Peter Ellman is a gentleman and a scholar. He is also a talented songwriter, kick-ass musician, and a genuine supporter of women everywhere. Ellman recently invited AMBY behind the scenes as he recorded his latest EP project honouring female singer-songwriters at Splintered Wood Records in Markham, ON. Read on as we discuss the Land of Talk Reunion, working with friends, and why we shouldn’t shy away from the term ‘feminism’.
AMBY: Hi Peter, thanks for inviting us into the studio with you today! How are you?
Peter Ellman: I am good, thanks. How’s it going?
AMBY: I’m great, thanks for asking. Tell me about the project that you’re working on here at Splintered Woods Records.
PE: I am recording an EP of covers from songwriters that I really admire, and not-so coincidentally they are all female singer-songwriters. I don’t often see male artists, like myself, paying tribute or homage to female singer-songwriters that have really inspired or influenced them. The most recent example that comes to mind is Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift, but there is a different dynamic with that. I thought it would be a really cool, fun thing to do and I really like these songs.
AMBY: With Ryan Adams it was more of a breakdown and put together of songs, rather than from an inspirational standpoint?
PE: Yea, there was a bit of that for sure. Also, Ryan Adams is an alt-country-folk kinda guy and Taylor Swift is clearly a pop star. The Taylor Swift songs are great, Ryan Adams’ versions of them are great I and I would say there is a small amount of ‘tongue-in-cheek-ness’, just a little bit. I consider what I am doing to have a very different dynamic.
AMBY: Which artists will you be covering?
PE: I just recorded Land of Talk and Amy Millan. I want to do an Emily Haines song but her songs are so masterful and actually super-technical and way harder than I thought, so, great for her, not-so great for me [laughs]. I’m not sure if that will make the final cut. I’m also covering Tegan and Sara. I love them.
AMBY: So you actually must be pretty stoked that Land of Talk has gotten back together!
PE: Oh yea, I love them! I have been scouring the internet for videos and I actually found some of (Elizabeth Powell) performing at a folk festival in Orillia, which is just super amazing. I am so happy that she has come back. I don’t know what the reason for the gap was but I’m interested in knowing. I’m excited to see and hear more from Land of Talk.
AMBY: Hopefully they will share what they have been up to. It is always interesting to hear comeback stories and it will also lend some excitement to your cover series EP.
PE: Yea hopefully!
AMBY: So how did you decide which artists to cover?
PE: Primarily I chose songs that were important to me at various points over the course of my musical development. I didn’t want it to be a corny, tokenism sort of thing where I just pick some random tracks by female singer-songwriters; I wanted to choose music that is very important to me. All the songs I am covering represent a certain period of my life or group of friends that has helped me through something. Also, as I mentioned, the fact that they are women is very important.
AMBY: So almost like your life reflected through the songs that meant a lot to you?
PE: Exactly; my relatively recent life.
AMBY: Your formative adult years.
AMBY: You’ve actually shared some wonderful articles via social media calling attention to violence toward woman. Would you consider yourself a feminist?
PE: Yea, definitely. I think it is important to be aware of, and talk about these things and not shy away from the word ‘feminism.’ I think there is a gross misconception as to what feminism actually is – the word carries certain connotations…
AMBY: Almost a negative vibe..
PE: Yea and perhaps that is played-up a bit by people who prefer things to stay as they are and not effect change. I think that the first step in changing any sort of system of imbalance is acknowledging that there is a power imbalance, and I think saying the word ‘feminism’ does that. I don’t want to take any spotlight or time away from the stories and voices of women, or have a ‘look how great I am’ moment’, I just want to lend my support.
AMBY: Well your support is wonderful. Let’s talk music! Each of your musical projects has been firmly rooted in a DIY approach. What would you consider to be the benefits and challenges of doing it yourself?
PE: I really like being able to see something through from conception to finished product and when it’s on my own time I can mess around and get a bit weirder. Working with friends, such as Cameron (Kennedy, owner of Splintered Woods Records) and having someone else’s opinion, voice and help is great because sometimes, DIY can get you a bit bogged down. I definitely want to work a lot more with Splintered Wood Records.
AMBY: The studio is gorgeous, I feel so at home here.
PE: I mean who wouldn’t want to record in this amazing space. The sound is incredible and it’s also this really cozy, awesome local place to put in work.
AMBY: What is your favourite part of being in the studio?
PE: Creating something that didn’t exist before, or putting a new spin on something; being able to put something out into the world and share it with others. Also, working with Cameron is super fun and easy and absolutely stress-free.
AMBY: Ok so, speaking of stresses – you are in your final year of University! How do you find balancing being a musician with school and life?
PE: Terrible! [laughs] I think I am doing a decent job of getting by but time-management is ..
AMBY: Almost not even an option at times!
AMBY and PE: [laughs]
PE: I am just doing the best that I can and I think I am doing a decent job and getting through it and I am excited to be finished and be able to focus even more on my musical endeavours. Balancing school, music, work and a social life is a lot but also it is fulfilling to keep that busy. I feel like I accomplish a lot every week.
AMBY: I am sure you do! Once this project is complete what will you be working on?
PE: Well, a full-length album is in the works. I’ve been demoing at home and I will be coming back to Splintered Woods records for that. I’m also doing the PechaKucha event with the City of Markham which is a celebration of and creativity with an ever-changing lineup of presenters – I will be singing and playing with slides behind me and I’m really looking forward to that.
AMBY: Sounds pretty awesome. My final question for you today is: what is something about Peter Ellman that your fans don’t know yet?
PE: Well, I am vegetarian and straight-edge. The straight-edge thing is not something I push upon people at all but I find it interesting and am happy to talk about it
AMBY: So in terms of ‘straight-edge’ you mean abstaining from…
PE: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, any sort of substance abuse. It’s something I got into a while back and have stuck with because it works for me and makes sense for me. And similarly, with vegetarianism, I would never tell someone “eat this” or “don’t eat this” because it’s not something I would want done to me.
AMBY: Have you been vegetarian for a long time?
PE: Yea, about 10 years.
AMBY: Have you always known you wanted to be vegetarian?
PE: No, it was something I became more aware of in high-school and the more I read about it the more it made sense. I ended up trying it as a New Year’s resolution and see how it went and it stuck. The more I learn about it, the more it makes sense for me. I would never impose upon anyone but I am happy to talk about it with anyone who might be interested.
AMBY: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me today. Thank you to Splintered Wood Records for having us in the studio and I am excited to hear more from Peter Ellman!
Thank you Peter Ellman, for giving us your answers!
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Interview by Heather Cook | @Outroupistache1