Gay singer-songwriter Eli Lieb racks up YouTube views with what can only be described as astounding consistency. His videos of original compositions like “Place of Paradise” and “Young Love” (which featured a hunky male paramour) are bona fide smashes, and he’s had a similarly huge response to his covers of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and “Skyfall,” Rihanna’s “Stay,” and Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” and “Young and Beautiful.” On Sunday alone he tallied 300,000 views on his new cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” thanks in part to Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale, who Instagrammed her shock at his gorgeous voice.
Lieb has lived in LA for the past five months, but he’s a proud native of Fairfield, Iowa where he grew up practicing Transcendental Meditation, a practice espoused by film director David Lynch, who visits the town frequently. Certainly Lieb has lived a one-of-a-kind life, and now his clout on YouTube is similarly distinct.
We caught up Lieb to discuss his Midwestern work ethic, representing for gays, and the isolating aspects of the music industry.
TheBacklot: You’ve been in LA for the past five months, but you’re a proud Iowan. What’s your life like there?
Eli Lieb: It’s very quiet. I really love that kind of a lifestyle where it’s just about having a small life, and in that atmosphere I’m really healthy, I tend to go to bed early, and I spend a lot of time with my family and friends. I basically just work on YouTube videos and music all day long. In a small town like that, a lot of times you have to make your own things to do. YouTube is a way for me to work and feel like I’m still progressing.
TB: Is your life more regimented there? More self-scheduling?
EL: No, not at all! I just know that when it comes to working, music is just something that I have to do. I don’t actually need to schedule it in because I know I’m just going to be drawn back into it. Some days I take a break and I want to, if it feels like nothing’s coming to me.
TB: Your output of original material and cover songs is pretty huge. How do you decide when to do one or the other?
EL: I kind of just go with what I’m being inspired to do. Lately I’m working on a lot more original stuff. Since coming to LA, I’ve been doing a lot more writing and a lot of co-writing with people. I’ve also been writing songs for other people. Balancing covers, songs for myself, songs for other people is really challenging. [Laughs.] So I’m kind of taking it as it comes.
TB: How’s been LA so far?
EL: It’s work all the time. I didn’t really move to LA just to move to LA or because I like the weather. I came here to work. That’s what I’m doing pretty much every single day.
TB: You’ve said you’re inspired by everyone from Bjork to Joni Mitchell. When you work, do you still listen to other music? Or do you close yourself off?
EL: I never close myself off to anything, because everything gives me inspiration. A lot of times when we’re working a lot, on my downtime when I’m cleaning or relaxing I’ll put on classical music or something. Something that doesn’t have kind of a “song” in it, something with pretty melodies in the background.
TB: Do you keep up on other YouTube musicians?
In any field you’re in, you have to be aware. I am aware of a lot of YouTube people and pay attention to it, but I don’t know the ins and outs very much like a lot of other YouTubers.
TB: You’ve gotten so much response from gay fans as a result of your music videos, particularly “Young Love.” How has that changed your life? I assume you had little interaction with gays in rural Iowa.
EL: There’s practically nobody [gay] there. I’m very comfortable with who I am and very proud of who I am and I wouldn’t change it at all, but I’m also not someone who goes out all the time, or goes to gay bars. That’s just not who I am. I’m the type to go to bed early and have a nice dinner with friends. On a personal level, there hasn’t really been any change in that way. I feel really happy with being able to help people in the gay community who might be struggling with stuff, and I know that being as open as I am, it would help people who might be struggling. That definitely had an influence on me when I was younger. I have no interest in playing into the idea that you have to hide your sexuality for your career. If there’s anyone around me who says that, I’m not going to work with them. The way to make real change is not to play into that fear. I’m happy to represent the gay community in that way.
TB: Do you run into any unexpected difficulties as a songwriter by representing a gay perspective?
EL: I don’t look at it necessarily as a gay perspective. When I set out to make “Young Love,” I really specifically — when I talked to the director, I said, “The love interest is a guy, but other than that, we don’t even need to discuss it.” In my life, my relationships are no different than a heterosexual relationship, or whatever other relationship. I really wanted to portray that there was no difference, that it’s just about a connection and love between two people without any kind of agenda. I didn’t set out to make a gay video. I just stayed true to the person I am in my life. I was drawing from the past, from my own experience. And if you’re writing for somebody else, you bring your own life into it too.
TB: I feel like the music industry isn’t filled with quiet types like you. Am I wrong about that?
EL: I haven’t really met someone like that, I don’t think! [Laughs]
TB: Is that isolating?
EL: Yeah, it can be isolating. For sure. But not just within the music community. It’s more isolating being in LA than in Iowa. There, that lifestyle is more typical. Here, it’s isolating if I have the more general inclination to go to bed early. — and I’m not saying I never go out and have fun.
TB: Finally: How do you decide what to cover?
EL: Covers are pretty spontaneous for me. I’ll record something and then make a video for it, but I won’t really plan it out. I did just record a cover that I’m going to record soon. I generally don’t have a huge plan in terms of exact content or what I’m going to do. I just know that every day I work. And what comes out of that? Sometimes I don’t know. But I’m usually pretty pleased with what comes out of it.