/ Music

Text by Molly Simms. Portrait by Skyler Dahan. Grooming by Jeffrey Baum. 04/24/2017


Margate, a small seaside town on the UK coast, isn’t the birthplace of many—or really any—superstars. But if singer Leon Else has his way, he’ll be the first. “My dreams are so big, it’s scary,” he says. “But I believe I can get them.” Considering the buzz building around his sultry-yet-danceable pop-infused R&B tracks, that doesn’t seem hard to imagine. Else was signed to Interscope off a 2014 EP and the first single, “Black Car,” off his upcoming album is racking up views on YouTube. “I want to be the biggest artist in the world,” he says. “But not in the sense where it’s all about me, give me your money, and look at me posting pictures on a jet. I want to connect people, and let them know they’re not the only ones going through shit. And that they can get through it.”

Else has encountered his fair share of hurdles, too. At 15, he moved to London to enroll in a dance academy, where he studied ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and musical theater. But it wasn’t an easy transition for a boy raised in public housing. “I don’t come from a society where dance is acceptable for boys. I had to start with the little girls; I stood out like a sore thumb.” And, of course, he was teased relentlessly: “I got it at home as well as school,” he says. Still, Else wasn’t dissuaded. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do and exactly how I was going to do it,” he says. He finally quit dance after appearing in the 2009 musical Nine, and realizing how much he disliked being buried behind a sea of other performers. “I was one of the featured model dancers,” he says, “and I remember thinking, ‘Fuck being the background person any more.’ I was looking at Nicole Kidman and Penelope Cruz, and thinking, ‘I could do this. I’m gonna go do my music, and come back and be in a film.’”

Else has been singing as long as he can remember—as a kid, he was obsessed with Alicia Key’s Songs in A Minor and Christina Aguilera’s Stripped. “Any stories that were real,” he says. “I like experiences I can connect to.” His first forays into sharing his own music were via MySpace, where he initially released, oddly enough, reggae songs. “I’d find these old backing tracks online, and put them up on MySpace with my song over the top,” he laughs. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but that’s what I did.” He soon moved on from reggae, and in May 2014, after a tour with Foxes, Else put out an EP called River Full of Liquor. Music exec Aaron Bay-Schuck heard it through friends and eventually signed him to Interscope. For now, Else is enjoying the spoils of his newfound pre-fame. Reflecting on his first Fashion Week experience, he’s still glowing at the memory. “I mean, coming from government housing in a small seaside town, growing up quite poor, to be in the front rows of these shows and being gifted all these clothes…I can’t even get my head around it. It’s nuts. It’s like, Margate to Milan.”

Looking to the future, Else sees more big things. First off working on a game-changing, transporting live show in support of his new LP, due out in March 2017. “I’m going to help people forget the shit that we all deal with: the bills, the arguments, the deadlines you’re stressed out about.” And if the songs on that release feel somewhat uncategorizable, Else is more than fine with that. “I feel like people need to stop labeling and just live,” he says. “And that’s really hard, because what are you then? Where do you live musically? But you know what? I don’t live anywhere musically. I want to always keep you guessing.”