Ella Vos finds her voice, and fans find her
Ella Vos’s intimate “You Don’t Know About Me,” with its acoustic guitar strums, lilting melody, and spare electronic pulse, initially sounds like a tale about a troubled relationship. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll discover one of the most highly charged sociopolitical songs of the year. Vos’s ire is aimed at the sexism of patriarchal culture in which elderly male legislators regulate women’s choices, and the judgmental male gaze is ever pervasive.
With the song and its artful accompanying video featuring demeaning phrases (“she was asking for it,” “your biological clock is ticking,” “drama queen”) projected on the bare skin of various women, Vos delivers quietly powerful statements about women taking control of their bodies and identities.
“Through my songwriting process I’ve been discovering things that I’ve felt my whole life but ignored or suppressed,” Vos says via phone from her home in Los Angeles. “There’s a lot of negativity directed towards women, and I’ve dealt with so much over the years.
“I think it really intensified for me in the time leading up to the election. As a woman and a mother, it was important for me to look at these things — men making decisions about women’s bodies and the everyday judgments we deal with all the time. It’s not a light matter, and judgment and negativity are things women are supposed to brush off, but it gets harder to do that. We need to talk about it all.”
The pop world is about to know much more about Vos in the coming months as her small body of work continues to go viral before the release of her full-length debut due later this year. Her first track from last October, “White Noise,” set the template for her melodic, minimalist aesthetic marked by introspective lyrics and a subtle mix of electronic and acoustic instruments.
The singer-songwriter, born Lauren Salamone Perez, has quickly become a Spotify sensation — “White Noise” has racked up over 14 million streams and her second single, “Down in Flames,” more than 12 million.
Vos’s moody, midtempo songs, accentuating her winsome yet expressive vocals, have an undeniable magnetic pull. She is also a fearless lyricist, exploring emotional territory most pop performers are much too timid to traverse.
The deceptively beguiling “White Noise” examines postpartum depression with an unblinking eye. She sings, “Pushing against the grain/watch the clock tick and fade/ Pray for a different scene/ We can ask/ but won’t receive.”
Vos says she began working on the song five weeks after the birth of her son two years ago. “After I finished writing it, I read through the words and said, `Yes, this is the darkness I am going through.’ I didn’t tell anyone what the song was about until two days before I released it, though. I was afraid. It’s so taboo to be talking negatively about being a mother, but it’s what I felt, and writing the song was my way of dealing with it.”
Vos pauses to consider her words and continues. “Being a mother is extraordinary, but what I went through was very real, and I wasn’t sure how people would respond. I thought they would think I was coming off as whiny. That’s the fear. Of course, I was proud to be a mother. There was always this doubt and hesitation, though, as if I had to constantly try and prove myself. It’s not easy to explain or for people to understand.”
A classically trained pianist, Vos ventured out as a solo act after trying to launch a few LA-based bands and working as a keyboardist with BORNS. Her stage name may sound like a character from a Raymond Chandler novel, but it has particular meaning for the artist.
“Ella Vos means ‘she you’ in Spanish. I originally loved the idea of having a band named Ella and pronouncing it in Spanish, but the relationship aspect that Vos adds really fit the vibe and songs. It’s since turned into a stage name rather than a band name, which I’ve fully embraced.
“Using a stage name is important,” she adds. “It helps free me up to speak my mind, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m able to express anything I feel and there’s power in that.”
Vos says songwriting is cathartic and often helps her order the chaos in her head. “It’s kind of like therapy for me. I often didn’t realize how deeply I felt about things. I’m able to identify those feelings and express them — channel them into a song. It’s a way to figure things out.”
The trick, which Vos clearly understands, is to avoid navel-gazing and indulgence. The singer, who cites Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” as one of the touchstone albums in her life, is developing a unique, clearly defined voice with atmospheric, deeply personal songs that speak universally.
“I didn’t grow up and train to be a pop singer,” she says. “The most important thing is for my heart to be at the center of my music and keep the songs true to myself.”
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