“Sorry, I’m just laughing cos you said Zap! Bang! It sounds like a 60s superhero or something!” Ella Montclare is giggling, it is a good start to the interview. Trip-hops latest potential superstar isn’t really a newcomer to music industry. “Being background was really nice for me as it was the safe place to be,. They had all the pressure and I could just go ‘la la la’ behind.” Having spent years as a background for the likes of Babyface, Montclare was never sure about the spotlight. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be a front person, I wasn’t sure it was for me. But the turning point was when I did those songs for Steve Baughman in America, basically I came back to UK and put them on MySpace. Then, what happened was I got an incredible reaction. I had all these people writing to me asking about the album. I thought I was making music for myself and my friends and I don’t think without MySpace I would have ever got much further. The major turning point was the reaction. I thought I could make an album and people would buy it. It’s such a positive arena. Now being up front is great, it is a dream come true.”
Her loyal MySpace fans knew as soon as they heard her that Montclare had something special. Her profile remained in the top position on the Trip-Hop chart for over a year. This will come as little surprise when you listen for yourself. With vocals lying somewhere between Martina Topley-Bird and Skye Edwards (Morcheeba), Montclare is an exciting proposition. However, everything could have been so different for Montclare.
“I worked with Merlin, some guys down at Merlin and they do all those Britney Spears type tracks. That was before I started this album. I was with a management company, who were a very big management company and they were keen for me to go out there just to get some kind of pop record. I was ok, just go. But that was the turning point for me, into making this album. It felt like being a factory. The schedule was, you’d wake up in the morning and they’d be putting a track together, then at noon I’d write the top line, the lyrics and the melody, then at night we’d record the song. It was kind of, I don’t want to say the word soul destroying as that is quite dramatic. But I didn’t really feel like I was making music or being creative.” Unable to sell her soul to the commercial market, Montclare is decidedly focused on the role of artist. Walking away from such a big deal may seem crazy to many, but the non-fame hungry Montclare didn’t see any other option. Instead “I just got a part-time waitress’s job and started to make my own record myself without any kind of management or corporate thing around me.”
In a plot device that would not seem out of place in a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster, it turns out that leaving one opportunity behind, Montclare managed to walk into another of her own creation. “I was out in LA and I was going to work with a songwriter and he took me up to Aftermath, Dr Dre’s studios. They have their studio in the valley in Los Angeles and they were like, ‘oh you know, do you want to audition this girl? She’s got something you might like, a good vibe and she can write songs.’ So they just auditioned me on the spot and were like write something now. And so, they liked what I wrote, so I ended up working down there writing songs. Then Dre’s number one engineer, Steve B who does a lot of the Aftermath stuff; he’s done 50 Cent, Eminem, Dre and even a lot of other stuff – No Doubt, even Michael Jackson. You know, he’s like a really amazing producer, engineer and beats guy. We really got on and he really loves Portishead and other British bands, as do I. Then we started to record some tracks. We would sneak off and record some tracks which weren’t so much Hip-Hop or R’n’B but more Trip-Hop and my kind of vibe. Actually “I Surrender”, the track that’s coming out now is the very first track that we recorded together.”
“I Surrender” presents a questioning journey through tripped out bits will have the most ardent feminist questioning their thoughts on love. “I think we are all socially conditioned to focus on careers. Society and media focus on career and materialism and not on love. This is quite a new thing that’s happened, our generation are so different from our parents. You know Women’s Lib, they fought so hard for this kind of privilege but now it is sort of being questioned. Has it actually made us happy?”
Society and media focus on career and materialism and not on love.
Montclare firmly believes that “love is the most important thing. Women now are raised to be really strong and independent, to prioritise our careers over love. Definitely when I was growing it was all about what career as opposed to being in love. As opposed to a friend of mine, who is French, when she was growing up the emphasis was always on love. I was like, you know that must be so nice. So “I Surrender” is just about being raised in the way of a Western woman, the ‘Sex & The City’ mindset but then meeting a man and having all these emotions, where you just want to kind of surrender to the emotions. Where love is a bigger concept than the individual. In a way love is only pure if you can surrender to it.” However, very much a woman of her generation, Montclare is coy when considering giving it all up for love. “Ask me that when I fall in love!”
“I love to hear female voices and female perspectives. I can’t get enough. I think it helps someone like me. The more women that come out, the more prejudices are broken down. It makes it easier for someone like me to be heard.” Having been inspired by Kate Bush and Debbie Harry, Montclare feels proud that women are finally dominating the charts. “I like Bats For Lashes. My stuff has been compared to hers a lot and I like her, she is really exciting. I like M.I.A a lot, she has really interesting things to say and brilliant beats. I love Florence and the Machine and I love Lady Gaga a lot. It’s funny actually because a lot of these people I have seen on MySpace before they took off. I do a lot on MySpace. Florence, I remember seeing her years ago and thinking she’s great. Natasha Khan as well, her early stuff was hot and she’s crossed over to the mainstream which is cool.”
Florence, I remember seeing her years ago and thinking she’s great.
Given that her MySpace chums have taken off, Montclare hopes that 2010 will prove to be her year. “The bigger the party, the better. The more people you can share your music with, the better the feeling. It’s such a nice way to connect with people and the universe. Then it means I can tour more, which I love to do. I love David Bowie and Kate Bush, how they have all the spectacle for their live shows. At the moment my show is really stripped down, but I really want to bring up the visual drama side. I have a fan of feathers that I am working on doing something with.” Having spent years in the background, Montclare has witnessed performers good and bad. She hopes that when she finally gets on the road again, her show will inspire both visually and vocally. “Kate Bush was brave because she surrendered to the performance. She just totally went for it. Now people are scared to put themselves out there, they are afraid of looking awkward, but I think you have to just do it. I like a show, I want to be entertained. So that’s the kind of artist I’d like to be. I love art meets music, that sort of concept. Art is inspiring and that is why we crave it.”
Given her apparent disliking of fame and the business side of music, it may come as a surprise to hear Montclare declare “I like Leona Lewis.” Though perhaps not a fan of her artistry, Montclare concedes that like everyone else, “every now and then, I like cheesy pop. It like they just went Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, just paint it by numbers. I don’t think there are any original ideas there. I am wondering what the Cheryl Cole album is like though. I think she is just so nice and she is completely stunning, which also helps. She has a lot of appeal.” Strangely, she is backing Jedward in the X Factor. Though she rarely watches, she thinks “maybe Leona takes herself too seriously. You might as well just be like The Twins, John and Edward, Jedward. I think it would be fantastic if they won. It’s got to be camp! I think that the show should just be really entertaining and they are just a laugh. You don’t watch the X Factor to find a new Sting. The Twins doing Britney is just so camp, it’s funny. They wore the male version of her outfit! They have personality. I quite like it when people don’t take the show so seriously. It’s the X Factor!”
Having completely lost track of our “credible music piece”, Montclare is amused by what her friends will think. In order to restore validity to our conversation, Montclare assures me that because she’s “had no corporate voice, no one has said to make a song like this. It means I have avoided the pitfall of making other people’s music, the album is just my music. I always co-write and co-produce.” Thankfully, having heard the sublime “I Surrender”, those assertions are far from required. Montclare and I part ways in the same way we started, with a giggle. Montclare is finally be stepping out from the shadows and bringing with her a cool, calm, composed artist with sense of modesty and a wicked laugh. I say I am powerless and “I Surrender”.
“I Surrender” is out now. To find out more, visit her Official Site.