“I was bred to do this,” Elle Varner declares with the ideal combination of humility and confidence. After all, her recently released debut album Perfectly Imperfect entered Billboard’s Top 200 album chart at number four and album’s second single “Refill” went top 10.
Varner spent her childhood immersed in music; her parents were successful touring musicians, but just because you were raised around the likes of Maxwell, Barry White and Rahsaan Patterson doesn’t mean that you know how you’re going to break into the business.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything else but I didn’t how I was going to do it,” admits Varner. “I wasn’t the most confident, especially in college. I thought maybe I’ll start as an intern and slide my CD on someone’s desk one day . . . I never thought it would happen the way it happened or on the level that it happened.” Regardless of how, audiences will surely be glad it happened when Varner takes the stage Friday during this weekend’s Black Gay Pride events.
Friday night’s performances are the capstone to a crazy month of album promotion for Varner. Varner admits that release week for the hardest week. “It was really crazy but it was meant to be that way to show me that it wasn’t going to be easy and that this is what [I] want,” Varner shared.
On Perfectly Imperfect, Varner harkens the days of 90s R&B when lyrical content superseded big-name production. But the album is not without production value. On second single “Refill” Varner switches things up and showcases a fiddle on the track -something practically unheard of in an R&B song.
While the album is steeped in neo-soul, Varner’s unique infectious energy is showcased through her fresh singer/songwriter lyrics. When listening to the album, it’s no surprise that Varner counts Tracy Chapman, Ella Fitzgerald and Alanis Morissette among artists that inspire her.
Varner’s storytelling capabilities are deftly illuminated on two album highlights. “Damn Good Friends”, a track that gay audiences will recognize from indie, lesbian coming-of-age film Pariah, and “Not Tonight”, Varner’s favorite song to perform live.
“When I perform ‘Not Tonight’ I can hear a pin drop in the room,” Varner shares. “I really get to play the spaces in that song and I love it.”
In addition to the album’s storytelling, Perfectly Imperfect includes positive themes without being preachy. The album closes with “So Fly”, a song whose message of self-acceptance in a society where we consistently criticize and compare ourselves to others has all the makings of a gay anthem. And that’s something that Varner doesn’t take lightly.
“That makes me very proud. That my songs could represent an entire community,” Varner beams. “That’s huge for me, especially in the times that we’re in.”
Those times include not just bullying for the LGBTQ community but for a wide cross section of the population. Knowing that it exists, Varner hopes to bring her own brand of love into the world.
What started off as a corny idea in her eyes transformed the Twittersphere almost immediately. “I was on Twitter one day and I was tweeting about Tupac, who I’m so in love with, and I tweeted something about thug life. I was sitting there thinking ‘what are you talking about? You have no connection to thug life. You’re not about that’.”
Varner decided to represent in a different way and reflect what she’s about. Her #huglife hashtag was born. “Hate comes from wanting to be loved,” Varner declares. “And if I can get kids to rep #huglife instead of emulating people they see on TV, then I’m excited to make that part of my brand and my message.”