Change can sometimes feel like a dirty word. Striking fear in the hearts of many, the idea of the discomfort that change is inevitably married to often leaves us wading in a static pond of lackadaisical avoidance. Yet when change is thrust upon us, the growth that stems from that discomfort leaves us a stronger, multi-hued version of our past selves.
For R&B singer-songwriter Ella M, change has become more comfortable than consistency. Having grown up in England, uprooting to New York at age 11, back to London for a stint, and now residing in Los Angeles; Ella certainly knows a thing or two about the specific kind of change that concrete jungles facilitates. Having immersed in herself in the musical communities of three world-renowned creative hubs, she continues to collect the experiences that have metamorphosed her into the artist she is today.
That artist is on the precipice of her debut, releasing first single to date “Myself.” A sultry ‘90s R&B-throwback, reminiscent of TLC and Erykah Badu, Ella gives her perspective on the frustration of being alone. A slow-burning, sensual track infused with the perfect combo of funk and chill, Ella riffs through the song seamlessly, showcasing her honeyed vocals and knack for R&B melodies.
Though Ella has now found her niche in R&B, her musical background is far from one-track minded. Finding her start in classical music as a child in the UK, she went on to study opera at The New School in New York. Later growing out of her classical roots and into writing contemporary music for herself, she dappled in pop and EDM before landing where she is now on the musical spectrum.
A fascinating individual with likely enough life experiences to compile a few average lifetimes, we had the chance to catch up with Ella on everything from lessons learned in the city, the journey of discovering her place in music, and why change has become her new comfort zone.
How old were you when you penned your first song? Do you remember what it was about?
I do actually… When I moved from England to New York, I left behind this beautiful group of girls in my really small town… I think I was 11 turning 12 and I was like “My life is ruined.” I was in New York and I had my guitar with me and I was like, “This is my outlet,” … I was just your typical turning teen… ready to be angsty. It was called “Best Friends Hero” or something, it was really crap. It was basically about losing England to move to New York and how shocking / horrible it was for me at the time… but it turned around in probably a month or two and I was like, “Never mind, I’m in New York and I’m killing it.”
During your time in New York you studied opera at the New School, how did your study of classical music impact the musician and performer you are today?
From the start, ever since I was young I was doing classical music. In England they do “grades,” so I was doing all my grades for singing and that was all classical based, and I would learn songs and what not. Then when I went to New York and I was studying opera full time, from the get go I knew my influences were heavily in R&B and hip hop and pop… so from the start… I was like “ I’m gonna learn this and get really good at this” to the point where I kind of came to part from it… Because even still, I knew you only gain success as an opera singer when you’re like 35-40 so I knew I wasn’t going to gain instant success from that anyway. So I wanted to … get to know the genre and exercise it enough that I got the full circle kind of thing from it… Opera and being a soprano helped me a lot with my range and breathe support and being a stronger musician in general, which was really important to me…
From classical music to your first professional musical endeavors in EDM, how did you land in this beautiful R&B/pop niche?
I think I forced myself into it honestly because I was doing an Artist Development program which is a three-year endeavor. There was a studio that I would go to everyday, to write, sing, and record. So when I was in there, there was an assistant studio engineer and he was showing me what he did, and it was this like a mix of TLC, Erykah Badu type vibe and I was like “Oh my god, I need to do that.” It was a track that had no lyrics on it, so I just wrote to it that day… and it was the most natural thing to me ever.
You’ve lived in 3 of the largest metropolitan centers and hubs of entertainment in the world: New York, London, and Los Angeles. Can you share with us one lesson you learned from each city?
New York taught me to be hard and protect myself, not in a physical sense but in an emotional and business sense.
London taught me to be real because there’s so many amazing musicians in London who unapologetically are themselves… even if it’s stuff that’s not going to be commercial, they do it anyway because they love it.
In LA I’m learning you have to be as professional as possible here and stay focused on yourself… instead of going with crowd… patience is key.
In your life, the cliche “The only consistency in life is change” really rings true. How do you cope with change?
I kind of crave change a lot, which is kind of a weird answer but I way prefer change than I do consistency… But the way I cope with change, and I know it sounds really really cliché, is just writing. That’s my consistency… it makes me feel like I’m at home.
Your debut single “Myself” came out today, Jan. 24. What was the inspiration behind this one? Why was this one chosen to debut?
“Myself” was the first song that I wrote when I came to LA last summer in 2018. I realized, “Wow, I change around so much and I go to all these different cities but I find it impossible to be by myself”… It was a weird head space that I got into where I realized that I am one of those people who can’t be by myself and I crave especially, and not to get mad personal, but I crave sexual attention and intimate situations with a man or a woman and I really appreciate being with an intimate partner… I guess that song was me being, “Oh my god, I’m freaking out, I need to literally be with someone all the time,” but it’s weird because I move around so much… The fact that I move around so much should give me more of a reason to be alone, you know? But I’m not and that’s it.
What does the new decade look like for Ella M.? What will you be taking with you from the previous 10 years and what will you be leaving behind?
I will be taking my persistence… and continue on the route that I’m going on. I have 5 shows coming up in the first quarter and I want to keep on rehearsing, doing shows, and releasing music. What I’ll leave behind is my desire to have a concrete plan, I think I need to be more flexible with how things turn out.
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photos / Matt Hartz
shoot produced by / Claire Allman
‘Myself’ produced by / Juny Mag
story / Jessica Thomas