There is little doubt that one of the breakthrough artists of the year is UK based American Kate Ellis. Her debut album is making great waves and she is currently in the middle of a run of UK gigs. Next week sees the vinyl launch of her “Carve Me Out” album and we caught up with her to have a chat about that, her music and her career in general.
Hi Kate. Earlier this year you released your highly acclaimed debut album ‘Carve Me Out’, which is to be released on Vinyl on September 27th. Being your debut album, I’m guessing you were both nervous and excited before the release. How pleased have you been with the response to the album?
It’s been kind of overwhelming actually. To get the music out there and have such a positive reaction has been amazing. I guess I didn’t realise how much other people could connect to the feelings I express in these songs. It is truly gratifying.
How special will it be to hold a vinyl copy of your album in your hands?
Wonderful. There’s something romantic and magical about a 12” LP vinyl record as a creative artifact I think. As everything around us gets more digitized, the value of real world experiences like live music shows and physical products like vinyl records just increases.
It was such a thrill to have the CD, but vinyl, with it’s size, heft and tactility, just feels like a proper object that will last. We don’t actually know how formats like CDs will last, as they haven’t been around that long, whereas properly cared for records can last for centuries.
You’ve also just released the video to the haunting “Night Before the Dawn”, a song described as “a beautiful ballad laden with sorrow” by No Depression. Tell us a little about how the song came about.
I sometimes find myself awake during the night. This song came from one of those moments in the dead of night when thoughts and feelings have a special kind of intensity and charge. I think it’s easier to find yourself in a state of being intensely connected to who you are, to the deepest part of yourself. It was this emotional place that I wanted to try and capture in the song.
Give us an insight into your music career? How did you get started? And which artists have influenced you in your career?
I’ve always loved music but I took a few wrong turns along the way and ended up going to law school and being an unhappy lawyer in New York for a couple of years. I decided to give it up and learn guitar while I figured out what came next. Unexpectedly I started writing songs almost immediately and fell in love with that process.
I would have to say my father’s taste in Roots, Country-folk and Americana really formed the foundation of the music I love and write. He was from Louisiana, where I was born too, and I explored these southern musical roots in a series of short videos called “My Dad’s Records” (which you can find on YouTube). I fell in love with the sound of artists like Jonny Cash, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Josh White, Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte from a very early age.
Later I discovered singer-songwriters like Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Lucinda Williams, Iris Dement, Indigo Girls, Allison Kraus, Gram Parsons and Gillian Welch and so many more who have all inspired me enormously.
Tell us about your song writing process. Do you have a set method? Is writing a solitary thing for you? Or do you also enjoy co-writes?
It has tended to be a very solitary thing for me. There is no set method, but I usually start with a bit of melody and/or a lyric that has come to me and I can build on. Nothing beats when a whole song comes channeled through you in one go, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen often! There is always an emotional heart to the song that I am trying to convey through words and music, and that drives the whole process.
I enjoy co-writes but have not done that many – mainly now with my husband and musical partner, Andy. Usually one of us has the bones of a song and the other one will then contribute to making it better. This works really well as we have very different styles and skills and they compliment each other perfectly.
You’re from the US but based in the UK. How exciting is it to be part of the rapidly growing UK scene right now?
It’s so cool. I often lamented the lack of interest in Americana music in the UK, thinking I should be back in the US if I really wanted to get anywhere with my music. But serendipitously there seems to be a great scene emerging around Americana just when I finally got around to releasing my album. So I feel very lucky and I’m enjoying meeting and performing alongside other artists who love the same kind of music.
Have you got a particular highpoint in your career?
I think it has to be playing at the Warehouse in Harrogate at one of the Under The Apple Tree nights and having Bob Harris introduce me on stage. He was my lifeline to this kind of music in the UK for years and is one of my heroes!
And looking ahead, what would you like to achieve? Is there a particular venue that you would especially love to perform in?
I just want to be able to carry on recording and performing for people who love the music! I really like playing intimate venues with listening audiences. For instance we did the album launch at The Green Note in Camden Town and I’m looking forward to playing there again. I would love to play places like Union Chapel and St. Pancreas Old Church, and festivals like Maverick and Celtic Connections in the UK, and AmericanaFest and Bristol Rhythm & Roots in the US.
To finish, tell us about your plans in the coming weeks and months. And where can people find your new album – vinyl or not!
We are having a special Vinyl launch gig at The Islington in London on September 27th, with some amazing other artists: Lisa Wright, Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer and Kaity Rae. I’m so looking forward to that one. We are doing a few other tour dates after that including the Lancaster Music Festival in October. There is also a new video in the works and a stealth online music project that we can reveal soon!
The album is available now on CD and as a Download in all the usual places (iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Bandcamp and your local record shop, etc). You can pre-order the Vinyl LP today from your local record shop or online stores like Amazon. I’ll have the record in my hands next week ready for the Islington launch show and to start sending out to people who pre-ordered on Bandcamp, and it’ll be in other physical and digital stores from October 13th.