Ellington's debut EP just arrived, and it's a declaration of an artist on the rise finding his voice. This self-titled EP defines who Ellington is as an artist; it's rock, it's vintage, but the songs stay modern.
If you know Ellington from The Driver Era, that's only part of the equation. He cites his high school band and the music he grew up on as the initial source of his musical aspirations. After a lot of hard work and tasting that success, he knew he had something. He says, "No one wakes up and says, 'I'm going to be a musician, I'm going to play the Greek Theatre,' you can't put your thumb on that until it's there." Now, that's definitely in view for him, and it feels like he's set himself on the perfect trajectory to make it happen.
Ellington definitely paved his way, and as a solo artist, he knew curating his distinctive sound wouldn't happen overnight. His process was slow and steady. Growing up on his parent's records, he wanted something classic, something that could grow, but he struggled with that initial conception. He explains, "I like to put all my tastes into one package. It took a lot of banging my head against the wall."
Sighting influences ranging from classic rock to Motown, and everything in between, the one record that always takes him back to days in his dad's Chevy Astro is the heavy rotation of The Beatles The White album. He says, "That fed me later on when I started getting into what that song was emulating. It opens you up to so many different genres which is why I like to incorporate that into my music."
Those influences are so apparent in this EP. The 5-tracks shift from the more confessional, upbeat "Band of Gold to the thunderous "Sun to Rise!" The driving guitars and pulsating beats are just begging to be played live. It's gritty but dances right between those areas of pop and alt-rock. His distinctive, smooth voice ties it all together.
And Ellington was precious with this. Breaking away on your own, putting your name on your project means a lot. You can't take it back, which is something he struggled with. He explains, "I produced this and wrote this at a snail's pace because I wanted to make sure everything was to my liking. I've been in experiences before with past projects where it's been like "Screw it release it," then later you regret it."
Ellington wanted to make something he could build off, something that could be the base of his future music. When you have endless options, it's almost too daunting to think of what's next, but with this EP, Ellington can see that path. He adds, "I have a home plate, and that feels comforting. I can always check myself like, 'is this a forward-thinking thing from where I was?"
He started this project pre-pandemic, but like everyone, the pandemic changed the way he worked. Taking advantage of the seemingly endless time, he brought all of these songs and ideas to fruition.
Keeping his circle small was a creative choice but the pandemic made a small team necessary. He explains, "This year has been such an eye-opener. It's all the creative aspects that make an artist. Now the team is much smaller, so I have to yay or nay everything. It felt very focused." It keeps things focused and streamlined. It's also crucial for Ellington to have a say in all of the different aspects of the release.
He has a vision for every aspect of the project and knows everything he puts out at the stage will determine who he is as an artist. "I like to throw things out, and it gets done," he says, "I need people who understand me, but I've had a lot of experiences where it's kind of soul-crushing. It's nice to have people on my side and understand my vision."
But that also carries a lot of weight. It's easier to agree with someone else than trusting your own decisions at times. You're putting your whole self out there for judgment. Even someone as seasoned as Ellington faces that self-doubt. He confirms, "It's a piece of your soul, and everyone you know and all of your friends will see it. We've all been through it, and putting myself out there for everyone I know, it's horrifying. Slowly but surely, I've wrapped my head around the idea."
It's a stunning debut that puts Ellington on the map and is setting the standard for his future releases, and with live shows feeling like they're coming back soon, this is definitely a project that will thrive on a stage.