Driving To The Top: Clash Meets Ella Eyre

On determination, and finding herself…

The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Ella Eyre is her youth. The singer has just turned 20-years-old – her birthday falls on April 1st – and she’s blessed with remarkably fresh features.

Yet there’s a steely side, a determination to Eyre that ripples through our conversation. As a child, the singer – real name Ella McMahon – was a keen swimmer, pushed further and further by her doting (if competitive) mother.

“I naturally am quite competitive,” she explains. “I think my mum is quite competitive as well, so I get it off her. Always in a healthy way. I think it’s important to have that determination to always better yourself.”

With her childhood flitting between London and Jamaica, Eyre learned to focus, to fix her sights on her goals. Accepted into the BRIT School, she was enrolled in a course for musical theatre before, quite literally, discovering her voice.

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“I didn’t start singing seriously until I was about 16, so what the BRIT School did was nurture what I had just discovered and what I wanted to do with it. You know, I originally went to the BRIT School learning musical theatre, that’s what I studied there and I loved that, but it didn’t allow me to be as creative as I wanted to be. It taught me that I liked writing, so I just trapped myself in the studio and started writing, really.”

It’s remarkable to hear her discuss these events as if they exist in the long-gone past. Yet they happened a mere three years ago, and since then the rising artist has passed through numerous stages of development, altering, shifting and evolving with each step.

“I was quite strong-headed when I was 16,” she says. “I was quite bull-headed, I had all these views and I was very opinionated. I think, when you’re a teenager, you think you’re right all the time! But I think I’ve learned to sort of co-operate a little bit more over the years.”

Gradually learning to accept outside influences, Eyre almost seems to miss her strong-willed, utterly youthful approach. “As a teenager I had a slightly more feisty approach to the way I wrote – I didn’t care how it would be portrayed. I think I miss that now, that disregard for the outside world. So yeah, I think I’ve just grown over the years – God, I sound so old when I say that!”

Collaboration is key to Eyre’s career. First coming to wider attention via a performance with Bastille, it is her connection to Rudimental – she sang on smash-hit single ‘Waiting All Night’ – that broke her in the public consciousness.

“I’d just started working with my management,” she explains, “but I’d never written a song before in my life. So they chucked me in the studio with some producers and a writer and I sort of learned from there. I prefer writing on my own, but I’m also quite good at bouncing off people.”

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Rudimental feat. Ella Eyre, ‘Waiting All Night’

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Using her time with Rudimental to learn how to adjust to a live audience, Eyre is now ready to step out on her own. Last year’s ‘Deeper’ EP marked the arrival of a distinctive, original voice – one that effortlessly pieces together the influences that linger around her imagination.

“I had a sound in my mind. I mean, I’d grown up listening to certain music and I enjoy that music, so I love the drum ‘n’ bass stuff but I feel like I grew out of it very quickly. I like to think of it as soulful pop – I love old, great soul and new soul as well. I’ve always been a bit partial to a bit of pop.

“Everything I write about is a true and honest experience that I’ve had. But I try to write it in quite a vague way because I don’t want the listener to feel like they’re listening to my problems. I almost want them to relate to what I’m saying and relate my words to situations that they’re going through.”

Extremely determined, Eyre’s focused, single-minded nature hasn’t prevented her from accepting alternative viewpoints. Yet these influences are seeping into her own worldview, allowing her to really pick apart what it means to be Ella Eyre.

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Driving To The Top: Clash Meets Ella Eyre

This year is about establishing myself as a solo artist. It’s like the introduction to Ella Eyre…

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“On the album I don’t think there’s going to be any collaborations, because I did so many features last year. So this year is about establishing myself as a solo artist. It’s like the introduction to Ella Eyre, and I can only hope that people enjoy it as much as I do.”

Ultimately, her debut album will be defined by the rollercoaster ride she’s has enjoyed across the past three years. Rising from a total unknown to the top of the charts, the singer has resolved to remain true to what she feels is right for her.

“Some of the songs I’ve got on the album can be quite in-depth and lyrically quite vulnerable, but then you’ve also got the feistiness that I am trying to portray. So, I like to think of it all as a diary of the last three years, just because it is so up and down. It isn’t all on one level, it isn’t all just one tempo or all in one emotion, there’s quite a lot of aspects to it.”

Working with a band in the studio, Eyre is still learning to let go. Equally, the band is also learning that, sometimes, her way is the only way.

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‘If I Go’ (audio)

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“My band have been with me for about a year and will remain with me for as long as I’m allowed. I’ve had such a great time. It’ll be like being back at boarding school again, I’m really excited.”

“I’m generally quite open to opinions,” she insists, “because for me, when you’re doing a live show, it’s a show: you’re not just singing the songs, it’s not just karaoke.” Yet it doesn’t take long for that competitive nature to assert itself: “Oh yeah, it usually doesn’t take very long for them to get that!”

With her debut single proper, ‘If I Go’ and album both arriving in 2014, Eyre admits that this could well become an extremely special year for her. Yet the singer seems able to take all this in her step, returning to the values her mother imbued in her. Driven yet fair, there’s an ambition that just won’t quit.

“That won’t leave me until my mum does, and I do hope she’s with me for life because my mum’s very driven and very strong and she definitely doesn’t let me get away with anything,” she concludes. “So now that I live on my own, I’ve branched out and I’m an adult as some people would say, I definitely think that it’s something that I can give people.”

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Words: Robin Murray
Photos: Marc Hibbert (website)
Fashion: Leanne Trigg (full credits in issue 95 of Clash magazine)

Ella Eyre online

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