Ellis Hits the Self-Destruct Button On The Woeful “What a Mess”
In her first interview, the Hamilton, ON indie dream pop singer talks about moving away from Toronto and the serious pursuit of being a singer-songwriter.
Photo By Sarah MacDonald
Linnea Siggelkow is a Pisces. Astrology may be the trend du jour—memeable and shareable in a way that collectively makes us feel seen or same—but this is an important note, she says, about the music she makes as Ellis: her sad, indie dream pop rock project. She also has a Scorpio moon, the part in her chart that rules her emotional response, which, as you well may know, Scorpios feel a lot. As a Pisces sun sign, she is sensitive but unburdened by whatever she is feeling—an open book to a fault, she says. Channeling this into Ellis, Siggelkow’s music essentially says, go ahead, look at these feelings, and swim in them.
In July, Ellis received a fairly glowing review from Pitchfork for her debut single, “The Drain.” For a brand new act, a year or so out working on this project, that was a miraculous milestone to set. Asked whether or not she is a tried and true dream pop act, Siggelkow says someone once called Ellis emo dream pop, which she found properly fitting. “Then I thought about dream rock but now we’re just making shit up,” she laughs.
Siggelkow has a wildly cheery disposition for someone who, emphatically throughout our entire conversation, says she makes sad music. She’s telling me this in a Hamilton, ON coffee shop, appropriately named Salty, in a town not so thrilled to be going through its own gentrification by a so-called “elite” set. (“There are stickers and stuff up on street posts that say ‘go back to Toronto,’ Siggelkow says softly). In-between sharing stories about specific social life in Toronto memes and how her music tugs at emotional responses to devastation, Siggelkow shows the polarity of temperaments one can hold, and where that is routed in an artistic sense.
Ellis is Linnea Siggelkow, Linnea Siggelkow is Ellis. Literally. Before opening for Ó, Siggelkow quickly chose the name Ellis based on the naming convention of her demos for the project: her initials. And thus, Ellis was born. Siggelkow moved to Hamilton over a year ago, disenchanted and wounded, in a sense, by what life in Toronto brought during the five years she spent making music and circulating the city—surviving but not exactly thriving. Basements with no windows, living pay cheque to pay cheque, and a growing isolation in a city seemingly robust and friendly in its social atmosphere when the reality is you’re only sought out if you’re useful to someone. Siggelkow played in pop punk bands in the city, which she says was fun, but she wanted to pursue something a bit more serious in tone.
She is quick to note that she doesn’t claim Hamilton in the way others might; giving way to exist within the city’s current artistic ecosystem rather than change it. Opportunity found Siggelkow almost as soon as she set foot in the city an hour’s drive south of the metropolis. There is a richness in community unparalleled in other places she’s lived. A friend-of-a-friend gave her the apartment she shares with her cat, Banksy; she then got two part-time jobs, and was able to set up shop to finance and work on Ellis. Siggelkow does this wholly independently, which, including being able to afford recording sessions, is a massive feat.
Ellis’ next single, “What A Mess,” is less dramatic than “The Drain,” but it still sustains some of the drama that propels Ellis past the simple indicators of dream pop. It is heavy, as she repeats over and over, “what a mess I’ve made.” It’s a line that one can easily feel as though they, too, have said to themselves after a self-destructive mission is complete. “This tendency that I have, and I think other people, to be like, ‘I know this is a bad idea but I’m going to do it anyway,’” Siggelkow says. “The first verse is literally about me cutting my hair, [which is] a really specific instance where I one day felt really alone, hadn’t spoken to another person, and was feeling a little wacky… I couldn’t stop myself. By the end I was crying, cutting my hair, being like, ‘what am I doing?’ And I was thinking about how that plays into so many other things when I get self-destructive. I can tell myself over and over, this is a bad idea, you can opt out now but, for some reason, I follow through.”
At the end of each verse, it sounds like Siggelkow is sighing, defeated almost by the weight of all the bad choices she’s laid out bare before us. Siggelkow filled out the project with a full band, insisting on having a more complete sound rather than attempting to do all of the parts herself and feeling alone onstage. The build-up of the drums and soft synth anchor the track, still enveloping the listener with an intimacy, but adds a pulse. She sings “keeping secrets in my heart from my head” presumably more casually than the intended response, which is that it feels like a devastating epiphany thundering through your whole body. The effectiveness of Ellis’ sad, dreamy indie rock is that every feeling, every motive behind the feeling, is one you’ve inevitably dealt with at some point. It’s presented not cleanly or neat but rather simple and pointed; a matter-of-fact phrase wrapped around a beating, aching heart.
Pursuing this sort of music, being a female-identifying singer-songwriter, gave Siggelkow some pause. She felt people wouldn’t take her as seriously if she were, simply, a girl standing onstage with a guitar, singing about her feelings. “I didn’t want anything to do with that. Being a singer songwriter. Some of the best musicians would have considered themselves that. Joni Mitchell [and more] with these stories to tell—[feeling] strong in that, standing on stage telling that story. That we should take that seriously is not a leap.”
Siggelkow emphasizes why—perhaps this year especially with the releases of Mitski, Snail Mail, and Soccer Mommy, whom Ellis once opened for—that deep dive into feeling, not as a means of mere exposure for streams or hits, is important. It’s not just important for artists and what inspiration they may glean from each other, but for the average listener, who may or may not be consumed by their own emotions. Seeing work like what Ellis does is motivational. “Feeling strong in [emotions], instead of weak in that, is a huge thing.” A tried and true Pisces, indeed.
Sarah is on Twitter being a good yute.
This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.