Recently, I got to have a chat with Chris Hayzel and Elora Jane from Ellis., an alternative pop band in LA. We talked about making the band, influences, and a possible west coast tour. Check out what they had to say below!
Q: What is your writing process for I Am, did you write the lyrics then the music or a different way around?
Chris: Elora and I came together with already written material. She had music she’d written previously and I had music I’d written previously, and we both found that our styles of our music fit well together in sort of an interesting way. It was kind of a miracle that they fit together in a cohesive way. As far as my personal writing process, it really varies. Generally I’ll start with music first. I’ll come up with an idea on the guitar that I like and then I’ll start to put together the structure of the song. Then I’ll start a vocal melody and start trying to fit lyrics into that melody. But then there are times that I’ll write lyrics first, just kind of write them out in a book, and I’ll start writing another song and somehow those lyrics fit into the song that I’m writing. It just depends on where I’m at.
Elora: My writing process is really scattered. Sometimes I’ll just write down what I’m feeling and kind of figure out my favourite lines of what I’ve written down and then pop them together for a song, and sometimes I’ll just play my guitar or ukelele and figure out a melody then sing words, usually that don’t make sense, and then find words that do make sense.
Q: How long have you guys been writing the songs for this album? How long has it taken to get to this stage?
Elora: A year?
Chris: Yeah, it’s been about… Well we’ve been working together for a little over a year, and I know that the songs that I wrote took place within a period of the last three years. Some of the songs like “I Am” or “Never Cry Over Spilled Paint” were written about three years ago. And then some of the songs that I wrote like “Reality” were written right before we started working together so it’s been a long process for me.
Elora: Yeah, same with my songs. “Secret Place” is probably one of the most recent songs that I have, and all the rest of them are between one and three years old. They all just kind of sat in my pocket for a little while until I had a chance to lay them out.
Chris: And as far as putting the album together, and working together, we spent a year in the recording process putting the songs together. Putting a lot of care into them so they came out sounding good because none of the songs had any band composition to them. They were all just acoustic songs that we had with acoustic guitar or ukelele and vocals and none of them had drums or bass or any of that so it was a whole… sitting down with it and putting a band together was actually a whole process of itself. It was like rewriting the songs and restructuring them and adding things, so it was really cool as a creative process that ended up taking about a year.
Q: Walk me through the songs on your album I Am, which are your favourites?
Elora: I mean my favourite song is “Toppling” but that song’s about me which is probably why I like it so much. I mean, “Secret Place” is also my favourite song. I wrote it about my best friend so it’s really nostalgic for me. My best friend is out of the country a lot, I think he’s in Africa right now, so I miss him a lot and when I play it I think of him. Then “Reality” is just a blast to play and sing.
Chris: Yeah we have a lot of good songs to play. It’s really interesting because our favourite songs to play live when we play acoustic and when we have a band are different. Because we’re just now getting a band together, when we’re playing acoustic one of my favourite songs is “Reality” but now with the band… we actually just had rehearsals the other day, and one of the band members just said ‘actually, my favourite song to play is “Never Cry Over Spilled Paint”‘ and I thought about it and yeah actually that’s a really fun song to play with a band. The dynamics change so much when you have other people, different songs sound different and fit together differently. It’s a really fun one to play when you have everybody involved.
Q: How is it different having a band instead of just being acoustic, and what was the process to start finding a band?
Chris: It’s been a really long process.
Elora: It was like a year.
Chris: We literally just started getting our band together.
Elora: This one. This is number two.
Chris: We had a band before. Playing acoustic is fun. It’s fun that our music can break down like that so we can play in coffee shops and places like that, but for me, personally, I grew up playing in a band so I much prefer having other people and the collaboration rather than getting up by myself and playing. The majority of our shows last year were just Elora and myself. We started out with a percussionist, his name is Mike, and he left the band. Then it was just Elora and myself for a long time, then we started getting a band together through this festival we did called Bu La La Music Festival, and we started searching to get a band together. We started out with this friend who was a bass player, playing drums but he couldn’t really play drums. Then we had a keyboard player who couldn’t really play the keys try to play bass. And we ended up finding a drummer so we put the not-really-drummer on bass, and the not-really-keyboard-player on keys and then we had our drummer. Then we played that one show, and after that they all just sort of peaced out. The last minute before one of our shows, midnight a week before the show… We just recently met a guy called Jason, who is a really good drummer who I called at 12:30 in the morning that night, right when I got… because our drummer quit through Facebook message, what a way right? It’s like getting dumped on text message. So I called this guy Jason, saying we have an hour show coming up in about four or five days, and I said can you learn ten songs in five days. He was just like ‘yeah’ so he came in, we rehearsed every day, then we played the show and it was awesome. Then our keyboard player left, but it was okay because it was the last show of the year, then we finished the album and have been trying to get the band together since. I called my friend, John, he’s a bass player from a band that I was in in high school.
Elora: A heavy, heavy band.
Chris: I played metal in high school. He was the bass player, then our friend Dylan Llewellyn from the performing arts school that we were in just moved to town and he plays the keys really well, so it’s really nice that it’s been coming together. We’ve only been playing with this band now for about a month, and we actually have our first show with them [Friday] night at The Rox in Hollywood and we’re really stoked because it’s sounding really good. We have all the right people on the right instruments this time. It’s really becoming something much different than it was before. Playing with a band you have all these different dynamics, not just musical but personal as well. We just got really lucky because this group of people… We jell really well, like we’re coming up with all these cool ideas that aren’t on the record.
Q: A question from twitter user @Kehau2112, what are your musical influences and do they encourage you to write your own music?
Elora: I get really jealous of people who are really good. I’ll hear my friends voices and just… arggg, I want to sing like that! Then I’ll go out and write a song about it. Sometimes I’ll get inspired by certain songs. When I was still in college, I heard this song called “Consequence of Sounds” by Regina Spektor and that song took my soul away and I was just like ‘oh my god, I need to write something like this!’ and I did. Or, at least the same kind of melody structure. I have a varied amount of influences. Jewel and Joni Mitchell, Joss Stone, Laura Marling is my favourite person ever right now… I grew up on Jewel and Joni Mitchell, so those are closest to my heart. I know I got some of my vocal stylings from Joni Mitchell, the way that she does her run in a kind of folky, high pitched kind of way. I mean, for me especially now that I’m listening to Laura Marling… She is so good, and I’m so jealous of her that she’s so good that it makes me want to write when I listen to her music. Same when I listen to Joni Mitchell.
Chris: We come from two really different musical backgrounds. For me, the first album I ever owned was Crash by The Dave Matthews Band. I got that album when I was about five years old, and from 5 – 10 I listened to that album on repeat. You wouldn’t catch me for more than five minutes without my headphones on listening to Crash. And then when I turned 10 I got my second album, and that was Before These Crowded Streets by The Dave Matthews Band. So my musical upbringing, I was brought up on really technical sort of jazz fusion. That’s probably what accounts for the weirdness in my music. Then another huge influence for me is Incubus. I love, lovelovelove Incubus. I love that band and I think they’re an incredible group of musicians. The way they think about music and the way that they have always sort of done what they want to do and not really made a record for anybody else… The way they do that has really inspired me to really stick to my guns because my music can be a little strange to some. Those bands like Incubus and The Dave Matthews Band… And Radiohead and things like that have really sort of taught me to stay true to who I am and eventually the people will follow and they’ll get it.
Q: Where would you love to perform one day?
Chris: My holy grail is Red Rocks [Amphitheatre] in Colorado. It’s such a magical venue and the acoustics there are amazing. When you play there, I’m sure it’s incredible so I’ve always said my holy grail is Red Rocks. When I’ve sold out, and headlining at Red Rocks, then I’ll know I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to achieve. Also I’ve always wanted to play in Dubai for some reason.
Elora: Dubai? There’s this place in Red Bank, Washington… It’s not a theatre, it’s like a huge park that has a gigantic stage. I went there to see Sublime with 311 and I loved that place because you’re just up front, super close and personal and you get to be there all day while everyone plays. I can’t remember what it’s called… It’s an amazing place to play, you’re literally surrounded by trees. There’s just a hole in the forest that you get to sit in and listen to amazing music. Gosh, it’s so great.
Chris: Realistically speaking, within the next year I want to play at Hotel Cafe here in LA. It’s a great singer/songwriter venue.
[Edit: the venue Elora is talking about is Marymoor Amphitheatre in Seattle]
Q: If you could only live in one country, not in North America, where would you live?
Elora: UK! I have a lot of family and a bunch of friends in the UK so I would definitely go to England.
Chris: I’d move back to New Zealand. I lived there for a while when I was 12 and 13, and it was just incredible. So much good surf there!
Q: What’s next for you?
Chris: There’s a lot going on right now, we’re pushing our music out to radio… Internet radio and college stations. Independent radio down here too. We’re trying to push it further across the country as well. Right now, with the album sort of being fresh out of the bag we’re really focused on promoting it. Last year our focus was getting the album together and playing shows took a secondary seat to the album. We’ve found that the challenge for us is not getting people to like our music, because whenever people hear it they always seem to like it, the challenge is just getting people to hear the music. You as the listener have so much stuff just thrown at you, with the way the internet is just all noise, and it’s really hard to just stand out above that noise. We’re really focusing on coming up with cool strategies on how to get people to come to our shows and when you play shows you can only ask your friends and family to come so many times until it becomes redundant because you’re playing to the same people over and over again. We’re really trying to figure out how to reach audiences that have no idea who we are. So we’re putting up flyers in all the music stores in LA for our shows, and offering free downloads for people who come to our shows… We’re trying to book out of town gigs and get out on the road a little more and really go places where we’ve not been before. We’ve been talking about doing a west coast tour up into BC.
Elora: I’m from Seattle, so I’ve been begging him to go back home.
Chris: It’s just that we have to get it all together. Our drummer, he’s 33 and he’s already sort of done it all like he doesn’t really want to do it anymore.
Elora: Just tell him ‘we’re not going to play music! we’re just going on a road trip, come on!’
Chris: We’re also sort of sending our album to record labels and feeling that out. What would be ideal for us is if we could find a manager, someone to sort of help us push a little bit further at a marketing standpoint, because I know I’ve reached the limits of my knowledge as far as that’s concerned. It would be nice to find people to work with. Definitely independent labels. Just this year is focusing on spreading our love of music, trying to get people to hear music so they can experience it and love it.
Q: Do you have any last things you’d like to say to your fans?
Elora: We have fans? (laughs) That aren’t our friends? Come to our shows! Keep listening!
Chris: And feel free to interact with us
Elora: We’re not famous people yet. We still run our own twitter.
Chris: Yeah, we run all our own stuff and we’ll answer just about any question you send and we’ll talk to you. Also, spread the word! Burn a CD if you want, we don’t care if we don’t make any money on it.
Elora: What? (laughs)
Chris: Give everyone you know a CD and say ‘you’ve got to hear these people!’
Check back soon for a review of Ellis.’ album I Am.