Elsdeer is the moniker of Berlin-based singer/songwriter Denise Dombrowski. In May of this year, she released her debut single called ‘Ten Years Time’, and we at Indie Top 39 fell in love with the delicate, nostalgic, and heartfelt tune. Just a couple of days ago she returned with her second single, ‘Blue’, and we quickly realised that we needed to find out more about this seriously talented artist. Chatting to us about relocating to Berlin, what she loves about being a musician, and how she came up with the name Elsdeer, please give a big welcome to Denise Dombrowski!
Hello and welcome Denise! We’re thrilled to reintroduce you to our ever-growing audience. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, could you tell us a little bit about your musical journey? I know that you were involved in the Berlin folk scene a few years ago.
My musical journey started at age 7 with my first violin lessons. As a small child, I remember liking music but also not being really conscious of what I was doing. With puberty, I hit the classic teenage rebel phase, discovering rock music and “of course” not wanting to play the violin anymore.
I actually started playing the guitar for the first time back then – but mostly by learning the chords to some Blink-182 or Kings Of Leon song that I would play alone in my bedroom.elsdeer
My parents and my violin teacher made me continue playing the violin with a mix of good and bad communication. Then, some shift happened and from that point, maybe when I was 16 years old, I began to love my instrument and it became a part of me. I ended up studying music – it was in university and in my solo travelling that I found out about jam sessions, improvisation, and all these creative and liberating ways to express music.
I moved to Berlin three years ago and was also on the hunt for jam sessions when I discovered the Berlin folk scene. In the scene, I met a lot of wonderful and talented musicians – we started playing and sharing music together. These people were also the ones that encouraged me to write, perform and eventually even record my own music.
I’m just going to come right out and say it – I fell exceedingly hard for ‘Ten Years Time’. It truly is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt tunes I’ve heard in a long time! What made you choose it as the very first song to introduce yourself to the world?
Originally, my plan was to release ‘Ten Years Time’ as the second single, as the song has quite a heavy background story and did not really seem to be a great opener into my path as a singer/songwriter. When we recorded the song though, it completely changed its appearance by the way the other instruments came into play and in the end, the recorded song surprised me so much that I reversed my opinion. At that point, it felt like it should become the first song to introduce myself as it reflected the place where I came from and where I went at the same time.
The track now has over 22,000 plays on Spotify. How does it make you feel to know that so many people have been listening to and, more importantly, resonating with your music?
It’s quite a strange but also beautiful feeling. As a Spotify artist, you can see where people listen to your music the most and my number 1 city is Santiago de Chile! I have never been to Chile and maybe met a handful of people from there in my life but funnily enough, the musician that played electric guitar on the song, Sebastian Hoch – is from Chile. We are always laughing about this fact as we have no clue why I get so many plays from there. There are also some other cities on that list that couldn’t be further away from each other and it is a weird feeling to know that people have heard your voice in these different parts of the world. On the other hand, it is also beautiful to see how music can be universal and how it can go even to the most distant places.
I was privileged to hear your brand new single ‘Blue’ a few days before the rest of the world. I’m not going to lie…I had high expectations…But you’ve outdone yourself! It’s absolutely brilliant! What does ‘Blue’ mean to you?
‘Blue’ was the first song that I wrote that made me feel like an actual singer/songwriter, and it also made me want to pursue the path of becoming a full-time musician.elsdeer
I’d started writing songs already before but never felt like the songs were good enough to be recorded or that I’d enjoy playing them for a long time. With ‘Blue’ I felt some form of confidence and I knew that it was something special to me, so it made me want to perform it live and eventually record it as well.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences? Who did you grow up listening to? And would you say that your tastes have changed over the years?
When I was a child, my parents listened to Elton John, Stevie Wonder and the Police which is a funny mix but I still really enjoy listening to all three of them even nowadays so I guess my parents must have known something about music back then. Nevertheless, my taste has definitely changed over the past couple of years. At the moment, I love listening to folk music and also music from completely different parts of the world. Someone that became a big musical hero for me in the past couple of years is Natalia Lafourcade – if you don’t know her, go and check her out right now. Regarding my own music, Adrienne Lenker and Andrew Bird are the two musicians that have had the biggest influence on me.
What do you love most about being a musician? And on the flip side, what are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced so far?
Playing music is probably the most heart and soul-filling thing for me. Some of my most beautiful memories are connected to music and music was also the main factor that kept me sane and relatively happy throughout the pandemic.elsdeer
Even though there have been times when I stopped playing, I somehow always go back to it and feel like it is the one thing that I truly want to be doing for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, it sometimes really is a struggle to present yourself as a professional musician. For me, it is quite strange that nearly every man and his dog on this earth listens to music and that it seems to be such an integral part of life, yet it is often not regarded as a real profession to be a musician. That notion especially doesn’t come in handy when one might already experience some form of existential crisis.
I’m a sucker for having to find out the origins of a band’s name, or an artist’s moniker. How did Elsdeer come about?
The word “elsdyr” is Danish for “elk”. I came up with the name in 2016 when I was coming back from the US and had a long layover in Copenhagen. Back then, I also recorded a song (that I never officially released) and was looking for an artist name as I didn’t consider my birth name very catchy. I was looking at animal names in Danish and came across “elsdyr” – for my artist name I changed the spelling a bit so it also had the English word “deer” in it as well. When I released ‘Ten Years Time’ I thought of changing the name but couldn’t find anything that I liked enough or could imagine myself still liking years from now. Even though I started to dislike that song that I recorded but never released back in 2016, I never started to dislike the name Elsdeer – so I decided to stick to it.
It’s a small world! A while ago, Indie Top 39 featured Lisa Akuah’s incredible tune ‘We Will Pass’, and while I was doing a little digging I came across a video of you and her performing the song together. It’s absolutely haunting! How did the two of you meet?
Lisa is actually one of the people that I got to meet in the Berlin folk scene right when I moved here. We ended up going to many of the same music nights and when she performed she’d ask me whether I’d like to join her with the violin. We’ve been good friends for a couple of years now and it is very beautiful to have a personal and a musical friendship together.
If you were allowed to collaborate with one musician or band, who would you choose?
It would 100% be Andrew Bird. He has been my musical idol for many years and is such an inspiration as he also plays the violin. For a long time, I thought that you cannot be a singer/songwriter and violinist at once but he truly shows how to do it. I got the chance to see him live a couple of weeks ago in Cologne and was completely spellbound by the performance. He only played with a bass player and a drummer, but the three of them were bringing the house down!
Thank you so much for chatting with us today Denise! I have no doubt that there are many more songs up your sleeve, and I truly can’t wait to hear what else you have in store! But in a broader sense, what do you hope for in your musical future?
Thank you so much for the interview! For my musical future, I mainly hope to keep having the luck to share my music with the world by recording and performing it and also to get to meet many many more musicians and artists as it is a very inspiring way of life!
We added Elsdeer’s single ‘Blue’ to the playlist of all the artists we interviewed so far.
Don’t be shy to give it a listen!