Soulful songbird, avocado fanatic, dream-weaver and goal achiever, Ellen Bryant may only be 24 years old, but she embodies more maturity and style than many others in the independent music game have to offer. She’s the glowing musical goddess, radiating positivity, creativity and the utmost passion, celebrating culture and inspiring other young artists to go and seek their wildest desires and dreams.
In the space of a year, Bryant packed up her life, moved to Canada to pursue her creative endeavours, released two singles with killer music videos to match, played a bunch of gigs and is in the works of composing her first EP.
Originally working as a dancer and singer at Universal Studios in Singapore, the end of her contract loomed, and Bryant knew she needed to make some life-changing decisions to get what she wanted.
“At the end of my contract in Singapore I had accepted two other offers for work. Within me, both just felt wrong,” she muses. “As soon as I made these decisions I just felt strange, like maybe it was the wrong choice. I think those feelings also came from being Australian, because when you grow up and pursue a creative career like dance or music, you’re taught that if you’re offered something, you take it because work is so limited in our country.
“There’s not a lot of opportunities because of the lack of support in the arts. I knew I wanted to be an artist but I also knew that I didn’t want to be in a theatrical environment anymore, as much as I love and respect that, it just wasn’t fulfilling for me. I’d been writing my own music for quite a while and I decided that I wanted to do music as a real thing and be respected as an artist and not as a person who had all these different things going on in all these different lanes.”
Speaking of the daunting challenges that she was faced with when mapping out her next steps, Ellen knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy transition. “Eventually I turned down my other work offers. I was terrified. Mostly about money, because obviously finance was a major player in the move. All I could think about was ‘Am I going to be able to get a place? Am I going to be able to financially sustain myself and my lifestyle?’
“Money is this horrible thing that is a part of everyone’s life and unfortunately it makes the world go ‘round. But I wasn’t going to let it control me, so I bit the bullet and just did it. As soon as I made the choice, I couldn’t believe I was considering doing anything else.
“When I arrived in Canada I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. Another challenge for me was the fear of not knowing how I was going to be received as a person and as an artist over there. I was always worrying ‘Are people going to like my music? Are people going to like my vibes? Do I even like my stuff enough to do something like this?’ It was total fear of the unknown, but I wasn’t even going to give power to that thought. I wasn’t going to go on another contract and feel empty in what I was doing. I’m going to go and do what I love to do, even if it’s going to cost me.”
Starting out as a singer/songwriter with a hint of guitar here and there, Bryant was always drawn to soul, R&B and world music. Her influences are evident in her current sound, creating something that would be the musical equivalent of hot chocolate; smooth, sweet and leaving a warm sensation flowing inside you. However, aside from her two biggest inspirations, Bryant seeks imaginative stimulation from a range of unexpected sources.
“Erykah Badu and Jill Scott are huge influences on me, but also just up and coming artists. People who are doing their own thing and being true to themselves. Moving to Toronto, I haven’t really been able to explore the Australian music scene as much as I would like to, but seeing all these artists here who have been up and coming for a while, listening to their music, feeling their passion for it because it’s not what they want to do, it’s what they’ve been put on this earth to do. There is nothing else for them because they just feel it more than anything in their lives. That is the most inspiring thing to me.”
Sporting African head wraps and large tribal-style earrings, Bryant sees her dress as a celebration of culture more than a product of cultural appropriation, a topic she is questioned on frequently. “For me, this is definitely an ongoing topic of conversation in my life. I love to learn; I love to learn the origin adornments; I love to learn the origin of clothing; I love to learn about style, about culture, where people come from. Just about everything. You need to know the foundation of something if you are to move forward.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m intrigued by creativity, and with that comes seeing culture as beautiful; seeing colours as beautiful; seeing many different things as beautiful. This really inspires me. After living in India I saw that people not only celebrate other people’s cultures, but also celebrate other people embracing their culture because it’s an act of appreciation and respect.
“I’m not wearing a head wrap to look cool at a festival. I wear it purely because I feel wonderful wearing it. I may be white, but I don’t believe that has anything to do with it because I appreciate the origin of where it comes from and I am, every day, learning about it. I will always support cultures if I am going to be wearing them. Because of these people who wear whatever they like to festivals with no past learnings or respect of the culture it comes from, cultural appropriation has really been brought into the public eye and into the media.
I think it’s really important to know where things come from if you’re going to be repping them. I’m always willing to be educated and I am always willing to educate others. Only then will people understand and no automatically assume.”
Her first single titled Soul & Beat she wrote on a trip to New Orleans in the summer of 2013. A feel good slow jam, it was written to portray the magic of music and the feelings of passion, amazement and love it brings to her. Vocals like honey and a sexy bass line backing them, the music video has a dark yet captivating feel, juxtaposed with Bryant’s warm demeanour.
Her second single, an upbeat, charismatic number titled Shine, was released in March this year. Not only is it a total toe-tapper, it focuses thematically on creativity, kindness and projects the message that Bryant is all about – being yourself and being proud and true to that. The music video was a collaboration with Canadian videographer Steve “ICY” Senga, and showed people from all over the world shining in their chosen artistic fields. Now working on an EP, Ellen is optimistic about the future.
“Both Shine and Soul & Beat are stepping stones for me. I’m very grateful for everyone involved and the creative process I got to experience with them. I’m excited for what’s to come, but when it comes to my EP, I’m not even sure where my life is going to take me. I can’t rush things because otherwise the quality of the art is shit. I have a bunch of songs, but I don’t think I would even use them in a studio session because when I get in the studio with my producer Juna-T, who is absolutely amazing, I don’t like to have things too planned because I feel it blocks my creative flow of being in the moment. I don’t want to become complacent in my sound and what I am capable of.”
Bryant is very open and vocal about her positive mind frame and the changes she has undergone as both an artist and a person. Despite the daunting and exciting manner of her choices, she remains thankful for the journey life has brought her.
“It has shaped me and it is still continuously shaping me, which I think is a really beautiful thing. As soon as I got off the plane, I said to myself ‘Ellen, you have got to listen to your intuition.’ That shit has never been wrong, but at the same time, I’ve never really listened to it either. With dating, with music, with life decisions, every feeling that I’ve ever had, I’ve never listened to my intuition, until I arrived here and I just made a conscious effort to really listen to myself.
“You should go with what you feel is right. Even if someone is standing there, offering you the best thing ever, whatever it may be, listen to yourself. If my inner goddess, or whatever you feel inside you, is unsure – don’t do it. That’s a vow I’ve recently made to myself, to follow for the rest of my life. I think everyone in their lives, no matter what they’re doing, are exactly where they are supposed to be.”