Seattle and California based singer-songwriter Ella Ruby presents us with her beautiful debut EP baby blue. Ella and I talk about everything from her start in music, her musical beginnings in Seattle, to her recording process and so much more!
Hi Ella! Thank you so much for answering my questions, how are you?
Hi Melody! I’m doing pretty well, thank you for asking – in a period of lots of change but hanging on tight through it all! :)
How did you get into music?
It seems like it’s always been here, in a lot of ways. I grew up singing all the time with my family, and then as I got older music stayed a huge presence in my life. My dad and I would sing classic rock and 2010s pop together on the way to school, and in my wildest dreams I imagined myself onstage performing (though when I was little I mostly dreamed about being Elphaba on Broadway). Once I began taking voice lessons and learning guitar, I started flirting with the possibility of pursuing music more seriously.
When did you start writing songs?
I started writing songs right at the end of high school – I’d always been really attracted to the idea, but it wasn’t until I began dabbling in guitar that I was able to sit down and start creating. It also didn’t hurt that my first heartbreak happened right around then. Hurt my heart, helped my songwriting – so it goes.
How did you go about finding your sound?
I think my sound is the product of the music I listened to when I was little – a lot of Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Nancy Griffith, and Pete Seeger. It’s also really influenced by more recent artists like Brandi Carlile, Sufjan Stevens, the Barr Brothers, the Weather Station, Laura Marling...a lot of deep, grounded, folk music with a little bit of an edge in a lot of different directions. When I started creating music, I could hear a lot of those artists in my own sound, and when I first started talking to Jon O’Brien about producing the EP we talked a lot about them as inspirations.
You’ll be releasing your debut EP baby blue which is so exciting, congratulations! Can you tell us what the main inspiration was behind it?
Thank you!!!! I absolutely can’t wait and am so nervous at the same time. I guess in the broadest strokes I think of the EP as a reflection of these past couple of years of magnificent change: falling in and out of love with others, with myself, questioning my body and brain and heart, being flung far from myself and having to find my way back.
What was the writing and creating process like for baby blue?
baby blue is made up of songs that I wrote over the past couple of years, rather than wrote as a collection. Each carries with it a totally different character and story, and is grounded in a very specific moment and feeling. It was a bit of a doozy picking and choosing what songs to include on the EP, but I think that creative journey makes it especially whacky and interesting; it carries with it such vast swings of movement in sonic and lyric energy, and paints a very vivid image of my heart and mind. I hope listeners can hear themselves in it too :)
What was the recording process like for baby blue?
It was absolute magic. I recorded up in Idyllwild, California, which is a little mountain town outside of LA (juxtaposition, yeah?) just about a year ago. The project was produced by Jon O’Brien, who’d just build his incredible studio up there, and we also brought in Eric Cannata, Kevin Farzad, and Grace Freeman (née Gal Musette) to create the sound of it all in person – Olivia Mainville (née Via Mardot) added strings remotely after. Working up in Idyllwild was one of my first times collaborating with other musicians, and the recording process fell into place effortlessly – the energy in the studio was fantastic from the get-go, and Jon and all of the other artists on the project were so supportive in coaxing the tracks to where they were supposed to be.
One of my favorite songs on baby blue is “last year” can you tell us a bit more about this track? what was the inspiration behind it?
Ha! Yes, I love that one, partially because it’s quite different from a lot of what I usually write. I think about it almost paired with l.a. lover – it’s a similar idea of someone living in your head in a really specific way, but in last year it’s this relentless, ever-present, overpowering thing. Heavy and heady. I wrote it when I was having really intense recurring dreams about an ex and felt kind of stuck in this subconscious pattern. last year evolved out of that and became a window into my own frustration and longing.
You spend your time between Seattle and California, have these two places inspired your music at all?
Absolutely! I’m a west coast gal through and through, and I’m very influenced by the time I spend outside hiking/camping/exploring. I also think that movement and the transitory nature of my life over the past couple of years has inspired my music– at this point I’ve done the drive between LA and Seattle quite a few times and even lived on the Oregon coast for a while, and I like to think that my songs take on the shape of the coast a little because of that.
You performed in the Seattle Opera’s Carmen and La Boheme which is amazing, how did this help you with being musician?
I did! They were such incredibly cool experiences, especially because I performed in the youth chorus (so when I was 11 or 12) – I was so little but felt SO big and marvelous. I think being in the Seattle Opera cemented both my love and fear of performing – I was so completely overwhelmed by the energy onstage, the presence of the audience, the navigation of space and sound...in a wonderful way but also in a new (and scary!) way. Since then, I’ve oscillated between feeling entirely at home onstage and feeling ready to jump out of my skin. In terms of my musicality...that must have been my first time I was interacting with professional musicians (though obviously in quite a different sphere), and I’m sure my awe of them colored my desire to pursue music more seriously.
Who would you say are your musical inspirations?
I’m gonna sound like a broken record on this one, so bear with me! In a brief and beautiful list: Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell, Adrianne Lenker, Julia Jacklin, Mountain Man.
Was the writing and creative process for “last year” different from “baths”?
Definitely! The creation process in the studio also really reflected where I was at when writing each of them. When we started noodling on last year, Eric got to the studio and started laying down this dark Lou Reed-esque bass line, and the song branched and built from there – the moody vocals, the rasp of the guitar, the relentless beat of the drums...you’ve heard it. On the other hand, we put together baths out on Jon’s deck – Eric and I playing the tumbling guitar riff and Grace and I singing harmonies against each other, the morning air crisp, coffee unfinished in front of us. I think both of those images of making correspond closely with my own feelings and writing processes for those songs.
When creating music, what comes first? Lyrics, or music?
It depends on the song! Because I’m still more comfortable with my voice than with the guitar, I tend to start with a simple chord progression and build and experiment with lyrics and melodies on top of that. The songs that give me the most difficulty start with words and struggle to find a tune.
When writing the lyrics for baby blue, what would you say you were most inspired by?
I’m a pretty selfish songwriter, at this point in my life. I tend to start with my own experiences...and stick with them. You could look at the project and call it a breakup EP, but to me since it speaks a lot more about the whacky landscape of these past couple of years in general, without revolving around any one experience. Each song in the collection, in one way or another, speaks of the aching desire to be held, the desolation and joy of living in my own mind, the unbelievably painful and lonely and beautiful journey towards finding home in myself.
During the creative process, do you ever listen to music for inspiration? If so, who do you listen to?
Yes!! Other musical inspiration definitely played a big part in the buildup to the recording process, and in the mixing process as well. Some of the biggest sound inspirations for the EP were Billie Marten, Maya Hawke, Luluc, Bedouine, Shannon Lay...gorgeous people, gorgeous artists!
What would you say was your favorite thing about about creating baby blue?
It has been the most exhilarating thing just to work on a project: to believe myself worthy of creating something like this and collaborating with such incredible musicians, and to look back at all of the magnificent growth I’ve been doing to get to this point. And above and beyond, I’ve so loved working with other people in creating these songs – what an exhilarating and fulfilling and glowing experience.
What else can we expect from you besides your release of baby blue?
Hopefully some new releases following it up at some point soon!!!. And perhaps some shows around Chicago or in Seattle...stay tuned!
Last question, we love discovering new music! Who should we be listening to right now?
Gosh, I’ve definitely been falling back into all of my autumn music – Bess Atwell, Allegra Krieger, Mary Glenn, Natalie Jane Hill, Anna & Elizabeth...good for the turning seasons :)
Words by Melody
Keep up with Ella!
Listen to babyblue here