Whilst she may only just be launching a solo career, Dutch-Swiss musician Ella van der Woude has already been sharing her talents with the world for a number of years. ELLA has been writing music for films, fronting indie rockers Houses and performing as a touring member of one of our favourite new acts of last year Amber Arcades. In her own music though ELLA has arguably saved her strongest move until now, with her brilliant self-titled EP due out later this month.
The music that makes up the EP is the product of ELLA melding her ideas for film-scores into more traditional song based structures. The record was stitched together over a number of years of writing in her bedroom; using little more than her voice, a baritone guitar and a limited palette of synthesisers, before ELLA teamed up with long time Massive Attack collaborator Stew Jackson to bring the most out of the songs ELLA had written.
The result is a stunning collection of five perfectly formed, sparse and emotional tracks; from the restless Cat Power-like beauty of While You Are Away to the sweet and mesmerising closing track Lullaby, resplendent with rich, bright piano chords, washes of gorgeous strings and perfectly plucked guitar melodies. It’s arguably the records opening track, and first single, IDWTGTKY that is the stand out though, from a bed of twinkling synth, prominent bass and rumbling, easy drum beats emerge, as ELLA’s beautiful, ethereal vocal drifts in and out of earshot, distorting slightly as she reaches for louder notes, and then retreating to a quieter range. Lyrically like much of the album, IDWTGTKY is a tricky musing on the complexity of relationships, and the danger in giving too much of yourself away. To be completely contradictory to that point, we’ve today asked ELLA a load of questions to try to prise out lots of the person behind the music, so sorry about that. Check out the interview below where ELLA talks about topics from learning to play the piano aged three, through to her love of Sparklehorse, and what the future holds for this hugely talented songwriter.
FTR: Who/what is ELLA?
My name is Ella van der Woude, I’m a musician/film composer based in Amsterdam and it’s under the name ELLA that I started my first solo project. I write moody pop songs.
FTR: What can you tell us about the recording of your new EP?
It’s been recorded at many different places: my house, Stew’s shed and two different studios in the Netherlands. Thinking back about it takes me to so many different situations, moods and state of mind… To me the EP is like a travel diary.
FTR: You worked with producer Stew Jackson, how did that collaboration come about?
Stew and I randomly met in a bar in Amsterdam. Twice. We talked about film music over a couple of beer, stayed in touch and eventually became friends. It’s only two years later that we started collaborating.
FTR: Your recent single, IDWTGTKY, seemed a very honest piece of songwriting, do you think it’s important to put yourself into your songs?
It is, music is a very powerful mean to crystallize a feeling or a thought. Melody, harmony and rhythm are just tools to shape them.
FTR: Why do you write music?
Ha. Music has always been a big part of my life. When I was just 3 I picked up the phone to call a friend of my parents who was a piano teacher. I asked her to teach me, and since then I never stopped playing. I started writing songs at about 14, my brothers and I had a band together… From one thing came another, and years later I still find myself doing it.
FTR: What are your earliest memories of music? Did you grow up in a musical household?
My father was a passionate guitar/piano player (self-taught). I remember hearing him play his guitar from my bedroom and I loved falling asleep to his music, it was very comforting.
FTR: Who are your influences? What were you listening to when you made this record?
I was very much into Sparklehorse while writing the record. Because I was always writing at night I had to keep the volume down for the neighbours. So I double tracked all the vocals on my first demos to give them enough body, and sung them with a soft whispering voice, very much Sparklehorse-like. I loved bathing in that vibe.
FTR: What about influences outside of music?
The films I’m working on also always find their way through my songs. I like to work on one film project at a time, in order to submerge myself into its topic and atmosphere. So that always comes back one way or another into my songwriting.
FTR: A lot of the record is quite minimal in terms of instrumentation, was that a conscious decision?
I didn’t restrict myself while recording. But the instruments that were in my house at the time (a baritone guitar, an acoustic guitar, a Juno 60 and an old Yamaha toy keyboard) definitely shaped the record.
FTR: You’ve written film soundtracks in the past. How does that differ from writing your own music? Is Cinema something that interests you?
Writing music to support a story is very different than writing for its own mean. A film always dictates what you can or can’t do, while a song is dependent on your own decisions. In a way it’s easier to write a film score, because your work is framed and you get a deadline. The process of making a record is more introspective and can last as long as you wish. It’s a different kind of challenge.
FTR: There’s a lot of talk about sexism in the music industry, do you feel being a woman has made things more difficult for you?
I’m really slow at reacting to sexist situations, because I don’t expect people to have a discriminating behaviour. I’m a bit naïve I guess. It’s mostly obvious in reviews or tweets… Or when I see the reaction of people when I tell them that I write film scores. They mostly ask me if I sing in a part, or have a song in the end. They don’t expect me to do serious composition work and are mostly surprised to hear it when a film is shown in A film festivals or in the theatres.
FTR: What are your aspirations for your solo career? Do you think you can make a living as a musician?
I’m looking forward to bringing out more music! It will be an exciting year, introducing ELLA to the world and working on very interesting film projects. I’ve been making a living as a musician for the past two years and I hope I’ll always be able to do so.
FTR: What should we expect from the ELLA live show?
I perform the new songs as a duo, together with man of many talents Manuel van den Berg. We both play guitar and keys and both sing. On the release show in Amsterdam a String Trio will join
FTR: What’s next for you? Touring? An Album?
We’ll be playing a release show in London, and one in Amsterdam. I’d like to play Switzerland too, that’s where I grew up. In fact I’d love to play anywhere! But my main focus for now will be the Netherlands and the UK. And YES! I’m finishing an album with Stew.
ELLA’s debut EP is out January 19th. Visit ELLA’s website for all upcoming live dates and more information