Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

OMFG!: A Conversation with Deluka's Ellie Innocenti

Written by Nicola Goldberg
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“OMFG,” the opening track off Deluka’s album You Are The Night, is one of the best songs I've heard in a long time. It gets trapped in your brain and bounces around in there until it’s the only thing you want to listen to again, ever. Actually, the whole album is like that: full of smart, sharp, catchy pop rock songs that become your favorite as soon as you listen to them. Fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Franz Ferdinand will eat up this Brooklyn-by-way-of-Birmingham’s debut. And, I recently had the opportunity to interview Deluka’s impossibly cool frontwoman, Ellie Innocenti.

ElliefromDeluka.png“OMFG,” the opening track off Deluka’s album You Are The Night, is one of the best songs I've heard in a long time. It gets trapped in your brain and bounces around in there until it’s the only thing you want to listen to again, ever. Actually, the whole album is like that: full of smart, sharp, catchy pop rock songs that become your favorite as soon as you listen to them. Fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Franz Ferdinand will eat up this Brooklyn-by-way-of-Birmingham’s debut. And, I recently had the opportunity to interview Deluka’s impossibly cool frontwoman, Ellie Innocenti.

Nicola: When did you know you wanted to be a musician? How did you make it happen?

Ellie: When I was twelve my parents bought me a guitar for Christmas, a little classical three quarter sized one as I was tiny. I started having lessons and became obsessed with learning it, to the point where I would race home from school and play for hours until my fingers hurt, or play at lunchtime and breaks. I’m pretty sure friends at school would remember me as this little girl who had this huge guitar on her back 90 percent of the time!

It came into my life just at the right time. I was just at the age where you start discovering bands and music, and through my older sister I was introduced to the sounds of all the Britpop bands of the '90s. It was a huge time for music in the UK, and through playing the guitar I soon discovered I had the key to a greater form of self-expression in songwriting, especially for someone as shy as I was. To suddenly be able to say how I was feeling . . . was an invaluable form of a confidence boost for me . . . [songwriting was something] I was actually good at and enjoyed. Once you have that, it’s hard to give it up, so I just did it more and more until people actually wanted to hear me play . . .

Nicola: How did Deluka come into existence?

Ellie: I was playing all around Birmingham as a singer-songwriter, writing songs on my acoustic guitar and performing that way, but it had gotten to the point where all the bands I was listening to were definitely not acoustic based, but used electric guitars and electronics. I met Kris [my guitarist] through some friends, and we discovered that not only did we get on really well, but we both had what the other needed—me the songs, melodies, and lyrics, and he, the sounds that I craved and the production skills. From that point on we started writing songs together and hanging out at the local Birmingham venue, The Jug Of Ale. It was here that we met drummer Stevie J. Palmer and bassist Robbie G. We naturally gravitated towards each other for our mutual love of old dirty rock and roll, New Wave bands, and electronic music.

Nicola: What is your songwriting process?

Ellie: Our songwriting usually starts with talking about what kind of song we want to write. Because we write with guitars and with keyboards, our sound from song to song can vary massively when we amplify the use of either one of those instruments. Kris and I lock ourselves away in the studio and Kris starts programming beats while I’m present and from there we start building the song from the early stage of just the drums and the bassline. It’s hours of experimentation to produce the “sound” but the melody and lyrics usually slot into place pretty early on.

Nicola: What have been some of your challenges as a musician, as an individual, and as part of a band?

Ellie: I guess the challenges have been more the outside industry stuff that unfortunately you have no control over. The “is it ever going to happen?” definitely was sometimes a challenge to keep positive over the years. Kris and I had been writing songs and developing our sound for years before we got a record deal, and when we did it came in an unusual form, in America! It keeps you on your toes though and helps you to constantly be learning and not become complacent.

Nicola: What have been some of your favorite experiences as part of Deluka?

Ellie: I think my favorite experiences are when Kris and I are writing and we know we’ve done something good, that spark between us of energy and excitement, it’s addictive and something I don’t think I could ever give up. The travelling, getting to see all these amazing places, playing on stage with my three best friends every night is pretty amazing too—and getting to completely change my life and have the opportunity to come and live in New York. I still find it hard to believe this actually happened to me, and sometimes it feels like a dream. Coming here changed my life in so many ways—and is the best experience I’ve ever had.

Nicola: Do you have any advice for girls who are interested in turning music into a career?

Ellie: I would say my advice is just to work really hard and get good at what you do. I think when you are a girl in a band you have to be so much better than the next boy in a band to be really taken seriously. I would definitely say write your own songs. Songs are the only power you have in this business, and if you write a hit everyone is going to listen to you. You can be headstrong and know what you want without being a bitch about it. Trust your instincts. If you feel you are being pulled in the wrong direction by somebody then you probably are.

And most of all try to be positive. Things can change for you quite quickly, and opportunities can come even when you feel all is lost and in the most unlikely of places. I am a walking example of that . . .

Nicola: How has your taste in music changed over the years? If you weren’t making music, what do you think you would be doing instead?

Ellie: If I wasn't doing Deluka, I would be being creative in some other way. I like to cut hair. I cut the boys in the band’s hair and my own from time to time. It started out from necessity really. When you're on tour you need to be self-sufficient and keep looking good and like you’re part of the same gang. I find I see someone's hair and think [about] how I could improve on it [in] some way. I guess it falls into the same category as songwriting. I hear some chords, and I can't help but write a melody and lyrics over it. I see someone's hair and want to make it look better! Or otherwise, I would love to write for other people, or write novels. My imagination has always been pretty out there, and I think you need that as a songwriter.

Nicola: Deluka recently toured many high schools across America. How did you decide to do that, and what was it like?

Ellie: We toured high schools for nearly seven weeks, all around the US . . . We basically thought it would be a good way to reach a younger audience with our music. The kids that are too young to make it to the shows in clubs and bars and only really access music through TV shows like American Idol are not necessarily getting a good all round impression of how bands start out and become independent. It was pretty successful in terms of making some really solid young fans, who genuinely love the music. Most of the kids really appreciated a real band with original songs they write themselves playing live for them in their school. We were probably the first live band most of those kids had ever seen, and I like that, and if I inspire a young kid to go and pick up a guitar and learn chords and learn to write a song, then that's a really nice feeling. . . We're not too cool for school. We've always said we don't want to be this “under the radar band” forever. We want to share our music with as many people as possible. We don't write this music for it to be exclusive. We write intelligent songs that are very accessible.

Nicola: How is making music in New York different from making music in Birmingham?

Ellie: Making music in New York is not massively different from making it at home in Birmingham. It's like anything, the experiences you have within the place make for the stories and lyrical content of the songs . . .

Nicola: In what ways does the music industry treat women differently from men, and how have you dealt with that?

Ellie: I think it's easy to say the music industry treats woman differently from men, but the truth is you can get screwed over whatever gender you are. I personally just try and get on with it, to work with it, not against it, to know what you feel comfortable with, and if you don't like something, express it, and don't be afraid to say no! I have been making music since I was fourteen, but I am so glad I did not get signed at that age. I think there is a reason why women like Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, and Patti Smith all stood the test of time, why they are iconic, talented, and strong. That reason is because they were fully grown women when they started to make their mark within this industry. They had more of an idea of what they wanted, had had time to develop their talent and live a bit. It's not as easy to be pushed around by others if you're confident and comfortable within yourself.

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