Today marks a whole year since the release of Ego Ella May's debut album, "Honey for Wounds". We at OTJF have spent hours listening to every song on the album. Naturally, with an opportunity to speak to her, we asked her everything under the sun. Luckily for us, being an introvert by nature, Ego spent the quieter days of 2020/21 working on fresh new music. In our interview below, Ego (Pronounced Eh-go) talks to us about how she feels about "Honey for Wounds" turning one. We also touch upon her exciting new EP due for release later this year, her influences & inspirations, and what she's going to do about spending all her money on records.
Hi Ego, how are things in London right now? Have they started live gigs yet?
No! There are socially distanced live gigs happening at the moment. We were supposed to end all restrictions on the 21st of June, but that's now pushed back another month. Thankfully, gigs are happening at some capacity, but it's not like a usual gig.
This year is full of on-the-fence moments; how are you dealing with that? What are your thoughts on resuming everything?
I'm ready to go, to be honest. It's been such a long time. I miss live music. I've been doing streamed gigs and gigs at 50% capacity where you have to sit down the whole time, and it's just not the same. So I do miss playing gigs. But I am also nervous playing full capacity gigs because I'm just like, "Wow, a real crowd! What's that going to be like? That's a lot!"
For someone who likes to spend a lot of time reading and with themselves, what's the general mood been like for you through the pandemic? Have you been able to channel your creativity into your music?
Yeah, I have been able to work on a new EP that I'll be releasing later this year, so it's been quite productive for me. It took a bit of time, but naturally, I'm quite introverted and get on quite well when I'm left to my own devices, so it's not been that difficult. I'm also aware that I don't like being forced to spend all this time by myself. At the same time, as I said, I miss the interaction of live music, making music in person with my band or my producers. That part has been quite difficult.
How do you think that will affect the sound of your new EP? Now that everything is opening up, do you think you will be revisiting any bits?
Well, for some of them, I've managed to get it done to a stage where I'm happy with it, but then there are some others where I can meet up with them in person now that we have this window of opportunity to collaborate again. I'm just going to use it to my advantage and work on as much music as possible with actual humans.
What kind of records did you listen to growing up? From what we've read, your dad was quite the record collector!
Yeah, my dad has quite a few records. I've listened to a lot of jazz music and soul like Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and Ray Charles. A lot of Afrobeat from the 70s and 80s. And a lot of Mary J. Blige and Destiny's Child, you know. I'm a massive fan of 90s R&B.
You mentioned Afrobeat, so I wanted to touch upon that. For someone with Nigerian roots, has Nigerian culture and music permeated into your aural aesthetic?
Yes! In terms of instrumentation, it definitely influences me, and I think in particular my single "Table for one," where there's that two-minute solo at the end; It gives me Fela Kuti vibes. I am influenced by Afrobeat, and I think that kind of music is something that I try to emulate as well, getting as many musicians as I can in one room to just jam and see what happens.
South London's jazz scene has been a melting pot for culture for such a long time now. They're pushing jazz into new horizons, so, as an active contributor to that scene and movement, can you tell us a little bit about its growth and what it's been like being a part of it?
You know I can see how it's grown, but I find it difficult to comment on it because I just know many of them as friends. So if you're looking from the outside in, it's a major scene that's growing, and everybody's collaborating, and it's great, but I try to think that it's so great to have so many different friends who want to collaborate, and just have fun together.
I've read that you're very free-flowing with your songwriting process. What would you consider to be your favourite track from the album, and why?
Good question! "Table for One '' is probably my favourite track because I didn't know that it would be that special to me and that it was going to be the first song I thought of becoming part of the project.
I was like, "Okay, I'm ready to make this album," after I made that song. And I think the fact that it took so long to get finished meant that I knew it was something special. I had to wait a long time because you have people like Joe Armon-Jones going on tour or Oscar Jerome having to do a lot of festivals, and I'm here like, "Ugh guys, come back! Let's finish this song". So it took a long time to finish, but it was worth it!
We're coming up on a whole year since its release. I'm sure your songwriting has helped thousands of people deal with their emotions. How are you feeling about the album now?
I guess I just feel accomplished, maybe? I managed to release an album, and that's been on my bucket list for a while. Having it released and hearing all the amazing feedback, and just being able to connect with a lot more people because of this album has been a dream! And also, I think a year has come up quite quickly (Laughs). I'm surprised it's already been a year. It's been amazing opportunities that have happened on the back of me releasing this album. I'm just feeling grateful and happy to have connected with a lot more people because of that album.
You mentioned you have an EP coming out. What themes and narratives are you hoping to explore with your songwriting on this new project?
I suppose it's about my solitude and self-discovery and what I learned while being in this lockdown. One of the songs, for instance, is called "Breathe," and it's about being able to breathe and let that be enough. There was a moment where I felt like everyone was trying to be so productive; they're making banana bread or writing a best-selling novel. There was so much going on. I didn't have the capacity to do any of that, and even just staying alive and well is enough for me at this point. So yeah, it's just topics like that I've been writing about. I've been learning about myself, and it's turned into this EP.
In terms of the scope of your collaborations, do you think you have a wish list of the people you'd like to collaborate with one day?
My list always consisted of Frank Ocean, but I don't know where he's gone; he's kind of disappeared. I'm waiting to see if he just shows up somewhere. I also really love Nai Palm and Hiatus Kaiyote; I'd love to collaborate with them on something. I think off the top of my head...Oh, I love Solange! I'd love to do something with Solange.
Any records that you've bought recently? Are you a collector like your father?
Yeah, I love collecting records; I think it's great. But yeah, I recently bought Arlo Parks' record because I'm obsessed with her. I just buy too many, to be honest, that's why all my money just goes on records. It's kind of a problem (laughs). I have many of my dad's old ones as well, like original Michael Jackson ones and all this kind of stuff. Sometimes I go on eBay and check how much it is selling for currently, and it's so much! (laughs) and I'm like, "Wow, Dad!" and he's like, "Don't ever sell it!". So I've kind of hung on to them. It's funny because the value of those records now is like something else.
Are there any interesting titles that you've picked up or are hoping to get when you start traveling for gigs again? Do you visit a local record shop and crate dig when you travel?
Yeah, I do. Not even when I travel for gigs, even when I'm on holiday, I just go and find a record shop and see what they have. I always find a record shop somewhere. That's another thing I've missed!
What about your musical process do you enjoy the most, and what are the not-so-good bits?
The bit I enjoy the most is probably the actual creation of the music. The writing of the songs, the recording, that kind of stuff is probably my favourite. Maybe the least favourite part is having to be social to promote the music (laughs). I find interviews quite nice to do; I think Interviews are where I thrive the most. With videos, photoshoots, and stuff like that, I can get a bit shy and uncomfortable around that side of things. That may be my least favourite part.
You know, but that's interesting for someone that has to be on stage to perform - how do you handle that?
Well, I think that being on stage is different because I'm not necessarily focusing on a camera or a video; I'm just performing and having a good time with my band. Whereas, when it's a specific video or a photoshoot - I know that there's a camera in my face, and I know that I have to pose and all that kind of stuff, and that's what makes me nervous.
If you could be a fly on the wall in any studio session of any artist, past or present, who would it be and why?
My first thought was D'Angelo. Because of the tracking of the vocals. I would love to know how he does that. They are always just so layered, and it's so intense. When I listen to it, I'm just like, "How did he record all of this?" So, I'd be a fly on the wall for one of his sessions.
Is there anyone from right now that you'd love to be in the studio with to see how they do things?
It would probably be Hiatus Kaiyote. How do they create such interesting songs? I just want to know how it begins and how it ends up being this magical, intricate piece of music.
Do you have an album listening ritual?
Yeah, I do! I play it on some speakers, I pour a glass of wine, and I just close my eyes and just take it in its entirety.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given as a musician?
Probably to not think that music is who I am. Music is just something that I do. This helps me take the pressure off of it a lot more, it helps me not have this be a do or die thing, and it's something that I am blessed to be able to do. I can have fun with it, it's part of my life, but it's not my absolute everything. Before being a musician, I just strived to be a good human being, you know. So yeah, just to have fun and not make it everything.
It was a pleasure speaking to you, Ego. I want to wish you the best of luck for the 25th and 26th of June. I think that's a monumental moment.
Words by Akhil Hemdev & Keerthana Sudarshan