Towcester-based singer-songwriter Celine Ellis attempts to get over the disappoints of 2020 with ‘Drive On Through’. New Boots gets the lowdown.
New Boots: where are you based?
Celine Ellis: I live in Towcester, but originally I am from North Wales. I’ve lived here now for a few years, and I am so pleased Northants has such a thriving music scene.
How did you start playing music, and then onto songwriting?
I started playing guitar when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until my dad took me along to the local folk club when I was 16 that I was really inspired to start performing and start writing my own songs. While I was at University in Leicester I played in a few bands, and loved the music scene in the city. I was also writing lots of songs at this time, so I took the leap and recorded an album. It was recorded at home on a Korg digital 16-track workstation, where my stepdad John and I learnt as we went along, getting whoever we could to play or sing different parts. Since then my songwriting has become ever evolving, thanks to inspiration from so many places.
How would you describe your sound? Who are your main influences?
I always find it so difficult to define my sound. ‘Acoustic music with attitude’ is what I normally use to explain it these days. My music normally centres around my acoustic guitar, but I like to bring in elements from lots of music genres to fit the songs. I gig solo with just my guitar, so have developed a style that means I can create ebb and flow in my playing to really fill the sound along with my vocals when needed, but also break it down and be delicate. I had a really eclectic musical upbringing, but I honestly believe that shaped my own music tastes and ultimately my own songwriting. Thanks to my parents I was brought up on the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, U2 and Fleetwood Mac to name a few. John Mayer’s Continuum and KT Tunstall’s Eye To The Telescope are two really stand-out albums for me. Both of these albums really made me sit up and listen. Seeing both of them perform live as well as absorbing all their records has really made me want to do more with my own songwriting.
You’ve put out three EPs over the past 18 months. What has been the reaction to them?
The first two EP’s I put out in 2019 were remasters of songs from my very first album. At the time I was delving into the world of digital distribution, as well as finding my feet with music production on my computer. So instead of jumping in head first to record new material I reworked some older songs for re-release, as two EPs. It was great to get those songs out digitally, as previously the release had been in 2001, and only on homemade CDs at the time. It was great to get some of those tracks out to a wider audience finally. ‘Paper Aeroplanes’, written and recorded in 2020, is my first newly recorded music for over ten years. The response to it was overwhelming to be honest, so much more than I had hoped for. It has been so amazing to hear peoples reaction to the songs, and for radio stations as far flung as Arizona, USA, and Singapore to play it amongst others. I’ve also not had many opportunities to gig those songs yet, so I can’t wait to do that more when we are allowed!
Please tell us about this new single, ‘Drive On Through’.
I’m really excited about this song for so many reasons! ‘Drive On Through’ is a positive upbeat tune that will take you on an epic journey in just three minutes. Written during lockdown 2020 it was my response to all my cancelled travel plans. My wife and I had four trips cancelled this year, and we were planning a USA road trip for the near future as well. As everything slowly shut down during March all our plans, as well as hopes of planning trips, ground to a halt, as I am sure it did for so many people as well. ‘Drive On Through’ is my way of looking past all of the cancellations and negatives, and focussing on the positives. Its about looking forward to everything after all this mess has been straightened out, dreaming about the amazing places we can go. I hope people can listen to this song, and feel positive, and for a few minutes forget some of the negatives of the world. I know, from the feedback of people involved in this track so far, that this is an earworm! With its upbeat summery vibe its hopefully going to be what folks need to help them through this winter. I pulled heavily from our USA road trip plans for the song, and expanded to include other places that made for compelling points of interest. The lyrics take us from California to New York, from Memphis to the Mississippi. I also made a couple of cheeky nods to other songs in there as well. I recorded the song in my tiny home studio, playing all the instrumentation myself [apart from bass guitar]. My stepdad John recorded that for me remotely. I also involved Ash and Rebecca from Tu-Kay Records to do the mastering for me again. They mastered ‘Paper Aeroplanes’, and once again they took ‘Drive On Through’ up a notch. The artwork for the single stems from my fascination with Route 66 retro landmarks. Roy’s Motel and Cafe is one of the few original Route 66 landmarks still open today. I thought it kind of stood the test of time, and is still pushing on through – which is the same ethos as the song itself.
How has lockdown been for you? Helped or hindered you creativity? Have you been able to play many shows?
Lockdown has been an extremely creative time for me. I’m self employed and work in the hospitality and events trades, so a massive amount of my work disappeared over night. Music has kept me sane, kept me focussed, and kept me driven. I am really lucky to have my little box room home studio space all set up and ready to go when the creativity takes me. I only finished setting that room up in February this year, so it couldn’t have happened at the right time really. It’s also been superb for when I have been live streaming during lockdown as well. I have been very trepidatious about returning to live gigs since lockdown restrictions were eased regarding live music. It’s been a personal decision to be cautious even though my desire to support local music venues and pubs also played on my mind. I have done a couple of outdoor gigs at some extremely organised and accommodating pubs in Northamptonshire, and I have played twice at the amazing Black Prince who created a superb outdoor garden space for performers and patrons to enjoy music in all weathers.
Are you part of a wider scene in Northamptonshire? Any favourite acts/venues you want to give a shout out to?
I’m still quite new to the Northamptonshire music scene, compared to the amazing acts I see a lot of, but I love how much the venues and patrons really do support live music. Hannah Faulkner of Ni Ni Sessions has really helped me get to know the local scene being part of her acoustic showcases. I’ve also had the pleasure of being billed with the amazing Tu-Kay & Ryan, Cameron Grace, Amii Dawes and JD Blues to name a few of my fav local acts. I normally get out and about all over the county gigging. This time last year I had some amazing gigs at Phipps Brewery [Northampton], Bar Encore [Towcester], and Number 76 [Desborough] leading up to Christmas. Marieke Vink and I also had an amazing New Years Eve at the Witch & Sow [Guilsborough] last year. I hope we can get back to those types of gigs sometime soon!
What was the last album you bought/streamed?
I don’t have a CD player, so I’m 100% streaming these days. My recent favourite is Katie Pruitt Expectations. This is such a powerful album for its songwriting and modern folk rock feel. The title track is especially good, with its 80s radio rock vibe channelling Stevie Nicks. Everyone should go and have a listen! There is also a particularly brilliant ‘Tiny Desk’ session on YouTube by her also.
What is your burning desire to do in the future? What plans do you have?
I have SO many plans for 2021! In January it will be 20 years since the release of my first album Well Known Mystery, so I am aiming to re-record some alternate acoustic versions of a few tracks from the album to celebrate. I hope to take part in February Album Writing Month (FAWM) again – it is a songwriting challenge to write an album of songs in 28 days. I found this so cathartic this year, and it really kick started my songwriting again after a lull. I also have three more singles and possibly an EP I will be recording for release in 2021 as well. I think it goes without saying that I aim to play a lot more gigs in 2021 as well. We have some awesome venues and local music festivals in Northants that I would love to play at. I want to be so ecstatically busy with music in 2021!
‘Drive On Through’ by Celine Ellis is out now via the usual digital platforms