By Nicholas Jason Lopez
If you want something done right…
The treacherous demands of touring led Ella Dawn Jenkins to think outside the box and design anything and everything that could possibly fit in an airplane’s overhead compartment – most namely, her own unique harp and banjo.
Of course, there were other things she built that have gone beyond travel sized-commodities (her own clothing, a 120 square foot tiny house), but her harp/banjo have commandeered her career the most, as she donned the moniker “EllaHarp” and fully embraced the DIY lifestyle.
Notable for the standout single “Sunshine And Roses” that looks to expand traditional expectations of what the harp can actually do, the San Francisco singer-songwriter dropped her nine-track sophomore effort ‘Screaming Into The Void’ this past September – an emotionally vulnerable mixture of pop, Americana and folk that represents her own personal growth.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with her about ‘Screaming Into The Void’ and more.
Music Bugle – How did you decide your artist name?
EllaHarp – Honestly, when I was 18, I needed a vaguely professional-esque email address as I headed off for music college and it’s followed me ever since. My name is Ella and I play the harp, so not much in the realm of creativity, but it gets the point across!
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your album ‘Screaming Into The Void’?
EllaHarp – A big one was just getting the thing out and being able to play a few shows! The album was supposed to come out in 2020, but then so were a lot of things wildly disrupted by the pandemic. Creatively though, my only real goal with albums is to capture the essence of different chapters of my life. I wrote “Sunshine And Roses” in 2017 shortly before my first album came out – ‘Who Asked You Back’ in 2018 – and “Black Road” was written after a gnarly car accident totaled my truck in pre-pandemic 2020, so it stretched across a lot. I’m happy to have worked with producer Andrew Heringer on this album that brought the songs to life in a way I had only heard in my head and feel very grateful for that.
Music Bugle – How would you describe San Francisco to someone who has never been there before?
EllaHarp – First off, bring a sweater! (Laughs) It might be summer elsewhere, but can be really cold/foggy in SF. It’s a gorgeous city with a vibrant artistic presence and an infectious energy that makes you love it even more. I may be slightly biased, but I think it is unmatched in unique, urban nature, architecture and beauty.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
EllaHarp – Depends on how you look at it, in terms of subject difficulty “Black Road” was tough, because I wrote it three days after rolling and totaling my truck on the freeway going 70 miles per hour. Physically, I was mostly unharmed, but the emotional toll still weighs on me sometimes and that first week was hard to process. As far as technical difficulty, “Bittersweet” gave me some grief. I had the chorus and half a bridge, but no verses for ages and ended up forcing myself to come up with something minutes before going on stage to perform at one of my biggest opening gigs. Somehow, I didn’t totally bugger it and it’s stayed the same ever since.
Music Bugle – What made you want to put out “Sunshine And Roses” as a single?
EllaHarp – “Sunshine and Roses” is special to me, because it’s about depression. To be fair, many of my songs have depressive underlines since creativity and songwriting is one of the tools I utilize to navigate out of bad mental states, but it is the first where there is no work around backstory. It’s literally only about depression, to serve as a reminder that it’s okay to not be okay. That in itself was a hard one for me to realize myself, so it’s particularly significant on a personal level.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
EllaHarp – From a business standpoint, it obviously is big help if you can get the swing of it. Of course, there’s so many platforms now and we’re are supposed to be good at all of them and it can be really, really hard to keep up. Over Covid, I spent a lot of time learning how to run social media ads on Instagram and Facebook, which has been great and has gotten me a great following, but that can be its own weight as well, because the pressure is so increased. That said, I’m very grateful for what I’ve been able to build on Instagram and try to keep focused on the “love” side of my love/hate relationship with social media.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
EllaHarp – In odd timing, I was almost grateful for the disruption. For about two weeks after my car accident mid-February 2020, I had to keep pace with normal life – promoting, driving to gigs, going to work, etc. – and I felt so mentally exhausted and traumatized by the experience that I was really struggling and had no idea how I was going to keep it up. All I wanted to do was hide under my blankets and turn the lights off for a year and less than a week later, the world was like, “Here. You don’t have to do anything for 18 months. Okay?” Of course, it was hard not playing gigs and losing all the income from everything cancelled, not to mention the global disruption and so many lives lost, but I feel grateful to have found a lot of beauty in the desolate days of lockdown.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
EllaHarp – I have been deep diving into old Dylan and Joni Mitchell recently. He has such a way with words and her vocal tone and lyrics are just unmatched. Always a huge fan of Gregory Alan Isakov and The Lumineers.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
EllaHarp – The beach. I’ve structured my whole life around being able to live close to oceans because it’s such an important outlet for my mental health. Even just sitting in my little old car staring at it does wonders.
Music Bugle – What do you feel is your biggest challenge lately?
EllaHarp – Wrangling my scattered mind, but that’s always the same answer. I am the definition of “jack of all trades” – and master of not one – sewing, knitting, drawing, designing/building my instruments, making this and that and with also running my own business. It’s like juggling rabbits in there, but I do like to think I’m getting marginally better at it, or at least, always trying!
*Photo Credit – Holly B Rose Photography*