Believe me, I had different expectations, too.
Ingrained in our hearts was the story of a noble future; hope for peace and connective technological innovations. Friends gathered on January 1st with grand predictions for the year, for we had finally made it to the decade sci-fi movies dreamed of. Yet in recent weeks, we’ve seen unthinkable sorrow guided by a profound togetherness in support of Black lives and true equality. With revolution written all over, 2020 is far from that which we expected.
‘Expectations,’ the new duet between pop siren Ella Isaacson and R&B soulbird Gallant, is an ode to forging a new path, however untraveled or uncertain. A certified starlet, Isaacson’s knack for poetry matches seamlessly with Gallant’s emotive, soprano expression. While bearing a crisp punch, the slow burn glides along an almost 90s-reminiscent wave, introducing a nostalgic atmosphere.
“I wanted to tell a story about…how sometimes in life you start on a path,” Ella describes via Instagram. “And suddenly things change. You change or unlock who you really are in ways you didn’t even expect. We try on a shoe, that just doesn’t fit no matter how much we wanted it to.”
Landing on New Music Friday in five different territories (US, Germany, Switzerland, Egypt, Gulf) ‘Expectations’ garnered nearly 300,000 streams in less than a month. The collaboration was highly praised and loved by anyone who listened, including Moroccan Duth DJ R3HAB. The popular producer remixed the song, transforming it into an exciting, anthemic energy.
A gorgeous reminder of the universality of change and the unpredictability of life no matter what year you’re in, ‘Expectations’ easily fits as one of the best pop duets of 2020.
In an exclusive Ladygunn Pass The Mic, Gallant and Ella discuss what expectations really are, and reveal the origin stories of their respective music careers.
PASS THE MIC
Gallant: Hi Ella, how are you?
Ella: I’m doing okay. It’s obviously been a very difficult, heavy time and a little hard to be talking about anything else outside of what’s happening in the world. But I’m very excited about our collaboration and the lyric video coming out on Friday. Thank you so much for taking the time and coming on.
Ella: How are you doing?
Gallant: Similarly, it’s tough to think about anything outside of what’s happening. But I’ve just been trying to do my best to stay balanced. Working on things while trying to find an inner calm. Trying to stay off social media, at least to a less addictive degree. It’s important to take some time for yourself.
Ella: I agree.
Gallant: In what ways have your views grown on expectations? How do your views on them get expressed in the song?
Ella: I’m the type of person who tries to control and play out situations; you always want to go into things with a plan of how you want things to go, whether it’s a life choice, career, or a relationship. And I think sometimes you didn’t even know yourself as much as you thought you did. What I loved about our collaboration was that there’s almost this counter side…you’re seeing things from someone else’s perspective, feeling like you haven’t met expectations and the other person hasn’t either. So I really appreciated that.
Ella: What about you when it comes to expectations?
Gallant: I feel the same way. You live your life and you have all these unnecessary expectations for yourself and for everybody around you…it makes it a lot harder to navigate freely with an open mind and a good conscience because you’re constantly holding people to a standard that is really just invented by you; then getting angry if other people don’t automatically adhere to those inventions in your own mind. Everyone is different and has their own motivations, and obviously when you do what we do, it’s a balancing act between personal life and your own career ambitions. You can’t always fit into more stereotypical relationship roles when you have a lot of things that drive you from a different direction. It’s kind of natural for me to be like ‘Hey, take a step back’ and really realize if these expectations are real or not? And if you’re disappointed then maybe it’s coming from a more inward place.
But also on the other side, to really accept all the flaws in a relationship is tough for anyone – especially for longer relationships. That’s the thread that holds it together and tunes out any noise and temptation coming from the outside.
Ella: What’s your way of navigating that? What has that been like?
Gallant: I think it’s different in every situation. I’m a little bit more mature now than when I was younger so I value what comes with a long term relationship a little bit more. That comes with just real mutual respect. I used to think that it came with comparing all the possibilities and convincing yourself that the situation that you’re in is better than all the outside possibilities, especially touring etc. But really I think it comes from a mutual understanding and mutual respect and that goes back to that feeling of really letting go of whatever creation you have in your head of how a perfect situation is supposed to look and accepting what’s right in front of you for what it is.
Ella: I 1,000 percent agree with you on that. I think a really good relationship is when you respect and you value the other person. I even had a conversation recently with a past significant other about being in each other’s life – there’s no model for that. Every individual relationship is different and it’s gonna be different than the others. There’s nothing comparable when you have this love and respect for somebody. Sometimes you have to let go of the idea of what it was and accept it for what it is.
Gallant: 100 percent agree. I think that brings me to the next question: How do you feel about the song being released and the reactions people have had to it?
Ella: I think it’s been really powerful because a lot of people have come to me and said something like “hey I love the song and just had to listen to it multiple times.” What’s really beautiful about the song is that we really told a real story. Great songs are often about even small moments that say something much bigger and we were able to capture that. It was a really real conversation so that’s what I’ve sort of gotten back from people’s feedback whether it’s fans or friends.
Gallant: Absolutely. I think that it’s really relatable when you tell a story that way, which is a snapshot that’s being presented in the song.
Ella: So outside of this track, what made you want to be a musician/ artist? Was it a specific moment or turning point?
Gallant: I liked keeping to myself. I grew up in the suburbs and I was used to spending a lot of time alone. To me, music is just a way for me to authentically communicate with the rest of the world, like writing a journal and then handing it out for everyone to read. I really wanted to make stuff that I wasn’t able to hear. In the alternative space, you have lyrics that are like pages ripped out of a diary that’s lots of imagery and then in commercial R&B, you have things that evoke feelings that you don’t necessarily find in other genres. I just wanted to combine things and feed myself and hopefully other people could appreciate what I was doing. Hopefully it spoke to them in a similar way that it spoke to me.
Ella: Yeah, I think you really created a lane in that. What you do is amazing. You do add this poetry and imagery to the musical conversation that’s not there that often, you know?
Gallant: Thank you. How about you? What do you feel like was the turning point for you?
Ella: I knew I wanted to do music since I was really, really young. I just fell into it. I learned classical piano, did voice, opera, [trained in] broadway. And I felt like you in a lot of ways – when I wasn’t excelling as a musician, I was a very introverted person. I had a lot of trouble relating to the world and other people and I struggled with that as a kid. My outlet at the time, at 8 years old, was writing poetry. I think it was my way to cope with that inner kind of battle. My cousin was a music producer and a writer as well, so I sort of knew at a young age that this is something that people did: make music. I was fascinated by it. I remember…I wrote my first song and went to my cousin and said ‘Hey, can you make me a demo?’ That was really the moment when things changed. Like this is what I want to do with my life.
Gallant: Would you say because of the amount of training it was more of a process to detach yourself from the technical side and embrace the emotional, self narrative driven side? Or do you think that it made it easier, cause you had training?
Ella: Obviously because of all the vocal training, I was able to do certain things. But when I was on stage, I could tell that my voice was different than the other voices. It didn’t sound like the other girls, which at the time was not…great. It turned out that certain weird tones in my voice really worked for leaning into modern music. But there was a little bit of time spent on finding my voice, which I think some people who come up in classical music do go through. For me, it happened organically over time. On the writing tip, I grew up listening to everything from Kanye West to Michael McDonald to Avril Lavigne to a ton of punk, rock-pop bands. It was like I had two different worlds inside of me. Finding my voice took a second because of that.
Gallant: Jumping off of that, What does authenticity as an artist look like to you in general and in relation this “Expectations”?
Ella: I’d gone through a period of feeling like I was still finding myself, cming to LA and feeling like there was this expectation to be “the next Billie” and be “the next this”. I would have a lot of very difficult meetings, where I would leave just feeling not good enough or fitting the bill. That really set into my psyche a little bit…I started to feel inauthentic. I didn’t feel like the people who were around me understood that being an artist…you need to be uplifted and have people to trust you. So I began really to not even trust myself.
At one point, I just decided that I was gonna go to Europe. I had met these great singer-songwriters and they said [I] should go somewhere else and remember who [I was] and work with musicians who maybe…look at the industry a little differently than what [I’m] being exposed to now. And I did, and it was…the most creative I’d ever felt. Then the night I got back from Sweden to London was the night I met the Stargate guys – literally the same night I got off the plane and we went out to this hotel bar and it happened to be that the guys were staying there. They became mentors and friends and helped me. It was like the first time I met these people in the industry…who trusted me and believed in me and uplifted me, and it just allowed me to really flourish and find naturally who I was. And then I stopped apologizing for all the things people wouldn’t like about me and my project before.
Ella: What about you?
Gallant: I would say similar. When I first started making music, I was so used to people saying it was kind of garbage because I would just write whatever – it’s not like I would write songs necessarily to be pleasing to everyone’s ears so I think people were quick to let me know how unpleasant it was. If I was going through a problem or situation, then that was my therapy and my catharsis to try to solve it. I think the toughest thing for me was going from a place of being free to release music whenever I want, when I first put out my first project in 2013, to being in a more rigid system. The hardest thing, like you said, is you have to surround yourself with people who trust you and understand, even if they don’t understand you completely, understand what you do and understand your voice and try to amplify it and not try to muffle it or change it. That was the hardest thing for me to really realize. Holding on to my authenticity and making hard decisions that might have included switching up everybody that I was working with or surrounded by. In this case, leaving a label. It’s like really admitting to being 100% real and not accepting compromise every step of the way as an answer to solve a problem of getting to where you want to go. It’s tough. Once you find it too, there’s so much noise and so much pressure. I really admire the people who are able to 100% commit and hold on to their vision and their voice and not wait.
Ella: I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but things feel easier. Do you know what I mean? I remember when people would ask me questions in meetings and I just felt this awkwardness in answering and I didnt know why I always felt that. I think when I really found myself, the answers would just come easy and it felt natural and the responses were completely different. Not that I’m looking for only positive responses, but you can feel the person on the other end and read how they’re feeling about what you’re saying and I think when I wasn’t reaching for answers anymore, they just came and I didn’t care what the other person thought of my responses; because they were authentic. I just realized ‘Wow, I was getting the reactions that you would hope you get.’
Gallant: I totally agree. You can’t always be sensitive to people who are going to be on the other end of the loudspeaker. The loudspeaker’s job is to emit sound. You just have to speak from whatever place you want to speak from. The reaction is not necessarily your responsibility which I think is what you’re saying which took me a while to overcome too.
Ella: How would you describe our collaboration process?
Gallant: I always like just recording on my own. When I heard the song, I instantly connected with it. It just had a really good feeling so I was excited about adding a slightly different flavor and combining it with something that I’ve never really necessarily done – a song that was this kind of story driven and this personal before so it was really exciting for me to really get in my own space with it and not have the pressure that sometimes comes when you’re in the same room with a deadline and you have to finish it asap. Just really connecting with it on an emotional level and then slowly taking as much time as I needed to get all the vocals in place. That come from a real place.
Gallant: What about on your end?
Ella: I could totally hear that when I received it. When I heard those vocals and certain things that you had added, and just the amount of detail, I was really blown away. It is interesting when you show someone a narrative and then they put in their side of the story. We didn’t know that that’s what you would do so I was really blown away when I got it back and to backtrack a little when we did this song, obviously we loved it, but I think that there was this feeling like something was missing and I think that sometimes you have to look at your work and really analyze it and say ‘How can we make this better?’ and there was this voice that we were really looking for and I had brought up to mikkel (Stargate)? And I had said just the honesty in your records, and obviously we had known each other a long time but even just a fan of what you do professionally, this is somebody who his vocals are so honest and heartbreaking and there’s an intention and I feel like adding something like that to the song would really bring it to the next level and then to hear this almost counter person having a real conversation when I received it back was really, really special and I think because it came from two different sides and we had made the song separately, it makes it feel more real and about two people who are going through two different versions of what’s happening at the same time because we weren’t watering down each other’s side. Not being in the same room being like ‘oh well the song is about this or the song is about that’ and we need to stick to one theme. It’s two directly different views on the same thing, which I thought was really cool and great to get to connect with a friend that way again.
Gallant: Definitely and I was happy that it all made sense in the end. That it worked.
Ella: Yeah – I think it made it make even more sense. When I heard it, I thought ‘wait, this a moment’. This is when it all came together.
Ella: Do you have any advice for new musicians/ artists on their journeys?
Gallant: It goes back to the authenticity thing. I think you should commit to yourself first and foremost and try to use all the tools around you that you can to amplify what you want your voice to be and whatever vision you see. And I guess I’ll add, don’t sign with a major label in there. A small little cautionary tale. Unless you’re really working with people that 100% get you and aren’t trying to force you to get in a bad situation. I think a lot of people who are in those deals right now are working with individuals that they really trust and respect. And that’s when they see the best results. It’s a commitment to your own voice. Like what you were saying basically, talking about finding your own, is the best way to go.
Ella: I’m with you on that. What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?
Gallant: That’s a good question. I think getting over a lot of fears. When I first made music, I never wanted to put it online because I wasn’t coming from a place where I wanted everyone else to validate my music but because of that, I was also kind of avoiding that scenario altogether. So I didn’t want any judgment at all. I just wanted to make what I wanted to make and leave it at that. So getting over that fear and putting stuff online and seeing how people reacted was a big jump. Then committing to making an album and that pushed my close minded side of my brain – what I thought I should be making a little bit but still satisfying my creative mentality and making what I wanted to make. Getting out there and performing was a challenge, performing on TV was a challenge. Committing to putting together a second album. Everytime I feel like I’m doing something that makes my heart beat a little faster, it feels like I’m doing it. It’s not just one moment but it’s the collective moment of all of those nerve wrecking moments together.
Gallant: With that being said, what would you find is your biggest highlight so far?
Ella: I think finding people that you can look up to that trust you but also hold you accountable in these really positive ways. I think when I let go of all the people who didn’t get me. Those things that you hear from people, those ideas that people have about what you should do or who you are – they get in your head. Just like anything else, you start to tell yourself a story. I think really letting go of that and relieving myself of that was really life changing. And then putting out the music like on the first song on NAKED and having that initial amazing reaction on what you’re doing too. Because I think you never know what will happen when you’re putting out the music, especially when you’re putting out the first thing. You don’t know how people are going to respond especially when you’re like ‘this is me. This is who i authentically am’. How’s the world going to respond to that? That has been super rewarding. How people have responded to the music has been a really big highlight.
Ella: I really appreciate you sharing and being so honest.
Ella: Enjoy your day.
Gallant: Enjoy the east coast.
CONNECT WITH GALLANT
CONNECT WITH ELLA
photos / Nicolas Bates
interview / Weslee Kate
story / Ariana Tibi