FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Step Right Up: Ela Stiles

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Interview with Ela Stiles.

“People’s imperfections and vulnerabilities to me are the most beautiful parts, also when the emotion of someone’s voice comes through you can tell when it’s real or not.”

—Ela Stiles

Words: Mark Carry

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Earlier this year marked the debut solo release of Sydney-based singer-songwriter Ela Stiles on the Australian independent label Bedroom Sucks (who celebrate their fifth anniversary this year). The gifted musician has been integral to the Sydney independent music scene these past few years (as a driving force in Melbourne outfit Bushwalking, releasing two records with the band, and as a member of indie favourites, Songs, amongst others).

The exceptional debut record forged by Stiles is composed entirely of a-cappella performances, where her solo voice captures an intensity and raw beauty that few could summon with an array of instruments at their disposal. The musical compositions are reminiscent of New York-based composer, Julianna Barwick and her scintillating looped choral patterns. The album opener ‘Kumbh Mela’ is one such song to leave you utterly dumbfounded. Based on different vocal patterns, both melodic and rhythmic, the sublime creation conjures up the timeless sound of folk music and traditional African sounds.

The gorgeous acoustic guitar-based folk lament, ‘Misplaced Charity’ is a timeless folk gem featured on the brand new ‘5 Years of Bedroom Suck Records’ compilation containing a plethora of indie gems and lo-fi classics in the form of Blank Realm, Scraps, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Full Ugly and a host of other exclusive and rare gems.

This November, Ela Stiles embarks on a solo European tour, which includes dates in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and culminating in Utrecht’s inaugural Le Guess Who festival. For full tour dates see HERE.

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Interview with Ela Stiles.

Congratulations Ela on your truly beautiful solo record, a collection of breath-taking a-cappella performances that never ceases to amaze the listener. Can you please discuss this particular project, Ela and the new direction of having your voice as the solo instrument?  

Ela Stiles: I have always loved singing, I think I am better at it than playing any other instrument and had been thinking of making a solo album for a few years. I’m not sure I remember where the idea first came from but probably from listening to folk stuff in particular some acapella songs by Anne Briggs. To be honest I think one of the main reasons I made it an acapella record was because I wanted to do something entirely on my own, I have always collaborated with people in the past and wanted to know that I could write an album on my own and perform the songs with my own voice alone, although I do incorporate guitars into my live shows as well now.

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The album opener ‘Kumbh Mela’ is such a beautiful and moving piece of music, reminiscent of Julianna Barwick’s recordings. I would love to gain an insight into the song’s narrative please, Ela? ‘Kumbh Mela’ conjures up the timeless sound of Ethiopian music and age-old traditions of folk music. 

ES: Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world. Although I’m not religious, I like the idea of some aspects of religion and how it can affect people in such strange and intense ways – good and bad. This song is a fictional story about the Kumbh Mela that I made up after doing a lot of reading about it and spending a lot of time in India where you see religion in nearly every aspect of life, it was on my mind.

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The album comprises very much of two parts, where the opening section comprises several a-cappella performances and the closing side is one single vocal drone. Please talk me through the recording process of these two parts? Did you envision from the outset the album would be sequenced in this way?

ES: The A side of the record was recorded first with my good friend Jack Farley in Melbourne. I guess these songs are a collection of short more traditional folk songs. I didn’t want to use any effects or too much layering with these ones. I wanted them to sound pure. I liked the idea of being brave and letting one voice sing alone. I think once I had recorded these ones I envisioned that the B side would be different because I had moved past those ideas by then, I wanted to experiment more with vocal drones as I had started to on the A side and also move away from the (mostly) love songs to something deeper I suppose.

I recorded the 11 minute drone myself – it took a long time because I did it all one after the other I didn’t copy and paste or loop or anything, I just created it from scratch and kept adding more and more harmonies and intensities, after that it was run through tape machine. Then I recorded the 3 ‘songs’ over the drone with another friend of mine John Duncan in Sydney.

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You are also a member of the wonderful Melbourne outfit Bushwalking. Please take me back to the band’s beginnings and how you, Nisa Venerosa and Karl Scullin first crossed paths with one another? Is there a new record planned? Also, I imagine the work with Bushwalking served a major source of inspiration for your own solo material?

ES: Bushwalking began when I met Karl at a show in Melbourne in like maybe 2008 or 2009?? He introduced Nisa and I and we all became really close after recording some songs together then decided to become a band. I guess we didn’t really know what the band was going to sound like until maybe mid way through making that first record (First Time). And I guess after playing together for a while we sort of arrived at a sound which is more in tune with the second record (No Enter) but had also sort of evolved from the first one if that makes sense!

I’m not sure if Bushwalking shaped my record or not, people have said that it must have but I don’t really see that so much. A big part of Bushwalking’s sound is Nisa’s and my voices together and the singing is quite precise which I don’t think is the case on my record. I think my voice is kind of all over the place on my album, quite different to how we sing in BW which is very uniform and precise. We have been talking about doing another record yes, but I don’t think realistically we can start jamming again until December. But yeah another record is on the cards at some point I’d say.

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What singers and records were defining for you to become a singer and to write music in the first place? As an integral part to the Sydney independent music scene, what bands and artists are you most obsessed with these days?

ES: I got kind of obsessed with folk and traditional songs before making the record and was I guess influenced by singers like Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins who are the more traditional folk singers and I always liked the acapella songs of theirs and the way they sing. I like singers who have interesting and imperfect voices. That’s why I guess I want to push my voice into a different realm, although I still like those traditional elements of the old folk stuff.

People’s imperfections and vulnerabilities to me are the most beautiful parts, also when the emotion of someone’s voice comes through you can tell when it’s real or not. I am also interested in chanting and eastern music which probably influence my singing style. That’s something that I would like to explore with the next record.

Edith Frost, Verity Susman, Josephine Foster and Nico are a few singers who I love, also obviously Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins as I mentioned above. Its hard to pick Sydney bands cause there are lots of good bands! But I’d say Orion are my new favourite band 🙂 also love Holy Balm, Angie and Knitted Abyss.

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What forthcoming projects do you have on the horizon, Ela? What do you think the sophomore solo record will comprise of?

ES: As well as working on a new solo record, I have been working on an album for the past year or so with Jensen Tjhung who plays in a couple of bands from Melbourne – Lower Plenty and Deaf Wish. We’re hoping to release it mid next year. I have also been playing guitar (and singing a bit) in The Roamin’ Catholics who are a Sydney punk band, we will be recording an album at the end of August which I am really looking forward to! Lastly I am making a record with Max Doyle and Stevie James (both of whom who I used to play in the band ‘Songs’ with) not sure when that will come out but we’ve been working on it for a while!

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This November, Ela Stiles embarks on a solo European tour, which includes dates in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and culminating in Utrecht’s inaugural Le Guess Who festival. For full tour dates see HERE.

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‘Ela Stiles’ is out now on Bedroom Sucks Records

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http://bedroomsuckrecords.com/artists/ela-stiles/

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Written by markcarry

October 28, 2014 at 2:48 pm

One Response

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  1. […] “I made an acapella record because I wanted to do something entirely on my own,” she told blog Fractured Air. The tracks on side A of her first solo album were sketches not songs – captivating fragments […]


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