Elsa y Elmar
Eres Diamante

For a long time, Elsa Carvajal was afraid to let herself have fun. The singer and songwriter who performs as Elsa y Elmar was constantly second-guessing herself and worrying that others would judge her, and her music, by her own exacting standards. She shed all that fear on Eres Diamante, the latest album from Elsa y Elmar.

“I took myself so seriously and now I don’t give a shit,” Carvajal says, laughing. “I’m just being honest in my music. I don’t take myself seriously, but I still do it honestly.”

Eres Diamante sounds as fresh and lively as it does honest. Carvajal’s latest emphasizes her limpid, expressive voice on 12 new tracks that are more expansive, more adventurous, than the indie-alternative sound of Rey, Elsa y Elmar’s 2015 album. “Rey was very careful in a way,” Carvajal says. “Musically, I didn’t want to be too out there. I didn’t want my influences to be too evident.”

She lets them shine through on Eres Diamante. “Nadie Va” has a trap feel in the ticking hi-hat cymbal and spare, thumpy bass, while “Ojos Noche” sounds like a summer night, with bright acoustic guitar, subtle keyboards and harmony vocals. She explores a pulsing reggaeton beat on “Cupla Tengo,” and her voice simply smolders amid slashes of synthesizers and a laidback beat on “Baby Us.”

“With this album, I said to myself, ‘I’m going all-in, and if I like something like trap music, then people are going to know it, and if I like a ballad, I’m going to do a ballad and it’s going to sound like the California ballads that I love, and it’s going to be fine,’” Carvajal says.

A native of Bucaramanga, Colombia, Carvajal studied jazz as a teenager before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she began performing as Elsa y Elmar. She moved to the Bay Area after graduating, and in 2014, won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest’s Latin category for the Elsa y Elmar song “Me Viene Bien,” from the 2013 EP Sentirnos Bien. As Carvajal has grown as a singer and musician, she’s become a sought-after live performer, playing gigs on her own, opening for Coldplay in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2016, and landing festival spots across the continent: Coordenada in 2015; Rock al Parque, Tropico and Bahidorá in 2016; Noise Pop and Roxy in 2017; and P’al Norte and Vive Latino in 2018.

You describe your music as “spiritual pop.” What does that term mean to you?

I like pop music, which means music that is just easily digested. But I also want my music to have an impact in somebody’s personal processes, because it does in my life. I think that we’re all connected in some way to others and that if I feel it, others maybe feel it, too.

Are you an autobiographical songwriter, or more of a storyteller?

I do both. Rey was very based in peoples’ stories: my friends, things that happened around me. This one is all about me.

You’re based in Mexico City now, after living in Oakland for a few years. Why the move?

I loved the Bay Area and the hippie life, but it took me three times the effort to get a show or something, because I needed to prove myself as a Spanish-singing artist who doesn’t do specifically Latin-sounding music. Once I got it, it was awesome and we did great, but I said to myself, “Maybe Mexico is going to be a better place to grow.” So I moved here.

Where did you record the new album?

I started it in San Francisco in May 2017, and we recorded till December, and then, well, I had to stop in the middle of it.

Why did you have to stop?

Basically I went crazy for two months, to be honest. I was having a hard time finding what I wanted to say. The music was fine, and I was doing a good job in exploring genres. But one night I woke up and I was having a huge panic attack, which lasted for two months. I went back to Colombia. I stopped the recording. I went and got professional help and all of that. I realized that what I needed to do was to let go of the wrong reasons for doing music and embrace the right ones, which is a message, which is honesty, which is doing songs that make people feel good and empowered and heard and not alone.

So the panic attack helped you refocus?

Yeah, what I feel now is that it was my body physically forcing me to let go of my fear by inducing a lot of fear. And when I came back, I said, “This album is going to talk about letting go of fear.”

What were you were afraid of?

I was in a place where, as a woman, I felt that I wasn’t capable of doing a lot of stuff. I said to myself, “You need someone to direct your band. You don’t know anything about music technology. You just know how to compose, do lyrics and sing. That’s what you do.” I had the fear of my own force. My way of being a feminist is just like, “Go do it.” And I would have never done that with all of my fears.

How long did it take you to express your message once you came back to the recording process?

It took me a long time, because I took care with every word in the album. It’s easy to finish a lyric by just putting in random words to make it sound cool. But I wanted the words to be super purposeful, so it took me — actually, we sent it to mixing and I was still changing words.

Is there a song that you think of as the centerpiece to this album?

I would say that it is “Eres Diamante.” In English, it’s called “You Are a Diamond.” My dad always used to tell me, “Happiness is the only treasure that you can only find inside of you.” I’ve heard that all my life. So when I was going through everything, and I went to my parents’ house like a baby to tell my mommy that I was so freaked out, he told me that. And then I had the vision of us having a diamond inside ourselves. The song says, “Llega el fuego, pero eres diamante,” like, “Fire comes, but you’re a diamond.” It means you have it in you and it’s going to be fine. So yeah, that’s the song.

For more information, please contact Samantha Tillman, Kate Rakvic or Carla Sacks at Sacks & Co., 212.741.1000.