At The Bar With Singer Ella Thompson

She caught the attention of the late and great Melbourne blues and jazz icon Renee Geyer as a teenager, yet singer/songwriter Ella Thompson has forged her own path in the music industry.

Thompson is about to release her debut studio album Domino this November – dedicated to her love of cinematic soul, jazz and pop and confronts some big issues in her songwriting too.

She talks to The Write Drop about making Domino and honing her fearless voice.

She shares her favourite bar spots in Melbourne, a local winery that made an impression and where she likes to drink a negroni and natural wines after dark.

MY CITY

I live in Naarm (Melbourne), my apartment is in the hustle bustle above a barbershop which I like. I love the community of all the local businesses and seeing everyone go about their day taking such pride and care in what they do.

FAVOURITE FOOD MEMORY

I recently went to Bar Idda in Brunswick East with a friend for dinner and had the most delicious seafood spaghetti. I love it there, it’s very relaxed and everything is bellissimo.

FAVOURITE BAR MEMORY

A delicious negroni at Sunhands, Carlton. Not too sweet, not too bitter it was just right. At night time they light candles and it’s a very nice environment.

DRINK THAT DESCRIBES YOUR PERSONALITY

Natural wines, or natty wine as they say….A little bit funky, fizzy and no fuss.

BEST HANGOVER CURE

Some sort of yummy eggy roll and a few episodes of Gino’s Italian Escape.

BEST INTERSTATE BAR

Most of my interstate bar experiences have been around venues like Oxford Arts Factory or Newtown Social Club or other music venues which is always a good time.

FAVOURITE WINE

I love a chilled red on a spring afternoon, ‘Little Reddie’ is a favourite.

FAVOURITE WINERY

I haven’t been to many wineries, but Panton Hill Winery near where I grew up is very cute and they do yummy pizzas. Nice thing to do if you’re going to St Andrews Market.

BEST NEWCOMER

Dem Roses by Coombes is a delicious local drop.

NEXT DESTINATION

I really want to go to Japan again. I went there 10 years ago for a few gigs which was really fun but I was only there for a few days, so itching to go for a bit longer as a tourist. The food is amazing, incredible art, I love Japanese fashion and I’d also like to go on some hikes and do some meditation in the forest.

Tell us about your creative process?

Writing music is something I do almost daily, sometimes that comes in the form of melodic or instrumental ideas and other times it is writing poetry for lyrics. Through the process of ‘doing’ I usually come to the concept or meaning at some point along the line. I didn’t set out with an outcome, but this came to me as the songs evolved. I think this album has some of my most vulnerable and tender songwriting yet. At some point I decided that I didn’t want to be fearful of saying it how it is, and that through being more vulnerable in my writing, I can open a window to share that experience with others.  Early on in the process I decided that perfectionism has held me back in the past and I wanted to share the more human aspect of the maker in my work.

Where did you make the album?

It was made in collaboration with Frollen Music Library which is a Melbourne based project by members of Surprise Chef and Karate Boogaloo. The instrumentals on this record were made by Frollen Music Library and inspired by the late 60’s and early 70’s Giallo film score music of Italy.

How does Melbourne inspire your craft?

I feel so lucky to have grown up in Melbourne, being exposed to such a diverse and incomparable music community has shaped me as a fan, an artist and person in so many ways. Growing up, the first records I listened to were Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald, then discovering we had our own queen Renee Geyer paved the way for me and so many others to come. Storytelling and experimental sound making have been a bedrock of this city. We do things our own way, knowing that people will listen to the unique means that we haven’t had to conform to the mainstream ways of doing things. Things may take time but that’s also what makes it special; our community of artists continue to refine their craft and support each other.

On meeting Renee Geyer aged 15

Renee’s music was the soundtrack to my early adolescence – music feels so concentrated and vital at that time in your life, it was my way of processing overwhelming feelings and Renee’s voice carried every ache and tenderness. My best friend’s older sister was working with Renee and when I found this out, I begged her to introduce me, which was bold. I had made a demo and asked if she would listen to it, which she did and agreed to give me singing lessons at 15 years old. I was nervous as hell on the morning of our first lesson and when I knocked on the door of Renee’s Elwood apartment, she opened the door with a beaming smile and said ‘I’m Renee Geyer and I sing a bit’. The lessons became regular and we would sit and listen to all her records for hours and talk about what we liked about the recordings, the arrangements and the biz. Renee was a fierce feminist, strong as a hell, put up with a lot and was a very complicated individual. I was a little lamb and touring with Renee was a real eye opener and perhaps at times I was overexposed to life’s fragility. On one of our first lessons Renee said “You are a musician. We are not ‘just’ singers, use your voice like an instrument”. This has always stuck with me and something I tell my students. To be fully present with every aspect of your sound and your music is what makes a musician unique.

What drives your ambition to make a difference as a creative?

Imagining myself as a young girl wanting so badly to belong, looking often in the wrong places and people taking advantage of that. I have to remind myself ‘you are here, look what you created for yourself, you are a part of a community that supports you and you belong’. I remember hearing Jen Cloher say something along the lines of ‘if you’re not invited to the party, we can make our own’.

 

 

 

 

 

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