Minnesota singer- songwriter Ellis has made a sort of home away from home in Spokane during a decade spent touring the nation. But it has been a couple of years since Ellis has visited Spokane. In this interview she talked about her new live album, her new journey into motherhood and living less defended.
IJ: It’s been a while since you’ve come to Spokane. What’s been happening?
E: I’ve been in baby land. My daughter is 3 years old. I’m sort of coming out of that now and excited to be coming back to Spokane.
IJ: And you have a new live album in tow?
E: Yes, it’s called “Wherever You Are.” I had the idea of making a live record for a while now. We decided to do it in one night and see what happens and it was really fabulous. There were poignant moments and funny moments. For people who really love the music, part of what they like is not only the songs themselves, but also the performance and the way it touches people. When I’m playing it’s like I’m having a conversation with the audience. There is a lot of joy that can’t be captured in the studio.
IJ: What about the selection? Old stuff? New stuff? Covers? Any unreleased songs?
E: No covers. It’s all original. There are a few songs that … are previously unrecorded.
IJ: Why choose to release those songs for the first time on this live recording?
E: Because they are fan favorites and it’s part of what I’m doing live right now. I want to get them out to people. It doesn’t make sense to leave off my favorites that are also the fans’ favorites.
IJ: You released “Wherever You Are” as a three-disc set that includes a version of the show with the banter between songs, as well as a version without the banter. Why include the alternative listening experience?
E: It’s about the interaction you feel between me and the audience that’s something you’re not able to capture when you’re making a studio album. One of my songwriting goals is to really open up the heart. I wanted to offer something outside of the shows so they can better remember that feeling.
We’re all reflections of each other at some level, and you can hear those connections in the in-between moments in the crowd noise, whether it be a chair creaking, or if you can hear my feet shuffling. Suddenly you’re in that space and it’s not so clinical anymore. I made my first live album over several nights at different venues and pieced it all together. For this one, I thought it would be great to record a show and release it. I tried to bring that spirit of realness to the moment. There is a myth that it has to be perfect in order for people to be moved, and often it’s the opposite. It’s the clunkiness and little imperfections that make it so beautiful. The third CD is maybe just me tired of listening to me talk, or for those times when people just want to hear the songs without the banter.
IJ: What’s the core message in your music?
E: Living undefended. Our society and world has convinced us to be armored up in order to be safe and make our way in the world. But I think the opposite is true. We are weighted down by the armor. When I defend myself I’m really defending my heart and not wanting to have it broken. A big practice is accepting my broken heart. My heart was made to be broken. It was made for this and my songs are really coming out of that place. I’m going to visit my granny in the hospital. She’s dying. I feel this incredible broken-heartedness but also the tenderness that here I am getting to spend time with her during this important time. The less defended I am, the more I can appreciate life’s joys and sorrows equally and hold them as precious.
IJ: How has motherhood affected you as an artist?
E: Perspective. Motherhood has helped me take myself less seriously. As a father, you must know it’s an amazing thing to join the parent club and realize there is a cycle that is happening that I am a part of. The parent side of things has made me grow personally. Now I’m writing songs from a decentered place, and people can relate to that. We are all like tiny universes bumping into each other.