May 17, 2023

Ella Stevens: The Student. The Performer. The Alum.

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At just five years old, a young Ella Stevens knew she wanted to play the piano. And so, she did. Looking back, that little girl was probably more excited about pressing the keys than learning the notes, but in the decade since then, Ella has grown into a passionate songwriter and a powerful performer. This Arts+ alum recently released her debut project, “The Album Sixteen,” and performed a sold-out show at The Evening Muse in Charlotte’s NoDa district — where so many independent artists before her got their first taste of fame.

We spoke with Ella about her musical journey, her inspiration, and what people can expect next from this talented singer/songwriter.

Why “The Album Sixteen?” What does this project mean to you?
"A lot of my favorite shows growing up had main characters who were 16, so I always idolized that age, thinking, “When I’m 16, I’ll be absolutely perfect like all these girls.” This album tells a story about this girl growing up and learning that she’s not perfect, and that’s okay. The number is very symbolic of the album since there are 16 songs, I’m turning 16 on the 16th of May, and I say the word “16” sixteen times on the album."

How long have you been working on this project?
“My entire life.” Every single song is in some way rewritten, even if just a chord or two, from songs that I wrote when I was still taking lessons with Lindsey. The first song I ever wrote was called “Rise Up,” and I used the same chords in the song “Sixteen.” The first song I ever wrote is now a part of the last song (the 16th track) on my debut album. Even if it’s only a lyric, it all incorporates something I did when I was younger because I wanted to keep the theme of making my younger self proud."

How would you describe your music style?
"I think of it as a “folklore” Evermore album [Taylor Swift]. For those that aren't as familiar with her work, my style is a bit of an indie-folk, Lumineers type of vibe."

Do you have a favorite song on the album?
"A fan favorite is definitely "Cry," which is Track 14. It’s one of my faves because it is a more recent song I wrote about family struggles with illness and having to work through that. "Stage Fright" and "In The Garden" are also favorites because you can really hear the storyline playing out."

What do you want people to know about Ella?
“I think my main message with the album and theme was that perfection should never be the goal. You can make yourself proud even if you are not perfect. The people around you will be proud even if you are not perfect. My age group is expected to present this perfect persona and “perform” all the time, I think it is important to take a step back. That façade doesn’t always have to be put up. You don’t need to pretend."

Who are your inspirations for your music?
"Originally it was my brother, Sam, who has also taken lessons with Arts+ for a very long time, as well as my other brother. I used to get dragged to their lessons, and I grew tired of sitting around waiting for them… I wanted to take lessons for myself. When I started taking piano with Lindsey, she encouraged me to have fun. And I always looked up to my older brothers and wanted to be like them — performing in front of people."

What’s something from your years of private lessons with Arts+ that you still appreciate or practice today?
“I had a lot of friends who took private lessons and dropped out early, but what I loved about both Drew [Skinner] and Lindsey [Horne] is that they taught me in a style that I understood. Both instructors allowed my own style to guide me, and that helped me learn the importance of doing things your own way. That’s how you have fun and actually learn more in the end.”

What do you think are some benefits of practicing music?
"Specifically with songwriting, there’s a lot of problem-solving. Learning which words and which notes work well together has helped me in conversations and essay writing. It’s really special that I got to learn this in such a creative environment with Arts+."

Stream Ella's music on Spotify and YouTube.