One-on-One with Karyn Ellis by glasspaperweight
June 15, 2010
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Karyn Ellis, it is that she really wants to play as many music festivals as she possibly can. So listen up, Canadian music festivals- she wants to play.
We spoke at the Rustic Cosmo- a small café near Dufferin and Queen St.
Before officially calling herself a musician, Ellis worked a slew of odd jobs, including a particularly memorable job running a singing telegram service.
“I had a golden Celica… which I used to stuff with balloons, and me, dressed like a clown, riding all over town going to people’s houses. Parking illegally everywhere… it was a great terror time,” Ellis said.
After realizing the 9-5 grind wasn’t exactly in her taste, she went to a music management school and had to manage an artist as a class project. When the artist chosen (a jazz singer) fell through, Ellis decided she would be the artist her group would manage.
After seeing the gradual change from managing music to making music, Ellis decided to record her first album, Bird. She called the album “a haphazard process” in that it was made up of a lot of different recordings rather that one coherent processes. Her second album was also easy to record, mainly done in the “live-off-the-floor” style. Even Though The Sky Was Falling was Ellis’ first record in which she worked in a studio and with a producer.
When asked about who influenced her choice of music she found it difficult to name any one artist. It is really Canada’s independent scene- the community of musicians and media such as Radio 3- that are her biggest interview.
“That whole scene is kind of exciting,” she said. She can name a few “key albums” that inspired her, those being Hawksley Workman’s (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves and Treeful of Starling. She feels as though Canadian musicians sing in a way that is very vulnerable.
On her website, Ellis mentions that she gets support from her musician friends in Toronto, although Toronto is a trying place for anyone.
“I’m in this interesting place right now, where I’m trying to figure out Toronto… Part of me loves living here, part of me hates living here, part of me always wants to leave, but the part that [keeps me staying] is my musician friends. There’s a strong Toronto musician’s community,” she said.
That being said, the musician community can only help one so far. Ellis believes that Toronto’s music community is really great for musicians supporting other musicians, but it is definitely more difficult to gather an audience and the press.
“Toronto is a portal city,” said Ellis. In other words, while there is a community of people in Toronto, it is also a city that attracts international artists whenever they make tour stops in Canada. This can make it a little harder for local artists.
Even Though the Sky Was Falling is definitely an album that can get Ellis noticed, though. I loved it on my first few listens and so have numerous other media outlets. Naturally, I had to ask her about certain songs on the album, such as “Bitter Grasses.”
The song in question was “loosely inspired by a relationship” but was actually written during a weekend Ellis spent at home when she had tickets to a festival. It was a great way to vent her frustrations, seeing as one of her dreams is to play the Canada’s music festival circuit.
“You could really say it’s a cry to the artistic directors of Canada to say ‘Hire me! Hire me!’” Ellis said.
I was really taken aback by her story of the song “Beauty.” The song was inspired by a friend of hers who was actually dying. Her friend was an activist and very outspoken person, and it made Ellis want to write a song that gets bigger and bigger, with more instruments and vocals coming in. Indeed, by the end of “Beauty” there is a whole flurry of voices, including a three-year-old (now four-year-old) named Oscar, who Ellis said is a very artsy kid. Look out Canada, when Oscar grows up he’ll be unstoppable.
“Low” was an experiment in the “call-and-response” form which involves a lot of repetition.
One of Ellis’ favourite shows was playing the 2009 Christmas show at the Rivoli, in which many artists sing one song. She got to share the stage with well-known artists like Hawksley Workman and Luke Doucet.
She also loved playing the Kaffé 1870 in Wakefield, Que. Part of its charm was how shiny it was, and Ellis loves shiny things.
“If I’m ever rich, or have a mansion, or even if I have a spare room, I want a room filled with disco balls, hanging from the ceiling. Nothing else, just disco balls,” she said with a laugh.
Later this summer Ellis plans to make music videos for “Bitter Grasses” and “Little Grey Sparrow.” She hopes to be able to play Massey Hall in the future, and, of course, make more music.
She will also be playing two shows at NXNE in Toronto this week. The first on Thursday, June 17th at the Cameron House and the second on Sunday, June 20th at the Garrison.