ABQ Green Room
By August Edwards
For Megan Ellsworth, nearly a decade of devotion to guitar and lyrics have culminated in a new solo project, and the artist feels like she's starting anew. As ELLSWORTH, the Americana singer-songwriter just released her debut album, Ellsworth. In this Q&A, we discuss the folk and Americana genres, creation through challenges, and what songwriting has done for this musician.
Ellsworth is full of lessons learned and getting through paralyzing life junctures. The album is intimate and pensive, and often it feels as though ELLSWORTH is there singing to you. Her dewy voice draws you in and might make you want to cry or dance. You can now stream the album on all platforms, and I hope you'll read on to learn a little about this Denver local!
ABQGR: What got you into playing music? How’d you get to where you are now?
ELLSWORTH: I grew up with my dad and uncle playing guitar and leading campfire singalongs with my whole extended family. I wanted to be like them, so when I was about eight, my dad taught me some chords on guitar. Regular kid stuff—I’d learn a chord, wouldn’t pick up the guitar for another three months, forget said chord, and then relearn it. I did that process until I was about twelve, and then I started playing and really liking it.
Guitar became this vessel for songwriting for me. And songwriting was another vessel for processing my emotions. I started writing songs when I was twelve or thirteen, and have never stopped. My high school had an awesome program called the Americana Project that was basically a songwriting class. Looking back on it now, I’m like, what a privilege. It was so important to my growth as a musician and artist, and I look back on those high school years so thankful for that opportunity.
Because of that, I ended up going to Santa Fe University of Art and Design to study contemporary music. That lead me to the University of Colorado, double majoring in music business and songwriting. I just graduated in May. Now, I’m in a band called Sister Neapolitan, and I also have a solo project called ELLSWORTH. It feels good to be coming back to my roots a little bit, pursuing this solo work as well as being in a band.
So, you are a singer-songwriter, you are of the Americana genre—what are some responsibilities that you feel as an Americana musician when you might see countless injustices within the genre’s very namesake?
I am pansexual and my partner is trans. Many of my loved ones are of a marginalized community, so one of my responsibilities is to help portray that more in the Americana genre. My recent single, “Dear Rosie,” just came out with a lyric video—and that song is very gay. I love it. I would say definitely more LGBTQ representation and focus in the Americana and folk genre, as well as people of color. So, we need diversity in every sense of the word because it’s pretty white and straight.
Right, and you’re showing that there is room for everybody in the genre. That being said, what does the genre of folk and Americana mean to you, as someone who wants to see more diversity?
I grew up listening to country music. I pushed that side of myself away for a long time, because I told myself, “no way, I hate country music, and it’s conservative,” etc. But within the last three or four years, I’ve come back to those roots and realized that there’s so much room for diversity and change under that umbrella of Country Western, Americana, and the like. To me, the genre means organic, homegrown, traditional. When I think folk, I think traditional music. If you’re looking at Irish folk music, that’s traditional Irish music. Or African folk music, that’s traditional music from Africa. [As far as American folk music], twang. Good ol’ pedal steel twang. Also, community. Because I’ve found that the community is so beautiful. They are also recognizing that there’s so much room for more people to come up and grow up into this genre. And everybody knows everybody in the Americana/folk scene, and I love that. Especially here in Denver—no matter where you’re from, what you do for your day job, everyone’s like, 'Wow, you’re awesome, I love that song, let’s be best friends.' It’s like a family.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as a musician and how were you ultimately able to stay creating?
To just talk about the elephant in the room—COVID. That’s one big challenge that I and all creatives have faced in this last year. I’ve seen a lot of creatives totally just dive into their art during this time, and I had such a hard time doing that. I had just graduated college. For pretty much eight years I was given assignments and deadlines to write songs, and then not being able to play shows because of COVID and not being able to get together with other singer/songwriters and bandmates, that was a stop in my creativity. I was floundering. I hadn’t written a song in months. It felt really weird.
But then my grandpa passed away in the fall, and my emotional dam broke. And my songwriting came back. I’ve been able to get back into the groove.
I feel like when you release a group of songs into the world, you’re like, ‘Okay, these songs are teenagers. They’re 18 going out on their own.’ So now I’m like, I can make new baby songs! You’re putting the songs into the next phase of their life and you’re creating more. I’m entering that realm again, which feels great.
But, those were two huge challenges that I faced recently, and I’ve made it through, which feels really good. And I didn’t, at the time, think I was gonna be able to.
What was the process of putting together Ellsworth, and how did it affect you?
For a long time, I went by Megan Rose. Then I realized there are billions of Megan Roses on the planet. Apparently, they all wanted to also be songwriters, and have Spotify profiles. So, then I started going by Megan Rose Ellsworth—my full name—and that just felt too long, and it didn’t feel creative. So, I stumbled on going by my last name, and that’s opened so many creative avenues for me in the sense that I can play solo, or I can bring a backing band, and it just felt like there were so many more options in being ELLSWORTH rather than being Megan. I love it. I love my last name, and I love that it’s my artist name now.
ELLSWORTH to me is possibilities, opportunity, and creativity. Kind of just giving me the space to be creative and pursue a dream that I’ve had my whole life. A lot of the songs on this album are pretty full production, and I’m having so much fun getting back into the rehearsal space. And ELLSWORTH feels so authentic and me.
What are some of your favorite tracks on this album?
For sure “Growing Pains.” I love how it’s upbeat, it’s not just a sad song. I love “Fall,” I love “Fight or Flight,” “Close the Door.” Those are my top four. And “Overboard.” My bandmates from Sister Neapolitan recorded harmonies on that one, and I recorded the ocean waves myself when I was in California last winter.
What’s the most valuable part of creating to you?
The way creativity is also a healing process. Songwriting is just me digesting emotions, and digesting experiences. I think the second most valuable part is how that creativity translates in the end when people are listening to a song and they’re also able to digest an emotion or feeling or experience. The reason why I create and write songs and perform—if somewhere down the line, I wrote a song about butterflies, and someone came up to me and way like, ‘Oh, my grandma just passed away and I really resonated with that song because butterflies were her favorite thing in the world.’ That would be the dream.
As someone who’s spent almost a decade learning and taking classes on songwriting, what’s some advice someone who is looking to get into songwriting?
I would say you definitely don’t need to go to school for it. I’m glad I did, because I was [a] baby before I moved to Colorado and started really diving in deep. But you definitely don’t need to go to college for it, though it was a cool experience. I would say just listen. Listen to other artists. And find out who your favorite artist’s favorite artists are. For example, I’m obsessed with Phoebe Bridgers. She’s obsessed with Elliot Smith. Now, I’m listening to Elliot Smith and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, I totally hear that influence in her music.’
Listen to chord progression, how they shape their chord progressions, what their melodies look like, the shape of their melodies, do they have harmonies or do they not, what their production looks like. But most importantly, how do they shape the story of a song? What kind of words to they use? Do they use rhyme patterns? Do they not use rhyme at all? You can just nerd out on songwriting, which I love.
Anything you’d like to add or plug?
I do have a music video coming out for “Growing Pains!” It’ll be out in two weeks.