Back in April this year I reviewed Ellie James’ single ‘Uncomfortable‘ and she is now back with a new song ‘How Do I Find You?‘ which opens on the icy thread of a rotating guitar part before broadening into a laconic full band and there’s something wonderfully honest about Ellie James’ voice that holds your focus throughout.’
In honour of this release, and to better understand how music has informed and entertained her, Joyzine asked Ellie to give us her life in 10 songs:
1) What is your earliest music-related memory? What do you remember being played at home when you were a child?
I’ve got a really clear memory of being sat in my dad’s car and him playing me Pink Moon by Nick Drake. I wasn’t that interested at the time but my dad is a huge fan of Nick Drake and was persistent with playing me his songs so as I got older, I developed a love for his music, especially the Pink Moon album. It’s stunning.
2) What was the first record that you ever bought? Where did you get it and do you have any recollection of the experience?
Avril Lavigne’s Let Go album was pretty formative for me. It was the first time I remember seeing a woman in the charts playing a guitar and doing something that was a bit different to the rest of the pop acts I listened to at the time. I was particularly obsessed with the track I’m With You and I’d sit and watch those music video channels and wait for that song to come on. Listening to it now, I really hear her influence sometimes in my own stuff. I don’t remember exactly where I bought the album… It was probably Tesco.
3) When did you really start to develop a passion for listening to music? How did that come about and what were you into at the time?
I got really into The Mighty Boosh and through that, I found the band Robots In Disguise. They were the girl band in the first series and then they played the goth girls in the second series. Their girl power vibe and DIY attitude had a big impression on me and I used to learn how to play their songs! I went to see them live and they invited me on stage because they saw my covers on YouTube. That meant a LOT to me and they really gave me so much confidence. I kept in contact with them for a while and they gave me a passion for music and encouraged me to write songs and really go for it. The first song of theirs I heard was Turn It Up and it’s still probably my favourite of their tunes.
4) What was the first gig that you went to? Where was it and what was it like?
My first gig – like many girls my age I imagine – was Busted. I was fully obsessed with them. I was a proper fan girl. I saw them at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff (at the time it was the Cardiff International Arena). I cried very hard when they broke up.
5) What are your memories of starting out making music? What was the first song that you learned to play?
I started to learn guitar when I was 12 and was having lessons in school, but the guitar teacher didn’t teach me anything I was interested in so I started googling guitar shapes so I could learn stuff I wanted to learn. I played around with loads of pop songs, but the song I was most proud of learning was Blackbird by The Beatles. It’s still my favourite Paul McCartney/Beatles song. For ages it was always my go to song to play if I was handed a guitar.
6) What was your first band/musical project? What music was influencing you at that time? What are your memories of playing your first gig and are there any recordings out there?
My actual first band was called Ellie, Sophie and The Octopus, but we only played one gig and to my knowledge, there’s no evidence of it anywhere! I started playing as my first solo project Ellie Makes Music not long after that. I played my first gig with this project as part of Swn Festival in Cardiff. I sent an email to Huw Stephens and John Rostron and somehow got on the bill! I really loved playing shows around Cardiff back when I was younger. I even played a tribute show to Kate Bush around this time too, who I’d never listened to before! I fell very much in love and her song Cloudbusting (and the entirety of The Hounds Of Love album) has influenced me a lot to this day.
7) What are your memories of starting out as a solo artist? What was your first release and what do you think now when you listen back to it?
My first EP as Ellie Makes Music was recorded just outside of Cardiff. I wasn’t very confident then and would often just do as I was advised to do! Listening back to that first EP, I can hear myself trying really hard and it feels so distant from who I am now! I think I was about 15 or 16 when I recorded it so I’ve done a lot of growing up since then! I’d recommend my newer stuff for a better experience.
8) Which band/artist do you think has had the biggest influence on your music over the years? What is it about them that inspires you?
Laura Marling is my musical hero. Most of my skills as a guitarist and songwriter are down to me spending hours on YouTube, watching her play songs live and figuring out their tunings and chord shapes. She stays very true to herself as an artist and I really admire her for it. Her songwriting is captivating. Her most recent album Song For Our Daughter is particularly great. I’ve seen her live so many times I can’t even figure out the number anymore.
9) Who are some of your favourite current artists? What do you like about them?
So many!!! Almost too many to name! I’m a huge Mitski fan. I think her music is really interesting and I love her lyrics. She writes from such an honest place. I’ve included Your Best American Girl in the playlist – the lyrics are full of love and softness set against this grungry, American rock sound. I also love Big Thief and Adrianne Lenker. I’ve chosen Terminal Paradise from their UFOF album for the playlist. Their music has influenced the style we’ve formed for my live band.
10) You have a new single out called ‘How Do I Find You?’. Tell us more about the writing and recording process for this song. How has your approach to making music changed and developed over the years?
How Do I Find You is about growing up and losing the support network and friendships you had along the way. I was in a particularly strange time in my life, having just graduated from University and has moved to Bristol. A lot of the people I knew before this time had moved on, moved to different cities, had started different lives to mine. I’m 28 years old now and my approach to making music has changed so much. I’m far more confident in my point of view and I don’t try to copy anyone. I’m more interested in experimentation and collaboration. I recorded this song with my partner Ollie Lucas and one of our closest friends Jake Scarborough. I loved working on this with them. They really helped to broaden my ideas for the production of the track and I love the direction it took.
Ellie has also created a playlist specially for this article:
Introduction by Paul F Cook