At long last, an album we have eagerly anticipated for more than a year now has been officially released: Ella Mine’s Dream War. If you were at Hutchmoot 2019, you may remember being overtaken by Ella’s powerful performance of her debut album as part of the show “Well: Exploring the Healing Power of Art.” With Dream War, she has managed to name depths of the human experience that often go unnamed, creating a hospitable space where the listener might untangle the mystery of their own emotions.
Ella’s distinctive voice is far-reaching and impartial to genre, incorporating a mastery of classical piano with a sonic palette characteristic of progressive rock. She’s unafraid to traverse great artistic distances in small spaces. Even within a single song, seas of meticulously layered electric guitars will be followed by shimmers of sunlight on water cast by picks against acoustic strings, harmony quickly overtaken by fierce chromaticism, rushing walls of sound cut short by vulnerable moments of intimacy between her solo vocal and piano, and even momentary appearances of bagpipe and cello, which lend an air of epic fantasy to a far-reaching tale. The cumulative effect is an organic confluence of the personal and the archetypal.
I wanted to write with a musical language that could name and illuminate painful and ambiguous feelings like lostness, the desire to give up, and even dread.Ella Mine
Ella’s musical instincts were honed under the formal discipline of Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music for six years, where she studied classical piano performance, followed by a university degree in music. These years of training would see Ella’s sharp intuition augmented with an expansive musical vocabulary, allowing her own idiosyncratic voice to emerge and flourish. A talented visual artist as well, Ella Mine’s musical aspirations were always more holistic and expansive than writing and recording collections of songs. Her passion was to create an immersive, transformative experience for her audience; something that she and they could get lost in. She knew from the outset that she wanted Dream War to land as a fully-formed, seamlessly cohesive, movie-score-like, symphonic experience.
“As a teenager with chronic amplified pain,” Ella says, “I was prescribed a medication and had a severe adverse reaction that affected the functioning of my brain. I was suddenly overwhelmed by fear, confusion, intrusive and violent thoughts and dreams, akathisia, and a host of other psychoactive effects. Whether I was asleep or awake, everything around me was like a nightmare.” After many years of recovery, Ella started writing the songs she most needed to hear. But more than that, she wrote what she knew other people would need to hear. The “fuel to her fire” in creating Dream War was the knowledge that other people were experiencing the same kinds of oppressive darkness that she herself had come to know too well.
“Since I had come out (mostly intact) on the other side,” Ella explains, “I set out to pave a sonic space in which we can connect with painful emotions we often push away. When our language is limited, our understanding is also limited. So I wanted to write with a musical language that could name and illuminate painful and ambiguous feelings like lostness, the desire to give up, and even dread.”
Together, the songs of Dream War ask, “How are we to dream, hope, and love again after our first dreams have been crushed, our first hopes dashed, and our first loves ravaged?” All throughout, Ella Mine asks these questions with dexterity, poise, and an ambition born of courage. It is impossible to hear any one of these songs without feeling compelled to listen intently, and that is the magic of Ella’s songwriting: the sense that you’re listening not only to one songwriter’s story, but to the untold depths of your own.
Further Reading & Listening
In this Rabbit Room interview, Ella goes further in depth about the story that led to Dream War.
She also makes an appearance in Season 2 of The Second Muse, where her song “Sound + Fury” is explored in depth.