Breakout singer-songwriter Ella Vos is doing her part to change the music industry, morphing her pop-music platform into one that carries messages pertaining to more than just relationships, love, and fornication. Instead, the feminist artist’s debut album, Words I Never Said, is a brutally honest compilation of Vos’s life experiences and the adversities of motherhood. Her first-ever tour brings her to Minneapolis on March 17 at the First Avenue. From L.A., she will bring music that combines a pop beat with an airy, vintage sound, her voice coming off as soothing and otherworldly, somewhat reminiscent of Lana Del Rey. In her most popular song, “White Noise,” her vocals float over a bobbing piano as lyrics dig into Vos’s uncertainty around her readiness for motherhood. I talked with Vos about the meaning behind her songs and the life experiences she had to trudge through to record them.
Photo by Joanna Rentz
MnMo: So, I have a stylistic question. In your videos and album images, you wear veils. What’s the significance of that choice?
Vos: There are two big things to it. For one, I feel like the veils help represent my story and myself in both a positive and negative way. The veil can act as a sort of “safety shield” that filters my emotions through it. On the other hand, the veil helps me portray how I feel, and how I’m not being seen. I’m not being seen completely clearly, I’m cloudy. The veil is a good representation of this cloudiness.
Secondly, most of this album was me feeling comfortable with my feminine side, and that’s a new thing for me. The veils help embrace this. I like the lengthier veils that I’ve been using because I feel like it’s me embracing the femininity, strength, and power I have.
MnMo: What was the inspiration for the album, Words I Never Said?
Vos: When I started writing, I didn’t really know at the time that I was writing the album. I just started writing individual songs that were essentially tracking my experiences. After I wrote my song “White Noise,” it sparked a new way to express myself. I felt safe, and was able to say things that I haven’t been able to voice to anyone. Every song I wrote after “White Noise” was me discovering how to say things that were difficult to discuss, but needed to be said. After three or four songs, I realized that there was a pattern in my writing: I was writing my journey. I told myself that I was going to keep following this path and see where it goes. The last song on the album fits so nicely into my journey of being unsure and having a foggy mind. I felt like this huge change happened in my life [after I had a son], and I didn’t know how to deal with it. There are moments throughout the album where there are changing points, and I start to realize the things that have changed my life. At first, I’m unwilling to accept these changes, but then the album transitions to me learning to navigate them, and recognize the good that’s come out of these experiences. It’s a story that starts out as a haze, but then moves to clarity.
MnMo: In your press release for the album, you mentioned that you’re a feminist. What feminist themes do you strive to portray in your music? What do you want your listeners to understand about feminism?
Vos: I think a lot of it is that our experiences, our voices, and how we choose to speak up is powerful. People need to understand how much power that holds. I think that power is important, valuable, and effective. A single voice actually has an effect when it’s shared. Sharing your story, speaking up for yourself and for other women is important. That’s the one thing I want to come through: storytelling. I think storytelling is such an important way to connect with people. Sometimes it changes people’s views, and it allows them to be more open. I want people to see the world as how it actually is and not the negative way that some people view it. Different parts of my story—like becoming a mother and being a creative female—have taught me how important positive change for women’s roles is. That’s my goal with music, to change the outlook of women in the world in positive ways.
MnMo: You mentioned that becoming a mother has heavily influenced your music and how you write it, and in your “White Noise” video, there’s a child at the end of the story. Is “White Noise” about your journey with having your son?
Vos: When writing “White Noise,” at the time, my son was 5 weeks old. Those lyrics were the words that came out of me in that moment of feeling really swallowed up by everything. It just felt like I wasn’t really prepared for motherhood, and one of the biggest things I felt was that I was going to lose myself. I felt like I wasn’t going to know who I was anymore. Writing “White Noise” was my way of calling out and saying, “Help me, I’m being swallowed up.” Not knowing what to do and not knowing how to express my feelings about being a mom was the premise of “White Noise.” I felt like I would be a bad mom if I said out loud, “Oh, this really sucks, and I miss my old life.” And that’s what it felt like. I felt like, “Oh, my life is gone now.” But then I began thinking about it, and I eventually told myself, “Wait, no. That’s not how it should be. I should feel more whole and more like myself. Something is missing. I’m missing a piece here. Whatever I learned from society of what a mom should look like, is messing with me.” The “White Noise” video is a great depiction of how I was feeling. It represents how I felt stuck in society’s views of what and who a mother should be. I felt like I was being pushed around, and that I was like a queen being put on this pedestal. At the end of the video, I’m breaking away and saying, “No, I’m not some perfect image of what motherhood should be because I don’t think there is one. I’m going to live my life and be myself.”
MnMo: What made you want to start a career in music?
Vos: There are two big reasons. For a long time, as I was playing backup cues and singing, I always wanted to pursue my own songwriting. I was too scared to, because I was really scared of failing. Singing backup cues was safe because I was really good at it and I enjoyed it. But I always had this desire my entire life to create my own music. I just didn’t feel like I had space to create my own music, and the one experience I had songwriting was really negative.
When I found out I was pregnant, I thought about my future and about how my life was going to change, and told myself that I needed to do this now. I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with myself if I didn’t at least try. I wanted to do it not just for myself but for my kid. I want him to see me doing what I love. He was my huge inspiration to just go for it. I felt like being pregnant made me feel supernatural. I felt like I had superhero strength to face my fears and to just go for it. So, I began writing when I was six or seven months pregnant. After I had my son, I just went fully into the industry.
Surprisingly, I found it really hard to find role models. It was really difficult to find people, to see “how they made it” and be like, “I want to follow in their footsteps.” I had to depend on myself a little bit. One of my biggest fears when I was starting my career was that being pregnant and then being a mom was going to be very difficult because people don’t take you seriously. I’ve seen it. People automatically think, “OK, you’re going to do this for awhile and then get burned out, and you’re going to go find an easier career or be a stay-at-home mom.” I felt like I was the only one saying, “No, I’m here. I’m doing this. I’m not going to give up.” A lot of people don’t take me seriously, and that’s frustrating.
MnMo: What song on Words I Never Said means the most to you?
Vos: I feel like it’s always evolving to what I need in that moment. For a long time, it was “White Noise” because it gave me a lot of wisdom. The song on the album, “Mother Don’t Cry”—I feel like it’s a song that I’ll always need. I feel like it’s an honest picture of me circling in the middle of holding on to the past, while trying to embrace the future but also feeling stuck in the middle. There’s always that internal monologue that you go through when you know you’re changing and need to embrace it, but you’re also not quite ready to take that next step. That’s what that song is to me. That song in particular was produced differently than the rest of the album, on purpose. I wanted it to be a little “out there.” There are a lot of moments in that song when I perform it and when I listen to it, that it feels like me. The song is me. I feel like that’s the space I live in a lot of the time. The song is like a living, breathing thing to me.
MnMo: We’re glad you’re coming to Minneapolis. What made you include us as a stop on your tour?
Vos: I’ve been to Minneapolis a couple of times, and I think that it’s a really cool city. I have visited a lot, and performed there once when I was doing backup cues for another band. I think that people from Minneapolis are some of the nicest people I have ever met. I’m also really excited to perform at the venue because I know that First Avenue is “Prince’s venue,” and it’s things like that that make Minneapolis an important place to visit and play. I’ve always had amazing experiences there.
Photo By Joanna Rentz