Would you have any advice for anyone starting to write music?
I started out writing music with Joel [Little], who is still my co-writer. I never showed my music to anyone else, and I think that was a really good thing, but if I hadn’t had him as a sounding board, it would’ve been difficult. So if you are writing on your own, have someone whose opinion you really trust and who cares about what you’re doing and isn’t gonna judge you in a weird way. Send them stuff, ask them what they think, but try not to get too hung up on what other people think, because at the end of the day if you think something’s cool and everyone else thinks it sucks then you’ve still made something which you’re proud of. What else? I’m like, This is my moment to tell people about songwriting! [Laughs] As a young songwriter, I would put a lot of pressure on myself. I’d write a line and then aggressively backspace because I was like, “This isn’t a representation of you!” or “This is weird!” I would just censor myself so heavily. I felt like there wasn’t room for me to write a bad song or write something that didn’t necessarily fit with my vibe or whatever. I think if I were to go back I would be much easier on myself. Write all kinds of stuff, man. Don’t be afraid to cast your net wide creatively, ’cause I think that’s the only way you’re gonna learn about yourself as a writer. Does that make sense?
It does! Are there any songs of yours that you don’t like listening to?
Yeah. I see the holes in the songwriting.
I mean, you know, it’s just the nature of being our age. I’m sure you look back at stuff you made or wrote a few months ago and are like, Oh god. I have that kind of constantly. But I think if you didn’t have that, then you would stop creating, because the cool thing about being a creative person is that you try to get to some unattainable goal in your head. I try and write the song that I dream of writing, and I think I’ve gotten there, and then six hours later I’m like, “No, no, this is how it needs to go.” That endless pursuit keeps us going.
I interviewed Lena Dunham once and she was talking about how she was making shitty short films in college, and even though there isn’t much in them that’s similar to what she does now, what was important was that she was just doing it.
There’s this great Ira Glass quote—I’m paraphrasing it, but it’s like, when you first start making stuff, you know it’s not that good, but you know it’s not that good because you have taste, so the trick is to work through that.
There’s a dedication in the liner notes to James [Lowe] where you thank him for the “truest, purest friendship [you’ve] known,” and I just think that’s so beautiful, because people rarely talk about relationships as being friendships. How has even just the friendship part of that relationship inspired your writing?
I’m quite solitary by nature, I guess. I don’t have heaps and heaps of friends. Often I can appreciate a place regardless of the people I’m sharing it with, which I know a lot of people can’t do, but for me…this is really personal, but James and I spent a lot of time, and still do spend a lot of time, driving around all over our city, and that for me was enlightening, because for once, the company that I’m keeping is affecting how I feel about these places, and in a positive way. I think that was kind of what drove me to write a lot of the stuff on Pure Heroine, because I really thought about where I was in conjunction with who I was in conjunction with who I was with.
That makes me want to cry!
Stop it! It’s the snow, you’re just emotional!
That’s not how snow works, Ella!
It’s not like the full moon? [Both laugh]
Is it scary to share something so personal? Not just music that’s about people in your life, but just something that you’ve worked so hard on and is so close to you. Is it scary to put that out in the world?
Terrifying. In the months leading up to putting the album out, I was sleeping really badly, like three or four hours of sleep a night. I was a mess. I asked myself, Why am I having these problems? What’s wrong with me? And I finally realized, I’m terrified about giving this part of myself to other people. Now I’m good at it in that I can be like, OK, these are my emotions, and now I’ve put them in this package and I’m giving them to someone else, and as that person inhabits them, I’m kind of removed in some way. Once they’re out there, they’re not just mine anymore. They’re no longer super private. They become other people’s, in a way, as they break them down and give them their own meanings. But yeah, it’s mad scary. [Laughs] It gets easier, I think.
What do you have to do before a performance, if anything?
Usually I need a couple minutes by myself. I warm up and I stride around the room in different weird ways, which probably comes from taking drama classes. [Laughs] I do some body warm-ups, ’cause there’s nothing worse than getting onstage and being all non-limber. And then we just put on a couple of songs, me and my band, that we’ve always put on just before shows, and I just sing to get myself and I move around. I’m quite a hands-mover onstage, so I let that side of myself come out pre-show. Then you’re on.