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At just 31 minutes, Ellis’ debut album, Born Again might be one of the most concise releases of 2020. Don’t let the brevity fool you, Linnea Siggelkow doesn’t need much time to pack emotional depth and formidable insight into her deft, brilliant songwriting. After learning the piano at the tender age of four — as a piano teacher’s daughter, natch — Siggelkow wrote bedroom demos on her own for years without ever letting them see the light of day. When she finally did begin playing public shows in late 2016/early 2017, the reaction was swift — people wanted to hear more songs. Listening to a few, it’s so easy to hear why: “It’s hard to admit that I still want to die sometimes / and it makes me feel like sh*t / That I’m not glad to be alive,” she sings on the shortest song on the record, “Happy,” cutting to the core of existentialism and the sick suck of depression in three short phrases.
After those early live shows went well, Linnea released an initial EP called The Fuzz by herself in 2018, but it quickly led to a record deal with the independent Mississippi-based label, Fat Possum Records, who later gave the EP a proper vinyl release. And for those just getting into Ellis, that early EP is recommend listening, but her forthcoming full-length builds on it with even more direct, imagist lyrics that glimmers above the record’s starry sound, constantly keeping the listener present in the moment. Garnering early comparisons to Mazzy Star, other writers have pointed out an element of shoegaze in Siggelkow’s fogged out synthy meandering — though she doesn’t really feel that description — her lyrics anchor each song to the earth, grounding these two-three minute with simple observations and incisive self-reflection. Fans of Daughter, Julien Baker, and Tomberlin will all find something to latch onto here, and despite similarities to these other brilliant forces, on Born Again Siggelkow is also strikingly singular.
Meeting up with her at a Los Feliz coffee shop several weeks ago, she was more than happy to share the specifics behind her songs, and the process of going from a handful of unknown bedroom demos to putting out a full-length record on a renowned indie label. Speaking candidly about her background as a former “born again” Christian and how that upbringing informed not only the album title, but her path as an artist, Linnea is a fascinating example of someone who is more than willing to shed the old things of the past that no longer serve her, and press forward into the new. Read a condensed and edited version of our conversation below, and look for Born Again out next Friday, April 3.
Let’s start with when you first began songwriting and getting into music, leading up to the initial EP. What was the process like for you? How did
you first get into playing music and songwriting?
I started playing piano when I was four, my mom was a piano teacher — and my teacher — which has its pros and cons. I was never allowed to not practice, so I was quite dedicated to it for a long time. I was always making up little songs and stuff, ever since I was a kid. It was never anything serious. And then when I got my first MacBook and got GarageBand I started recording little demos, bedroom demos, like very bad bedroom demos, very bad songs. But I was inclined to do it, but it never left my bedroom until I was well into my twenties. Then in like 2016 or 2017, I played at an event in Toronto and started getting Ellis off the ground after that, and more seriously in 2018 when I put out music.
Let’s talk about that EP, The Fuzz — what compelled you to release something for the first time in 2018? How did you select which songs to include?
I had just moved to Hamilton, Ontario from Toronto where I’d been living for five years. It’s really expensive to live in Toronto, and I had been in a band, and it kind of ended badly. I was feeling a bit like I didn’t know what to do next. So I moved to Hamilton and my quality of life just instantly improved. I had the space to write more and get more seriously into my own project. Also, I met somebody in Hamilton who had just started a recording studio downtown and it was very affordable.
What was the studio called?
It was called Fort Rose, it’s an amazing studio in such a vibey place — everyone involved in it is wonderful. It was really accessible for me, financially, to keep making music. I wanted to put out my own songs, I didn’t want to be in a band anymore. I wanted it to only be me, and to put them out into the world and just see what happens. So I had like those six songs written, and felt like they’d make a good collection. So I decided to record them properly and put them out.
How did you feel about the reaction to the EP and the groundswell of support? Were you surprised or did it just feel you were finally doing your own thing, the right thing, so it was all coming together?
Yeah, in a way it felt like a long time coming, because it was something I’d always wanted to do. But I was totally surprised, like, I thought only my friends would like it or listen to it or whatever — that my mom would be into it. I wasn’t expecting it to get off the ground in the ways that it did or leave my little bubble of southwestern Ontario. I put out a single up on Bandcamp — and it was on Apple and Spotify I guess — but I’m self-released and then it got on Pitchfork! I was on the bus when I found that out and I was bawling my eyes out. I definitely wasn’t expecting anything or anybody to care, really.
Was that around when Fat Possum got involved?
Yeah, they reached out to me, and other people started reaching out to me, it was really surreal. It’s still really surreal. But yeah, that’s when my relationship with them started. They didn’t put out the EP, initially, it was already on its way to be released. But then I kept talking with them, and signed, and then they re-released The Fuzz after that, at the beginning of 2019.
For those who are familiar, obviously even just the title of your album, Born Again, is a signal. Like I was raised very conservative and charismatic Christian, so I immediately picked up on the reference. I’m wondering what the process has been like openly identifying with that? Especially as you’re expressing yourself publicly through music and making art about that experience. I think being raised in that environment, it’s not something you ever fully shake.
For a while it was something I didn’t really like to talk about that openly. I think because I didn’t really know how to, and I didn’t think people wouldn’t relate to it. But as I’ve talked about it more, so many people do. I was like, oh wait, this is like, when I look to other artists who write about what I’m so affected by and I instantly feel connected with them. I instantly feel connected with people who have that same background — it was such an intense part of my identity, until my early twenties even. So, just a huge chunk of my life. I was extremely involved, and it really defined me.
So it felt sort of impossible not to talk about that if I was going to talk about myself. A huge part of my journey was leaving the church, and it was sort of devastating at the time. It was like a breakup or something. Everything I had ever known crumbled — I’m sure you can relate to that bit. Since then, I’ve just been trying to figure out who I am without it, and that’s been a whole other journey. Luckily, my parents are very open-minded and kind of going through the process alongside me. They like reading a lot and I think they started reading liberal Christian perspectives. We have amazing conversations and I feel really lucky because I know that’s not the case for a lot of people who go through leaving religion. Like you said, it’s not something you ever fully shake. Especially in that intense environment that we grew up in. I’ve seen things I can’t explain. I can’t really rationalize.
What is your relationship to music as far as your spirituality?
Something that was really powerful about a lot of the spiritual experiences I’ve had was music-related. I was actually just talking to a friend because I went to see Bon Iver very recently, and I felt this similar feeling inside that I felt in the past, maybe during a very moving or worship service or something. Maybe music is just inherently spiritual? Maybe that feeling can be attributed to that. I’ve written songs before that some of my friends were like, ‘this almost could be a worship song.’ Because, it gets in there. And I love the dynamics in Christian music, where it builds and swells and gets drawn out. I think things feel more emotional, too, so the music I prefer to make is very dynamic and full of feelings.
Why did you decide to title your album Born Again?
There’s also a track on the record that’s called “Born Again,” and I think it’s my favorite songs from the record. It’s about this journey, in pieces. Actually, I found a journal entry that I’d written a few years ago that said ‘we are born again and again and again and again.’ I think I was thinking about the cycle — like obviously, there are huge religious connotations to that term — but I think it can be used in a different way, or I’m reclaiming it to represent other transformative experiences I’ve been through. I’m also really into astrology and this idea that there are shifts and new beginnings or different chapters in our lives where we do start over in like personal evolution growth. I think I can have those rebirths in a way that doesn’t have to be religious. So it just made sense to call it that. Originally, I was like ‘do I want to like put it like front and center?’ And then I was like yeah, I do. It’s a cool conversation to have, so I’m down to have it.
I want to talk also about the lead single, “Fall Apart,” and kicking off the album with that one. Why did you want to lead off with that one and what does it signify for you?
I think it was actually one of the very last songs I wrote for the record, but when I finished it I was like, ‘this is going to be a single.’ It just had a catchy chorus and felt really accessible and relatable probably. It’s probably one of the poppier tracks on the record and it made sense to put it out. I thought it was a good bridge from the EP into the world of the new record, which does sound a bit different. The record is a little more polished and maybe a little more poppy. After the EP, I kept getting called shoegaze… and I’ve never considered myself that. I’m not even that into shoegaze. I think this is definitely a departure from that vibe. But I thought this song bridged the gap a bit, and it’s about anxiety. So, relatable content. It was just a good song to start with.
My other favorite, and one that’s out early is called “Embarrassing.” I think even with the title, like you get a sense of what it’s going to be about, but it’s not as predictable maybe as it seems.
With this one, I’ve been thinking a lot about shame and I think growing up in religion, shame was this thing that I felt very burdened by. Then leaving religion, I think I tried to just totally demolish it in every little way. But now I’ve come to this place where I can see that there is a place for shame sometimes — some things are wrong or hurtful and you should be embarrassed by them. It’s this concept of like, sometimes it’s good to feel ashamed of certain things. Of course there are other certain things you should never be made to feel ashamed. But just making the distinction between those and two, I had been thinking about that a lot. This song is sort of about embracing kinds of shame that lead to better, healthier behavior.
Born Again is out 4/3 via Fat Possum Records. Get it here.