“I leave next Wednesday. It’s all becoming a bit real now.”
Gold Coast songstress Ella Fence is about to leave for a six week trip to the UK. And she’s just a little bit excited. We’re sitting down to breakfast at Rabbit+Cocoon, chasing a little sun on a chilly winter’s morning.
Ella’s just come out the end of a short season of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Arts Centre, one of 20 odd members of the chorus.
“I’m a singer / songwriter and normally just play my guitar, it’s kind of minimal,” she said. “So to go from that to a massive stage, a big production, a cast of 40, full band and just all these amazing artist directors and a producer was just really crazy. The experience as so phenomenal, just learning from people like that.”
She studied at the Conservatorium so working in a performance environment isn’t an entirely foreign experience to her, but Ella says it’s a different kind of learning.
“You pick up a lot from seeing what other people are doing, and working with actors and other professional musicians,” she said.
Of course, getting to rehearsals was easy, with the production being housed at the Arts Centre where she also works full-time. “I’d work from 8.30am to 5.00pm,” she said “and then have an hour and then have 6.00 – 11.00pm rehearsals. But I didn’t have to travel anywhere,” she laughed.
Performing in the chorus for a production like that isn’t something that pays and Ella chalks it up as experience which contributes to her own stage presence, as minimal as it is.
“I had never really workshopped my stage presence with anyone … and then this opportunity came along and smacked me in the face and I was like ‘maybe I should try out for this thing’,” she said. “In retrospect it was such perfect timing to want to work on my stage presence. And then work on this massive show where there’s no choice.”
As accomplished as Ella is, there’s one thing she’s never done, and that’s record professionally. Although she’s quick to say that she knows her way around a recording studio because of the wonderful facilities at the Conservatorium.
And that’s exactly what she’s off to the UK for. A Six week trip which includes two sessions with fellow creative types, time in a studio, and a few gigs thrown in the mix. That’s the plan, anyway.
“I start in the UK and stay in Liverpool, but my first stop musically is Brighton,” she said. “I go into the studio and we’re in there for five days.”
It’s there, at Brighton Electric that she’ll be joined by Dan Swift and Mike Lord (who has worked with Stonefield) to work creatively and play all the parts on a bunch of tracks she’s hoping to come home with.
“I’ve got a two week break after that to reflect on the music and let it all sit, and then we’ll go back with fresh ears after that and keep recording and working.”
As well as a gig in London, Ella will head up to Glasgow and then also visit Paris to work with Ken Stringfellow (Posies, REM). She met Stringfellow while on tour in Hobart earlier this year.
Ella’s trip to Hobart was something else. Eleven shows in ten days, a heap of radio interest, and ten of course, meeting Ken. “I’d never been to Hobart before,” she explained. “The people were so awesome and the environment was so great to play in.”
“I was playing at The Homestead and had finished my set and the owner came up and said Ken was playing on Saturday – and that he’s looking for a female singer to sing one of his tracks live – because he has a female singer in the recorded version. And would you be interested in learning the song and coming along on Saturday night?”
And it just so happened that that Saturday night was the one night Ella hadn’t locked in a gig yet. She played Salamanca, MONA and then performed for Edge Radio during the day and then waited nervously to be called to the stage by Stringfellow later that night.
“I was so nervous,” Ella said. “I hadn’t performed a lot of music and it was not a long time to learn it.”
“I’d said to him on the night – so, what time do you want me to get up to play and he’s like ‘I don’t know, I’ll just feel when it’s a good time and will let you know’ and his set was so long … and I was so nervous,” she laughed. Still, she says the fact that it took the control away from her and put her in this challenging performance space was a good thing. “And this was all prior to Jesus Christ Superstar,” she’s quick to add.
“So we actually hung out a little bit when I was in Hobart and he blogs as well and he’d said I was like firey and feral – but feral as in wild. Australian’s have a connotation of the word feral but he’s Parasian so it means something different to him. At least I’m hoping,” she said.
“Then he was playing at Bluesfest and he contacted me and asked I wanted to go to and it was on my birthday and I was like ‘yes I want to go to Bluesfest’.”
From there, Ella drove Stringfellow back to the Gold Coast and the plan was set – an invitation to record with him in Paris, which he assured her was only a hop skip and jump away from Brighton.
“I feel grateful every day,” Ella says. “Working at the Arts Centre is such a beautiful environment, the people are amazing. I get to work in promoting the arts, gaining specific knowledge on how to promote live music so I can apply that to my own stuff.”
So six weeks in the UK and then what? I pose the question to Ella. “I’m hoping, if I release it all together, that it’s going to be a mini-album,” she says of the tracks she’s wanting to lay down in Brighton and Paris. “Around six tracks,” she adds.
“As long as I’m not trying to push too hard to get too many things at the one time – I’m looking at doing a release probably early next year. I haven’t thought strategically about the structure o the release yet. But I’ll come back with a product, basically – an unmastered version,” Ella says.
We’ll be following Ella’s journey to London, Brighton, Glasgow and then Paris. And we’ll be the first to let you know when her mini-album is available for your listening pleasure.