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Indira Ellis: Searching for Her Own Sound

Indira Ellis graduated from Columbia University, majoring in Film and Media Studies.
Indira Ellis graduated from Columbia University, majoring in Film and Media Studies. By Courtesy of Indira Ellis
By Sophia S. Pasalis, Contributing Writer

Emerging alternative musician Indira Ellis writes songs that she hopes people will relate to. She believes the term “genre” is malleable and mixes all of her own music, sometimes even in her closet.

“I was so in my head about, like, what genre am I making? … alternative is really anything that's not mainstream, but we all have our own perspective on what counts as alternative and what doesn’t,” the singer said.

Originally from South Florida, Ellis grew up listening to a lot of music from the early to late 2000s, including artists like My Chemical Romance, Evanescence, and AFI. Her taste, she recalls, was influenced by the music that her older brother listened to. Her current interests include artists like Ashnikko and Taylor Swift.

“I feel like I would say I'm trying to develop my own sound like my own place in this collection of sounds we consider a genre,” Ellis said.

Ellis was involved in musical theater growing up. Moving from South Florida to study theater in New York, she found the art form to be slightly gatekept, especially having not been exposed to Broadway for most of her life. Ellis described the decision to choose either film or theater to study in college as “messy,” but decided on film due to its relative youth as an art form.

“This was an art form that … is still being shaped… the history is so tangible, and it's something that you can just kind of start getting into,” she said. “I think there was something about that that really drew me to it.”

Ellis graduated from Columbia University, majoring in Film and Media Studies. Both of these worlds play a role in her work. She cites her screenwriting classes as places where she received helpful feedback, learned more about the process of making art, and how to think about art itself.

“I think one thing that my Film and Media Studies gave me that was really powerful with all the art that I try to make is the ability to have a better understanding of how what I'm creating might be perceived … also to have just like a stronger sense of my own vision and understanding that how things are taken in and how things are understood, is up to interpretation,” Ellis said.

In college, Ellis worked in the News and Arts departments at WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station. Most of the time, she found herself in the position of the interviewer, listening to other people. Working on her hour-long time slot, Ellis perfected the audio over and over. This perfectionist process both helped her as an artist, making her standards for production quality high.

However, Ellis recognizes this perfectionism as something she eventually has to let go of in order for her own particular sound to be heard, an experience that can be freeing. She describes the debate of when to move a song out of the closet as a back and forth:

“I'm still like, it's not ready,” she said. “I'm always striving to clean it up and make it sound perfect. And that sort of thing I got from working with sound on the radio station WKCR, but I think there's also the point where I had to kind of like, put it down for a little bit, let it go.”

Although Ellis found her place in college, the pandemic uprooted that sense of security when she was sent home as a sophomore. Away from normalcy and college friends, she found that a creative, musical outlet was the perfect place to process these changes. Her new single “Hemlock Lane” speaks to that transitional time during the early days of the pandemic.

“In those first few months, I also moved, so it went from, you know, not being around all my friends and that sort of thing to not even being in a place I was familiar with,” Ellis said. “And so it was that sense of being home, but not being a part of it and not really being familiar with places anymore. But I really wanted to encapsulate that in a song.”

Although her new single “Hemlock Lane” speaks to a feeling of unfamiliarity, she hopes her experiences are not singular, that others may recognize themselves in her music. She describes these creative endeavors as “a sort of home,” and hopes they speak to a greater shared experience.

“I don't think we really have completely unique experiences,” Ellis said. “I think like, if I'm feeling something, obviously, other people are also feeling that. And if I can, you know, make something that reaches people and connects with them, I think that'd be super cool.”

Indira’s new single “Boys With Guitars” comes out on Nov. 9.

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