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Interviews, SXSW 2020

SXSW 2020 Preview – Interview: Ellis Talks “Born Again”, Anxiety, & Emo Bands

By: Curtis Sindrey –

Ellis. (Photo: Ebru Yildiz)

Ellis – Hamilton, Ontario’s Linnea Siggelkow – will release her debut album, Born Again on April 3rd via Fat Possum.

Produced by Jake Aron (Snail Mail, Solange, Grizzly Bear), Born Again arrives as the follow-up to Ellis’s debut EP The Fuzz—a self-released, self-produced effort. In a departure from the viscerally charged dream-pop of The Fuzz, Born Again unfolds with a mesmerizing subtlety, gracefully spotlighting Ellis’s unhurried melodies, starkly confessional lyrics, and luminous vocal work. Not only does this record and its production showcase Ellis’ incredible growth as a songwriter, but it also explores more complex and honest themes, such as leaving her devout Christian upbringing behind, than her earlier work.

In a new interview, Ellis details the making of Born Again, her struggle with anxiety, why emo should start to romantize therapy over sadness, and more!

In terms of the transition going from releasing your debut EP to signing with Fat Possum and prepping your debut album, what was the transition like for that?

When I recorded the EP, I definitely didn’t know what to expect. Everything does sort of feel like it happened pretty fast, but it feels like an organic growth of the project. It’s just an extension of what it was in the beginning, kind of growing bigger and hopefully better. I’m feeling more confident in what I’m doing and in the recording process and in my songwriting. So, I think it’s a natural step forward and it’s feeling good!

Nice! With The Fuzz, it had a dream-pop kind of sound to it and with the new record it’s a bit more quiet. I don’t know if quiet is the right word, but a lot more subtle in the way that it’s presented with the melodies and the lyrics. What prompted that approach?

I don’t think it was necessarily intentional. It wasn’t until after I finished writing the record and listening back, I’d be like, “oh, this definitely sounds different”. I wrote a lot of these songs on the piano. Whereas, if I wrote mostly on guitar, maybe that has something to do with it. But I think it’s also the recording setting we were working in.

The vocals were more upfront and I think it definitely created this different vibe. I think you’re right. It is a little softer, maybe a little bit more intimate, a little bit less blown out, a little more polished in some ways. But it wasn’t an intentional vibe change. It sort of just happened. It’s mixed the way that I was writing and the way that we were recording and I hope it still has the same feeling. It’s definitely a bit of a different sound from the EP.

It goes back to what you were saying… that it was an organic shift between both the EP and the new record in terms of the different change in the sound and that sort of thing.

Yeah, totally!

Lyrically Born Again is a very personal record for you. How demanding was it for you to be that open with yourself, to touch on so many different topics that are very intimate for you? 

I have never really struggled with being open. In fact, maybe I tend to be too open sometimes! (laughs) I’ve definitely always worn my heart on my sleeve and I don’t really have to hold back exposing those parts of myself. So, it’s not necessarily difficult for me to be vulnerable in that way.

The recording process was a lot more emotionally draining than I expected though. Partially because these songs are very intimate. To have them totally dissected in the studio and to be working on them just over and over and over for days on days definitely wore me down. I was feeling exhausted by the end of it, like emotionally exhausted! So, I think that does have something to do with that, for sure!

Do you think with this record you’ve gained some sort of closure with certain things from your past, like your Christian upbringing?

Yes, I think this record was very much that for me. It’s really a reflection on a lot of huge parts of my life and the way they’ve impacted me. It’s an acknowledgement of that and I think just taking the time to recognize them and call them by name. Making space for moving forward was definitely the purpose of this record.

I have a theme of a Saturn return, which is every 29 and a half years or so that Saturn returns to the place it was when you were born. I’m going through mine right now and it feels like a very transitional time in my life, sort of wrapping up certain things, tying loose ends and entering the next chapter, like this blank page. I’m definitely feeling that in my personal life and I think it really is reflected in the record and through the song writing for sure.

Ellis will release her debut album, Born Again, on April 3rd via Fat Possum.

I read a little bit about your struggle with anxiety, at least early on in your career, the intimidating feeling of performing live. Has that subsided in terms of being able to perform in front of an audience or do you still struggle with that?

I definitely feel more comfortable the more I’ve done it. I think I have this feeling now when I am performing, where the world sort of just stops. I feel very present, almost like there’s nothing else happening. That to me, is a really good feeling.

I think I’ve gotten to a place where I can do that now and I’m glad for that! I definitely still have a lot of anxiety surrounding everything else (laughs) but I think it sort of slows down from that moment when I’m performing and that makes it a lot easier to do that.

What ultimately, kind of impact do you hope Born Again will have on listeners?

I don’t think I really had a specific intention in writing it. It really is very personal and they are my own reflections. I don’t know how or if they will impact other people, but all I could really hope for is that somebody will hear it and relate to it in some way and feel less alone. That’s something I love about music and something that I think is so special about listening to and participating in music like that. All that I would ever hope to happen is that people feel connected to it in some way.

What’s an artist or artists for you that have been your go-to if you’re going through a tough time?

That’s a good question! I’ve had so many throughout the years and it changes all the time! I love emotional music.

There’s been a few artists that have stuck with me through the years. I’ve loved Waxahatchee specifically for a long time and she’s consistently been an artist I’ve followed and connected with. More recently, I love Pheobe Bridgers. I also love Carole King. I’ve been listening to so much Carole King lately. I love songwriters and emotional music. That’s definitely my jam!

Solid choices overall! When you said emotional music, I thought you were going to say Fall Out Boy!

Ok, in High School! (laughs) I definitely had a Fall out Boy stage!

It has had some weird revival the last five or ten years. I don’t really understand it!

(laughs) Did you ever have an emo phase?

Of course! I still listen to most of that. It’s weird, like My Chemical Romance coming back. The genre has had this weird resurgence where it’s like cool again to be sad.

Yup! I don’t like the idea that it’s cool to be sad. I think it’s important to talk about mental health and we are all sad sometimes. But I don’t want it to be romanticized. I think there’s a fine line there.

For me, that kind of music is nostalgic. It’s more like a dopamine! (laughs) It’s straight to my brain, like feeling overall good. I’m fully down for that. I’d love to see My Chemical Romance but I can’t afford to.

I know the struggle. MCR tickets were going for $400, and I was like, I don’t know if I want to see them that badly!

You know what? I saw MCR in 2004 and I paid twenty bucks! I think I’m good and I’ve got that memory, I’m glad that I was there!

Nice! I saw them at their last Toronto show in 2011 when they opened for Blink 182. It was them, Blink, and Manchester Orchestra.

Oh, I love Manchester! That’s cool.

They are amazing. Have you ever seen them live?

I haven’t and you know, that’s on my bucket list for sure! That’s a good show. That’s a show worth paying for. That’s an emotional band too. That’s a band that I would go back to if I could. That should be on the list. I still revisit some of those records for sure and feel things!

I mean, how could you not feel things when you listen to their first three records! That is some amazing song writing! And it’s emotional in a way that makes you think.

Yup! I love music that evokes those feelings, even if the lyrical content isn’t relatable. There’s something about certain soundscapes that just really get into your soul. So, I think I’m always drawn to those feelings. Yeah, that’s a band for sure that does that for me.

You were talking before about romanticizing sadness. It’s funny when you go back to early to mid 2000’s, bands like The Used or MCR and the kind of imagery that they were using at the time. In retrospective, it’s disconcerting in a way to see and hear that and think of all of the teenagers who worship those bands and if you’re romanticizing that sort of thing, that’s a no-go.

For sure. I feel you. I feel like in that time when we were probably both in high school, I feel that self-harming was a bit romanticized.

Right now, I think it’s important to talk about being sad and anxious or depressed. But also, I think we should be romanticizing things like therapy and even sober living or healthy lifestyle (laughs) or things that are good for your brain! I would like to start romanticizing about those things instead.

Why hasn’t The Used written a song about the benefits of therapy? That would be a hit for them!

Totally agree!

In terms of Jake Aron, who you had on as producer, what did he bring to the table with this project?

Jake’s amazing at what he does! I sent him a bunch of my garage band demos. I had these sort of fully formed songs, but I wanted to take them up a level in terms of production. He helped me take them to exactly where I wanted to go.

So he was sort of like your sound board in the process?

Totally! We just worked one-on-one together for days and days on end, taking these demos and turning them into the songs they are now. It was really cool. I learned so much. It was intense though, intense and hard. There was a lot of time together but the songs turned out as I hoped, so I’m happy.

I mean, that’s the hope here.

Yeah, exactly!

You have a performance at SXSW coming up. Is this your first time going?

No, we played last year actually. It was totally chaotic and really stressful! This year, I think, is going to be a lot more chill. Last year, we did seven showcases!

I think this year we’re only playing a couple, so I’m going to enjoy the experience a bit more this year. I’m looking forward to it!

I think we were there for only four days too. It was just totally crazy! (laughs) Driving and parking and navigating downtown Austin during that time is totally insane.

In terms of festival shows, vs regular headlining shows, is your approach different at all?

I don’t know if it’s different, maybe at times. You have to be choosier about which songs you play because you have a limited amount of time to make an impression. But I actually haven’t played a show for a while because I just got a total new band together. So, it’s kind of our first time going out and our first time playing new songs off the new record. It’s going to feel really fresh and I’m excited to just premier them that way! It’ll be cool to set off at SXSW.

Check out Ellis’ SXSW schedule here, and pre-order Born Again here.

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