Ellis Finds Hope in a Pandemic and Moves Past Her Evangelical Upbringing to Redefine 'Born Again'
Published Apr 03, 2020On an unusually bright winter day in early March, Exclaim! met up with Hamilton-based artist Linnea Siggelkow, who performs under the name Ellis (a play on her initials), at the Centennial Park Conservatory, a lush greenhouse space in Etobicoke, ON to chat about her upcoming full-length debut, Born Again.
"Just be careful for painful spikes on your butt," Siggelkow warns as we sit down in the most humid room, with the cacti. "I get sad in the winter and I think it's nice to feel the heat and see some green and remember that spring will come one day. I feel like this a good place to come and just be like 'okay, everything is fine.'"
Everything has not been fine though. One day prior to our interview, SXSW announced its cancellation amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and less than a week later, Ellis's entire North American tour with Ratboys was scrapped. In what seems like an instant, what was supposed to be an exciting, crucial spring of playing her heart out with old friends for new audiences was now suddenly put on hold.
"I feel tripped out that I'm putting out my first record during the biggest international pandemic that has ever happened in my lifetime," Siggelkow says. "It's a pretty important time in my career trajectory and I don't know if it's going to impede on the potential success that the record could have, but it's been on my mind."
Born Again is album where Siggelkow has disclosed her deepest, darkest thoughts about coping with paralyzing self-doubt and piercing anxiety, and the current state of the world certainly isn't helping. But Siggelkow is determined to keep a positive outlook as she navigates the tough path from surviving as an independent artist to launching her heartfelt, purifying dream-pop to the masses.
From Hamilton, Siggelkow recorded and self-released The Fuzz, a six-song EP churning with soft angst in a pastel reverie about dealing with her struggles with mental health. Under the obscurity of hazy, brooding guitars, Siggelkow's sweetly pleasing melodies and explicit shamelessness started to catch on, eventually leading to shows with bands like Soccer Mommy, Mannequin Pussy and Alvvays. Born Again's newly added silvery synths and slicker production has strengthened Siggelkow's self-reflection with gleaming clarity, purpose and perseverance.
For example, album opener "Pringle Creek" is a tender recollection of the creek near the childhood home of her partner Brandon Williams (of Chastity) that "has sort of become this special place where we get into the nitty gritty of stuff and work things out. It has become a really important place in our relationship." There are several instances on Born Again where Siggelkow connects recent experiences with memories of her past.
On Born Again's title track, Siggelkow looks back at how her religious upbringing has shaped her adult life in conflicting ways while trying to "reclaim the term from its evangelical meaning." The song has become one her personal favourites on the album and one that was the result of her getting away from the city to live in a "bunkie on someone's property by Lake Eerie."
"It was like this shed, basically, but it was this magical little place. It had no running water but it had a bed, an upright piano, and a few other weird instruments, all these books and DVDs and an old Nintendo — it was like a crazy spot," Siggelkow gushes.
"And I brought my cat and I went there for a few days and I wrote 'Born Again' fully at that place and I listened to it over and over on the drive home and I was just so excited. So then I named the record after it," she pauses.
"Being born again has this evangelical Christian connotation and I grew up in that world — pretty intensely immersed in it. I think as I've gotten older, I've sort of left that and re-evaluated things. But it was a huge identity shift. I kind of had this realization that you can be born again in other ways."
Siggelkow continues, "You know how you can say 'that was a lifetime ago' — it almost feels like we live these separate little lifetimes or these different chapters and I think everybody undergoes a rebirth at one point or another."
For Siggelkow, growing up religious meant that exposure to mainstream music was a slower process, yet one particular Canadian artist became a gateway in secular music during her transformative years, eventually leading to recording her first album, a new beginning to her musical career, so to speak.
"It was like the early 2000s when my parents started to loosen up and we started to listen to the radio and MuchMusic and for me that was like Avril Lavigne," Siggelkow laughs. "I think I saw the 'Complicated' music video and it was the first memory I have seeing of a girl playing an electric guitar, which blew my mind. It seemed to me that girls played acoustic guitars and boys played electric guitars so I was like 'whoa.' It was quite radical for me at that age. So I saved up all my babysitting money and bought like a shitty Fender Stratocaster and started to mostly learn from Blink-182 tabs on the internet."
Despite the depressing landscape we are living in, Siggelkow is upbeat and her snappy sense of humour is not at all what you might expect when listening to Ellis's melancholy, directly affecting music. Siggelkow maintains that creating art about sadness and difficult situations is part of the healing process for her.
"I was thinking a lot about the way I portray myself. Is sad a brand? I feel weird about that, but also I don't wanna seem not genuine. Like 'Oh, this goofy person is just making sad music,' but I think that it shows something real. It's the part of yourself you actually want to write about, and it's very relieving to sit down and make something out of it."
With the near future up in the air, artists like Ellis take the human experience and deciphers it in a way that is universal, by facing our shit and embracing the moments that make us stronger.
Born Again is out now on Royal Mountain / Fat Possum.