By Leandria Mack
Accolades pour in from passerby as the band Ella Says makes its way to its first-ever interview.
“Great show last night”
Ahh, the first taste of fame for the three-man band after their CD release party at the El Mocambo last Thursday night.
People we don’t even know have been coming up to us with compliments about the show,” says Bassist and fourth-year RTA student Ryan Ruskay.
In a sea full of independent bands, it’s hard to find one that truly stands out. But Ella Says, led by guitarist , lead vocalist and songwriter Jeff Hannaford, manages to win audience approval with their versatility and melody-driven sound.
“If I had to categorize our music, I’d call it retro power-pop,” says drummer Ian Campbell. “All of the songs follow in the tradition of pop songs, they’re short and snappy. But we try to give it a heavier sound. It’s a retro because we all have respect for the history of music and rock ‘n’ roll in particular.”
Fans have referred to their music as “record collection rock” with obvious, and not-so-obvious, musical influences ranging from Elvis Costello to the Cure to Ella Fitzgerald(to whom their name pays tribute).
Despite having all come from Ryerson’s RTA program, bandmates Hannaford, Ruskay and Campbell have only know each other since May 1996.
“We never really hung around each other before we started Ella Says,” says Ruskay, who is Hannaford’s roommate. A five-song project led to their nine-track CD entitled My Everything & Where it Went.
“That title was taken from the lyrics of the song ‘Once’. It’s about trying to capture parts of your life and fit it into a song.” Adds Hannaford, “It’s not as obvious as taking a song title and using it as the album title. Hopefully, it makes people think about the lyrics.”
Ella Says recorded the CD over six months, making sure they took the time to do it well. It required hours of rehearsal in the Hannafords’ basement and grueling weekends recording in the studio.
“It was a humbling experience,” says Ruskay. “I learned that my playing needed improvement and you really get to know your bandmates.”
Campbell claims he was notoriously picky when it came to recording and here were more than a few times when he wanted to redo a drum track.
“It got to the point where the guys were getting really pissed off with me, saying ‘Ian, it sounds fine’. ‘Can we do that again?’ ‘No, Ian.’” says Campbell.
As the band’s lyricist, Hannaford is quite meticulous himself when it comes to his writing. He likes to write stories about people who don’t really fit in.
“One song, ‘The Plan’, is about a mental patient who falls in love with another inmate at an insane asylum,” Hannaford says. “It’s fiction because I’ve obviously never been in one, although some people would question that.”
The song ‘Enemy’ is dearest to Hannaford because of its personal connection. “It’s about my sister and how she was sick for a while and how I had to deal with that.” It was a last-minute addition to the album that stands out as a strong vocal track on the CD.
“I really get to wail on ‘Enemy’ and the band is really grooving on it,” he adds.
Ella Says has performed a dozen shows since last spring and their CD is now available at all major retailers in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. They say they’re taking it one gig at a time.
“We hope that if someone doesn’t like one song, the odds they’ll like the next one because of our versatility,” says Hannaford.
“Music is at the core of all of us. It touches us in a very special way, not in an illegal way-but in a special way.”