Analogue Music | Squirrel Flower

Squirrel Flower

By Matt Conner

Ella Williams is stewing right now.

In the moment I was given with Squirrel Flower, the songwriter says she's rejecting the capitalistic notion of constant production. It's not natural or healthy to make and make and make, so for now, she's "stewing" and says she's not written a single song in the last few months.

Fortunately for Squirrel Flower fans, Planet (i) was already at the ready for summer release, just a year after I Was Born Swimming signaled her impressive arrival on Polyvinyl's planet. Ella's thoughtful approach to her own career is mirrored on an enthralling new album, and an upcoming tour with Soccer Mommy should only help cement a platform that is healthy and ready for long-term success.

Ella recently carved out some space for us to chat in the midst of preparation for her upcoming album release shows as well as some administrative tasks. What we found was an artist who knows where she wants to be and how she wants to get there, even as she experiences the same pressures and emotions as anyone else laboring to make such progress.

Analogue: The album release is Friday, so how are you doing coming out of the pandemic and at this juncture?

Ella Williams: I’m pretty good, honestly. I’ve had a pretty chill time and I’ve just been spending my time seeing friends and taking advantage of things feeling open and safer. It’s just been lovely. I feel like everyone is in this state of taking advantage of time together, more than before. It’s summer and just kind of a beautiful time.

It’s also strange. I have these two shows on Saturday and they’re my first shows back in a year-and-a-half. I don’t even know how to process it really. It’s crazy seeing everyone announce all these tours. I have another in September and none of us know what will it will look like then or what will happen still.

"It’s been a really intense year for me and everybody, obviously, but I’ve really learned about the ways my art leads me through the world."

So it’s all overwhelming and I try to take things day by day. I try not to freak out about the future or the pandemic or how things are changing. I try to live in the moment and approach the release of my album the same way. I made this thing. I’m releasing it. I take it day-by-day.

Analogue: Are the emotions the same as they were with the debut last year?

Ella: I feel a lot less nervous, I think. I’ve been recording and releasing music for forever, but the last album was my first one with actual press and that whole thing. I went into it blindly. I read everything that was written about it. [Laughs] This time around, I just don’t really care. I make music to make music and share it will people who will listen, so I’m less concerned with what people are saying, even though I’ve only seen great things so far. I think I just feel more chill and confident and excited about it.

Analogue: If you’re not concerned about that, what would you say you are concerned about?

Ella: Hmmm, I think what concerns me people not listening to the music. The way people listen to music nowadays is that you hear a song, put it on a playlist, and you don’t listen to the rest of the album. You can’t do much about it. It’s just how it is. But that is definitely a concern of mine, because I make a record to be a record, to be listened to as a record. It just sucks to think about it being consumed in a way I didn’t intend when I was making it.

Analogue: It’s interesting to hear you say you’re not concerned about what people say, which is one thing you can’t control and that’s healthy. Then you say you are concerned with this other thing that you also can’t control.

Ella: I mean, honestly, it all concerns me. [Laughs]

Analogue: Sure, we’re all human. [Laughs]

Ella: But I do feel very grateful to produce this record. All kinds of things came together to make it possible for me to create this record. If any of the things hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.

Planet (i)
Planet (i)

Analogue: Given the album emphasis, do you feel like an artist out of your own time? Just curious if you’d ever thought about that.

Ella: I haven’t. I think people do still listen to albums. That’s how I listen to it and I don’t think of it as a dated thing. I don’t know. I think, for me, it’s more about when an algorithm or corporation is affecting the way musicians are making their music, that makes me wish I was a musician in a different time. But then you realize that shit has always been a thing.

Analogue: So I read that you were in Bristol to record this album, but how did that work in terms of the pandemic and all. Can you connect those dots?

Ella: Sure, that’s what I meant when I said a lot of things had to happen to come together to make it. I was quarantined with my family in Boston for the first several months of the pandemic, and we all got COVID in July.

At the time, I had 30 demos and had been thinking of ways to make the record. I wanted to self-produce it. That was my ideal situation. But I was talking to producers to see if I clicked with anyone and I spoke with Ali on the phone. It felt really good and I really liked his vibe and what he had to say. It seemed like things clicked creatively.

Given the pandemic, it felt like it’d be nice in the future but that there was no way it would happen. And then I got sick. That freed up my ability to feel safe traveling. Also the U.S. and U.K. had their borders open to each other because they were both fucked at the time. [Laughs] They were the only two countries open to the other. So I took advantage of my anti-bodies and flew other there and stayed for two months.

Analogue: You said you were looking for producers. Did working with Ali feel congruent with what you expected before you arrived in Bristol?

Ella: Yeah, they were very congruent. I feel like working with Ali was exactly what I thought it would be when we were talking on the phone or emailing back and forth. I wanted to work with him because I had this sense that the way he worked was really around a performance, like voice and guitar or voice and keys, just an intimate performance and then layering and experimenting and building the sound around that.

I really wanted to work that way because that’s how I made the demos. That’s how I made my music when I made it myself, before I ever worked with producers, and I wanted to get back into that process, that style of creating. That’s exactly what it was. We would record me doing a take and then take our time to experiment and build up around it.

It was really fun. He brought so much playful energy to it and has such a good ear.

Analogue: Did you take over all 30 demos?

Ella: I brought 14 songs that I was going to record to the studio. Then we recorded those 14 out of 30 and then picked 12 to be on the album.

Analogue: How did you distill that down from 30? Was it a thematic thing?

Ella: Really, all of the demos were thematically in line with each other, so the process of narrowing things down was my least favorite part of being a musician. It’s really fucking hard because they all feel, to me, like they relate to each other and add depth to each other. They exist alongside each other, so to separate 12 of them because that’s what an album is… I could make a new album with the other songs, but that feels weird, too, because they’re part of this one, in my mind at least. Some of the songs that didn’t make it on the record allowed others that did make it to exist. I guess the way I narrowed the songs down, it was kind of like Ali’s input, too, and just trying to objectively pick the best songs, which is also hard. What does that even mean?

Analogue: So as you look back at the new album and making it, working with Ali, and the pandemic, what do you learn about yourself as an artist?

Ella: It’s been a really intense year for me and everybody, obviously, but I’ve really learned about the ways my art leads me through the world. I’ve realized that through everything I’ve done over the last year-and-a-half and also conversations with people close to me that my path in life, at least right now, is really guided by the music. I feel like I’m following it and my path through life is going wherever my music takes me. I’m prioritizing making and sharing art and that’s a powerful thing to realize.

VISIT: Squirrel Flower

Photo: Tonje Thilesen