Iowa-based crooner Eli Lieb first got my attention -– and that of over 2 million other people! -- via homespun YouTube videos of himself belting out covers of popular hits by the likes of Adele, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. But what's more fascinating than his rapid rise to fame, which culminated in the recent release of his eponymous debut disc, is how he started just a little over a year ago. After filming a recent Hot Stuff video with the "Place Of Paradise" singer, I chatted with him about his lifelong practice of transcendental meditation and how he went back home to move his career forward.
US: So how long have you actually been recording?
EL: I started recording it last summer, so a little bit over a year ago. "Place of Paradise" was actually the first song I had written for the album. I had an earlier demo of it, so that was my first stab into it and then I basically took the whole year to allow the process of the album to unfold.
US: What inspired the songs?
EL: Everything reflects something that is going in my life at the present time. Some of them can be pretty emotionally intense… "Place of Paradise," specifically, that one is a good song that sort of is representative of how I feel about life in general. It's a song about trying to find that place of paradise inside of yourself… The song is sort of about breaking down all of your walls and letting go of what you think will make you happy and to start looking inside of yourself.
US: You said you were able to do all of that through meditation and the way you grew up?
EL: I started meditating basically when I was born. My parents were meditating before I was born and I was just born into it… I've always been raised with the awareness of something more of diving within yourself what they call it and that's sort of what meditation is. It's going deep within and sort of contacting places that you might not usually contact and I find that being brought up in that kind of environment in that kind of a way really allowed me to just freely create the music that I am creating without any fear.
US: So when exactly did that happen?
EL: That happened probably- more intensely like right when I started recording the album...about a year ago. I've gone through a lot of stuff in my life that have been challenging, but I can look back at them all and be very grateful for each moment that I was going through because it completely allowed me to be who I am today. They're all these life lessons that we all go through and I think if you can look at them as a tool of growth, I think that’s a very fortunate thing to be able to look at and I think that I had just gone through enough and I had done so much self discovery that something had clicked in me where I realized who I was, what I wanted in my life and this happiness just clicked and formed and hadn’t gone away and it’s been the most liberating thing in my life. Ever since that happened everything has been going so much smoother and easier and I just feel like there’s so much nature support being thrown your way. It's about living authentically to be who you are and who you are supposed to be.
US: What led to the transformation?
EL: There's always been this fundamental underlying level of happiness in my life, but I allowed other things to overwhelm me much more. A very big thing that happened in my life when I was 25 was my father died and that was an event that definitely brought me down before it brought me up. I can also say going through difficult relationships. Sometimes when you’re in a relationship where you are forced to be not as present in it, you all the sudden see the stuff about your life and who you are and the stuff that you are missing that’s not there at the moment because you push it out the door for a relationship and then going through that, it just brought to light all the things in my life and who I am that I’m so appreciative of and ever since that. Something just clicked in me. I think when you go really far in, I don’t want to say far down because I wasn’t in this super downward slope, you don’t really know what light is until you know what dark is. You need that opposition sometimes...I’ve seen enough dark to really understand what light was. Sometimes things just click. You’ll see somebody dating somebody you know that they’re wrong for each other and nothing you can say-your friend will talk them out of it until one day, they just click and they understand like this is not supposed to happen, this is not working and then they give it up. It’s kind of a similar thing where all of the sudden it just snaps.
US: So you are from the small town of Fairfield, Iowa. Then you moved to NYC for a decade - and then moved back. Why?
EL: I was in New York for ten years and I had a great time. I’m here visiting right now and I’m loving every second of it, but because I was raised in this meditating community, I have always really been attracted to a spiritual life, a healthy existence, just a really calm, nurturing environment where everybody that you’re around is sort of there for the same reason. After a while, I started to just feel really run down and not living the life that I ultimately want to live, which is focused on health and happiness, so I would want to be around the city and then I would find a yoga studio as a spiritual bookstore and I would walk in there and I just all of the sudden felt like I could breathe. It just felt like my life energy was given back to me from being in that environment. It felt like home and for the longest time, I wouldn’t allow myself, even a tiny idea of moving back home because I had basically told myself that if I do this then I won’t have a career, I won’t ever get married; I’ll just be living in Iowa doing nothing and I limited myself.
US: There was probably also a feeling of failure if you didn't make it in the city?
EL: Yeah, totally. So the older you get, the more your life unfolds and comes together, hopefully, and something awoke in my brain that told myself, Eli, you know where you want to be to be happy, you know where happiness is, so you have to go for that and then just trust that everything else in your life will be the way that it is supposed to be. So, all of the sudden, it was a no brainer that I was going to move back to Iowa because every time I went back there, I was so happy, over-the-moon happy and when I moved back, I had never felt that elated in my entire life. I was so happy and I still am and it allows me to just live and just be in the moment because when you’re happy, you don’t think about the fears of things that you are supposed to do, you don’t allow that really to get in your mind and just cause a muck so from that place, I just allowed every process to happen and I started writing more and I made my album and now I found that real sense of home inside of myself and happiness inside of myself that now that I’m back here, I feel very different then when I did before. Now I feel like wherever I am now, I’m home because I’ve found that place in me, so now I can stay in New York for as long as I want or need to and I don’t feel that same overwhelming sense of I’m not living in the environment I want to live in, I’m not living the lifestyle I want to live in. It’s kind of because I always feel at home now wherever I go, as cheesy as that sounds.
US: What is next for you?
EL: Definitely more performances. There's a couple of things that I'm working on here right now and I was supposed to go home a while ago, but literally everyday things keep unfolding… I definitely want to go on tour very soon and we're reaching out to a bunch of different booking agents, all that stuff. I personally would like go to to LA next, just because I can be amongst my fans, that's one of the big draws right now. I know that it'll be constant unfoldment and a lot of it is us putting out our intentions of what we want and then seeing what we get back. It's really humbling to me to know that a year ago I started making this album in Iowa, I didn't know what I was going to do with it. I didn't even know I was making a complete album, and from a year from that time, you premiered my video on Usmagazine.com. That was a moment for sure.