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Songbird by Ellyson

Songbird by Ellyson

Ellyson Rainey is a senior at Greer Middle College. For her Senior Capstone, she had the privilege of producing an album. Ellyson takes a deep dive into why she got into music and the meaning behind the six songs on “Songbird.” I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Ellyson and learning about the making of this beautiful album.

When did you start writing/singing?

“I have been singing my whole life. I never really did anything with it. I was always into different hobbies. I could never keep them. I was never really passionate about anything. This is kind of how the whole album idea started. I was riding a horse one day. It was for our biggest show. My horse had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. He bucked me off and I broke my arm on a flagpole. I couldn’t ride in the rest of the fair. It was a week-long thing. I couldn’t do anything, but they wanted me to feel included. One of the dads ran the sound and asked if I would like to help. I realized that I loved doing stuff like that. It made me so happy. I don’t have a good history of sticking with my hobbies. I tend to lose interest very quickly, but I’ve sung my whole life. That was what really did it for me, and to think it all started with a horse.”

What was the main challenge for you?

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“There were two main things in terms of actually doing my project and my product. The mixing was so new for me. I enjoy having a set of rules and regulations that I can look at and follow because I like to make sure that I’m doing things correctly. But with music, it’s so subjective. It’s this world of art that you have to create, and you have to make the decisions. No one can make them for you. So, I had to learn to overcome my anxiety over making the wrong choice. You have to trust your ear. I know what I like and I know the songs that I wanted to make. I had to learn to trust myself. In terms of uploading, having something so vulnerable out for everyone to hear and judge, especially because it’s for a grade, was hard. I have dreamt about doing this since I was nine. Putting something, especially with the songs I wrote, considering what we’re going to get into and what they were about, was incredibly difficult. Music never stops. It unites people. It has the power to truly tear anyone down or build them up. To have that power with your voice at 17 years old is insane.”

What is the meaning behind your song choices?

1. Drifting
“It’s one of my favorites on the album, for sure. It’s also just one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written because it was undeniably me. I’m just happy I got to produce it. It’s meant to be a statement. It starts with, “I will slam hot irons onto all my open wounds.” If anyone knows anything about me, or even if they don’t, I like to think that I am this very tough person, and I like to come across as, I can handle anything you throw at me because that’s how I’ve always been. To a certain degree, that’s true, but it’s because everything kind of gets buried under that persona. The whole point of Drifting is open wounds; when you cauterize them, they do not heal. They are scarred and scabbed over. To say I cauterize my wounds that are still open and everything still hurts, and then never giving it a chance to heal, because you just like that feeling, you like that security you have in knowing that you can handle anything that’s thrown at you, because you have to.

It then goes into talking about how maybe this isn’t okay. Maybe I am just in waist-deep water, but I’m drowning. It can be taken 100 different ways. It doesn’t have to be one specific thing. But for me, I had a really rough freshman and sophomore year. I wanted to write a song that took everything I had been through and could say, I’m allowed to feel this way too. As the song progresses, it’s meant to mean I’m realizing that I am not as tough as I said I was. Drifting is for anyone who’s going through a hard time. When you know you’re drowning, but you can’t stop it. You can’t swim. The way I ended up saying it one time was you’re clinging to the banks because you don’t want to swim, but you’re way too scared to drown.”

2. Songbird
“Songbird is the last original that I put on this album. It’s about a guy from my middle school that I used to be close with. We basically had a big brother-sister relationship. I looked up to him. He was somebody that I really admired, though I shouldn’t have. He was not a good person. He fell in with a bad crowd. The more we grew together, the more I realized I was the only one doing substantial growing. He had a tendency to stay stagnant. Even when he did grow, he was growing backward. It was a regression. I realized that I had to let him go. That was the hardest thing for me. He actually said to me that I was not made for flying. He compared me to a bird a lot. Hence the name Songbird. He told me that no one was ever going to sing along to anything I wrote. I was never going to amount to anything. We had been close, and we had been through everything together, thick or thin. I wanted to write a song that was proving I’m doing this. Songbird is very metaphorical. It’s all about one person who is so dedicated to a dream and another person who is determined on tearing it down. Songbird is telling people, yes, I miss him. No, I will never go back. It goes on to say, “I would shred my vocal cords, shatter my hands so that I can’t sing for you or ever play again.” It was a reminder that you’ve been hurt. Someone told you to cut your wings. You’re willing to go back for them. Willing to take away the things that make you you so you can’t use them for someone else. I feel like we all have a Songbird in our lives. We were all given a voice. You have the ability to say things the way that you want to say them. You have this ability to speak out. It’s really up to you, do you choose to do it or not? In Songbird, it was, sometimes you have to. Sometimes you don’t want to cut your own wings. But they’ve been cut for you. You have to learn that you can still fly.”

3. Not Strong Enough by boygenius
“This was a cover I knew I wanted to do from the beginning. I love boygenius. I love indie music. I knew I wanted to do this one. I love Julian Baker, who’s part of boygenius. Honestly, this song has meant a lot to me. “Not Strong Enough” has always just been one of my favorite songs, and boygenius has always been one of my favorite bands. To have the opportunity to really make something your own was so appealing to me, especially because I knew I had a similar style. When I actually started recording it, I butchered it. It was really bad. You have to be confident in your ability to sing if you want to do well in a studio, and I’m not. I’m a ball of anxiety and lack of breath support. . .the part that was scary for me was the bridge because that’s the part everyone knows, where it says “always an angel, never a god.” It repeats itself for so many measures. During the production, I hated it. When we finally got into the mixing process, I told my mentor, I think we should scrap this song. He said, ‘well, you’ve already recorded it. Honestly, it sounds really good.’ I didn’t have time to fix it, so I couldn’t get rid of it. Once we finished mixing it, we added everything that made the song what it was. It became more of an upbeat indie song and quickly turned into one of my favorites. I’m glad I didn’t scrap it, because if I had I would have been so disappointed. I’m not one to quit when things get kind of difficult. Plus the fact that I almost scrapped it when it’s proving to be everyone’s favorite cover, that would have just been bad.”

4. Use Somebody
“Next was Use Somebody, which was also one of the covers I had chosen from the beginning. I was running out of time to pick my covers. Two days before I had to have my covers picked out, this song played in my car on the way to school. I thought great, it’s this one because I knew I could sing it. I’ve had several people tell me they like this song. Honestly, there was no thought behind picking this one. I think that’s why I was so confident to sing it. It took me two takes. I just comped those two together, which if you don’t know, vocal comping is taking pieces of the vocal and putting it together, makes a good lead vocal. But it went really quick. I played the guitar live. But the little tiny errors in “Use Somebody” make it human. I love that cover.”

5. Numb
“Numb was originally supposed to be “Blurry” by Crown the Empire, which both are rock songs. I let my dad pick because I wanted my dad, mom and sister to have some input. But when I started playing “Blurry,” I realized I just couldn’t hold it up in a recording studio. I’ve always loved Linkin Park. I chose “Numb” and I actually turned it into a string ensemble instead of a rock song. We kept the acoustic guitar driving the song, and there were no drums in it. There’s no percussion. It’s all string-based to provide that low end. There’s also a synth bass and a real bass that fight each other to kind of create the tension too. The fact that there’s no percussion definitely made it stand out. I had to record it in two separate chunks. I didn’t have the breath support to keep up with the chorus. I sang one line at a time and then I’d stop and then I’d sing another line.”

6. Acolyte
“Acolyte actually means a follower. It’s by Slaughter Beach, Dog. This was originally meant to be “Take On Me.” I love my cover of “Take On Me.” It’s one of my best covers ever. But once again, when you’re nervous, and you’re in a recording studio, some songs just don’t hold up. This is a song for a guy. Me and him are both moving away, him farther than me, and this was kind of my way of saying I’ll wait for you because I can’t go with him. But if you’re listening closely, there is a line on it that says, “Annie, I want you to marry me.” I didn’t mean to, but my inflection goes on marry. It was my way of saying I want to go with you and we could have this great life if you would just stick around. Music is my love language, it always has been. It’s the one thing that can perfectly get across how I feel to someone. I wanted him to know that I will wait for him and I would love to see him succeed in everything he does.”

Here were Ellyson’s closing remarks, “This was a big dream for me. Albums outlive you, so having that to be a constant thing is very cool to me, I guess.”

“Songbird” is out now on Apple Music and Spotify. Definitely go give it a listen!

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Ansa Thomas
Ansa Thomas, Editor-In-Chief
Hello, my name is Ansa Thomas, and I am the Editor-In-Chief of The Forge newspaper. My sister helped build this newspaper when it began, and I found an interest in writing from her involvement. The last three years on The Forge brought a side of me out that I have rarely seen. I am so excited to see where this year will go and what we can make as a team!
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