Never one to be scared of juxtaposition, Hannah Ellis leads her debut album — That Girl, which came out on Friday (Jan. 12) — by proudly declaring her messy, human complexities. She contains multitudes, even when it comes to her look.
“Like, I always say that even my fashion style is: Kendall Jenner goes to a Luke Combs concert,” Ellis jokes to Taste of Country, speaking about her That Girl track, “Wine Country.”
“We just had a blast writing that song, and just capturing, really, who I am as a person,” she adds. “I think that song helped me find my role in the country music family, as the ‘bougie country girl.’ That’s what I do. I love nice wine, but I’m gonna drink it out of a Solo cup. You know?”
It’s no wonder that Ellis has such a keen awareness of her personal brand and what she brings to the country music table: She’s spent the last decade writing songs for other country artists, including Russell Dickerson and Carly Pearce. Life as a working songwriter indoctrinated her into the business of country music — where confidence in who you are, especially as a female artist, is essential — and taught her the nuance of how to portray a self that isn’t all entirely one thing or another. Real human identities are an amalgamation of (sometimes contradictory) personality traits.
That skillset would come in handy when it came time to record her own debut album. Though a 2015 publishing deal focused her on songwriting at the outset of her career, Ellis never lost sight of her dreams of country music stardom, and she co-wrote every song on That Girl, wanting to make sure that the project represented her personality and her musical identity as faithfully as possible.
“[These songs are] stories I was meant to tell,” she reflects. “That’s why I chose them: They’re either stories that are exactly true to my life or things I’ve lived with or had similar experiences to. I definitely think my take on how I share that information is what makes me a unique artist.”
In many cases, they’re also songs that she could’ve never given away to another artist — like “Too Much and Not Enough,” a ballad that names and tries to overcome her deepest insecurities.
“I think it would’ve absolutely broken my heart if anyone else sang it,” Ellis admits.
“I feel like it was half songwriting session, half therapy session,” she continues, remembering the day she and her co-writers, Emily Weisband and Tofer Brown, wrote the song. “I didn’t want any single line to not be true. I wanted to make sure that every single word we said in that song, none of that was, ‘Oh, other people might relate to this more.’ Everything that I sang is stuff that I feel in my heart. And it just turned out that a lot of other people feel those things, too.”
“Wine Country” and “Too Much and Not Enough” swing between two extremes — playful whimsy and excruciating honesty, breezy pop-country and vein-opening storytelling — but both modes, and everything in between, are true to Ellis. That’s why she picked “That Girl” as the title track of the record.
“It really captures the essence of the whole record. It’s all about saying, ‘Hey, sometimes I’m overly emotional.’ But it’s about embracing that and saying, ‘It’s just who I am and I’m not afraid of it,'” she continues.
“So often, people think you have to be just one thing. Like, ‘Oh, that girl’s just the life of the party.’ Or, ‘Oh, that girl is really deep.’ But I feel like what I capture in that is, that girl can be all those things,” Ellis adds. “All of those things can apply to one singular person. It’s what makes us unique.”
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Gallery Credit: Carena Liptak
Country Music News – Taste of Country