Like any big city, Los Angeles is an anomalous treat in that any which way you turn you’re destined to stumble onto something bizarre and unexpected. Today I stumbled onto an AA meeting at the local coffee shop (I wanted an iced latte), last week I was accosted by an enraged crack addict who was raving that his car was stolen (it was towed), and about a month ago I went to Little Joy expecting to play some pool but instead discovered the graceful electro-pop of LA newcomer Party Nails.
Out of all those experiences, the biggest revelation was watching the petite, 25-year-old frontwoman belt her emotionally charged yet dance-demanding tunes to a jam-packed crowd in the intimate venue space within Little Joy. As a skeptic of the electronic insurgence that’s been cloaking both indie and mainstream music, it was a shock to find myself completely captivated by the lead singer’s charm and charisma, her complete commitment to her music, and her engagement with the crowd.
Party Nails, the appellation of New York native Elana Belle Carroll, derived the name while living in Brooklyn shortly after graduating from college. One night, while not-so-secretly scoping out a band name, she observed a group of girls pampering themselves before a party, and they just so happened to be painting their nails. “I liked the idea of girls doing their nails just to have a little more fun, just the tiniest detail in getting ready to go out,” Carroll told me.
When asked what inspired the idea to create a moniker for her act, she replied, “I think that naming projects comes out of the way you need to sort of synthesize a cohesive idea in order to show it to people. For a lot of people, it makes more sense for what they do to have a name, and then if they do another project, to adopt a different name. The shitty way to say it would be that it’s a branding thing, but branding in its truest sense..that’s what it is. Party Nails has a world that is beyond my reality, but it’s my experiences; it’s not a fictional character’s.”
Although Carroll has been invested in music and performing since picking up her father’s guitar at age 11, it took her years to hone her “brand” or rather the sound that would most closely resemble the natural way she chooses to express herself: “I started with Americana at age 11 or 12. I was really into rock and remember seeing Ani DiFranco and being like, ‘Wow, I could do whatever I want.’ Ani was just slamming on her guitar strings. That inspired me to try things on from the very beginning. In college, I learned different computer programs and gradually became obsessed with that.”
Carroll continued, “In New York, everything was really moody, electronic music, mainly inspired by house, but it was a lot of things at once. Moody, poppy, dancey, etc., and it hadn’t gelled yet. Then I met Gabe [Rattiner, the Brooklyn-based producer who produced Party Nails’ first single, “Break,” under his Shadom moniker]. He started playing in my band at the time, and eventually we started writing together. We went with that for a while, and I was pushed to try something else, something that felt really new to me at that time.”
It seems the musical landscape at that time was very inviting to experimentation, so it was no surprise that Carroll felt inclined to try on a few different writing styles, exploring what fit and what very blatantly didn’t. “When you’re at that point when you don’t know when it’s gonna gel, you’re always wanting it to come [so you try out whatever you can],” she explained. “Throughout that process, a couple of things really stuck out…things that were truer to me than prompts [in songwriting sessions]. Up until that point it had just been me writing songs alone — I had never worked with someone who was equally passionate about it. That was the first time I had my voice produced as a pop voice.”
The decision to relocate from Brooklyn seemed like an obvious one for Elana, who felt that New York was very rock-oriented at the time: “I wanted to just be where the action was, and we weren’t really sure what was going to happen with Party Nails. On a personal level, I just had this inclination that I was going to leave Brooklyn. The end of New York had come. I just kind of knew it. It got a little too comfortable there for me in a personal way. I was surrounded by so many people that I loved and was super close with, and oddly enough, I felt like that was kind of the wrong thing. I wanted to create a life for myself where I would just be grateful to have time and be content in my relationships. ‘Cause I wasn’t content. I was itching to do stuff.”
It wasn’t until after moving to Los Angeles that Carroll realized how much she truly enjoyed pop music and that she could approach it in a way that felt sincere and meaningful. “Once I came out here, things shifted and it was [as though] suddenly I could exchange ideas with like-minded people,” she told me. As opposed to finding LA cutthroat and competitive, she believes it’s actually a very engaging and inviting city brimming with plenty of incredible people. Carroll resolved to surround herself with a network of supportive friends, mentors, producers, etc., which has made it easy to stay focused, and in her short while here, she’s already managed to book an impressive number of shows at venues such as Little Joy, El Cid, and Jewels Catch One alongside buzz band Phases.
Still, trying to balance that day job that pays the bills with her unrelenting musical ambitions is just as difficult as one would imagine: “I often joke that every day I recommit. If the work you’re putting in equals that you get to make stuff that is very important to you and very important to other people, too, just to have the time, resources, and ability to do that is a huge gift, and you should put in what you have to in order to achieve those things.”
When I saw Party Nails at Little Joy performing her first single, “Break,” which premiered on Neon Gold and was released through WonderSound Records earlier this week, it was evident that Carroll was completely devoted to her craft and her audience. She performs with a four-piece band that she is wholeheartedly grateful toward for supporting her musical style and propelling her sound to feel richer, fuller, and palpably atmospheric.
Although Party Nails’ songs are pop-fueled, disco-driven fun, the lyrics come from a deeply intimate place that, when listened to carefully, can reveal themselves to be quite dark at times: “’Break’ is about that moment in a relationship when you know that it’s going to fall apart, but you’re so sorry.” Listening to her single with that knowledge makes the charismatic vocals and biting hooks all the more affecting. Check out the track and be sure to kick off your holiday weekend by catching Party Nails at El Cid tomorrow, September 4th, at 9pm.
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