Interview: Tawny Ellis

U2

“Cisco De Luna who produced it had been playing with me for about 2 years when he said he wanted to throw some ideas my way. I knew he would have a good sense of what I would respond to from playing together.”

 

We interview Tawny Ellis, an upcoming Los Angeles artist, shortly after the release of her latest EP, Blow by Blow.

 

1. Your genre of choice going into this effort seems a bit of chicken and egg – which came first, the acoustic pieces, or the distortive elements and beats layered around them?

 

Depends on the song. This EP was created in a very different way from the way I usually work. Cisco De Luna who produced it had been playing with me for about 2 years when he said he wanted to throw some ideas my way. I knew he would have a good sense of what I would respond to from playing together. I was curious and excited to hear what he had in mind. All the songs except the title track Blow By Blow he had mapped out musically with me in mind. I took them and ran with them. I really loved focusing on melody and lyrics to the ideas he had. It was a new way for me to work and I enjoyed it. I really loved what he brought to the table.

 

Normally I will sit with an acoustic guitar and map everything out musically and lyrically. The title track Blow by Blow began with me writing on acoustic guitar mapping out chords, melody and lyrics the way I usually do, then I showed it to Cisco, and to Gio my long time writing partner who played bass on the tracks. From there we flushed out the chord structure to really support the melody.

 

Once we had the arrangements pretty solid we brought in Quinn who is an amazing drummer, who has also been playing with me for about 2 years. He was just featured on the new Daft Punk record. We had him in mind the entire time we were working on the tracks. He has such a great sense of serving the songs in his unique intuitive way.

 

2. From a broader perspective, do let us in on your backstory. What were the major events over the last few years that have propelled your career thus far, and can we expect an LP somewhere down the road?

 

I think the answer is more about what has propelled me creatively. One major event happened to me the day Daniel Lanios called me on the phone to tell me he had listened to my new LP at the time, Evolve or Die released in 2009. Daniel lives near me and we have been friends for some time.

 

With Evolve or Die I reached back into my roots and wrote songs, and covered a few songs that brought me full circle with my early influences. I had a hand in the production of it and I was set on getting live takes and performances on that record. It was the beginning of me being at the helm on the production side of things. It is a very “roots country” sounding record, more so than what I have ever done before or since.

 

The conversation I had with Daniel that afternoon helped shape and define my sound and my confidence. He said he was surprised the record was so “country” and he gave me a window into where he saw me going as artist. He talked about texture and sparsity and making room for the vocal to sit. He told me to write classic and timeless songs, to listen to Sinatra and to Bob Marley. Funny thing is Bob Marley happens to be one of my favorite artists of all time, as is Lanios himself.

 

The things he said were things I knew instinctively. I could see how Evolve or Die was a passageway for me to tap into my past influences and to learn to take what I want from them and create something new and fresh, not necessarily with genre in mind.

 

I started working on my next record I To You that was released in 2011. I produced it with Gio and I think we tapped into some of those things I talked about with Daniel.

 

Also, working with Cisco, Quinn and Gio has been a revelation. We are a good mix and they all seem to understand my abstract musical language without much discussion.

 

I will release another original LP, I am now working on many new songs and collaborating with a few different folks. I am also recording a covers album called Songs My Friends Thought I Should Do. It’s a fun project Gio and I have decided to do. I have had so many people say to me “I would love to hear you do ——song,” so I made a list. There are such interesting and beautiful choices. I thought it would be a wonderful playground for us in the studio over the winter. It also jostles the writing for me as well. Definately 2 LPs coming in the future, the covers album, and an original one. In what order I am not sure.

 

U2

“I have had so many people say to me “I would love to hear you do ——song,” so I made a list. There are such interesting and beautiful choices. I thought it would be a wonderful playground for us in the studio over the winter.”

 

3. “Love is Your Name” is clearly my personal pick from the four tracks on offer on this EP. Can you describe its personal history, if you like? And this might be a touch optimistic from an EP’s standpoint, but will it (or any of the other three for that matter) be rewarded with a music video or further promotion of some kind?

 

I love duality, I study it and appreciate it. I feel like this song was a way to describe all that love can do. It can create war and peace, it can break you down into little pieces and it can make you soar to the greatest heights. Love Is Your Name is sort of my battle cry about what I have seen Love do. I actually do have a video I released for Love Is Your Name, it was created on location around Los Angles and shot on iPhones. (Video Below) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32CHydWjgxE

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32CHydWjgxE?rel=0&w=500&h=281]

 

We also have a video in the works for Good With That. We are just putting the finishing touches on it now. I shot it with my friend Danielle Hardy who is an amazing photographer.

 

4. I also notice that you’ve ventured into sculpture and jewellery in various measure; do such interests get the musical juices flowing any better? Or are they strictly isolated inputs?

 

They do lend to it, (and can distract as well) but its a balance. Creativity is just an energy to tap into. These are all ways of telling stories for me. My favorite medium is clay (besides music), it is simply earth and water. Creating form out of clay (for me it seems to have emotion in it), this is one of my favorite things in the world to do. I cast them in bronze. The clay sculpting takes a tremendous effort from the sculpting to the casting process. I do love it but it is not always easy to find space to do it in, but I always have a piece or two in process. The jewelry really was just a lark, someone asked me to make a few pieces, who saw my wire sculpture. It was something I did for fun and I find is a meditation for me. It’s a pretty new thing but seems to have a life of its own. I launched two Jewelry lines Twist (a hand sculpted line) and Swing (my reclaim line) last year and I do a lot of scrambling about to keep it all going.

 

Besides that, I spend a lot of time creating and editing video for the music. I am really into that at the moment. I have a new single coming out in December called This Great Divide, it is a very special song I wrote with my friend Zander Schloss (of Joe Strummer, and The Circle Jerks fame). The video features sculpture I have created over the past 10 years. I have had this vision in my mind for some time now to see them move! Recently, I met this wonderful animator Sean Nadeau who did videos for The Flaming Lips and also Michael Buble. He liked my idea and has created something I have never seen before, it is groundbreaking for sure. It is exciting to bring together all of these mediums: music, film, fashion, sculpture, animation. Even the editing is an amazing art form. I enjoy all of it but really music is first for me.

 

5. And finally, you seem to have a keen ear for collaborative creativity. How did that pan out over “Blow by Blow”?

 

It was a gift. I learned a lot and I enjoyed pushing the envelope in different ways. I was so happy to have an opportunity to record with the guys, they are all such talented and intuitive musicians who are great people as well. The production sounds amazing, Cisco did a great job producing it. I think we should do more. I think we will.

 

U2

“I was so happy to have an opportunity to record with the guys, they are all such talented and intuitive musicians who are great people as well.”

 

Want to know more about Tawny Ellis? Begin by looking up her Soundcloud page, and give her a shoutout on Facebook or Twitter. (Photo Credits DMH Photography)

 

 

 

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