When scanning the music industry for the best teams and rosters, it’s hard to leave Love Renaissance out of the conversation. More commonly known as LVRN, the label is responsible for big-name artists like 6lack, Summer Walker, Shelley FKA DRAM, and Westside Boogie as well as growing acts like BRS Kash, Cruel Santino (fka Santi), OMB Bloodbath, and more. With that being said, there’s also a new name on the roster that’s worth paying attention to.
Eli Derby, an 18-year-old singer from Maryland, is carving out his own lane on the LVRN team. For those who follow the label close, you’ll most likely recognize his name from LVRN’s 2020 Christmas album, Home For The Holidays where Derby delivered a pristine cover of “This Christmas.” His rendition, which featured background vocals from Summer Walker, was gentle and filled with youthful spirit as he also pushed the limits for what proved to be a personal standout on Home For The Holidays.
That cover birthed an interest in Eli Derby, and from that moment on, the wait to hear what else the young singer had to offer began. Eight months later and a slight step out of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic later, Derby returned with his official debut single, “Gaslight.”
Uproxx caught up with Derby over a Zoom call for an interview where we learned more about the young singer. Where did his musical journey begin? How did it elevate? What’s next? All while learning his personal goals for the future.
I read that you used to be in your church choir when you were younger. What experiences from your time there do you feel contributed to the artist you are today?
It started off with my grandfather, whose actually a pastor. So just being in the church, I was forced to either be an usher, or play, or sing. I had to do something, they would not let me just chill or sit down, so I got active. My uncle was a drummer, so I saw him and I was like, “Wow, I want to do this.” He taught me a few things and then a couple of years later, I wanted to sing. I kind of felt like I had a voice, you know, you sing in the shower all the time and you just feel like you have a voice and if the church likes it, everybody will like it. Then my dad was like, I want you to be better than me so either you’re gonna be a singer full-time, you just can’t play drums and that be it, cause I kind of stopped wanting to sing, so he was like play piano or guitar, so I chose piano. I started playing keys in the church, singing, and drums, I was on all that.
Later, I saw Ed Sheeran performing on YouTube just watching and researching his stuff. Growing up during that time, I don’t know, for some reason I didn’t really see a lot of Black people playing guitar. So I was like, that’s how I could be different a little bit. I decided, hey, I’ll pick up the guitar and learn how to play all these instruments. So [I was playing] guitar, piano, drums, bass, and singing in church. That’s how I started making and producing my own music, playing my own stuff, and just making my own sounds and creating my own world is just me who I am, as Eli.
When does the point of focus shift from investing your time in the choir to working on your YouTube covers?
So I’ll say around 12 or 13 I really like started to take this seriously. My dad was just very, very supportive, shout out to my dad and my mom. They were very supportive of me. As a matter of fact, my mom is a singer and my dad was an actor, so they really understood what I was trying to do and saw the passion that I have for music, so it was a no-brainer. Around 12 or 13, I started performing. My dad knew a couple of people in the DMV area, which is where I’m from. So I’d perform at the late-night shows, around the clubs out there, he would sneak me in, get me out there to perform, and get me comfortable on-stage performance in general.
Speaking of your dad, at just eight years old, he would sneak you into bars to perform for people there. I imagine this helped with spotlight moments, do nerves throw you off guard nowadays and how do you stay ready for these opportunities?
Yeah, I mean there are definitely moments where the nerves kick in. I had a performance at a show like two weeks ago in DC with a couple of hundred people, the nerves definitely kicking in. I have to remember though, we all eat the same, we all sleep the same, we all look at the same sun, the same moon, the same sky. We all are human, so why would I be nervous? I’m ready for this, it’s my time. That’s all I think about.
When did you feel like things were changing for you?
Yeah, it was two moments. The first one was when I put out the Frank Ocean cover for “Close To You.” I did that one and then the next one was when I put on my original song “Love Song.” I did the studio version of it, and I mean, the girls went crazy. I just got mad DMs telling me to drop the song, drop the song. I did not think it was gonna be that crazy, it’s different when people really like your music. That’s your goal, right? But it’s just crazy to me that people actually listen to what I’m saying.
Fast-forward a bit and now LVRN is home for you. What made them the ideal place for you to start your career?
LVRN, they’re the best really. I’m 15/16 at the time I met them and I see these five successful Black guys, and it felt right. It felt like a place where I could be myself. The energy was very genuine and their taste in music and how they just operate as a tempo is not just n****s guessing, they know what they’re doing. So I think that’s made me say yeah, they’re the ones.
With the release of “Gaslight,” your first single on LVRN, what made this the perfect single to release to the world as your debut solo single?
So I wrote this song during the COVID quarantine. I definitely wanted to put out a song during that time, because then I was in and out of the studio making music. I’m seeing no touring, no performances, I’m like bet this is my time to really just hone in on this project, at the time it was like okay, we’re gonna do an EP. So I wrote a song about being gaslighted because that was a situation that happened at that time. I’m writing the song and DJ Dahi, one of the producers, sent me a sample. I go into Logic, I flip it, I put some drums to it, add a little guitar, and I’m just writing to the sh*t. The situation is about a girl I was in a relationship with, she was my best friend for years, and problems occurred and she tried to pin me against the wall as if I was in the wrong, but really she was in the wrong. So, I was researching what that really meant and I saw “gaslighting” and then a friend told me what it meant and I was like, “Oh sh*t! Gaslight!” and that’s how it came to be.
With that being said, what can you tell us about your next project?
So I got a lot of cool stuff coming out, super excited. The next single is coming out pretty soon, I’m excited about that. The third single is with a feature, but I can’t say who yet, but y’all really gonna like it. It’s a fucking vibe, it’s a vibe, it’s some R&B to the core. It’s crazy, I’m super excited.
What’s your favorite 2021 album?
Imma go with Tyler’s album, I like that one. It’s been playing on my playlist the most, I don’t know why, I think that Kanye’s was good, Drake’s album was good, but what I keep playing to is definitely Tyler. I will say, Summer Walker’s coming out with the album and I’ve heard a couple of tracks, it’s looking close.
Is there anything you’re nervous about going forward? Confidence is key, but I would assume some fears exist somewhere.
Yeah, definitely. I feel like all artists go through it whether they want to admit it or not, cause I have nothing to lose. It’s like will I be successful? Will I be big? You always have doubts in your head as an artist, will people give a f*ck? Will people listen? Will people pay attention? Will people care? A wise man said those are things you definitely want to ask yourself. It would be foolish not to ask those questions because what I’m doing is so important to me, it’s my life.
On the flip side, what are you most excited to show or do as a new and growing artist?
I want to go on tour, I want to be a touring artist. That’s a flex because to say I wake up every morning, go to a different city for n****s to scream my music that I make is a fucking flex. So I feel like once it gets to that, it’s gonna be over. I’m a performer to the core, it all stems from church, right? If you can get people in church to get up off their feet, clap their hands, and sing with you? Church is very cut-throat, they won’t tell you this, but church is cut-throat. If you’re not good, they will boot you off, they will take the mic from you, they will give it to somebody who’s better. I’m a performer to the core, I dance, sing, play piano, guitar, all that sh*t, I just entertain. I think when I go on tour it’s gonna be crazy.
With less than two months left in 2021, what are your remaining goals for the year?
I want to get a couple more performances in. I may be going to London next month to do a show out there, that would be dope hopefully I’ll get to do that. Just really perform like, I know when the music sh*t goes crazy, I want it to be like, I’ve been doing so it’s nothing new.
As new fans discover your music and join you on this journey, what’s one thing you want them to know?
Everything I write is from me, the music you hear I produce or helped produce. It’s all from me as a person. I don’t cap about what I talk about, and it’s soulful. With this generation it’s good, but I feel like there’s missing something. I feel like that’s what I bring to the table.