"White Noise," a song about Los Angeles native Ella Vos' struggle with Postpartum depression, may not be the most chart-friendly of themes but it has struck a chord. The pairing of her gauzy vocals with sparse electronics propelled it to number one on Spotify's charts when it was released late last year. Since then, it has had 14 million streams.
A break-out artist, the vocalist and songwriter's latest single "You Don't Know About Me" tackles the weighty issue of pro-life versus pro-choice. Not someone who has been overtly political for most of her life, having her child in the current climate has naturally brought these issues to the fore for her.
Vos had been singing back-up vocals, or on tour playing keyboards for bands on the LA scene for several years. Her vocals are also featured on "Rolling Dice" a glitchy track by Australian producer, Just A Gent. Though she harbored ambitions to be a frontwoman, she never found the opportunity or courage prior to falling pregnant.
Ahead of her San Francisco show at the Swedish American Hall tonight, AXS spoke to Vos about how being a mother gave her an innate strength to confront political hot potatoes, pursue her ambitions as an artist and to get back in the groove as she finishes work on a debut album.
AXS: Ella Vos is your stage name, what does it mean?
Ella Vos: I originally thought of it as a band name. It's pronounced "ehya vos" meaning She/You in Spanish. I liked this idea of a kind of relationship name: 'she' meaning woman or me, and 'you'; meaning everyone else. It evolved into a stage name, and I decided to just own it. I love it and now, I am Ella Vos.
AXS: I'm sure people get confused and just call you Ella.
EV: They do. (laughs) I have had to introduce myself as Ella, otherwise they'll be like 'so, is Ella going to be here?' (laughter) It's fine. I like it.
AXS: So how old is your baby now? Congratulations.
EV: Thanks. He's not a baby anymore. He's 2 years old.
AXS: How did you end up in this position of having a newborn and a burgeoning music career at the same time? That’s not the usual career path taken by up-and-coming artists.
EV: Definitely not. People usually do the opposite. They have a career, then decide they’re going to have a baby, and take time out. When I found out I was pregnant, I realized that I wasn't really doing what I wanted to, with my life. And had to make this 'now or never' decision. I thought I've always wanted to be a songwriter and been scared to do it, now everything in my life is going to change forever, I'm not scared anymore. I might as well add this on top of it. I've been playing the piano since I was five. I've always been a musician. Before I was pregnant, I was touring with other bands as a back-up singer and keyboardist. When I was pregnant there was also a lot of things that I felt I wanted to write about, and then five weeks after my son was born, I wrote the lyrics for “White Noise,” my first song. It was the most vulnerable lyrics I’d written until that point, and made me feel like 'this is what I should be doing.'
AXS: ”White Noise” has a gorgeous video too. The imagery of he white veils like hijabs or a nun's habit, the Elizabethan-era collar of the Virgin Queen: all the iconography is very nuanced, yet politically-charge. Who came up with the idea for the video and did you work closely with director?
EV: The idea all came to me at once, between that sleep and a dream state. In this picture view of nun-like people punching and pulling me around. I took it to the director, Kate Rentz and we developed it together. She took a lot of images from the Elizabeth movie with Cate Blanchett. You see that internal struggle with the images.
AXS: You highlighted a post by Adele about Postpartum depression – tell me a bit about your experience with it, or how it affected your songwriting?
EV: Writing that song was therapeutic for me. It helped me realize what I was going through and to give voice to it. When I was pregnant, I was reading a lot about what to expect. And people talk about Postpartum depression. I don’t know why but I thought ‘it’s not going to happen to me.' I felt strong enough. I thought 'I don’t need to worry, I’m going to be fine.' I didn’t want to make any excuses. When I was going through it, I was in denial. It is easy to blame how you feel on other things like being tired because of sleepless nights. Even when I talked to my friends, with and without babies, they said: ‘That’s just how it is. You're going through a lot of change. You'll get used to it.’ But I just did not feel like myself. I wrote “White Noise” in October 2015, and it was released last October. For a year-and-a-half, I hadn’t told my husband or producer, what the song was about. When I finally told them, I felt free. Like a huge weight was off my shoulders. Postpartum was difficult, I recognize it now, and I had to go talk to a therapist, and get the help I needed.
AXS: How do you navigate having a young child and having to be creative, on tour and leaving him?
EV: I have a routine now where it's like having a job. Every day I work for a certain amount of hours; it's Monday now and I am going into the studio. I like it. The first two weeks of the tour we had to go to Bonnaroo, then I had to go to Cannes for a private show and just got back last night. It was my first time away for so long but we all survived.
AXS: Of course, more women should talk about these things. I remember leaving my son to go out that first time. You want to have a drink, you have to use the breast pump, it's hard, but you all survive.
EV: I've had so many nights like that. I remember when I went out for the first time with some girlfriends, my son was six months old. I just didn't know what to talk about. (laughs) They would try to have a conversation with me, and I would be like 'I don't know. I don't know what's going on in the world. I just had a baby. I haven't been out.' (laughs) But at the moment, I am good. I am finishing up an album, and the writing on most of the songs is almost done.
AXS: That's fantastic. When do you think it will be out?
EV: I'm not sure yet. I think we're looking at sometime this year.