Daily Discovery: Ella Isaacson Teams With Gallant To Shatter “Expectations”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Ella Isaacson stares down expectations. Raised in a traditional Jewish family, with New York City at her fingertips, Isaacson barrels down an unconventional path. She makes gloriously breathy, lush pop music, and her tone is irresistibly hers. But there comes a bit of pressure. “I have chosen to do art with my life. That’s always an interesting thing. My family is very supportive, and I’m very lucky,” she tells American Songwriter over a phone call last month, “but I also see my choices and how they affect my family in that waiting game of when it all comes together.”

Her new song “Expectations,” a team-up with college friend and fellow pop mastermind Gallant, manages to worm into the ears but give her space to reassess her own life’s journey. “I had different expectations, too,” she sings between transfixing pop shimmers. In stepping back from a relationship, or perhaps life itself, she realizes it isn’t exactly what she had dreamed it would be.

With Stargate producing, the song was born out of Isaacson’s need to grow, stemming from copious amounts of poetry and lyric writing. “I’m somebody who always writes down words and concepts,” she says. “Sometimes, I’ll write things down and I don’t need to flesh out that thought right then. But that was one of them that got to me right away. Later, I saw that, and I needed to say something.”

“Even in those initial notes, I had probably had a bunch of lyrics I used in the song. Then, it was only a few days later, or the next week, I brought it into the studio. I showed [my co-writer, Benjamin Samama] the notes.”

Stargate (Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen) hopped aboard to produce, coming on the heels of laying down Isaacson’s debut single, “Naked.” Together, the synergy was immediate, contagious, and unavoidable.

Gallant, with whom Isaacson had taken an analog class during their NYU studies, entered the picture later to flesh out the song and add in his own verse. “Told you that I’m not the type to commit / But I broke my own rules,” he croons. “Claiming that my love is counterfeit / Sounds like another excuse.”

Isaacson’s roots, from training in classical piano, opera, and theatre, as well as a fascination with poetry, serve her well. “In terms of songwriting, I’d always been into poetry. That started really young for me. It was a natural thing I did,” she says. “I was quite introspective and an introvert as a young person. My way of handling that was to write poetry.”

13 was a turning point. Her cousin, then a producer for TV and film, instilled her with the knowledge that making music could be a viable career option. “I knew there was actually an ability to be a songwriter and a producer,” she says, citing such early influences as Avril Lavigne, Green Day, Rod Stewart, and Keith Urban. “I sat down and wrote a song in one sitting. I called my cousin and said, ‘Hey, can I come over, I wrote a song. Can you record my first demo?’ He did.”

Her father, an ear/nose/throat doctor, gave her a similar one-up advantage quite early on, as well. “When I showed an interest in singing, my dad would go to these conferences for work with these major vocal coaches who’d come to teach doctors how to better take care of their vocalist patients,” she recalls. “My dad would go up to some of them and ask, ‘ ‘Hey, My daughter sings. Would you be her coach?’.”

One of those coaches was William Riley, most known for working with Celine Dion and Shakira. Isaacson was no more than 15 or 16 at the time. “He’s like, ‘You know, I trained Celine, but I also pretty much train opera singers. This is a very young client,’” she remembers with a laugh.

Stars continued to align. She began writing and recording with bigger names, booking sessions with the likes of Dave Tozer and Jeremy Skaller, among a slew of others. You could say it was meant to be.

Isaacson emerged under the Ryder moniker in 2015 and issued a series of singles, including the viral sensation “Pretty Little Gangster,” “Ruins,” and “Fade Away.” But it all didn’t seem like her. “They were wanting me to be someone else and be the next Billie and be that or this. When I had put out that music, I was figuring things out. I was still a kid,” she says. “I had put out my first music on SoundCloud, and I was really lucky to get that initial success that I did. But I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. Sometimes, when you stumble upon things, there is less of a plan, and you’re sort of going with it. There were points, I did feel it wasn’t who I authentically was.”

In her early LA days, she was met with expectations, you could say, from label execs, managers, and other industry tastemakers who kept forcing her into one box or another. “It was tough. As a young person, you’re still finding your identity. To have people come in and make you insecure and want you to be someone else that’s already out here is very confusing. I didn’t do well in that scenario. I wasn’t actually feeling like I was getting anything positive out of it.”

“I had to disconnect to reconnect,” she adds.

“We feel this insecurity that if we say something isn’t great or if we question something,” she continues, underscoring her journey as a woman in the business, “and that you become this crazy person or the person who asks too many questions. That’s really unfortunate.”

She struggled for a number of years to find her voice, but several trips to London and Sweden changed everything. She fell in love with music again, discarded all previous notions, even the self-imposed ones, and returned last year with a song called “Naked,” a potent, soulful ballad co-written with Samama.

Far more self-assured, surrounded by a supportive team and family, she is “finally telling stories about myself in a lot of ways,” she says.

“I went from not writing about myself to then writing about myself, and I think as you mature as a person, you grow into a place where you’re more comfortable talking about yourself. Doing that inner development as a person is also really important for your writing.”

Going out and really living life became the bedrock of her confidence, as much as her songwriting growth.  “My first few years of making music in LA, I was just in the studio constantly. I didn’t make a life for myself or make the effort to go out and experience things,” she says. “Once I did, it drastically changed my world. Then, I had things to talk about. I wasn’t reaching for things. They were coming to me. They were things existing in my daily life.”

A body of work is certainly on her mind, but for now, her concentration lies on building a sturdy singles foundation. Plotting a game plan is ever-shifting, given the state of the world, yet she remains energized, creative, and intensely expressive. “I’m a really motivated person, so if I’m not moving 24/7, some days are hard. I’ve had to push through sometimes. Some of the days, you get the most inspired you’ve been.”

“I’ve been engineering And recording myself more than ever because it’s really the best way I’ve found to continue working from home,” she adds. “It’s really been nice to push myself and sharpen my skills.”

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