the AU interview: Ernest Ellis (NSW)


Hello Ernest, its Amanda from the AU review, how’s the day been?

Pretty good, Keita and I have been buying more jumpers.

Ah yes I was at your gig a couple of weeks ago at Oxford art factory, and I was taking a look at your sweet jumpers you have on sale.

They go pretty wild for them, so we’ve just been out buying more.

Where do you get them from?

We just actually bought some from a big warehouse where you buy them by the kilo

Ah I thought you might’ve raided a grandmother’s wardrobe?

Nah (laughs) looks kind of like it though doesn’t it…

The debut album has arrived, how does it feel? ls it at all surreal that is has finally launched or were you quietly biding your time, waiting for that opportune moment?

Um, yeah I mean it feels good I guess, that its come out and people seem to be reacting well to it, our shows have been really great lately. I think that was the weirdest thing for us, we were talking about it the other week actually, 2 months ago we played in Melbourne, admittedly they weren’t headlining shows, but we played there and we were playing for you know 20 people or whatever, and then we went there again and played to a full room and it was the same in Brisbane, I think that’s a weird change for us. People actually do come to see us play, and they know the songs they know the record, that’s good.

I think especially now, exposure can happen so quickly. Upcoming gigs, firstly I see you’re supporting Florence and the machine throughout August, that’s got to be pretty exciting?

Very exciting, we’ve never played at the Enmore before…

Any chance of duet or collaborative ensemble?

Ah not that I know of, I don’t know, but it would be kind of exciting I guess.

If you had to take Florence out for dinner in Sydney, where would you take her?

(laughs) If I had to take Florence out for dinner, where would I take her…(pause) Oportos

Bondi burger? Not too much chili though

Nah not too much

Rodeo Rockfest is coming up soon too! Would you describe it as an interesting combination of events?

It is yeah, definitely, I mean a rodeo and then a show I suppose that interesting, I’ve never been to a rodeo, 8 seconds you’ve got to stay on the bull. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a side of Australia I’m yet to experience.

Aside from the obvious reasons, why was it important to be apart of Rodeo Rockfest?

I guess we’re excited about playing with You Am I, we’re excited about that prospect, they’re one of our favorite Australian bands. That’s exciting; we get to play 2 or 3 shows with them in Townsville and Ipswich. That was the initial incentive, also we get to go to places like Townsville and I’ve never been that far north, to us that’s going to be really interesting.

I’ve read that at the Rodeo they have introduced wireless keypads in which the crowd can select which rodeo rider that think will win. Any chance we’ll see you participating in some friendly punting?

(Laughs) Yeah of course, you can’t be half arsed about these things, ‘I’m going to a rodeo’

How do you think the mixture of Rodeo Rockfest, yourself and other artists will assist in the promotion of your two very distinct ventures/fields? (i.e. rodeo and music)

I understand the idea, people go to a rodeo to have fun, or they go see a band to have fun, you get enough booze into anyone and it’s going to be a good time. I think it’s quite a good combination. Very different, maybe they’re not going to be our sort of crowd; actually they’re definitely not our sort of crowd and the bands we’re playing with, aside from You Am I. But it’s still exciting and something different.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a little town called Lake Cathi, which is 20 minutes south of Port Macquarie, about 2000 people.

How do you think that environment shaped you into who you are today?

I think it obviously has a big impact, in a really small town you’re surrounded by a few people and then you’re surrounded by a million people.

It can be a bit make or break, as in it’s a massive culture shock

Yeah, a lot of people don’t cope with it, I mean I really love Sydney, I love living here, I think, the fact I came from the country was a really good thing, but to come out the city was also a really good thing. Even so, it’s inadvertently in my music, I don’t consciously write about anything, it just seem to come through in the music video video.

I grew up in Hartley, so I know the Blue Mountains area quite a bit, and I’ve read that you spent some time, nestled up in a cosy sounding cabin in Blackheath?

That was awesome actually, my grandparent’s own a cabin in Blackheath and yeah they never use it so it’s always empty and I just thought, you know why not go up there to record some of the album, we didn’t want to stay in the city to do it and we didn’t ant to use studios so we decided that that was the best plan.

What prompted you to decide heading west to the mountains would be an advantageous move for your creative process?

Yeah I think that was what was available to us, we could’ve recorded the whole album in the studio, but we were adamant we didn’t want to do that because studios are a pretty sterile environment most of the time, so we had Tim my co producer, his family’s farm which they made available to us and then we also had the cabin in Blackheath, so that’s why we used it, basically we just wanted to get out of the city to make the album, and those were the two places available. Was pretty interesting, a few challenges, but generally it was really great.

I just think you can gain a lot, being in the city I guess there is a lot of… concrete ha and you go out there and it’s just a breath of fresh air, clean and crisp…

Yeah totally, I think that really had an effect on the whole process and everything down to the artwork aesthetic, we went into it, I had all the songs written but the style of production, the artwork and the videos really seem to be some sort of effect that came out of recording in the country and recording in places that were surrounded by these wide open The Assassination of Jesse James type landscapes. It had a really positive effect.

Yes, you have mentioned the cover artwork of the Jesse James film

Yeah, it’s one of my favorite movies and I think it’s shot so beautifully, when it came to shooting the artwork, we just wanted to have something that represented the music and our reference point for that was The Assassination of Jesse James because it was such a beautiful film.

Does that mean for future albums you will be going through this same process or maybe choose a different environment?

I think we’ll definitely not record in studios for the next record, but in terms of the sound of it or the artwork, I think that’s something, I like to think that, everything evolves and everything changes, I don’t  really want to subscribe to a certain process of how to do it or what the artwork is going to look like or what its going to sound like. The best type of art flows subconsciously, and if it doesn’t, then you’re fucking wasting your time, you know its like forcing anything is just not a good way to go about it. We’ll see how it turns out, it might be completely different or it might run along the same lines, we’ll see.

I think it’s a great album and great album cover.

I’ll tell my girlfriend you said that, she actually did all the artwork.

She shot it did she?


Awesome! I think you can really get a sense of the Australian landscape and its enormity through your music, noticeably in Loveless and the music video, which was shot in?

It was shot in Tumut, the film makers friend had a property down there, they wanted to shoot it down there and it turned out great, it’s such a beautiful property and I’m always hesitant to leave anything to do with my music in other peoples hands, and that clip is one we just kind of thought these guys had similar reference point, Jesse James again, they sounded like they were going to make a really good clip. All of us were worried that it was going to turn out like Bon-Jovi playing on the mountain or something…


And mostly live clips to me are pretty naff, but the way it was shot looked really nice.

The effects were quite intriguing.

Yeah the cinema photography was really what makes that clip I reckon. Tim, is just awesome, I think he’s got a really good eye, I’d love to work with those guys again.

And with the video clip ‘Heading for the cold’ the bathtub, was that shot in reverse or something?

Some of it was, that was the most painful experience of my life!

What was it? Some sort of powder?

Yeah it was powdered milk, and I was in that tub, it was actually shot in an old mental institution in Rozelle, which is no longer in use so the hot water had been turned off, and I was in cold water from about 12 ‘til 6 in the morning, freezing cold, it was fucking miserable and I had to sing the some double time and backwards so it was hellish but um…

You had your little candles

Yeah I had the candles, you know, it felt like a real space odyssey moment, because my ears were under the milk and I couldn’t really hear what was going on…

Well if you got thirsty you know…

(laughs) yeah I don’t think I’ve had a glass of milk since

Especially not powdered…

It’s really put me off, but I think the video turned out ok, it wasn’t exactly how I had it in mind, but I think it’s still interesting.

Melody and lyrics, a bit of a chicken or the egg first type situation, I’ve read that the melody comes first for you and then the lyrics form with ease?

Again there’s not really a process for it, a lot of the time, that’s the case, the melody will come first for me and then the lyrics fill that shape that the melody creates, but I think, I like to write quickly because I think if you leave a song for too long, you have a melody and then you come back to it and try to think of lyrics and it’s kinda dead. You’ve got a certain moment in time to capture something and to capture what’s good about something and if you don’t get it then you may as well just leave it. I think that for me generally the melody comes first, but I try and get the lyrics and have some sort of moment where it flows with the melody, and then I just write it, if I can’t get it I leave it. I’ve left so many songs behind because Idon’t want to revisit lyrics and write something that’s just mundane and trying to rhyme with the line before it.

Well I suppose they have their place in the process.

Like anything that’s worth while its not the kind of thing you can put into a formula where you say ok I’m going to write the melody first and then the lyrics, its sometimes happens the other way round I just try and roll with it and capture it the best I can.

Whatever you’re doing keep on doing it

Thanks I’m glad you like it

Band members? Mat Gardner on Drums, Ben Morgan on Bass and Keita Tarlinton on Keyboard, how did the group form?

We’re just friends I guess, friends of friends, Ben my bass player, his brother I knew through the recording studio I was doing some work at and he just came along for rehearsals. Keita I just met through a friend and same with matt really. It’s one of those funny things really, there is never an awkward moment, none of us are good with confrontation, like fuck this person sucks, or we don’t get long it was never like that, it just happened really easily. That was really good, because it’s always difficult when you don’t see eye to eye with people, but we seem to be on the same page, it works well. You’ve got to get along that is the key, if you don’t get along and you’ve got to sit in a car for 12 hours, not going to work out. Although two of us are vegetarians, I’m not… that’s the biggest sticking point.

Keita: (in background) ‘and one of us is a girl’

Now the name Ernest Ellis, Pseudonym correct?

Ah yes, it’s my middle and last name, its not meant to be the adjective, that I’m an earnest honest man, well I guess I sort of am (laughs) it’s not meant to be a play on words that would be really lame, just my middle and last name. My girlfriend came up with it actually; I didn’t want to use my real name so she just said why don’t you just use your middle name, for some reason I just didn’t want to use my first name.

Looking at historical figures, lets take the Bronte sisters for example, Emily as Ellis and Anne as Acton. Their reason is pretty obvious, gender etc.

It was just one of those things I didn’t really think too much of it when I did it. I just put a name to a few songs and it went from there, I always knew I wantedto make music for a living it’s all I really want to do and know how to do, but I didn’t really think that much would come of Ernest Ellis, it’s one of these thingsI’ve just rolled with.

Lastly, if you were to describe the song ‘Heading for the cold’ as a food/meal, what would it taste like?

(Laughs) Umm, what would it taste like…Sour grapes… no that’s terrible, nah yeah sour grapes, lets roll with that. It really sounds appealing. Keita what would you say heading for the cold tasted like?

Keita: Ice-cream?

Ernest: How original!

Ice-cream with Milo, sprinkles?

A Golden Gaytime, can we say that?

Alright, we’ve got a few options there (Laughs) Good luck with the rest of your tour thanks for much for your time and the hunt for interesting sweaters.

Thank you, we’ve got 30 or 40 now, so we’ve got to keep buying, it’s one little production line at the moment.

It’s awesome, keep it up, and I hope you give the rodeo ride a go!

Yeah we’ll see, hopefully, thanks very much!

Find out more about Rodeo Rockfest:

Photo by Amanda Picman