Name: Ella Williams aka Squirrel Flower
Occupation: Musician / carpenter / farmer / barista
Current Release: Squirrel Flower's Planet (i), is out June 25th on Polyvinyl.
Recommendations: Sinkhole videos on youtube, how it's made
If you enjoyed this interview with Squirrel Flower, visit her official website for more information and updates. She is also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music on piano when I was 10 but picked up guitar and started recording myself when I was 14. I was drawn to the guitar and recording my own music from discovering musicians on Tumblr like Laura Marling, Bon Iver, and Grouper.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I learned guitar by learning the songs of musicians I loved and looked up to. Most of these songs were in alternate tunings, and to this day I still play guitar mainly in alternate tunings. In this new record I explored the world of standard tuning a bit more but still feel indebted to the musicians whose songs taught me how to play guitar when I was younger.
I have always had a clear vision of what I want my music to be, but my influences and what I want to say has changed over time, from album to album.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My creativity is my identity, and my identity is my creativity. I don't think the two are separate at all and I don't know how I'd begin to try and separate them.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My challenges in the beginning were finding the time to sit down and devote enough time to the music. My challenges now are really the same, except instead of my time being spent at school/work/etc, it's spent promoting the music I made a year ago. It's a very strange thing, to be in an old album while writing new songs and looking to the future.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I really just use what is around and available to me. I've never been one to curate fancy equipment/gear to make the music I want to make. I usually let what I have around me dictate the type of music I make and dictate the technical aspects as well.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Honestly when I started playing electric guitar. When I was 18 I was gifted a used stratocaster and it totally changed the way I approached my music. That was when I started making music as 'squirrel flower' and branching out from the world of folk.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Squirrel Flower isn't really a collaborative project, it's always been very solo, but collaboration is a huge part of my musical life outside of Squirrel Flower. There's nothing better than playing music and letting loose with other people. Usually these collaborations happen for fun with no intention of recording or actually creating something. It's about creating music together in the moment.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
These days, I wake up, have breakfast+coffee on my back porch, and work all day promoting the album or in band rehearsals. Or snooping around to find odd jobs. Or reading, or calling my parents and friends. In the afternoons and evenings I bike around and usually go to bars to drink cheap beer and play pool or have fires with friends.
I've been trying to find a rhythm that allows me to write songs and relax and have fun while promoting the new record full time.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
My ideal state of mind for being creative is either in a deep new state of feeling or in a new place/situation every day or with a ton of free time. Or frustration. It just comes when it comes, and whenever I try to force it it doesn't work. That's not to say I don't have a creative routine that I try to stick to, but I think downtime is essential. I'm not interested in the actual creation of my music feeling like a chore.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I don't know if I've been healed or hurt by music. I think it's most powerful when music changes my state of mind from anything to something else. I think that is the biggest need -- music that shifts peoples' states of being, regardless of from what to what. That's alchemy and that's why I started making music.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Music is a multisensory experience to me -- how it literally feels to listen, how your body feels the sound. I really love techno because it's so much about how your body feels the sound.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I cannot separate my politics from my art. Being an artist in this late late stage of capitalism and earth decay is really bizarre. I think the role of an artist is to notice, to be aware, to be curious, and to document.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
If music could express things about life and death that words couldn't, I wouldn't be able to type why in just words here. ;)