With a flurry of live gigs and with a new album around the corner, Getintothis’ Howard Doupé sits down for a chat with Nick Ellis to find out what’s happening.
It doesn’t seem that long ago we were getting excited about the debut release Daylight Ghosts, but remarkably in less than twelve months Nick Ellis will be ready to release his sophomore album.
A long standing favourite of Getintothis, Ellis’ debut was far reaching and received wide critical acclaim.
Mellowtone Records is set to release Adult Fiction on November 18, marking the event with a launch party at St. Brides Church, Liverpool the same day.
In keeping with his trademark sound just like the debut, Adult Fiction was recorded live.
This time at the neo-gothic Adolf Gustav Nordic Church. Built in 1884 it’s the very same venue that saw the debut launch party last November.
Preferring to use spaces to influence the sound rather than studio trickery, with this release Ellis is crafting his own unique place within the singer/songwriter landscape.
As with all great craftsman Ellis’ Adult Fiction follows a unique narrative. Imagined as a novel set to music, each song being a chapter.
The story is based upon an old family folklore of the architect of one of Liverpool’s most mystifying and beautiful landmarks, the Princes Road Boulevard.
So the story goes there exists a deeper, more profound mystery for the boulevards inception. The architects aim was to create a setting so grand that he and his beloved could “waltz upon its boulevard to the sweet music of their romance”.
The story took a tragic and unexpected twist, after the premature death of his bride-to-be, thus consigning the architect to forever wander its empty avenues in search of her ghost.
With a more mystifying premise for an album than has been heard in a long time, delving a little deeper was a must.
Getintothis: From debut album release to where you are now about to launch the second LP, that’s one hell of a 12 months. Bring us up to speed.
Nick Ellis: “The sessions for Daylight Ghosts at St. George’s Hall really started a momentum, particularly for wanting to record in that manner, but in a different way. After the launch at the Nordic Church I liked the sound and so I thought ‘why not follow the thread’.
Keep it simple, stripped back, go in and do some sessions. I went in for a day with a double bass and tried to capture what we wanted. It [the double bass]really led those songs, especially the key and the nature of the tempo – not just how it sounds, but the character, how the tracks moved and grooved. When we listened back to the mixes, something wasn’t quite right- the bass was lonely. So we ended up putting some percussion on to gel those tracks together.
By the time summer came around we had the mixes ready and started to work on the cover art concept. There was some thought that maybe it was too soon for the next release, that we needed some space between the last album coming out. For me, a great time to do something is when the momentum is there. I didn’t want to lose it, I just wanted to get these tunes out.
I always had an idea that I’d put something out this autumn. I sat down with Mellowtone, who were really busy. Despite that we all agreed to do it anyway.”
Getintothis: Returning to the Nordic Church after the debut launch to record Adult Fiction and now launching this release at St. Brides, what’s the draw for you with churches?
Nick Ellis: “When I first went to view the place, [Nordic Church] when looking for venues for the debut launch- I always knew about the building, its nautical-themed architecture but the caretaker told me about the history, its significance to Nordic travelers to the city. Built with funding from the growing community and the increasing demand for a focal point for refuge and worship, its style reflects what they would have found in their home counties.
The Nordic travelers had nowhere to go- this church gave them a focal point, a place to build a community around. It would often be the first port of call for lodgings. This sense of bringing people together, meeting new people for a single purpose really appealed. This time it’s for music.
People are surprised that churches are being used this way, it’s going through a bit of a renaissance. It’s always been that way, based on community not just religion. They still provide cheap lodgings for people.
It felt right for the gig- a place where people can focus, a place to focus upon the music. The presence of the alter creates a tranquil vibe, people can worship whatever they want when listening. This calmness creates a tentative crowd.
I’ve played in similar, some very prestigious places like the Union Chapel in London and what jumps out is that feeling of playing to a congregation- sometimes overbearingly silent. The crowd relaxes, they listen, they become engaged and it seems to work.
Being a singer/songwriter it’s nice sometimes to play in a darkened room. I’ve played in smaller, bright rooms, it gets really raw and everyone’s focus is on you. In a church, the layout, the pews it all focuses people more on the sound.”
Getintothis: Speaking of similar themed venues, how was Fridays gig supporting Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band at the famous Òran Mór?
Nick Ellis: “It’s a beautiful church with the venue in the basement. I was hoping to get into the main hall but didn’t get the chance. The atmosphere was like a social, celebration vibe with a lot of people from all over the place- fans, friends and family.
There was loads of talking and I was thinking ‘I’m not going down very well here.’ At the same time though people were actually listening. They were listening so intently that loads of merchandise went! To be honest the support from people was quite overwhelming, from a place you don’t know, from people who don’t know you.”
Getintothis: Opting again for single take in a live location recording session, how did you find it second time around?
Nick Ellis: “It all came together quite quickly over a period of weeks. After last November I started pestering Edgar [Jones] to get his double bass out and do some rehearsals with me. I didn’t really think about it too much. I had the tunes, had the place sorted I just had to go in and do it. It was important to make sure I took the core essence of what I was moving through at that time and document it. You’ve got something then that’s of the moment, it’s what you’re left with. People then have to hear it, mistakes and all.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years in recording studios and it just doesn’t work with the sound I’m trying to create. It would be a complete waste of time. I’ve spoken to labels who just can’t handle working in this way, it doesn’t fit into their model of how to present an artist’s material. One in particular once told that they didn’t know what to do with me- it wouldn’t fit in to the way they work. I told them the reason I didn’t want to work in that way is because it doesn’t work with what I’m trying to do.”
Getintothis: Was it a straight forward process choosing the tracks that made the final album?
Nick Ellis: “Fairly yeah. I took the songs that seemed to make sense at the time and ended up with around 16 or 18 finished from the sessions. Those that got dropped just didn’t sit right- sense on that day or the timing wasn’t right for them for this album.”
Getintothis: I must say, I’m really liking your choice to keep the cover artwork in a similar theme to the last album. I’m a big fan of artists having a recognisable visual identity.
Nick Ellis: “Y’know I sometimes wished I’d just gone with a photo of me looking moody and banged the name on it- It would have been a whole lot easier! It was two months solid work from preliminary meetings to researching the authorization and gaining access to the Central library. I only just got the artwork signed off last week. We had a lot of refining to get the main colour right. My original idea was for it to match that of the stone pillars in the library.”
Getintothis: What should we expect from this new record?
Nick Ellis: “Well, I don’t think people will expect the narrative that’s in it. I hope people will feel something, a connection to the story that it’s telling- the characters, the situations and empathise with them.
Adding more instruments to the sound this time around is me exploring the essence of what a song is, in a simplified way. I never want to stop learning and improving, making each new release better than the last. I like to bringing elements like the band element into it, that’s sincere to the song and work with the song.”
Getintothis: Can you tell us about each track and its part in the narrative?
Nick Ellis: “All Night Long starts off with the story of someone who wants to hit the road, get away from somewhere. Possibly a criminal, a thief who’s stolen money and has to take to the road to escape those from whom he stole. It’s 50’s blues noir, it’s Kerouac. Whoever the protagonists are, they’re on a drugged-up road journey.
The Blue Soul – it’s about a relationship, infidelity. The male character knows his wife has been cheating on him by the way she’s acting, how their friends are treating him. Everyone knows something but he doesn’t. He’s on to her though, he’s firing all the questions. He’s the man who hasn’t got any of the answers but he really knows the answers already.”
Clockwatching – our character starting a new job only to find himself sacked for chatting up the boss’s secretary. It’s double-edged, he’s fortunate to get the job, but unfortunate to lose it.
Your Love – a character synopsis, a guy who’s dealing with a difficult partner for one reason or another. She’s a wrong ‘un but sometimes you love one.
Raga Psalm – symbols from two different religions coming together, transcendental connections. A Blending of Eastern and Western tones.
By Your Side – pure momentarily happiness. Picking out a perfect time of day and putting into a song. It’s universal, simple and immediate. It’s about being aware of moments and being grateful for them.
Heartbreak City – it’s the oldest tune and it’s a big tune. It centers on the narrative, it’s where it all happens on the boulevard on Princes Road. The album could easily have been named after it and could possibly be the best song I’ve ever wrote.
A Ballet of Midnights – this is the background to our characters. It’s the soundtrack of the story. It’s where the heartbreak has come from, the sign of what’s happened. The imagery of two ghosts waltzing down the boulevard.
A Bistro Confessional – another scenario, a couple in a café. Their relationship is over but he’s pleading for her to stay. It’s about that basic romance that exists between two people.
She Devil Woman – this is the other end of that relationship scale. It’s when you know someone is no good for you, but you’re drawn in regardless. Whether it’s personality, excitement, attitude or sheer blindness.
Victoria’s Theme – she’s the ghost, the lover of the architect. Of course she has her own theme.
A Girl Desire – he’s singing about the woman, someone he can’t have. It’s about love and desire which over pins the whole album- not being able to have it, reciprocate it, feel it, touch it or in this case it doesn’t exist.
Stepping into this narrative, you can feel all these strong human emotions through the characters. It’s all here: heartbreak, desire, love, reflection, regret, happiness.”
With this album set to showcase further Ellis’ growing talent and respect of the songwriting craft Adult Fiction is going to have a few more following the path to the library for a closer listen.
- Nick Ellis plays St. Brides Church on Saturday, November 18. Adult Fiction is available to pre-order now.