On November 17th, feminist pop star Ella Vos released her much-anticipated album, Words I Never Said. The singer and songwriter credits the album with helping her process becoming a new mother struggling with postpartum depression. (PPD)
The emotionally resonant album includes two Spotify-viral hits, “Down in Flames,” with over 19 million listens, and “White Noise,” a rumination on Vos’s PPD which boasts over 22 million listens. Another popular track, “You Don’t Know About Me” touches on the feminist themes of bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. From front to back, Words I Never Said is packed with empowering jams about finding your voice and living authentically.
Despite her massive streaming success, Vos almost never became a solo artist. That is, until she got pregnant with her son, which changed everything. Vos spoke with Inspirer to share the journey that lead to Words I Never Said, as well as her thoughts on songwriting and #metoo.
How did you get started in music?
I started playing classical piano when I was 5 and I was very obsessed with it. It was my biggest passion growing up. It was my safe place and the only way I felt I could express myself. As I got older, I really wanted to start songwriting because I had so much to say. It took a while to feel comfortable with it, though. At 13 or 14 I was writing lyrics, but I’d keep them to myself, because I didn’t really see myself as a singer. It wasn’t until I went to college and started playing in a band that I found my voice and learned to really write music. But I was still terrified to do it on my own, until I found out I was pregnant. At the time I was playing and touring with other bands, but I knew touring life was going to be really difficult with a newborn baby. So when I was about six months pregnant, I started writing my own music and went full-force into becoming a solo songwriter. And that’s the story!
What is your songwriting process like?
I usually write lyrics to a melody that I’ve already written. I will write a melody to a chord progression either on piano or guitar. And then I just kind of start filling in words that I think feel right with the melody. And usually through that I get a sense of the emotion I’m trying to convey. Pretty quickly, I am able to go through my old journals and find something that fits that emotion. Then I basically try to describe that feeling I’m writing about. When I read over my journal, I can feel what I was feeling all over again and that’s what I try to express.
For the songs on this album, every song is really specific to a person and my relationship with that person. So for each song, once I could feel the mood of the song, I could pinpoint it to a person or a relationship and develop it from there.
Words I Never Said documents your journey from being a scared new mother with PPD to finding peace and joy in your new life. Can you talk about the significance of that journey?
The thing is, I didn’t realize I was on a journey at the time. The songs on the album were written over such a long period of time: 22 months from the first to the last. The album isn’t chronological (although it’s also not too far from it) and with each successive song, I’d realize a little bit more about what was happening with my life. Writing songs is my way of processing things. It was like, “I don’t know what’s going on, so I just need to keep writing and sort this out.”
When I wrote “White Noise” and released it, that was the first time I was really open about what I was dealing with and being honest with everyone. And it opened up this new world for me. I realized, it’s not so bad to share your experiences or to say how you’re really feeling. People aren’t going to reject you. For the most part, it was really embraced. It felt so freeing. After that, I was chasing that rawness in every song. I was looking for that peace through facing things that are hard to talk about.
By the time I wrote the last song, I was able really able to look back at the other songs I’ve written and be like, “wow I feel so free now and I feel so comfortable.” I am really just excited about where I’m at in life now. And none of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for having my son. I am really grateful I have had this experience and that I can share it with people. It feels so cool and special
What advice would you give to young female artists who might still be afraid to speak their truths?
I think you have to balance saying what you’re comfortable saying and then also a little bit of what you’re not comfortable saying. Every song I’ve written, I feel safe that if I didn’t tell anyone what it’s about, I’d be totally protected. I think that’s what most songwriters do. There’s room for interpretation in the song. New songwriters, you don’t have to be so blunt about what you’re writing about. You can mask it and use metaphors. When you’re ready to talk about it, you can share as much as you want to about it. And what you’re comfortable sharing might change over time!
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I love the Beatles. It feels so silly to say, but they really are a constant inspiration to me. I go through phases where I only listen to Beatles albums. The fall after I gave birth to my son, the entire Beatles discography went on streaming, and for two or three months straight, I only listened to Beatles albums. I don’t know what it is; if it’s nostalgic because I grew up listening to them, or if it’s the songwriting on its own. But every time I listen to the Beatles, I remember that music is really powerful and important and it’s something we can’t live without. And it always inspires me to create something.
You’ve said you wrote your hit, “You Don’t Know About Me,” in response to Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments. The message obviously resonated with listeners. A year later, we’re seeing a flood of sexual harassment and assault allegations with #metoo. What are your thoughts on this cultural moment we’re having right now?
It’s awful but it’s also really exciting that we’re able to speak out. It’s turned into something really powerful, and it’s bringing out the truth. It’s giving women more space to share our stories and know that we’re not going to be victimized for it. It’s going to create some change in the world. Social media is such a crazy thing; it’s used for so much good and so much bad. But with this conversation, it feels really empowering. It feels like women have a voice.
How do you hope fans will listen to your record for the first time?
I think listening to it from beginning to end, obviously. Don’t put it on shuffle for the first time! It won’t be as good. And listen to it alone for the first time. Because I think it’s pretty emotional. If you listen to it by yourself, you’ll have a different experience than listening to it in the background with a group of people. To really grab the ebb and flow of it, my personal choice would be listening to it alone, front to back.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
I keep going back and forth. For a really long time, my favorite song was “Mother.”. It’s such a turning point in the album, and the production is a lot different than anything else on the album. For me, it’s the most confused song on the record. It really feels like I have one foot in the past, and one in the future. Like: I could keep trying to hold onto my old life and keep being depressed that it’s not the way it used to be. Or, I could move forward, and embrace how great everything is now. So that song, I love.
>My other favorite is the last song I wrote, “Suddenly.” It’s just so special. It’s one of those songs I was able to write super fast in one evening. All of the words were already there in my head — which doesn’t always happen. It was just so clear, what I wanted to say. And when I first sat down to write it and I was listening to the melody, the lyrics “suddenly you’re what I need” were instant. Because the song was so effortless to me, it means a lot. I am really excited for others to hear it. It’s one of the few unreleased tracks on the album.
What’s next for you after the album release? Will there be another tour?
Yeah, I’m working on booking a tour for next spring. I don’t have dates for that yet, but hopefully I will be back out on the road soon. More importantly, I’m going to just try to keep releasing more music. Because I released all of the songs on this album as singles, and I haven’t really taken a break from releasing music since last October, it would be weird for me to stop for six months and not release anything. So I’m already working on the next set of songs, an EP or singles, or whatever they turn out to be. I think that’s the most important thing: to keep releasing music. So that will always be the focus. If that means delaying the tour for a month, that might happen. But I can’t wait to get out and perform. It’s all very exciting — I’m excited for all of it!