Written By Hailey Oppenlander
At least one good thing has come from my endless hours spent scrolling on TikTok: it was on the platform that I was introduced to artist ella jane. Though her musical catalogue was only four songs long at the time, I was immediately enraptured by her lyricism, indie pop sensibility, and of course, her relatable Gen-Z content.
ella jane’s release, “Thief,” is a vulnerable acoustic track that tells the story of her experience with depression. The track is produced by herself and Del Water Gap, making for an intimate, stunning indie masterpiece.
“[Del Water Gap] was truly the perfect fit for this song – he listened to all my ideas and wanted to make sure the result would fit my vision. Co-producing with him was such a wonderful experience, and I’m so glad to now call him a friend.”
Though ella jane only started releasing songs last year, music is in her blood. She’s the daughter of a jazz pianist and is named after Ella Fitzgerald, so perhaps it’s no surprise that her music is already making waves.
For an artist with just seven songs released so far, she has an impressive resume, including 600K monthly listeners on Spotify and features on Spotify’s Indie Pop and Lorem playlists. After signing a record deal with FADER Label earlier this year, her success only promises to grow.
“Thief” was recorded this spring in ella jane’s freshman dorm room, sending audio back and forth with Del Water Gap. “My room was right across from the communal bathroom, and both had very thin doors, so I kept having to stop recording so it wouldn’t pick up the flushes,” ella jane recalls. “I even missed one, funnily enough… towards the end of the song, if you listen closely you can hear a toilet seat slam from across the hall. Very classy.”
Despite the unusual recording circumstances, “Thief” is ella jane’s most vulnerable song yet, and my favorite of her discography thus far. ella jane wrote the song when she was 17, going through depression and feeling like a stranger in her own skin. “I’ve never been so nervous for a release before — it was an emotional week for me, but once the song was out in the world I felt this extreme relief,” she says. “It’s funny how the more terrifying the risk, the more satisfying the reward.”
ella jane is a stunning lyricist, using imagery and metaphor to convey how, at the time, she was struggling to make sense of her own reality and identity. ella jane puts into words a feeling that so many have experienced: “Don’t look for me inside my body / ‘Cause that’s not where I’ll be.”
“I find that my best songs have originated from a random melody or lyric idea that pops into my head,” comments ella jane. “I feel like those organic ideas are the ones I was really meant to write and develop, because they’re coming from my subconscious.”
In one of my favorite passages of the song, ella jane poetically contrasts her unknown future to cars driving with a set destination: “I keep wandering up and down the highway, staring at the cars / At least they know their own direction / You need a warranty for stars.”
ella jane has even annotated her lyrics on Genius, giving listeners a deeper glimpse into her mindset when she wrote the song. She names the ending verse of “Thief” as one of her favorite lyrics she’s written: “Woke up this morning with a fast heart, couldn’t slow it down / Next thing I know I’m in a fast car, too late to turn around / Don’t tell nobody but I stole it, so when you look at me / Just know you’re looking at a stranger, and you’re loved by a thief.”
It’s not just ella jane’s lyrics that make the song great, but also the way that she sings them, pulling out each word and imbuing it with meaning. Her voice leaves listeners hanging onto even a simple “oh.” The use of acoustic guitar is also perfect for the track. The song feels like an intimate confession — you can hear taps and screeches on the guitar, bringing an extra dimension of vulnerability. In the first verse of the song, the layers of ella jane’s voice, singing in unison, immediately draw listeners in. Her voice fractures into harmonies on the second verse, then leads into a chorus where her higher register shines.
“It’s still so crazy to me that I can share my art and have it mean something to people, and even inspire them to make their own,” comments ella jane. “My own inspirations were the reason I started writing in the first place, so to see that I’ve become that for some people has been truly unbelievable and I am so beyond grateful.”
My favorite part of the song is the ending, a simultaneously beautiful and unsettling explosion into a haunting chorus. It’s moments like these that are reminiscent of Phoebe Bridgers, one of ella jane’s favorite artists and an inspiration for the track alongside Simon and Garfunkel and Harry Styles’ first album.
Though the subject matter is far from light-hearted, “Thief” is comforting due to its honesty. I end with a message ella jane posted on Instagram when the song was released:
“‘i hope, if you need to, that you can see yourself reflected in these lyrics — that maybe you can find some solace or relief of your own. that’s something i’ve always loved about music, that ability to recognize your struggles in someone else’s. there’s no comfort quite like realizing that your pain is not at all singular, despite how isolating it may feel.’”
Look out for ella jane’s debut EP “THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE!” on September 10th, 2021.
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