The tender ballads of indie-pop artist Squirrel Flower align sound with introspection. Boston-raised and Chicago-based, Ella Williams, aka Squirrel Flower, expresses her interactions with the world by layering harmonic vocals over soft, acoustic instrumentals. Having recently released “Planet EP,” which adjoins her 2021 album “Planet (i),” Squirrel Flower explores themes of love, friendship, and youth through a captivatingly gentle lens. The artist’s affinity for nature, and an ever-apparent bond with her bandmates, are central to her first tour of 2022. Ahead of her Valentine’s Day D.C. show at Songbyrd Music House, Squirrel Flower chatted with District Fray about her creative safe spaces and experimentation with new textures in sound.
District Fray: Where do you write your music?
Squirrel Flower: Often in my bedroom or outside. I go for a walk and just sit on a rock, a bench, or by the lake in Chicago. Lake Michigan is so beautiful, and when it’s warm I spend most of my time biking and sitting at the lake — it’s an amazing place to write. But, it’s really when the inspiration strikes, and I always carry a notebook with me.
What fit makes you feel at your peak performance?
SF: I’ve started being more intentional about what I wear on stage, because for a while I was like ‘f*ck it I’m on tour, I just want to be punk comfortable.’ But, I have this denim jacket that’s like a light trench coat with beautiful sequin detailing. I pair that with these huge, chunky high-heeled black boots that go up to my thighs. It makes me feel very powerful and very strong.
How’d you come up with your moniker?
SF: It really comes from my childhood, and was an alter ego that I came up with when I was a kid. I lost touch with it for a while, but when I was 18, I made my first EP and was going to start playing gigs and was going on my first DIY tour. I wanted a moniker — my name felt too boring, too permanent. So, I was just brainstorming, and thought of this name that is really more of an alter ego and a creative force, and I just went for it.
When people listen to your music, what feelings do you want to evoke?
SF: The nature of my music is that it’s very dynamic and runs the gambit of softer songs that are more introspective, and heavier songs that are rooted in anger, frustration or fear. The beautiful thing about being an artist and making music is creating these worlds of many different feelings and atmospheres. I want people to feel many different things, and whatever they need to feel, when they listen to my music.
Have you experimented with any sounds as of recent that have surprised you?
SF: I’ve been leaning back into the world of looping my vocals. That’s something I did when I first started recording music in 2015 when I was 18. I’ve been revisiting that, and it feels really good and really powerful. So, there will definitely be some live vocal looping, and using my voice as part of the band — using my voice as texture alongside other instruments.
What does “Planet (i)” represent for you?
SF: It was a process of me facing a lot of fears. I wrote the songs over the course of two years, and they were a very tumultuous two years with my health, and a lot of transitions in life. Basically, I was trying to tour as much as I could while getting over a few concussions that I got. I was feeling the fear of my body deteriorating, and feeling so dependent on the structure of my body to live my life. At the same time, when I was on tour throughout that period of time, I encountered a lot of natural disasters — storms and crazy flooding. I was in Northern California and saw miles and miles of blackened trees that were completely dead. At the same time, because everything had burned, there was new growth and new life sprouting up underneath it. I saw all of these different things as something I needed to start writing songs about, so that’s where it all came from.
What’s your favorite song to play between Planet (i) and Planet EP?
SF: I think my favorite song is “Sitting in Traffic” off of the EP. It’s one of the experimental ones in terms of the structure of the song, and it’s more ambient. I play piano on it, and that was a really fun experience. I think that song, and the performance and production of it, shows a very intimate side of music-making.
What’s the best part about touring?
SF: Aside from the music, the best part is seeing different landscapes and being able to go hiking, swimming, and being in completely different environments and elevations too. I’ve never been to Colorado, and I’ve never been that high up — ever. We’ll be there in March, and I’m excited to see how that feels. It’s amazing to be able to travel, meet so many people and see so many new things.
How are you feeling about the tour?
SF: A little nervous, but mainly excited. I feel lucky that we’re starting on the East Coast, because it seems like the Omicron surge over here has depleted, and I know it’s not the case everywhere in the country right now. So, I think it’ll be good. We’re a pretty tight pod, we have our way of touring safely, and so far it’s worked out. There’s definitely a bit of nerves, but I hope people are safe going to my shows. It’s a weird thing to navigate, and at the end of the day, for the people who are comfortable being there, I’m happy to share my music with them.
Squirrel Flower’s tour comes to D.C. on February 14 at Songbyrd. 7 p.m. $12-$15. Buy tickets here.
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