Published Nov 09, 2018Whenever Linnea Siggelkow writes music, she vanishes into a headspace she imagines, called "the fuzz."
"The way I describe it is like the static on the TV screen when you're between channels or whatever," she tells Exclaim! "It's a place where you're lost, where you're not grounded. That is a place I've found myself in a lot in my 20s."
This place was such an intrinsic part of her songwriting that her band Ellis's debut EP, as well as its title track, were named after the fuzz.
"I imagined an image of floating in static while I was writing that song," she explains. "The feeling of uncertainty and being lost. And then I sort of felt in every song there is a little bit of fuzz showing through, trying to get some clarity. You need to switch the channel for it to be clear. I don't feel like I've ever gotten there, but for me that was the most important theme, and so I chose that as the name of the EP."
Siggelkow has seen her share of fuzzy places in her life. Born in Saskatchewan, she grew up in the prairies and then moved to Ontario in her teens. Her immediate family is based in London, ON, but she now calls Hamilton home; she arrived in Steeltown after an unsuccessful stint in Toronto. Like a lot of creative types, she felt both the financial and social pinch of the big city to be overwhelming. In Hamilton, she found the relief she needed.
"I was ready to leave Toronto and I didn't have a plan," she says. "It was sort of suggested to me, and I knew a couple of people [in Hamilton]. It felt close enough that it wasn't too crazy an idea. So I quit my job and moved here, kind of on a whim, because I needed a change. And so far it's been a good change. I feel chill here in Hamilton. My anxiety has decreased, for sure."
Hamilton afforded Siggelkow not only more artistic freedom and less pressure to try and launch her musical project, but also more real estate to work — the motivation a lot of ex-Torontonians cite in a move westward.
"I had played one or two solo shows in Toronto, but I didn't have a band together and I wasn't sure what I was doing," she says. "But when I moved here, I think I just had the space — the literal space — because I shared an apartment with a roommate in [Toronto neighbourhood] Parkdale. Now I have the space to have my instruments out, which made me play more music. Also the head space too, of just being able to chill out a bit more and focus my energy on creating things. That all just happened a lot faster after moving here."
Hamilton offered a more pocket-sized music scene, but one that was tight-knit, more supportive, and surprisingly diverse. Her melancholy compositions fit nicely into a city that birthed acts like SIANspheric, Flux A.D., A Northern Chorus and Junior Boys, but Siggelkow says that in Hamilton, every act just seems to belong.
"There are rock bands like the Dirty Nil and Arkells, who are both blowing up, but there's also a huge noise scene and a good electronic scene," she says. "It's just a super supportive, hard-working and talented community, so I feel somewhere in between all of it. But there is this band Basement Revolver who are doing really well now too. We're a similar age, doing a similar thing, so it's cool to be coming out of Hamilton at the same time as them. So yeah, there's a lot of dude rock and strange electronic music here, which is kinda nice, because it feels a little less saturated than Toronto. Even the people that aren't into music are totally supportive of me doing it. I find that people here are just willing to help and come to shows. It's definitely different than what happens in Toronto."
The Fuzz is a haunting collection of lightheaded, distorted dream pop born of the sadness Siggelkow has felt over the years. When it comes to writing songs, she can't help but channel bad memories.
"I always call my music sad, and I think that is the overarching thing I write about the most," she explains. "But I think there are bits of hopefulness too. I write about my heart being broken, and I think most people have been hurt that way. For some reason it gives me some relief that I'm not alone in that. It makes me feel less lonely to know that we all feel that way sometimes."
Siggelkow laughs at the mention of writing a feel-good song. She doesn't think it's out of the question; however, the songwriting itch doesn't normally come to her when she's happy.
"I've never written a truly happy song. Maybe on the next record?" she giggles. "It's never really a decision to sit down and write sad music. It's just when I write. A lot of it is reflecting on things that have happened, even long ago, and the feelings that come up. Maybe I don't sit down and reflect on the good things enough [laughs]. I don't know if I could pull as much from happy feelings as much as I could from the sad feelings."
The name Ellis is a reference to her initials, L.S., an indication that despite the band now containing other members, these are very much the songs of one person. The decision to make this a personal project came after previously playing in bands where she had little say.
"I think I liked the idea of working in a collaborative project, but at the end of the day I felt more fulfilled writing my own songs and having a sense of ownership over them," she says. "In hindsight my name is stamped on it in this ambiguous way, which feels good to me. My songwriting is pretty intimate, so I think having [the name Ellis] as this personification of my experiences and feelings is really important to me. And even though these experiences are my own, I do hope that other people can relate to them and recognize their humanity in them to."
Originally Ellis was a one-person show, but Siggelkow quickly realized that she needed extra bodies to help her bring these songs to life.
"I did try it solo for a couple shows, and maybe that was the route I originally wanted to take, but I love the sound of a full band," she says. "I love crescendos and big builds and when moods change. When a feeling is exploding, I want the song to explode, and I found it harder to do that by myself. With a band I feel I can achieve that better. The vision I originally had for these songs is fulfilled much better with a band, for sure."
Buzz for The Fuzz has been strong, receiving praise by outlets such as Fader, Pitchfork, Gorilla vs Bear and Stereogum. Any expectations she had going into this have already been blown away. She hopes Ellis can hit the road soon, but already has time scheduled this month to begin working on a full-length with Aaron Hutchinson at Fort Rose studios in Hamilton. And while she still holds down two jobs in order to keep making her music, her goal is to make a living out of Ellis.
"I would love for music to be my main focus, and recently I've tried to shift it that way, but I work in the service industry, a couple of jobs, mainly to fund my music," she says. "I'm self-releasing this EP, and thankfully it didn't cost me a fortune. It was an investment and is continuing to be an investment. But I feel super motivated to pursue it and make music my priority. Music has always been in my life. I started taking piano lessons at age four, but never quite in the capacity of what it is now. I could never figure out how to do it before, but now if feels like I've got the time to go for it. We'll see!"
The Fuzz is out now. Watch the video for "N.Y.E." below.