Swindon-born Ellis Evason has been a fan of Ezra Bell since he was 15 years old. 8 years later, the hip-hop artist released a song with the folk band, ‘Lipstick.’
To talk about the release, how it came to fruition, and more about life as an up-and-coming hip-hop star, Pink Wafer has sat down with Ellis to learn more.
How did ‘Lipstick’ first come to fruition? Did you approach Ezra Bell or was it the other way around? How did that first conversation happen?
Ellis: I approached him. It’s actually all quite surreal for me.
I was a massive fan of the band before reaching out and I didn’t even mention my music. I basically just sent the lead singer a bunch of positive messages about his music and I wasn’t really expecting a reply.
He, I believe, decided to look through my Twitter bio and found one of my early released songs. I was already working on my first album at the time so I sent him some demos and joked about making a track together. Surprisingly, he was down to do it.
He’s actually got a lot of passion for Hip-Hop so I was pretty ecstatic when we started.
That’s a great story! Pretty inspiring for upcoming musicians who are thinking of collaborating. Is ‘Lipstick’ your first collaboration? How do you find the process compares to working on something solo?
Ellis: ‘Lipstick’ is not my first collaboration but it’s definitely the first I’ve done with someone overseas. It’s a fun experience but we were mostly both still working on this solo and then sharing what we’d made over Twitter messages.
I think the main difference is that having someone else attached to a project, especially in the case of Ezra Bell, kind of puts a fire under me to work quickly but also at the highest level I can manage. I have a huge amount of respect for Ezra Bell and their music. Therefore, I really felt a duty to bring my absolute best to ‘Lipstick’. Luckily we didn’t end up having to work quickly but that ‘fire’ I mentioned is most definitely what kept me going back into the studio to perfect it week after week.
I’ve collaborated with a few people, some of those tracks are out, on the way, or never going to be released but by comparison, working with Ben was super refreshing. Sometimes when you broach a collaborative conversation the first questions are purely about money and numbers. With Ben, we’ve never even had that conversation. ‘Lipstick’ has been made purely out of mutual admiration and a shared passion for each other’s music. It’s been a completely warm experience.
A true passion project. So, what came first, Benjamin Wuamett’s chorus or your verses? And who wrote the music?
Ellis: Ben’s chorus came first. I then put together a beat that I felt would fit both of our styles.
I produce some of my own tracks but I ended up finding some work by producer JustDan that really suited the vibe I wanted to go for. When it comes to finding people, I spend a lot of time talking with producers and browsing whatever they put out and the one we went with just had this melancholy nostalgia to it that I fell in love with.
I sorted out the rights and then sent it over to Ben and he came back with his poetic chorus which I was instantly stunned by. I used the “I love you I swear” as the basis for starting my verse and then we worked separately on finishing our sections and without even talking about it we had both written lyrics that complimented each other.
When it comes to the music specifically, the original beat was changed a lot to include new instruments and structure by myself and Jon Buckett. Jon was the engineer on the track and recorded and mixed the whole thing, he also just happens to be an otherworldly musician and was able to bring a lot of unique touches to the final instrumentation.
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist when it comes to seeking people out, such as a producer? It seems you are keen to make every aspect of your art the very best – no shortcuts.
Ellis: I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist. I’d consider myself someone who likes to play about until I achieve what I’m aiming for if that makes sense.
On a lot of the stuff I’m making now, I’ll create 3 or so versions of the same song with completely different lyrics and backings and, more often than not, those will go into the vault and I’ll be able to make a 4th or 5th version that finally achieves what I was going for in the first place. I think the balance is in creating something that has the message you want but also has a degree of entertainment to it. For me to put something out, it needs to have both meaning and a level of catchiness.
I do the same thing with producers, where I’ll experiment with lyrics I like alongside maybe 5-10 different beats I like the sound of. It can be challenging at times because I’ve gotten into a headspace where I won’t use specific instrumentation or beat unless I personally adore it, so it can be hard to seek those out at a moment’s notice.
When it comes to collaborations though, I’m super open to just create stuff with people; throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I’m working on some stuff with an amazing hyper-pop artist at the moment and I love being able to send a verse over and have it come back as something completely unrecognisable, I find that really exciting!
How do you manage to produce such clever wordplay? Is it something you’ve practised at or do you think it’s more of a natural gift?
Ellis: It’s definitely practised. Some of my first-ever tracks are god-awful. I don’t think they are even online anymore, but when I started making music, I was using incredibly basic wordplay and rhyme schemes.
Exposing myself to new music and looking to different genres for inspiration has really helped me to find my own style.
With ‘Lipstick’ especially, I think there’s a good balance of the intimacy I like to include in my work as well as the occasional moment of playfulness. I’ve always had a passion for writing and language and so I think what I’m making now is the culmination of a lot of practice and a wide variety of influences. I look back on my previous releases and I’m able to see that what I’m making now surpasses a lot of it and I think that’s an important part of the process. In many ways, I hope that I’m able to look back on something like ‘Lipstick’ in a few years and see how I’ve developed again.
Anyone who is close to me will know this, but I make up a lot of random lyrics every day. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to solve a rhyme in my head like a maths problem. I’m able to get all my bad ideas out when I’m having fun with friends so when it comes to actually delivering a verse on a final track I’m able to focus on bringing my best.
It’s amazing to see you recognise your own progression and be excited about where you’ll go next. Are there any upcoming projects you are really buzzing about?
Ellis: I think this year will be busy. I am actively working on my second studio album at the moment and all I’ll say for now is. It’s big. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on. That’s in terms of length as well as sort of grand audio design. Thematically as well, It’s so much bigger and more in-depth than anything I’ve made before. I think everyone might be shocked by the direction I’m going in but I’m unbelievably excited for people to hear it.
Who do you think would enjoy ‘Lipstick’ the most?
Ellis: I think fans of alternative music, in general, will love this.
It’s kind of a world fusion track when you think about it, bringing American folk and UK Hip-Hop together is something I’ve definitely not seen before. It’s also a track for anyone who has experienced the decline of a relationship and then lived through the dwelling that tends to come afterwards.
I really hope people are able to blast the chorus when they’re driving and sing along but I‘d also love for people to be able to sit with it on their own and use it as catharsis when they need it.
Ok, the floor is yours. Is there anything about ‘Lipstick’ or just about Ellis Evason that you want people to know?
Ellis: ‘Lipstick’ is a labour of love, and even though it’s a fairly melancholy song it was created out of nothing but good vibes and personal reflections. I hope people love it. Otherwise, all I’d say is stay tuned. This year people are gonna see some of the best work I’ve ever put together. So stay excited, because I really really can’t wait to share it all.