The singer Eli Jas grew up in New York City, raised by a single mom who focused on her daughter’s education, stressing the importance of working hard in high school and then going to college—so when Eli (born Julissa) decided to take a break from school to pursue music, she felt she needed to get her mother’s blessing. As she says, “In the Latin culture, being in school and studying is very important, and I was lucky to have a great single parent, my mom, who always put me into [great] schools. But I felt I really needed to invest in something that was going to make me internally and externally happy.”
We caught up with Eli by phone to hear about that life-changing moment, when instead of just dreaming of a music career, she took decisive action.
Hip Latina: I want to know what happened when you really decided for sure that you were going to pursue music professionally. What steps did you take to get started?
Eli Jas: Ooh, this is a good one. Ok, well, when I started music—I’ve always been into music—but I think during my college years, I was going to John Jay and studying Criminal Justice and Psychology, and there was one day when I had a talk with my mom, and you know, a mom’s advice is very important. I had a talk with my mom because I wanted to ask what she really felt about me pursing my music career.
So I said “Mommy, I need to talk to you.” And she’s like, “What happened?” and she’s worried, of course. But I told her that I needed to take my music a step further, that I wasn’t pursuing it the way that I should, so I asked to take at least a year off school to do music.
And she said, “Is this really what you want? Is this going to make you happy?” and I said, “Yes.” And she told me “Ok, I’m giving you a year. If it doesn’t happen within a year, that’s it.”
And that was about the time I met up with my producer, Chris Hierro, and I was able to do the song, “Tú me haces volar.” That song was written within an hour—and to this day, this is the song that people remember me from. What I think makes this song special is that it’s a happy song, which is a large part of Bachata, which is important to me being Dominican.”
HL: That was great timing!
EJ: Yes. Luckily I met the right people, and was in the right situation, and with every song that I put out, I gain more fans.
HL: Was “Tú me haces volar” the first song you wrote, or was it just the first one that came together well?
EJ: It was the first one that came together well. I used to write poetry, but I learned a lot about music from Chris Hierro, about recording, how to work the mic, how to sing in different ways—melodies, harmonies. I have to thank Chris—he’s helped me a lot—and everyone who has helped me on my journey, because everyone you meet, regardless of whether you think you’re learning from them or not, you’ve learned something.
HL: Even if it’s not what you wanted to learn.
EJ: Exactly. I feel that even if you meet somebody or it’s a bad situation, or something bad happens, you’re still learning from the experience. You have to know rain to know sunshine, and vice versa. That’s what I love about life—the yin yang.
HL: Are you planning any tours at the moment?
EJ: I’m actually planning a couple of tours—one might be in Ecuador, which I’m really excited about. I also really want to release an album soon, with different aspects of me. I speak in English and I speak in Spanish. When I’m expressing myself in English, it’s a totally different vibe. I want people to see many different parts of me that people haven’t seen yet. I’ve grown so much in the years, and I express myself differently now.
HL: I think one of the best things about being an artist is capturing moments before your perspective changes. At age 24, for example, the songs you would write would be very different from those you would write at age 34.
EJ: Yes, absolutely. If you are in a relationship and you’re happy, you have to capture that moment in a song right then because—
HL: Otherwise it’s gone.
EJ: Yes. That’s one of my favorite things about being an artist. There’s one song that I have my EP that hits really hard because it’s about my first heartbreak. I felt like I needed to put all that anger and heartbreak into the music, and I remember crying in the studio—and now when I go back and listen to it, I think, “wow, I was really feeling a lot then.”
But with my album, people are going to hear a lot of different sides of me for the first time. There will be Urban Eli Jas, Bachata Eli Jas, some ballads from Eli Jas—I think people are going to like it.