I love the music video for ‘Night Shift’ – I think it fits the song so well. What is it like creating music videos for your singles?
Ellis: It’s always quite a lot of fun planning out and imagining what you’re going to make for a video. This one specifically was a bit more challenging. I’ve had the track finished since April so I spent several months planning a video with a professional production company and we even shot it. Unfortunately, when I got back the initial edits my issue was that the video was incredibly well shot, well lit, and edited. Normally that’s fantastic but for night shift specifically I just felt the video needed to feel dirtier and bit more depraved than previous videos if it was actually going to match the sound of the track. So I got in touch with a local creative (Morgan Thomas) who recently showed me her experiments with old camera tech and homemade aesthetic and we got to shooting a video. This one was a lot less structured than others we mostly just drove around and tried to find opportunities to catch a grungier side of Swindon on camera. I hope the next video is easier haha.
Have you always wanted to be a musician? What was the dream?
Ellis: I used to work in theatre. I thought for the longest time that I wanted to be a filmmaker or a video editor or a script writer. Wasn’t too sure. I have a lot of actor friends who always talked about the feeling of going on stage or on a set and it feeling like you’re where you’re meant to be and I’d never really felt that so I assumed they were just exaggerating. That was until I started making ‘Portrait of a Pig’. Before recording I’d actually decided that was going to be my last musical effort and I was gonna stop releasing anything at least for a couple years but once I got in a studio for the first time, I had that feeling that all my creative friends talk about. Getting into a recording booth and working on music you love and care about is kinda incomparable to anything else I’ve done. I’ve also performed live quite a lot around Swindon, London and Cambridge since the album came out and the feeling of being on that stage too is very addicting. I don’t think I ever planned on being a musician, I did it as a hobby initially making really simple beats and lyrics on an old iPad but it’s transformed for me now, and I feel like 6 years on my contributions to the music are only getting better, at least I hope they are.
What do you believe makes a brilliant song?
Ellis: Music is obviously such a broad spectrum it’s hard to say. Something that sticks out to me is something my current engineer (Jon Buckett) said to me. I asked him what he thought of some track because I wasn’t sure if he’d heard much of the genre before and he just said “genre doesn’t matter, there’s only good music and bad music”. So I think “good music” is simply something that has an element of dedication to it. I think if you lose a passion or care for what you’re creating or you’re only doing it for financial gain it’s probably not gonna be great. I also think it’s kind of a chain of links across the process, so you can have an amazing producer and studio team but if the artist isn’t bringing it the whole thing falls flat, also works the other way if you got amazingly talented songwriters and music but you’re working with an engineer who isn’t up to snuff. I think a genuinely brilliant song is something that combines talented people all across the board, with every person bringing their A-game and not losing passion for what they’re making. If you have all that I think it’s hard to go wrong. Unless of course everyone is rubbish and no one realises it but we all hope that’s not the case.
If you could create a music group consisting of some of your favourite artists, who would you choose? Who would work best with you and altogether?
Ellis: I think if I wasn’t going to be in it, I’d really love to see the super group of Slowthai, JPEGMafia and Denzel Curry. They’ve spoken about it as a thought and I genuinely think they’d be an amazing trio. I’d love to work with Slowthai on a song one day, he has a fantastic energy to his music and I feel like a lot of the stuff I’m working on now really compliments the sentiments he shared in “Nothing Great about Britain”. I’d also love to work with JPEG even just as a producer because the dude is operating on a higher level at this point and I keep finding myself looking for darker sounds recently. Sort of unrelated but one of my favourite artists is a folk outfit from the US called Ezra Bell. I’ve been listening the their tracks since I was 15 and I’m in touch with their lead vocalist. Let’s just say something may be coming on that front. It’s surprising how well British rap and Americana folk mix.
So in 2021 you released your first studio album ‘Portrait of a pig’. What is the process like, coming up with ideas for, recording and releasing an album?
Ellis: I spent a lot of time just writing, finding producers I liked, finding beats that worked, restructuring the order of the tracks so it felt like a comprehensive piece of storytelling. I think all in all it took me about 18 months from concept to release. It normally starts with a single song idea and (I write a lot of songs) once I start to notice a pattern thematically I can see potential for a project. ‘Portrait…’ started as an entirely different album with an entirely different name and focus, I made about 7 tracks and all of those were scrapped by the time I got to the studio. I think a part of the process is knowing what to leave on the cutting room floor and the album was really the first time I was super hard on myself, basically saying if it’s not possibly the best track on the album it shouldn’t be on there. So yeah, a lot was left behind. Recording is good fun, I think I underestimated how long it takes but it feels pretty great to finally hear your ideas closer to how you imagined them. In terms of release it’s a bit of a minefield. I got some BBC play on a couple of tracks and did a localised marketing campaign for Swindon. Topped it off with a launch night where I performed the whole album live for an audience and then we had a lot to drink and counted down till the midnight release. Honestly, that was probably top 5 days of my life haha.
Do you have a dream location where you’d like to perform your music?
Ellis: I really loved performing at a festival during the summer this year. It would be amazing to do a smaller stage at one of the major festivals in the future. I’ve seen a lot of unbelievable live shows at the o2 academy in Brixton and I think It’s a great venue so I’d love to do something there one day.
In what way(s) do you hope to inspire other artists in your genre?
Ellis: Personally I get really tired of being told I have to develop an “attractive” brand and persona in order to advertise my music. I think it kind of defeats the point of trying to make intimate music in the first place, to me the brand should just be that I’m a person with a variety of experiences and I’m not trying to be some unknowable icon. With the new stuff I’m making, I think I want people in general to just recognise they are more than what this country expects of them. With all of the current issues happening I think it’s really important to value your own dreams and understand that things are set up to hold you back but everything is worth doing. I don’t know that I particularly want to inspire other artists in the genre to do anything other than be a little bit more genuine with the music you release and the image you portray.