Interview – Kate Ellis

I recently completed a round-up review on tracks with elements of folk music in them – one such track was by singer-songwriter and musician Kate Ellis. I loved her music and she’s an upcoming UK artist so I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce her music to the world – check out our interview below to find out more!

By Jane Howkins

You recently released a new single titled Wonderland. What can you tell us about the track and where can it be purchased?

This song is about intensely experiencing the wonder and fragility of the natural world. It came from a walk in a city park when I glimpsed flashes of how alive, powerful, and beautiful nature is and how connected to it we are. For me, perceiving nature in this kind of viscerally connected way gives us adeeper appreciation of it and a deeper sense of loss for what we’re putting at risk.

I released it as part of a beautiful collaboration with contemporary visual artist Geraldine Van Heemstra, a member of the Wilderness Art Collective, using music, art and nature to inspire change for the United Nations COP26 climate conference.

We filmed the music video in a day, following Geraldine as she filled a sketchbook with a series of wonderful watercolour paintings, translating the raw energy of the elements into art by immersing herself in nature. I was performing the song in the same environment which created a lovely visual dance between us: two artists expressing their emotional connection to the earth through different mediums.

The final sketchbook of Geraldine’s fantastic watercolours and charcoal drawings with a letter to world governments and a QR code that linked to the music video was taken to COP26 and shown to delegates in a partnership with the Letters To The Earth campaign.

I’m really proud of this project and what it tried to achieve. You never know what will touch someone and inspire change. You can see the book of artwork and watch the music video at www.ourwonderland.org.

It can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual digital places – this page links to all of them: https://ffm.to/wonderland2021

Have you got any plans to release a full-length album/EP anytime soon?

Yes! I’m releasing my sophomore album called Spirals in February next year.  It’s a collection of songs that came out of a process of soul searching to quiet the thought storms in my head and find my balance in the world. It was produced by John Reynolds who has recorded and produced some amazing artists like Sinéad O’Connor, the Indigo Girls, Belinda Carlisle, The Cranberries and Damian Dempsey. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to collaborate with him and some incredible musicians to bring the songs to life on this record.

What is the writing and recording process like for you?

The best music, for me, comes out as a part of you; an extension of something inside you that’s most alive. When I write, I feel very connected to who I am. What I am writing about, more than anything, is an emotional place. So, whatever my songs are about in terms of subject matter, they’re always about an inner emotional experience getting expressed in a musical way. The seed of them always comes from a non-verbal, emotional place, whether lyrically or melodically.

When we start the recording process, it’s like you suddenly have to decide what the song is actually going to be when fully formed. It can become any number of things. You are making all sorts of decisions about what kind of sound, what kind of feeling, the instrumentation, the arrangement, the journey of the song, the dynamics. So we generally make home demos first, so we can work out a sketch of how we think the song should be recorded.  But when we get into the studio, anything is possible. 

John Reynolds, our producer for this album, is an artist himself.  He immediately tuned into the emotional truth of the songs and knew just how to bring out the emotional heart of each song to perfection. This album was a wonderful partnership using his vision to bring each song to its full potential. Some tracks went in a fantastic new direction that we could never have imagined. 

Do you plan to release any more singles at any point in the near future?

We’re going to release one more single in January in the run-up to the album dropping in February.

You’re based in London. What is the music scene like there at the moment and are there any local band/artists you can recommend?

It’s sort of hard to answer at this moment.  The pandemic has struck such a massive blow to all the arts, including live music.  But I feel things are gradually picking up and going back to normal.   The London music scene is very large and spread out and hard to navigate as a result, and I think more so than ever post-Covid. But I have found lots of wonderful artists to connect with here, especially within the Americana scene. The Americana Music Association UK has created a great community of like-minded musicians. Their annual AmericanaFest conference in Hackney (London) is a highlight and I’m so looking forward to connecting with people again there next year. Some great artists we know are based in London like Two Ways Home and Jamie Freeman who we see or play with more regularly, others are not that far away like My Girl The River in Guildford or Danny George Wilson in Brighton.  Some parts of the music scene are a distance from the centre of town, like the High Tide Festival in Twickenham which we played at this year, or a wonderful artist Hannah White and her fantastic Sound Lounge venue in Sutton.

What/who influences you most as an artist? What have you been listening to recently?

I have a lot of folk, Americana and country influences. One of my main musical heroes is the late Nanci Griffith who crossed many musical genres with her work. And, of course, the classic songwriters like Dylan, the Beatles, Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon.  But for me, it is a particular song that will really spark something in me as a songwriter, rather than a particular artist.  When I hear a song that can go into my soul and engage with something deep inside, that is what makes me take notice and inspires me as a writer.  It could really be from any artist or genre.  I love listening to Gram Parsons, Van Morrison, Richard and Linda Thompson, Nick Drake, Tom Waits; and female singer/songwriters like Maria Mckee, Gillian Welch, Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, Iris Dement. I’m not very good at keeping up with all the new artists coming out, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Courtney Marie Andrews, Andrew Combs and Jason Isbell recently who I love.

Has the pandemic hindered your work much?

All of the songs on the upcoming album were already written and we were halfway through recording it when lockdown hit. When we were able to, we got back in the studio a few months later and got everything finished – although it wasn’t as much fun doing a combination of in-person and remote sessions.  In terms of songwriting, the pandemic was quite a big disruptor.  With everyone home, I did not have as much time to myself to write. But we were primarily in the recording and campaign planning stage at that point, so a problem with writing wasn’t as much of an issue. Like most people, I have felt generally unsettled by the pandemic and how it has impacted our lives.  But for those of us fortunate enough not to have suffered terrible hardship or loss, it has also been a period of taking stock of one’s wellbeing, both physical and psychological, which has been a silver lining.

Do you have any tour dates lined up?

We’re putting together a tour around the album as we speak so watch this space! I’ll always have the latest dates on my site (www.kateellis.com) or socials (@kateellismusic).

What can people expect from one of your gigs and why do you think people should come and see you perform live?

What I love when I see musicians live is the extra dimension of seeing the person in the room communicate directly to me.  This adds a layer on top of the song itself, which can allow the song to be heard in a deeper way.  I hope that the truth and emotion of my songs are delivered even more powerfully with that human connection, person to person. My impression is that this does indeed happen, as people come up to me after gigs and share what songs touched them and why and I find that really magical every time. 

Any last words for the fans?

Hope to see you all at a gig soon! I know it still feels weird meeting up in person, but I cannot wait to get back fully to the human connections we all made before the pandemic and have been missing so much. 

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