Hometown: Manhattan, NY/D.C.
For many artists, the bedroom is where a number of life-changing projects are birthed. Lyrics are scribbled on pieces of paper at odd hours of the night and preliminary beats are quietly tapped out with a ballpoint pen. ELLA, a singer/songwriter/producer, gave life to her new single ‘Drive Me Down’ within the confines of her bedroom. On the day ‘Drive Me Down’ dropped, I got the chance to talk more with ELLA about the single, Pop Rocks & her plans post-single release.
L: How did you find out about Tom Tom & what keeps you around as a frequent reader?
E: I first heard about Tom Tom because I was a camper at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls when I was 14. Before I became an intern there, Tom Tom gave a workshop on diversity in the media. They spoke about making things happen and creating change. The workshop was super inspiring. I kept reading because I really like learning about women who are anomalies in their field. I did classical percussion for 10 years with the DC Youth Orchestra, starting when I was 5 years old. I played marimba and timpani, and I would always remember being the only girl or one of two girls. Always, I mean, most of my life, I was the only girl so it’s cool to have women breaking barriers in one place.
L: How did you get into classical orchestra?
E: I was born in Harlem and went to the Harlem School of the Arts where I took dance classes and also violin. When I was five years old, my mom and I moved to D.C. and I joined the D.C Youth Orchestra Program and played violin. One day, I ended up falling on the playground and my hand got messed up and gross. I put a bandage on it and my teacher would still make me play. It was awful. I was already interested in drumming, but that was the end. ‘Mom, I wanna quit.’ But she told me I had to pick another instrument. I told her I wanted to play the drums. On my 1st day, the teacher was, like, ‘Oh my gosh, such a natural, she’s doing so well.’ Over the next year, I practiced constantly and started learning the bells, then xylophone and finally moved on to marimba.
L: Woah, what a wild ride! I recall you saying that you were born in New York, moved to D.C. and then moved back to New York. What prompted all the moving?
E: My mom had job changes. She’s a journalist. She used to work for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey and then the Washington Post when we moved to D.C. Now, she works for the New York Times.
L: Woah, that’s awesome! Congratulations to your mom!
E: I know, right!
L: Yeah that’s so cool! So, ‘Drive Me Down’, firstly, I listened to it and it’s so good, I can’t wait to share it with all my friends. Secondly, you said the song was inspired by a daydream, do you feel comfortable discussing the content of the daydream?
E: Yes, I do feel comfortable discussing it! So, I was imagining this visual of me in the driver seat of a car, with my foot up on the wheel like a sneaker or high heel up on the wheel, and I was talking through the window. The camera was facing the window and I’m singing the song because the melody was in my head. As I’m singing the song, the car is moving but I’m not driving the car. I should mention I do not have a driver’s license yet. I’m a New Yorker. It was also at night so it was super-sleek. Kind of like it has just rained so the streets are super-slick, and that’s the kind of energy I was imagining.
L: You also said that video games influenced the production of the single. Is there are particular video game?
E: Super Bikes. You know, the red bikes in the arcade that go back and forth. It was so cool to have women doing flips on a motorcycle.
L: Are you super into gaming?
E: No, I don’t play a lot of video games. Growing up I used to play Super Bikes with my dad in the arcade after we saw a movie. I’m really into movies and music videos, but I’m not really into video games like that. I can’t remember the last time I played a serious video game and went hardcore about it.
L: What food item(s) best describes ‘Drive Me Down’ and why?
E: Pop Rocks because I feel like the song starts off pretty dark, pretty simple. Sort of like when you put the Pop Rocks in your hand, they’re pretty simple, pretty mundane. And then as you eat the Pop Rocks, they start to pop in your month and it becomes more exciting as the song progresses.
L: I like that…that’s a sick answer!
E: Thank you!
L: Alright so, ‘Drive Me Down’ is out, what’s the next step for your music?
E: I’m planning on doing some gigs. I have an EP done that I’m planning on releasing sometime this year, and all of the songs on the EP I’ve written and produced myself. I also plan on continuing to push the single because I really want it to be amplified. I’m also in a band called ‘Pretty Sick,’ and I want to keep playing with them. Around the city, I want to start collaborating with people. I feel like that’s the biggest thing. I want to do more collaborative work because I pretty much did this song on my own so I want to start doing more work with other people.
L: That’s a great to-do list! Great goals for the rest of the year.
E: Thanks, and I have to finish my college apps but other than that!
L: Is there anything else that you want to talk about that we didn’t touch on?
E: It took me a month to fully mix, write and produce ‘Drive Me Down.’ I had other songs available, but I think I really wanted to share this song first because I feel it’s empowering for women to be in control of so many things. Not only in the way that I worked on the song and produced it myself but also in the lyrics, I’m talking about being very in control of your own place, which is something that I value.
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By Lindsey Anderson