to give connections to the young artists and young creatives means a lot to me. 

NM: What was it like touring with Bassnectar? I adore his track “Butterfly” featuring Mimi Page and listen to it all the time. 

ill-ēsha: Touring with Bassnectar was pretty magical. I feel so lucky I got to experience that. It was only a few Southern tour dates and New Year’s Eve shows. I loved it though! Bassnectar is a big symbol of my music scene. Bassnectar created the west coast music sound within the DJ world. It was an honor to get to open for him. This is the guy who took it from A to Z.

NM: Last question, listening to your music on SoundCloud I heard a track called “Ghostwriter” with opening audio talking about computer hacking. Why did you choose to write about a computer hacker? 

ill-ēsha: In the 1990’s there was a children’s TV show called “Ghostwriter”. A lot of the samples in that track are from a single episode that I found to be cute. “Ghostwriter” was an educational kid’s show and that episode was about early internet. Teaching kids about hackers. At the time I was learning more about computers and I definitely enjoy digital nostalgia of different era’s because I’ve been through them all. As a child of cross generation analog and digital and I remember both… it’s always on my mind. 

For more information about ill-ēsha:  please visit her website at www.ill-esha.com. To listen to samples of her music please visit ill-ēsha’s SoundCloud page at https://soundcloud.com/ill-esha