Ellen Winter

How Ellen Winter recorded the album everyone needs to hear

Ellen Winter is all of us. At least Every Feeling I’ve Ever Felt, Ellen’s debut album which celebrates its one-year anniversary today, speaks to everyone—while also offering great insight into a multi-talented artist. It hits the sweet spot between personal statement and universal appeal, with a spark of irreverent creativity. And if you’re one of the folks who hasn’t heard it yet, you’re missing out on a fun ride.

Every Feeling (released by CRWrecords) is everything that a debut album is supposed to be. It’s a collection of ten great songs, with Ellen’s beautiful vocals complemented by a variety of different sounds ranging from up-tempo pop to slow and sultry jazz. That versatility is highlighted by the production because the music supports the vocal performance; the instruments don’t overwhelm it. There’s not a bunch of fiddly bits trying to grab attention. Instead the record has the confidence to let Ellen’s sound and her creative voice stand on its own, front and center. From a pure musical standpoint, it’s one of the cleanest albums I’ve heard in years.

But the flip side of that is the human element. Music that sounds outstanding is hollow if it doesn’t have a heart or a message, and Ellen’s put together a record that runs the gamut of the human condition. From lighthearted escapism to the ultimate fear of being alone forever, she’s tapped into things that everyone can identify with and opened them up like a sort of group therapy session. Every Feeling works whether you’re happy, sad, over it or not having a clue. It’s also the end result of several years’ worth of work by Ellen and all the people she collaborated with to get it across the finish line last fall.

“We had really been working on it for a while, and it’d been in post-production for a minute,” Ellen explained. “When COVID hit my producers Charles Wanless and Chris Littler and I [were] like ‘We need to release this music. We need to have something that we’re really excited about.’ We re-engaged and kind of re-sparked our joy with a lot of it, thinking ‘How do we make the most out of this really terrible situation?'”

“By releasing the album, it just opened up so many fun other things that we could make while we were stuck at home, honestly. It just felt like ‘This is time, the songs need to meet people, the songs need to go make friends.’ Plus we felt like we’d really cracked it, in terms of the sound we were going for. We were excited to expand the world of the album.”

One of Every Feeling‘s biggest strengths is that whether it’s through the sound of a song or the lyrics that Ellen chooses, the album always feels like it’s a warm hug no matter what it’s talking about. That antithetical tone makes the hard things more accessible because the listener isn’t afraid of them or going to end up depressed afterward. Instead we’re able to step into these places feeling safe and like whatever we’re going through, it’s going to be okay. Finding happiness and comfort while still dealing with tough topics like heartbreak and self-criticism isn’t easy, but Every Feeling I’ve Ever Felt has that figured out.

“There are songs that really are uplifting,” Ellen said. “And I feel like they were buoys for us in that year. That year was so hard. Especially ‘Mantras’. Just working on that, and dreaming up the lyric video, and reconnecting with the feelings—I think it was just as uplifting for us as I would hope it was for people who were listening to it.”

There’s no better example of the sort of duality of the album than “Mantras” and its accompanying music video. While the lyrics tackle some not-so-fun themes like loneliness and isolation, the song itself has a breezy tone to it that immediately inspires a smile. And the video, in which Ellen deals with said loneliness by constructing an IKEA-esque companion, is wildly fun reminiscent of A-ha’s classic “Take On Me” video.

“Me and the director, Alison Grasso, had a bunch of Zoom meetings. We were talking about the song and the lyrics of the song, and also just what felt urgent right now,” Ellen said of how the concept came to be. “I was so lonely. I was like ‘I haven’t seen my friends in forever. What is it to be outside? What is it to be alive in this time?’ And she came up with this really brilliant concept of ‘Well, what if you built a friend? What if you just made a friend that you got to do all those things that you miss doing?’

“We just kind of started riffing off of that. Because then it’s like what if this friend is built from stuff that I have in my apartment, that’s maybe from other friends or from myself? To really lean into the idea that no matter where you are, you can find a friend in yourself—building out of what you have there and the resources available to you.

“The idea of this mystical IKEA brochure that appears was totally their idea—Alison and Colin [Miller], who was our DP and cinematographer. They came in with this incredible best friend IKEA pamphlet. I was like ‘This is absolutely genius,’ and then it just so happened the items that were on there, I was like, “Oh, I definitely have these!'” she laughed. “So we were able to really finagle something that felt in conversation with itself. And that certainly made me feel less lonely in the process, because I got to make this super-fun music video with my friends.”

Ellen Winter’s official “Mantras” music video. (Video Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Winter.)

Yet there are also elements of Every Feeling I’ve Ever Felt that aren’t so fun. Ellen doesn’t pull any punches with the album either; she lets the listener into her head on a variety of topics (including actual voice memos from her life that pop up on the record). Songs like “Kind of Love” and “Ghosts” are vulnerable and not in the prototypical “pop artist writing a sad song to show how deep they are” kind of way. They’re honest and Ellen is able to put into words what’s going through a lot of people’s heads. What made her willing to share so much of herself with the audience, and how was she able to go to those places? It was a journey, just like the record.

“Right before I launched the campaign for this album, I realized I was depressed. I re-acknowledged my anxiety disorder, I started going to therapy regularly, I made some big lifestyle changes,” she recalled. “I think that there’s a difference between blatant positivity, and a regard for actually what is going on.

“We have to name the shitty shit. We have to name it,” she continued. “Can we name it and also laugh about it? Can there be joy in even the darkest of places and times? Even if the song itself or the lyrics are sad it’s like ‘Okay, well maybe I’m going to get this really whimsical sample and throw it in there,’ or ‘Maybe I’ll find something that makes me smile when I listen to it. Even if it makes me want to cry at the same time.’ That’s just how I move through my life. It’s how I cope. I have depression and anxiety and it’s the irreverence that picks me up.

“There have been days, weeks over quarantine and the past few months when I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to leave my bed,” Ellen reflected. “And it was a lot of being very gentle with myself, and taking it one step at a time. Sometimes that step was just smearing some fucking glitter on my face, because then I would look in the mirror and be like ‘Dang, I’m sad but I’m glittery. That’s kind of nice. That’s kind of funny. That’s making me happy.’ Connecting with those small things that sparked joy when I felt miles away is something that I hope to translate on the album. There’s kind of no other time, I feel, where I need to smile or laugh or dance than when I’m really in a dark place. And so it brings me joy to hear that even sad songs can bring some comfort, too.”

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