Artist To Watch: Ellis
Written by JARVIS LEROUGE on November 6, 2018
Linnea Siggelkow. L.S. Ellis. It’s as simple as that. And the Hamilton, Ontario musician’s songwriting is just as intuitive, a raw yet graceful breed of indie rock with a dream-pop splendor and a brooding slowcore soul.
“The Drain,” the lead single from Ellis’ The Fuzz EP, was an immediate stunner. She sings of getting in over her head and giving herself over to the depths — “But when it came the time to jump in/ I held my breath and counted to 10″ — yet the music spirals outward and upward, a perpetual overhead drone shot whisking you across the horizon. The guitars chime and smolder with the physicality of DIY basement rock, yet their combined effect is grandly atmospheric, beaming with a beauty that feels like it should be beyond the capacity of such a relatively lo-fi recording. It is the sound of an anxious soul struggling to let go, but also of undeniable talent overflowing into the world by whatever means necessary.
Remarkably, the rest of The Fuzz maintains that standard of excellence. “Frostbite” trembles with regret, then surges with resilience. The droning, churning slow burn “All This Time” builds to a cleansing blaze. “The Fuzz” effectively conjures that unmoored sensation of getting lost in a fog after a life-changing interaction. It’s a glorious piece of work from top to bottom, and we’re excited to premiere it today along with an interview. Behold it all below.
STEREOGUM: I understand you’re in Hamilton now, and you used to be in Toronto?
ELLIS: Yeah, I moved to Hamilton last May, so I’ve been there for a year and a bit now.
STEREOGUM: I feel like you usually hear about musicians moving to the big metropolis rather than away from it. What was the story there?
ELLIS: I lived in Toronto for like five years. I had played in a couple of other bands for a bit. But a lot of it was the cost of living, honestly. I think I was just ready for a change of scenery, a change of pace. It was pretty impulsive, actually, that I moved to Hamilton. I didn’t really have anything to be here for. But I kind of just did it, and the stars aligned and I found a great apartment and a cool job, and I had the time and the space to work on music. It was, I think, a really important move for me. I’ve been happier and more chill and just more creative since I’ve moved. Which is funny, ’cause you’re totally right, people move to Toronto to make art or whatever, but I find that there’s not a lot of room to do it, it’s just busy and everyone’s kind of hustling to pay rent and whatever.
STEREOGUM: For those of us who are not that familiar with Hamilton, how does it compare to Toronto? Can you describe what the city’s like?
ELLIS: It’s cool. It’s smaller, obviously. But it’s busy, like the scene is busy. There’s shows all the time. There’s cool DIY spaces that I feel like Toronto is really lacking right now. There’s a lot going on in the arts community, and I find it super supportive. There’s a really cool sense of community here that was easy to become a part of.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned that you were able to get a cool job there. What’s the job?
ELLIS: I work in a vintage shop and I work at a bar. I’ve been working a lot, actually, to self-fund this EP. I’m putting it out independently, so there were a lot of costs that went into it. And it’s sort of funny to work so that you can make art, but that’s basically what I’ve been doing.
STEREOGUM: I would think that nowadays you just have to upload something online and then it’s released, but obviously there’s more to releasing a record than that.
ELLIS: For sure, yeah. Recording costs, mixing and mastering, rehearsal spaces. And the album art. Things like that are just these little costs, and sometimes big costs, but it all adds up.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of rehearsal spaces, what is your live show like? Do you have a band backing you up?
ELLIS: My very first show ever I played solo, and I just felt like it didn’t have the same intensity that I wanted it to have. I wanted there to be a lot of dynamics. I wanted there to be a lot of crescendos to mimic the feeling that I have throughout the song, So yeah, we rehearse as a four-piece and play shows live that way.
STEREOGUM: Your song “The Fuzz” seems to be about some sort of catastrophic or life-changing conversation. Can you talk a bit about that song and why you chose it to be the title track?
ELLIS: “The Fuzz” to me is this metaphorical place. That’s how I was picturing it when I wrote it. It’s like that noise, like the fuzz on a TV screen when it’s not on a channel — it’s sort of this void. And I think it’s like this place where you feel lost, or you just haven’t quite gotten your feet on the ground or something like that. I think I’ve felt like that for a lot of my 20s. A lot of the songs on this EP were written from this place of feeling in between or just feeling unsure. It’s this picture that I just kept having in my head, and it’s the picture that I had when I wrote that song. But I felt like it sort of encompassed all of the songs and tied them together, like trying to get out of “the fuzz,” or trying to find some certainty.
STEREOGUM: That theme definitely comes up on “The Drain” with the images of being sucked down a drain and not being able to touch your feet to the ground. Have you really had those dreams you sing about in the song?
ELLIS: Sort of. I think a lot of it’s a bit metaphorical. It’s more of a vision, like a waking dream or something. I’m actually not a good swimmer, so I think it’s actually a super relevant metaphor ’cause I am actually afraid of the deep ends of pools. It is a thing that takes some sort of bravery for me, to jump in a lake or whatever. So I think that it is a real fear of mine, and of course, it’s used in that song as a metaphor for something else.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of metaphors in your songs, you use a different one in “What A Mess,” about taking the scissors to your own hair and messing up your haircut. That’s a really effective image for just feeling totally scattershot and out of sorts. Do you actually cut your own hair?
ELLIS: [laughs] Yes, usually when I’m feeling a bit unstable, I think. But it’s something I’ve been trying to do less. It’s a feeling of not being in control. And I’ve been trying to regain that control by not letting myself go there. It feels like self-destructive tendencies or whatever, even as simple as something like that, like cutting your hair. And yeah, it also is a metaphor for other things that I do when I’m just not feeling in control, or it’s sort of this chaos — this feeling of having to destroy something.
STEREOGUM: You’ve got this EP coming out soon. What’s next?
ELLIS: We’re playing our first show in the States on November 15 in Brooklyn at Alphaville, which I’m really excited about. I’ve actually never played a show outside of Ontario, so that’ll be cool. We have our EP release in Toronto at the end of November, on November 29, and then no super solid plans. I’m hoping to start recording the next thing this winter. I’ve been just working on writing. But I would love to play more shows, obviously, in more places. I’m planning to go down to SXSW in March, which I’m really excited about also.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that’ll be the whole marathon.
ELLIS: Exactly, it’ll be a lot. But it will be cool, I think. I’ve been to SXSW a couple times just as a goer, but I didn’t really ever imagine I would get to play.
STEREOGUM: Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that seems important to discuss?
ELLIS: I think the only other thing that I’ve been thinking about with this particular collection of songs is just how personal they are and what that means to me. I’ve just been thinking about it, and this whole thing about being a woman and a songwriter, and vulnerability and stuff like that. I think in the past, even I had equated it to weakness or not being taken seriously for singing about feelings or whatever. And I just feel really excited that it seems like the tides are turning on that right now — people being able to talk more openly about their feelings or their mental health or whatever it is, and it not being seen as weak or smaller, or girls with guitars being called cute or something, and for it to be this powerful, badass thing to be doing. So I just want to acknowledge that I know I sing a lot about my feelings, but that I feel quite powerful doing it.
The Fuzz is out 11/9. Pre-order it here.