Ella Eyre

Her fairy tale story of instant success saw Ella Eyre heralded as the UK charts reigning princess, now she’s taking control of her narrative to write her own second chapter in Notion 86!

For someone very good at making music for parties, Ella Eyre has a precarious relationship with them. Well, a specific part: she’s globophic, meaning she’s acutely afraid of balloons. “It’s actually the fear of them popping,” she notes. It stems from her single-digit years, when rubbery Poundland balls of air were strewn around kids discos. “You know at the end of a party and everyone starts jumping on balloons? That. I used to have to leave parties early so I’d avoid that bit.” As a 25-year-old popstar with a BRIT Award, numerous charted tracks and an ardent fan base of so-called ‘Eyreheads’, does she still leave parties early? “Yes,” she laughs, “but because of a much different type of balloon.”

 

We’re at the offices of her new record label, in the kind of glossy room with city views reserved for artists, doing the last of a round of promo interviews set up to herald a fresh Ella era. Despite the surroundings — and her popstar status — she makes it feel like you’re chatting in her living room over a cup of tea. There’s takeaway boxes on the table, a bucket hat topping her mane of curls, and she talks with a husky tone that makes you feel very, very calm.

 

When she spills coffee on a pair of bright white dungarees, she shrugs and says, “the beauty of these is you can just do this”, before folding the top half down to cover the brown stain. For Ella, comfort is key. Whether that’s tucking her trainers underneath her on the plush couch (“I don’t write in the studio in sky high heels, so I’m not going to do interviews like that”), or identifying the optimum number of springs in her mattress (4000) and togs in her duvet (13). “You’re losing money if you’re not spending time in that bed,” she says of her predilection for leaving parties early.

 

Not that she hasn’t had her fair share of big nights. Ella assures me she was a “proper raver,” pointing to a former nickname of ‘Hurricane Elskie’. It was given to her by drum ‘n’ bass band Rudimental, whose track “Waiting All Night” helped catapult her name to public consciousness. It was 2013, Ella had just turned 19, and was essentially unknown bar a couple of features on Bastille tracks. Having recently graduated from star factory The BRIT school, Ella was working towards a soul-inflected debut album influenced by the likes of Lauryn Hill. Then Rudimental asked her to feature on “Waiting All Night”.

 

The track was primed for success — by that stage, drum ‘n’ bass had leaked out of sweaty underground raves and into the mainstream, with DJ Fresh and Rita Ora’s “Hot Right Now” becoming the first drum ‘n’ bass UK number one a year earlier, in 2012. “Waiting All Night”, an eruptive hit carried by Ella’s rasp, soon punctuated the charts, grimy house parties and major awards ceremonies alike. “My first experience of the music industry was releasing a record with my voice on it that went to number one, and then we won a BRIT,” she says. It’s Hollywood film fodder, the kind of break most new artists would give up their Instagram blue tick for. It was also, Ella notes, “a very unrealistic bar to set”.

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When the music industry hits gold, it tends to try and distil the essence and reproduce it ad nauseum. “Everyone starts going, ‘should we be going more down the lines of that now’,” Ella explains. She thinks of “Waiting All Night” as both a blessing and a curse, the downside being that she didn’t get the chance to fully figure out her own sound, instead getting pushed down the dance-laced pop path laid out for her. “Drum ‘n’ bass suddenly became my ‘thing’.”

 

So, when it came to Ella’s debut album Feline, breakbeats were shoehorned into ballads, pop-soul tracks morphed into club bangers, and Ella felt herself getting a bit lost amongst an avalanche of collaborators. “When you look at the credits on that album, it’s never-ending,” she says. “I love every single person on that credit, but it’s still never-ending.” On top of this, her old label delayed the album’s release for 18 months, until late 2015 — a fairly long chunk when you’re cresting the wave of your career-making moment. By the time Feline finally landed, it was confused, and more pressingly, Ella was confused. “I look back and it’s an amazing period of my life, and who knows whether I will ever win a Brit again, and I’m very grateful for it,” she explains. “But I really wish I stuck to my guns on my own music at the time.”

 

The album was followed up with a smattering of widespread projects. There were support slots for Little Mix, a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, numerous tracks penned for other artists, and a couple of tracks with Sigala that still enjoy heavy rotation on Love Island. “I love Sigala, and I will continue to work with him, regardless of how confusing that may be,” she says. “But I knew if I was ever going to have longevity as a solo artist in my own right, I needed to really work out what it was that I was delivering to people.”

 

Ella reluctantly took a step back from the industry. This was in part to figure out what music she actually wanted to make, but also because of a family tragedy. In 2017, Ella’s father passed away. “Grieving really brings out a different side to you,” she says of the time. “I was dealing with a whole new wealth of emotions that I’d never experienced before. I was starting to get real writer’s block in the studio, and that was coupled with feeling guilt.”

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“I KNEW IF I WAS EVER GOING TO HAVE LONGEVITY AS A SOLO ARTIST IN MY OWN RIGHT, I NEEDED TO REALLY WORK OUT WHAT IT WAS THAT I WAS DELIVERING TO PEOPLE”

Ella grew up in west London with her mum, while her dad lived 10 hours away in Jamaica, intensifying an already devastating loss. “I had a great relationship with him, the love was unconditional, but it was still distant. I never gave myself to get to know him better. I never made a point of allowing that part of my heritage to be active in my life,” she says. “I will live to regret that for the rest of my life.”

 

During her time off, she came up with a plan to take a team to Jamaica for a writing camp, the first time she’d been back to the country since her dad passed away. “I knew that I needed to go back and just like, rip the bandaid off, surround myself in that environment,” she says. “It was a really beautiful two weeks to reconfigure what the hell was going on in my brain.”

 

Ella took a small team, cherry picking people she genuinely wanted to make music and conversation with. Having control over collaborators also gave her the chance to hone the consistency she craved and, paradoxically, allowed her to relinquish some of her self-described “control freak” tendencies. “I’d have this horrible habit of sabotage,” she explains of her former writing process. It’s the classic cycle: start strong, get stuck in, then pull the plug a two hours later in an eruption self-doubt and resolutions to never do anything creative ever again, or something.

 

But in Jamaica, they set up three makeshift studios that Ella could flit between, them like a musical fairy-godmother, sprinkling ideas and lyrics and vocals, then darting off on a pumpkin when old habits kicked in, so her team could keep the songs churning without her. “It’s just amazing how these songs were able to form without me fucking it up, because I was overthinking everything,” she says.

 

That was in December 2018. She’s since released hits “Answerphone”, which features Yung Bxne, and “Mama”. This time round, she’s keeping her inner circle tight. Both tracks were produced by Canadian duo Banx and Ranx, and Yxng Bane also appears on upcoming single “Dreams”. A more cohesive sound is coming through, all addictive hooks that show off Ella’s inimitable voice, and dancehall- inflected beats that make you want to stomp down the road with your headphones on, shooting side-eye at unsuspecting passersby.

 

Ella is positive but straight up, supremely chilled but tenacious (she’s an Aries: “We’re quite bullheaded, quite stubborn. Very loyal.”). It funnels into her music, which she wants to make people feel good about themselves — “It’s not about degrading other people,” she affirms. That doesn’t mean it’s all saccharine anthems about #selflove and butterflies. Take “Mama”, a break-up song sliced with her wry sense of humour. It’s about finding out a guy’s cheating on you, and instead of telling them to piss off — as one would be perfectly within their rights to do — she says she’s telling on him to his mum. Which, as anyone close to their mum can testify, is the ultimate sucker-punch.

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Ella 2.0 is set to really kick off in 2020, with the release of the aptly titled “New Me”. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a new decade, set to drop right around when everyone’s busy buying cheap joggers in the Boxing Day sales and tracking down scobies to make their own kombucha. Technically, Ella has never kept a New Year’s resolution in her life, but the song is less about deciding to reinvent your wardrobe and finally learn French, and more about “moving on, moving up, saying no to bad energy and bad people,” she explains. As the lyrics go: “Ella ain’t here it’s a new me / I don’t make time for your fooling / kinda got things to be doing.”

 

This time round Ella’s keeping a tight hand on everything. She’s got new management, signed with Island Records (home of titans Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Drake), has a creative director she counts as one of her best friends, and a lighting designer that’s an old mate from high school. She only wants people involved who want to be involved, not because it’s on their job description, or a notch on their CV. “That’s what this next era is,” she says, the determination in her voice almost tangible. “It’s a bigger picture thing, way past this album, and the next. They can see sights. And so can I.”

 

There are still areas she’s learning to let go of. Like every millennial with Internet access, her relationship with social media’s turbulent, so much so that it inspired a track called “Careless.” “Isn’t it fucking crazy that we should be worrying about our health, and booking GP appointments when we feel a bit ill, but we’re too busy worried about the algorithm on Instagram fucking us over for the next week,” she sighs. “It’s just like… we all need to care less.” We do, but it’s tough in an industry that increasingly gives weight to retweets and TikTok trends. “Now that record labels are using social media numbers as a way to fucking push music… the pressure,” she sighs. “I don’t like that social media has got me by the balls, and is like, ‘you haven’t posted for two days, and if you don’t post by 11pm today, you’re fucked for the next week’.”

 

At times pop music can feel more like the Premier League than an art form — measured on stream count, records broken, albums sold, followers, awards, number ones, likes on a selfie with a cat. But Ella’s disdainful of such metrics, probably because she scored a lot so early and realised it didn’t bring the eternal happiness it’s easy to associate with gold statues and incomprehensibly large numbers. So how will she measure success going forward?

 

“I’d love to get to a point where I’m just dropping songs and there’s no pressure, and it’s not about trying to get on radio or be in the charts,” she explains. She’s more impressed by artists who’ve found their own path and stuck to it, citing Mahalia as inspiration. “For me, success is making the music that you want to make, and being told ‘well done’ for it. Not being told, ‘shit, Capital won’t play it’.”

 

It’s an approach that lends itself to longevity, which is all Ella’s ever really wanted. “But I’ve realised that it’s actually really hard to have longevity very quickly,” she says. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget in a world that trades on clicks and retweets, one in which everyone’s chasing the peak virality of Laurel vs. Yanny. “You have to build something over time. You have to have an outlook, a perspective, as to what the end goal is,” Ella says. “And I’ve just never really had that before.”

 

She does now. Under the bucket hat and stained dungarees lies a no-bullshit grit that’s ready to stake its claim on the next decade. But until then, Ella’s content keeping it quiet in London, making the most of time with her friends, family and 4000-spring mattress. “Because I won’t have much of it when I start going.”

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