Discovery: Ellie Herring

Published September 4, 2013

ABOVE: ELLIE HERRING

Lexington, Kentucky isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for experimental music, but Ellie Herring may soon change that. Mixing dance floor-ready beats, carefully programmed MIDI, and airy vocals, Herring has carved out a sound that’s resolutely technical while still coming across as warmly human. Herring’s new record, Kite Day, is the second LP that she has released in two years. Taking the sound that she developed on last year’s Satiate and refining it, the record comes across as more cerebral and personal than her debut.

The mix of analog and digital in Herring’s work is especially evident in her lyrical content, on which Herring puts great care regardless of whether she or a guest vocalist is singing. “During the process of writing the album, all of the songs turned into individual little babies that I care about a lot—it’s cool to share that to see how it gets interpreted by other people,” she says. Nowhere is her songwriting more emotional than on non-album track “Beachcomber.” “It was kind of like an endless piece of work for me. I didn’t know when to call it quits or when to stop,” she says. (The song happens to feature Herring’s girlfriend Amber, which could be part of the reason.)

When we call up Herring to talk her new record, she’s just getting home from a long day at her job as a web developer—not to mention dealing with a new addition to her household (“I have a 70-pound puppy that keeps trying to get to me,” she says). Still, she’s happy to discuss her new record, life in Lexington, and the story behind “Beachcomber,” which we’re pleased to premiere below.

NAME: Ellie Herring

AGE: 33

HOMETOWN: Lexington, Kentucky

“BEACHCOMBER”: It’s based around a vacation I tried to have with someone very important to me. A hurricane blew in, and we got trapped inside for three days straight. It was a terrible time and affected our relationship in a really negative way. “Beachcomber” was written as a way to discuss that. The line “When I said I was broke, I meant it / It wasn’t about money, it was more sentiment,” is exactly that: you spend all this money to get away and it completely backfires. “Beachcomber” was the name of the place we were staying. It’s about how isolation with someone really blew up in our faces. Looking back it’s funny, but at the time it was very not funny.

FEATURING AMBER: We were in a band together three years ago called Fair Heron and she was the main vocalist there. That whole vacation story was written about a trip we tried to go on. When I was writing that song I was like, come in here and listen to this. The look on her face… I didn’t know whether she was mad about it or thought it was funny. I was like, “We have to get over this one way or another, so let’s just finish this track.” She agreed to do the vocals on it.

LYRICS:  I’ll lay something down that I consider a sketch and start writing around that. I’ll literally just hit record and grab my mike and sing through a loop several times. Lyrically, I’ll take that and see what fits and what doesn’t fit. “Thinking JFK” was written that way all in one night. The subject matter was really specific and I knew I was going to sit down and write a song about what that song was about.  “10 Hours in Prague” is literally a dream of mine, to hang out in Prague, and see what it’s all about.

FAVORITE REMIX: Albert Swarm‘s [remix of “Thinking JFK“]. I was expecting good things from that, but he totally blew me out of the water, which I knew he would. He put more feeling into it, which I didn’t even know could be done after putting all of my own feelings into it. It was almost like he took it and just maximized all of that.

VOCALS: It is so stressful for me. I just get really freaked out. To me, I just feel like I’m listening to myself on an answering machine. Bringing a guest vocalist on is a huge relief and something I’ll probably do more of in the future. I don’t think of myself as a true vocalist. I could sit for two hours straight trying to record something that’s 10 seconds long, and I’m not going to be happy with it. I have much more fun composing and producing the actual instrumentation than I do singing.

WORKSPACE: I have a typical cliché bedroom producer thing going on. Lots of coffee.

INSPIRATIONS: Lapalux, for sure. I was also listening to a lot of Groundislava, Cid Rim, Edamame, and D33J. Honestly, when I’m working on an album, it’s distracting to listen to other work. I’ll either become extremely self-critical or I’ll get lost in consuming as much of someone else’s work as I can.

THE LEXINGTON SCENE: The majority of stuff I listen to is stuff I find on the Internet, but there is a scene here and I’m deeply immersed in that. It’s not very genre-specific at all. We all come together, whether it’s to throw shows or host shows or bring people in from out of town—we’re really trying to get more of that, instead of just playing out ourselves. We want to start bringing people in. University of Kentucky is here too, so that helps. You’re not doing it because people are going to show up and the show is going to sell out—you’re doing it for a whole other set of reasons. Just to have it exist in Lexington at all. It’s a little family that I’ve grown to love in this town, and if I do leave here, it would be extremely hard to walk away from.

FROM CLASSICAL TO EXPERIMENTAL: I grew up, from the age of seven to 14 or 15, learning classical piano theory, which was writing notation literally. Then I kind of fell out of it around high school. I’m a web developer and Flash developer, so really into geeky technical things, so in college I discovered MIDI equipment. All of this stuff clicked with me. The theory came back and MIDI keyboards had all of these capabilities aside from just sounding like a piano—I could make any noise at all. That was really cool to me.

KITE DAY IS OUT NOW VIA RACECAR. “BEACHCOMBER” WILL SEE RELEASE VIA TUGBOAT RECORDS IN JAPAN THIS NOVEMBER. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HER SOUNDCLOUD.