Content warning: This article briefly mentions body dysmorphia.
Most everybody knows someone from high school who had big dreams about becoming a successful singer-songwriter. Ella Jane is what those high school dreams are made of. A girl from a community that seemed to convince her, as so many do, that “no one pursues anything creative because there’s no money in it,” now finds herself signed to a record label with her debut EP dropping today. Listening to her new EP “This is Not What it Looks Like!” clarifies that sometimes creativity wins and distinguishes what exactly makes Ella Jane stand out from the other dreamers out there.
Ella Jane, from Westchester, N.Y., finished her first year at Tufts in May and is about to embark on a gap year to pursue her promising musical success. She described her first-year experience at Tufts during a pandemic while trying to make herself heard as a singer-songwriter in a Daily article published in Dec. 2020. Now, in a new interview conducted with the Daily this summer, Ella Jane spoke about the development of her music career since then, her EP and her plans for the future.
“This is Not What it Looks Like!” is composed mostly of the prereleased singles which have already garnered Ella Jane over 650,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. The track list includes the first single she released on Spotify, “The City,” the successful “Nothing Else I Could Do” which has accumulated over 9.5 million streams on Spotify as of press time, the poppy “August is a Fever,” “Bored & Blind,” “Thief,” “The Sellout” and this writer’s personal favorite “Through the Looking Glass,” which was released today with the EP.
When asked what differentiates her from other aspiring singer-songwriters, Ella Jane humbly admitted that she was on the track to be an English major and a music minor, so for her, lyrics are the most important part of a song. The vulnerability and the emotion she expresses in her lyrics reflect the kind of meaning that she believes makes music special.
Since being signed to the Fader Label in 2020, home to other indie music notables Clairo and Lewis Del Mar and associated with The Fader Magazine, Ella Jane has seen her artistic vision realized and her platform for her own brand of “pop music that can pack a punch” expanded.
She described her experience during her first year at Tufts doing Zoom calls with different record labels all from her tiny single room in Carmichael Hall.
“I was on the side of the building where there was no natural sunlight; I was facing the dumpster. I was holed up in this tiny room on Zoom calls all day,” she said, but described the moment when Jon Cohen, co-founder of the Fader Label, quoted a lyric from a SoundCloud demo of “The Sellout” as the realization that these people “really liked my music and got it — and got me.”
She explained that “it’s been a lot more collaboration” since being signed, whereas before she wrote all of her songs in her room at home or the song-writing camp she attended when she was 15 years old.
“It’s kind of hard to go into a room with some 30-year-old dude I’ve never met and be like: ‘Here’s my emotional trauma, let’s write about it,’ she said. “It’s been challenging but it’s been really valuable, I think.”
And her more recent releases reflect that collaborative production quality. The EP’s new single, “Through the Looking Glass,” which discusses some of her struggles with her mental health over a lilting piano and twisting string harmonies, is a song which Ella admitted she was a little nervous to release.
“It’s probably one of the most personal,” she said, and adding that when she wrote it, years ago, “I was really struggling with body dysmorphia and my relation to food wasn’t great.”
Seeming to sing a ballad to herself, she croons “I can’t change, change myself with my own hands/ Take a knife and carve me over, and over, again.” As the song progresses, it builds as none of her previous ones have: reaching a crescendo and growing quiet again as she sings “I feel it closing in/ Let the end begin and change the rhythm of my heart.”
As she teased some new singles to be released after the EP as well as the announcement of two concert dates in December 2021, she admitted that her future at Tufts was “dependent on the way this year pans out.” “This is Not What it Looks Like!” may be in large part an accumulation of prereleases, but it also serves as a map of Ella Jane’s personal growth as an artist from her first Spotify release “The City” to the new “Through the Looking Glass.”
Ella Jane is down to earth and yet larger than life at once: an artist with talent, ambition and a humbling sense of self that enriches her music and ensures the listeners’ “genuine, organic reaction to it” that convinced her to continue pursuing it. “This is Not What it Looks Like!” is a debut to be proud of and just a taste of what more Ella Jane has to offer.