For anyone who was on TikTok last year, the song “Middle of the Night” most likely sounds familiar. And for any of the twenty million people who listen to her music on Spotify, the name Elley Duhé should not come as a surprise. And yet, she’s one of those artists who – despite her big wins, has had to fight for her place in this industry. “It’s been a journey,” is one of the first things she tells me when I ask her about her foray into music.
Duhé started young, writing songs solely out of an aversion for covers when she was little. “I had no idea that was songwriting at the time, I’d just think – no, that’s too much, I’ll just make up my own thing on guitar.” It wasn’t until she was 14 that she consciously wrote a song from start to finish, and realized how much she wanted to do that for the rest of her life. “It was like the whole world stopped,” she smiles at the memory.
It’s her parents’ support that allowed her to cultivate that initial spark of joy. “I don’t know where I’d be without their love and support. When I was 17, I’d started playing high school shows and bars, small festivals – I’d open up for people. And sometimes, I’d skip school to go to gigs, it’s how I made money,” she starts. “And even though my dad used to be a high school teacher, he was in support of that. He just knew me well enough to be like, she really has something here.”
So on she went to Nashville, in hopes of chasing her dream and making it reality. “I went through three or four years of me meeting with publishing companies, labels, A&R, all of these industry people, and getting rejected. I’d get brought in, they’d be excited, but then I’d get rejected. But having to go through that and having a lot of doors close in your face, receiving a lot of criticism in those early stages of my career, it’s helped me build a tough skin. It was really hard, but I mean, I loved it. I love music more than anything – it’s been like a lifesaver for me. One of the hardest things I’ll ever do in life is trying to do what I love, and make money at it. You know, have a successful career and fanbase.”
To that end, she’s certainly realized her own dreams. A far cry from just performing for her parents or classmates, Duhé’s currently part of an elusive group of less than 200 people that make up the most listened to artists in the world right now.
“There’s been a lot of struggle, but I’ve had success through belief in myself and executing that belief. I’ve touched a lot of people, and a lot of people have touched me. I’ve had songs with DJ’s and I’ve had solo success, I’ve been a major label artist, and now I’m an independent artist – I’ve done it all.”
“Middle of the Night” was the song that’s allowed her to successfully claim her space as an independent artist. That journey will culminate in the release of a full project at the end of summer that Duhé has been working on for the past two years. “It’s really exciting – like a rebirth.”
Most of all, she’s excited about the fact that “Middle of the Night” is getting its own individual rebirth as well on TikTok. “It’s from two years ago, but I’m so happy it’s finally getting its day in the sun,” she admits. “I knew it was an amazing song when we made it, there was something different you know? You get this creator’s high when you make something special. And it’s nice that now the rest of the world also hears it as well – like yes, we got that one right. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
Duhé also says that the attention for her music couldn’t have come at a better time. “I was struggling at the time, it’s not easy when you’re trying to reconfigure who you are. And so, my spirit was just working in all these ways – and then suddenly the song started to take off. Sometimes we don’t take the time to live in our victories, because we’re always hustling and telling ourselves we have to keep going. But these are the moments that you have to remember in life. So I’m loving every minute of it, and the fact that it’s done so well despite having so little support from the place where it was put out. To see it do what it’s done, despite people trying to hold me back – it’s been crazy,” she smiles.
What is more, it’s only encouraged her to keep grafting at her LP that’s arriving at the end of summer. The new project is aptly titled Phoenix, as this idea of finding yourself after being is integral to Duhé’s experiences. She doesn’t begrudge anyone, nor does she have any hard feelings about the difficult, less than stellar moments in her career, because they made her into who she is today as an artist. “Every experience is a lesson and something to take and learn from it. This industry is a hard business, and you have to navigate it very carefully. I’ve tried to do that by surrounding myself with good people. I’ve been blessed with an amazing team that continues to build and grow, and people that really care.” She pauses. “I think it’s finding people that genuinely care and are good people and conduct themselves in this industry with a conscience, you know? I’ve also worked with people that are more about the bottom line, and that’s been interesting – to work with people in that capacity and have it be beneficial in the long run. I’ve done the label journey, it’s exactly why I moved out here – to get signed. And I did get signed a year later, and through that whole process – I learned.”
Duhé explains she was perhaps a lost girl with big dreams, that was then disillusioned by the harsh reality of a ruthless, cutthroat industry. “You think being signed is supposed to be the greatest when you’re young. It’s like – I’m going to Hogwarts, you think you’ve gotten the golden ticket. And then when you get into it, you’re like – oh, this is not at all what I thought. This is going to be like climbing a mountain. And through that process, I’ve been reborn into who I really am, gotten to know myself and really find myself as hard as it was. There were many times I didn’t feel heard or respected. But I never stopped believing in myself.”
In other words, this new album and rebirth of Duhé the artist and visionary that’s fully in control is a true rising from the ashes. “And most importantly,” she adds, “without any bitterness. You have to continue to heal and work through things, but my heart has grown so much. You’re the one who really suffers if you continue to mull over things that were unfair, it’ll eat away at you. I’m moving forward and I’m going to show people that didn’t even realize how they hurt me. I’m going to win by being the best, most loving, fullest version of myself.”
And the best way to showcase that, is by putting out new music – like her new single “Pieces.” “It’s about valuing yourself and your time, your energy, your body and your love. Someone has to work for all of you – they have to earn it, if they desire you,” Duhé explains of the track’s inspiration. Sonically, it’s “like the sister of Middle of the Night, in the same kind of world.”
What Duhé wants least of at all, though, is to be seen as a one-trick pony. “What I want people and my fans to learn about me, is that I’m very versatile. On the record, they’re going to hear many different flavors from me over time. I’m not someone that sticks in one genre, I’m really a hybrid of genres that my soul kind of connects with.”
The only requirement she sets for her songs, is that they need to be good. “It’s all you got to do – make it good. There’s always going to be people who don’t like what you’re making, so what are you going to do, you know? You can’t please everyone, I should at least please myself.”
That could be an ambiguous standard, but it’s clear very quickly that Duhé’s used to being hard on herself, a perfectionist through and through. “If it’s not one of my best, if it’s not something I would feel proud of putting out – just good isn’t good enough. It’s important in my own process that I don’t put anything out that’s just not up to my optimum level of potential, you know?”
One look at Duhé’s catalog up until now will only further illustrate her points on versatility and quality. A song that she’s particularly proud of, is “Traitor”. “I put it out last year, and I think it’s a really beautiful, heavy song. Good for breakups,” she adds with a smile, suggesting that she wouldn’t mind at all if anyone would like to make it go viral next on TikTok.
While the inspiration for “Traitor” came from a “turbulent and unhealthy, unstable relationship” that Duhé had herself, she’s not set on always writing purely from her own perspective or experiences.
“I think there’s inspiration around us all the time,” Duhé starts, before giving an example. “Whether it’s a conversation I’m having with someone, a podcast I’m listening to, or I’m watching a film – if the story resonates, there might be something there. Maybe it’s a concept or point of view I can write from, because there’s always a different angle to discover. I recently watched this documentary on a man that had gotten wrongfully convicted of murder, and he was in prison. His whole life story was so crazy and sad, and you could tell he’d been through so much. It moved me in such a way that I wrote a song inspired by his life. He spoke on the podcast, in tears, and explained that he’s been through so much that something’s broken now where he just cries and emotions are always at the forefront now – especially now that he’s free. He was just very emotionally intelligent, and it was a moving story, so I took inspiration from that.”
It’s important to her, because there’s a lot of power in creating songs that resonate with people and their own backstories. “I felt like it resonated with me, as I’ve been through a lot of things as well in life that affected me very deeply. And being able to overcome that and still be kind and loving, and still fighting for my dream and not giving up, and watching myself come through and still go at it…. It’s just – I know myself that it can make you feel seen and empowered. So I want people to listen to my music and think, I can relate to this, I feel understood, even if it’s not exactly what happened to me, it still touched me deeply.”
Funnily enough, for a while there, Duhé did not let the people closest to her – own parents – listen to the music she was putting out. “Growing up, we used to have this little recorder and my dad would make me tape my performance over and over again – because you only had one tick all the way through. So I was put through the ringer of having to do as many takes as it took. And my mom, she could never listen to a whole song before asking questions as to what I was saying, or tell me what to improve, or fix my diction,” she gives a wry smile. “Developing your skill as a creator is important, and it takes practice and dedication, so I’m grateful. But from the time I was 18 to like 23, I wouldn’t play them my music, because I’d get so annoyed. Now I’m appreciative of it, but back then I hated it so much!”
Similarly, Duhé had to get used to working with other collaborators. “It’s incredible to work with other songwriters, they’ll teach you so much. I used to think I had to do it all on my own, that it was the only way to be a great artist. It was just my own programming and ego talking, because when you’re able to co-create with others, you can learn so much from how they put songs together themselves. They’ve truly helped make me the creator I am today, and so there’s a few people that I always enjoy working with, because the process is just a perfect match,” Duhé explains.
It’s also taught her discipline. Being in LA can feel like a place full of opportunity that’s ripe for the picking at all times. But it’s easy to get lost in the city as well, and Duhé’s very cautious of that. “If you get too caught up in what your idea of being an artist is supposed to be like this rockstar lifestyle – I’ve been around that, and it’s just not. It doesn’t bring out the best in me, or the highest version of myself.”
Instead, Duhé treats herself like an athlete with a strict regiment that features both physical and mental health fitness. “I just like living a little more simple, holistic lifestyle, while making music and trying to promote that. Because everybody’s sharing themselves, right? Everybody’s sharing all the glamorous things, all this and that. And it’s like, if you actually get to know me, it’s like, oh, she does yoga, she does breath work, she boxes. To thrive online, is to be myself, and share that. It’s empowering, and it works, and I like what I’m putting out in the world.”
She’s also happy that she’s now got a marketing and social media team to help her out. In a world where 60,000 songs are being uploaded onto Spotify every day, and the average attention span is shrinking, having such a team is invaluable. But the bottom line remains – you need a great artist who’s able to share and connect with others, and Duhé’s proved she can deliver on that.
“I’m just never going to think of a viral marketing campaign, my brain doesn’t work that way. But now I have these wonderful people that are very smart, and they’re teaching me so much. I’d have never come up with a TikTok like we did for ‘Middle of the Night’– I’m just not a Wheeler Dealer you know, I don’t know how to sell people things. I’m just here to create,” she laughs.