Interview with Ella Jane: Songwriting, TikTok fame, and her “Party Trick”
November 7, 2022
20-year-old singer-songwriter ella jane has grown considerably since her Jay Gatsby inspired single. It’s been two years since “nothing else i could do,” a song she wrote for an AP Lit project, blew up on TikTok, and the world’s indie-pop fans fell in love with ella. Now, she’s grown to have more than 700,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, has debuted an EP and a recent album, and is currently on the road for her first headline tour, the marginalia tour.
After gaining a following on social media during quarantine, she dropped out of college to pursue music full time. Her sophomore project, Marginalia, just came out on October 28th, inspired by the annotations and marginal notes of her own life. It’s all of the heart-wrenching lyrics that fans know and love, coupled with her classic Swift-esque sound. Appearing on Spotify feature playlists such as “young and free” and “text me back”, ella’s music is perfect for the crushing and crushed, and anyone who believes music is poetry. If you’re already a fan, you’re sure to love it, and if you’re new to ella jane, it’s definitely worth the listen.
ella recently passed through the District over Halloween weekend. My friend Emma and I were lucky enough to sit down with the artist to talk about music, the current slang, and our party tricks. ella revealed that hers isn’t actually saying “I love you,” but instead, she can talk without opening her mouth. She proved this as she puffed up her cheeks and imitated being stuck inside, all with perfect annunciation. Always the fangirls, we brought a disposable camera and bonded over whether or not we still say ‘slay’, our thoughts on the queer-coded openers for Taylor Swifts upcoming tour, and growing up in the tri-state area.
Fans came in costume to celebrate Halloween Eve with ella and her band. She was accompanied with openers Stray Fossa, an indie-rock trio, and Cece Coakley, a folk pop soloist, who she just released a Christmas song with. She regrettably had to cancel the main act due to last minute illness, but promised to return to DC soon, vowing to come back better than ever. We’ll be ready for her when she comes back through the DMV. After all, there’s nothing else we could do.
Read on for more of our conversation with ella.
What is your writing process like? Can you elaborate on the storytelling featured in your songs?
My process differs most times around. Sometimes I’ll go in with more lyrical attention than other times. Everything is pretty much autobiographical for the most part, normally I will start with some sort of melody idea mixed with a general lyrical concept in mind, and then I’ll flesh it out as I go on.
What are your thoughts on TikTok? Do you think it’s overall beneficial for artists coming onto the scene? How did that impact your growth?
I think it’s sort of a catch-22 because at this point in time it’s very hard. Maybe catch-22 isn’t the right term for it, but at this point, you get stuck in a weird cycle of ‘you need to be making TikTok content,’ but at the same time, it’s so much harder right now for anyone to do well on TikTok.
But, I mean, I have to be grateful for it. And I am because I really wouldn’t have a career right now without it. Or at least it would’ve taken a lot longer, especially because for me it was such an important outlet and way to put myself out there when I had no following. I think in the beginning it was a lot more beneficial for artists, but now it’s just become so oversaturated.
Because it changed the industry so quickly, it started veering in a positive direction, and then the industry evolved to try and ‘fit’ TikTok somehow. That’s what’s been difficult because now you have all these major labels who aren’t signing artists until they’ve already blown up. So there’s a much lower chance now of labels helping artist development. Having success is kind of a predecessor to having any establishment behind you. You need the numbers first. Sorry, I could rant about this all day. It’s been a positive experience for the most part, but there’s some burnout.
Speaking of TikTok, what’s in right now? What’s out?
In? Hmm. The word purr. We’ve been saying purr a lot on tour. I’m enjoying it. I know all these microtrends come and go, but I’m still really big on the platform ballet flats. That guy, Rodger Cleye, the old man who sings covers on TikTok. He’s covered two of my songs before. It’s kind of a flex.
That’s amazing. He does it better than you, not gonna lie.
No he does, I’m kind of upset about it. [laughs] What’s out? Let me think here. You know, there’s so much that I hate, I’m such a hater, but nothing’s coming to mind.
We can circle back later. What was your ‘oh sh*t’ moment that you knew you could pursue music? When did it hit you that this was gonna work?
The first time I ever played a headline show. My first show was Baby’s All Right which is a cute little venue in Brooklyn, and I was living in Brooklyn at the time so it was very fun to play it. But being on stage for the first time and realizing that people actually knew my lyrics, I was like, ‘oh, okay. This is something.’ I think because I came up solely during the pandemic and just online, you know, there are numbers to back it up but sometimes, especially now, the internet is so much more prone to one hit wonders and stuff. Numbers don’t really carry as much meaning anymore. So I think I was like, ‘Okay, this is cool, but how do I know that people are actually connecting with this?’ And it was a pretty small venue but it was packed to the brim and hearing everyone sing everything was really cool.
That’s awesome. And of course, Rodger Cleye.
Yeah. Obviously. Most importantly Rodger. Also, I have an answer for what’s out. People saying ‘bestie’ still.
This is your first headline tour. How did you prepare for this? Where do you see yourself going after?
I think the best preparation for it was the fact that I opened for Peter McPoland in the spring. It was super fun, but it really was a great warmup. That was my first tour ever. I’ve played a couple headline shows, I’ve played a bunch of colleges and stuff, but it really doesn’t compare to a tour, and the ability to cement your thing, figure out what works and what doesn’t. That was wildly helpful. I think also being an opener forces you to figure out what it is you need to do to keep people’s attention. I feel like as an opener you really need to fight to get it. I was really lucky that I was opening for someone like Peter because I think we do have a lot of fan base overlap. It was nice that there were some people there to see me, but it really got me into the habit of, ‘how do I make this a really entertaining show from beginning to end?’ I think going on that tour and figuring that out really prepared me for this. I’m so glad that I had that experience because it’s made me feel a lot more confident about every show here.
I’m doing a similar tour to this in February, we’re hitting some other places. We’re doing some more southern cities and second rate markets and stuff. But after that, I would love to just keep doing headline shows or try out bigger venues. I think that this tour gave me a little taste – we did Bowery Ballroom, which was always my dream venue growing up. I’m from Westchester, so I grew up going into the city a lot and seeing shows there. That gave me a selfish little taste for the bigger venues. I’d even just love to open for a large artist. I think that would be really fun.
Who is your dream artist to open with?
I always say The 1975. I’ve seen them twice and they’ve always had really good openers. Selfishly, Lorde, I would love to open for her. But I think The 1975 is cool because I feel like their fan base has a pretty wide taste.
On the topic of preparation for a big night of singing, what are you drinking?
Throat coat, baby. A classic.
Thoughts on Midnights by Taylor Swift? What’s your favorite song off the album?
Mastermind. I was a little high the first time I listened to it and I was like, ‘this is the best thing ever,’ and then the next day I was like ‘f*ck.’ And now I’ve come to a better place with it. I have such an iron stomach for her bullshit because I’m a Pop Taylor fan. If you can handle, “guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats,” you can handle it. Karma is a cat. Karma is my boyfriend. But I do like the bonus tracks a lot, too.
What’s your favorite song off of your new album, Marginalia?
I’d say it’s “Sore Loser.” It’s a song that I would probably most listen to if it weren’t my own.
When you make music, do you make music that you would want to listen to?
I do. I prefer to make pop-y music. If a song is very emotion driven, normally it’d be some depressing folk-y guitar thing. I do love making a pop song, but I like having a little guilty pleasure of being able to make something a little more indie-leaning.
What are you being for Halloween?
Tonight, I’m thinking of being Hannah Montana. And then, for the Toronto show, I might be doing Cru-Ella Jane and my band would be dalmations. I really would love to be Pitbull and have my whole band be Pitbull, but I do want to look a little cute on stage. So who knows?
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