Ellie Dixon, the indie-pop wunderkind, is one of the most exciting up-and-coming music artists the music industry has seen in a long time. After achieving a wealth of success following the release of her new EP Crikey! It’s my Psyche and her most recent single ‘Swing!’, I had the privilege of sitting down with Ellie to discuss her road to amassing such a notable digital audience, her first headline tour and the challenges that being a woman in the music industry entails.
Ruth: How did you progress into music?
Ellie: Music’s always been a part of my life since I can remember. I took music GCSE after my dad downloaded production software onto our family computer, I was obsessed and was making music constantly. I realised how much I loved singing and my singing teacher really pushed me to do youth open mic nights and I played in the school concert. After that, it just grew very organically and the natural progression was I started writing songs, and I taught myself guitar because I didn’t want to lug a keyboard everywhere.
R: Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of your journey was that you did a Maths degree at Warwick! Why did you make that decision instead of jumping straight into music?
E: At 18, I still didn’t think of music as a career possibility because I had such bad performance anxiety, before any show it would be crippling. I thought, ‘I can’t be an artist if every show kills me!’ So, I went and studied Maths at uni which I loved, it was a very important time for me to develop as a person outside of music. But by the end of my degree it was very apparent what I wanted to do because every summer everyone would go and do an internship and I would go and release an EP. I was doing three gigs a week on top of all my coursework. After graduating, I moved home and I gave myself a year to get my production skills up and perform as much as I could. That plan had a spanner thrown in the works because of COVID, so 6 months into that plan I moved online, still focused on my production but also on my content which I had never really had the time to do. That’s when everything sort of took off, I moved to London, played my first headline show and signed with Decca Records.
R That sudden life change must have been so overwhelming!
E: It’s something I’m still coming to grips with, I think I’ll always be sort of six months behind everything at all times because you’re always playing catch up. When things are online its very contained, you don’t necessarily connect with it when your watching numbers with your analytics page. You look at it at you’re like ‘nice!’ and then you go and make some toast.
R: We’ve got to talk about your new single ‘Swing!’, what was the writing and production process like?
E: I really loved making ‘Swing!’. I set up all my production stuff in an Air B&B in the middle of the Cotswolds because I was feeling really overwhelmed at the time and was trying to write new material but wasn’t really in the right headspace for it. Whenever I get stuck, I grab a load of random things in the house and make samples out of them, so the whole of ‘Swing!’ was borne out of me hitting a glass with a whisk. For the intro, I hit a glass with a whisk and recorded it in and then sampled it to a keyboard. That was kind of the birth of the song, I was having fun with that pattern and started adding clicks and got this high energy thing happening quite quickly.
R: I know that ‘Swing!’ was about your experiences of facing online abuse – how did that experience manifest?
E: It was on TikTok, I couldn’t even open the app without having a panic attack. I didn’t open the app for about two weeks because I just couldn’t. You can be prepared as you like but until you go through it, words can’t explain what it’s like to have thousands of online people saying unkind things. It’s really scary, you really have to tap into inner strength. You have to find inner safety within yourself because if you run with these comments, it’s so easy to distort the image of what that is when really it’s a couple of people not really thinking, typing something out, pressing send and then getting on with their day. But when you’re reading it multiple times from multiple people it feels like this army coming to hunt you down, when really all it is is some people being thoughtless.
R: I can imagine the song writing process must have been very therapeutic?
E: I wrote ‘Swing!’ to be angry, to be petty, I wanted to give myself the space to feel what I needed to feel. The most therapeutic conversations I’ve had about this are with other artists who have been through it because it’s very niche and very different to getting an insult in life. When it’s your passion project and you are being so vulnerable it’s really hard but it was a really fun song to write and felt like a reclaiming of my confidence and like fighting back, I had let myself get beaten down, I wasn’t uploading content I wanted to upload anymore because I wanted to play it safe to avoid any more hate. Anything that I thought could be a bit love or hate I wouldn’t put in, but all the best stuff is love or hate. If there aren’t people that hate what you’re doing, you aren’t making anything interesting. If you please everyone, you’re going to write something really boring.
R: You recently went on your first headlining tour, what was that experience like?
E: Surreal, for sure. It took me about four dates to start feeling present properly. I couldn’t get out of this mindset of people just happen to be here! I physically couldn’t process the fact that people were buying tickets to see me, it was really magical having that and very affirming. One of my favourite bits was being able to talk to all the fans after the show. I couldn’t believe that I was rocking up to all of these random cities in the UK and people came and were fans and knew all the words to my songs, that was just mind-blowing. It creates that connection, when you see a room of people you can see exactly who’s there, can see their faces and what it means to people, that’s so rewarding and real.
R: As a young woman in the rather male-dominated music industry, what has that been like navigating?
E: It’s been a mixed bag. One of the biggest challenges is not only external difficulties but also internal difficulties. I think one of the reasons you don’t see as many female-identifying artists getting into this industry especially as an artist is it takes so much confidence and so much self-belief. I think culturally, if you are brought up as a girl, you have this constant mentality that you aren’t quite good enough. I was in a seminar recently put on by female producers and the conversation almost the entire time was about imposter syndrome. This feeling like you aren’t good enough. I don’t necessarily think that’s externally people telling you you’re not good enough, but it’s an internal landscape that has been carved out inside us since we were born.
R: What advice would you give to other young women seeking to enter into the industry?
E: My main advice to anyone would be: no one knows what they’re doing, don’t worry. You know so much more than you think you do, especially from experience. Self-belief is critical, it’s so important you have that belief. As soon as you lose it, things slip away.
R: What are the greatest external challenges you’ve faced?
E: There is still a lot of external stuff that needs fixing, especially in the live sector. It’s getting better, but if you look young or if you look feminine, it’s very hard to be taken seriously, walking into a venue. This is very dependent on the team that you’re working with because I’ve worked with some incredible teams but even on my last headline tour, getting sound engineers to take you seriously is difficult. When they hear female solo they assume a quiet acoustic act so they won’t turn the tracks or the bass up. There are still a lot of ingrained stereotypes and it’s quite hard to battle because they don’t know that they’re doing it. As a woman, it’s so important to be prepared to stand your ground and have confidence in yourself and your sound.
Ellie’s new single ‘Swing!’ is out now via Decca Records.
Image courtesy of Jasmine De Silva.