While on tour in 2018, rising electro-pop artist Elohim kept having chronic panic attacks. Once she returned home, Elohim — who keeps her real name hidden and has often appeared with her face obscured — filmed a soothing video for “Panic Attacks,” a song featuring singer-songwriter Yoshi Flower. She views her music as her therapy, a way to purge her feelings, but for many fans who also struggle with mental-health issues, it serves a similar purpose.
“I’ve had a lot of people say that to me, like, ‘Your music is my safe place when I know I’m being triggered or going to go down that road to panic attack or dissociation,’ or whatever it is that they go through,” Elohim says.
Her ethereal but powerful vocals have been heard on tracks by Louis the Child, Whethan, Marshmello, Skrillex, and more, but her own work is especially vulnerable. With her 2019 EP Braindead, she released a series of breathwork videos for each track to guide meditation and to help people come down from panic attacks or disassociation. Releases like “Xanax,” “Hallucinating,” and “Group Therapy” feature dark lyrics that contrast with her funky beats. In her latest single “Vacuum,” she sings: “Vacuum stuck to my head/Sucking out my vital thoughts/Where did I go wrong?”
This year, Elohim set off on her first headlining run — dubbed “The Group Therapy Tour” — but it ended early due to COVID-19.
“It’s funny, giving the tour that name, I didn’t even know it would end up being what it was,” Elohim says. “I hoped and dreamed for all these things but then doing a tour you don’t know when it’s actually going to be like. It was beyond any and all expectations. It really honestly felt like group therapy every night.”
During the pandemic, Elohim has sustained that sense of community by hosting frequent live streams and creating a safe haven in the comments section of her social media. During Mental Health Awareness Month, she called in from Palm Springs to chat about why the tour felt like a breakthrough and how she’s been spending her time in lockdown.
What music do you turn to in times of crisis for solace, and why?
I’m not usually home this much. So when I’m home, all I really listen to is old vinyl that I have because that’s like a feeling of being home for me. I love Billie Holiday, who is probably my favorite on vinyl. I think every Christmas, every birthday, every holiday somebody gets a Billie Holiday vinyl. Thom Yorke put out a record and that one is just, like, forever really calming and beautiful. I also am a big fan of quiet and no music — like when I drive I like it to be quiet.
How have you used social media to bring you closer to your listeners?
I try to be available on social media and respond, be there for people like they’ve been there for me. I’ve had so many conversations about taking medication or going through a panic attack or depression, anxiety or dissociation. Those conversations are really important, and they’re very much needed. I feel like [my social media] has become this community, which is so awesome. Not only am I responding, but now other people respond to people. You know, if someone is saying they had a hard day, someone else will respond to them saying, “Oh, my gosh, we’re right here with you; the community loves you so much.” It’s everybody helping each other, which is so beautiful and it’s so rare these days.
Group Therapy was your first headlining tour. Can you talk about your experience on the road before it was canceled due to the pandemic?
I was so sad when it was canceled because it was like nothing I had experienced. [On tour] I would give people the opportunity if they wanted to speak on the mic, I was like, “This is our time together. Whatever you want to do with this time.” There were so many nights where everyone was just in tears and my crew was in tears. It was beyond anything we could have ever imagined. There was a time in D.C. when a friend named Mason came up and he’s actually transitioning, and so it was kind of like his first time talking about that in front of a bunch of people and we were all in tears and happy tears and hugging and it was just the most beautiful moment. It gives me chills thinking about it.
You’re very open on social media, on tour, and in your lyrics about your own mental-health journey. How has your panic and anxiety disorder influenced your music over the years?
Growing up, I think I had a severe panic disorder and anxiety disorder. I didn’t identify that till later in life. Once I kind of identified it, I didn’t even know there were other people that felt that way. I put out my song “Xanax” — which was the second song I ever put out, but it was actually the first song I ever wrote as Elohim — I put that out and there were all these messages that were coming in with other people saying, “I never knew anyone felt this way. I’ve never heard somebody put this into words before. This is like what I go through on a daily basis.” Then I started researching organizations and I realized there is a whole community and world out there of people who are struggling through this as well. I think the audience has really opened my eyes to mental-health awareness. My music has become a safe place for them where they can put it on and they feel understood and they feel OK. It’s almost like a meditation thing. People say to me, “You’ve saved me,” but I’m like, “You’ve saved me!”
What is it like touring as someone with mental-health issues?
Touring is already an anxious situation, then put in somebody who has a chronic panic and anxiety disorder, that’s when these crazy episodes start to happen. I didn’t want to let the mental issue stop me from doing this and I felt like I wanted to conquer it — I feel like I did. That’s my most proud thing, that I can get onstage now and share this message and be out there and be an example of how your mental health doesn’t define you. You can overcome this; it just takes work.
Since we’re speaking during Mental Health Awareness Month, how can everyone be helping each other out during the pandemic?
I think being supportive and just checking in right now, that’s really beautiful. You know, when I get a text from someone I haven’t heard from in a while just saying, “Hey, I just want to check and see how you are feeling,” it makes such a difference. Also, working on yourself and trying to maintain that. It’s tough because you’re like, “I don’t know where we are going. What are we doing? I don’t know what’s next.” So it’s hard to be like, “I feel super motivated to work out every day,” but when you do it, it is a healthier mental state.
What is the reason behind being an anonymous artist?
I didn’t know how badly I needed the anonymity for my own mental state. Not showing my face and not speaking is what got me through the first couple years of doing a few years of doing this. … It kind of gave me this opportunity to hide and feel safe.
You recently released a new song called “Vacuum” as part of EDEN’s New World Tapes compilation. What inspired the lyrics?
So basically this was the first time I’ve created in quarantine. I think I made it my second week home after having my first headlining tour. Some of the shows were selling out and I was completely heartbroken. The lyrics to me are just that feeling of confusion and losing your mind. I remember I was sitting at my piano and I just kept thinking of this visual of a vacuum attached to my forehead, and just sucking out all of the bad thoughts and all the anxiety.