On the Radar – No 238: Ela Orleans is a name that has been popping up on gig posters throughout Glasgow with increasing regularity this past year.
Despite increased exposure on the live circuit, the Polish-born artist remains one of the hidden gems of the Scottish music scene, and boasts a wonderful back catalogue stuffed full of understated psychedelic pop songs and atmospheric soundscapes which beg to be discovered.
Ela spoke to Chris Tapley about her love for Glasgow’s music community, prolific recording habits and her current projects.
Ela Orleans may be a name unfamiliar to most Glasgow gig-goers but the creative performer is beginning to change that during her second spell living and performing in the city, after time spent away living in New York and Warsaw. Despite Ela’s globe-trotting pedigree she was always drawn back Scotland.
“I moved here in January 2012, but I also lived here between 1997 and 2000,” she says. “When I came here for the first time I considered myself a painter and had some ambitions to become a theatre director, then producer. Music was a secondary, therapeutic thing. I got spoiled with the community almost coming to me and making me feel accepted even though the character of what I do is quite reclusive and withdrawn.”
It’s clear from her enthusiasm for the city that Ela has been made to feel very much at home by Glasgow’s musical community, and as someone who has played all over the world, she considers it one of the best.
“It doesn’t compare,” she says. “It’s healthy and genuine here. Everybody seems to do art or is in a band and nobody seems to make a big fuss about it. It’s just a normal lifestyle here. It is borderline utopian, for me anyway.”
That kind of environment may well breed a feeling of nirvana for an artist who has gradually built a fanbase through word-of-mouth and insatiable productivity. For years she has been producing a steady stream of high quality solo releases and wonderfully unpredictable collaborations.
“But there is no other way for an artist than to be prolific!” she argues. “It’s a work ethic… I am a musician so I am going to make music all the time. If I was a baker nobody would praise me and call me prolific because I made many cakes. I just treat it as my job.”
This work ethic is hardly surprising given the studious and reclusive way in which many of her recordings now take shape . “I joined Hassle Hound in 1998, but when I moved away from Scotland, I started to make my contributions alone and send them over to UK,” she says. “I realised then that I so much prefer to work on my own. I became obsessed with my four track [recorder] and then digital recording.”
Many of the sounds on Orlean’s recent work have a homemade quality – a warm and tangible sense of caring clearly invested in each individual sound, an effect that is often wrongly labelled as ‘lo-fi’. More than anything else, her careful production style creates a boundless sense of sonic curiosity, a feeling of wonder which manifests itself in her songs skipping freely between perceived genre boundaries.
“I just recently moved to the studio, but I am still using the same equipment,” she says. “I always record to the broadcasting standards so it definitely is not lo-fi. I think the sound I managed to create in my recordings is just produced to please my own ears, which I believe I can trust, I am trying to make it pleasant and rich. I do use sounds which are rough or hazy, but they are just filtered or recorded from specific distance.”
Some of those hazier and more provocative sounds are evident on her latest release, a collaboration with Glasgow based noise producer Liam Stefani, who records under the name Skitter.
“De Flechettes is the third project I’ve released with Skitter,” Ela says. “It explores our mutual fascination with industrial music and noise. I can’t speak for Liam and I think that for him the project was something else, but for me it was heavily influenced by disturbing world news, which I have been quite obsessed with and echoed my very personal fear of war and general worldwide screw up. I guess I let it become the image of my depressed and confused mind.”
While this is one of the more abrasive sounding projects in Ela’s discography these kind of experimental collaborations fuel the versatile nature of her catalogue and are a big part of her work. When pressed on her dream collaborator she reveals a little about an upcoming song with some much softer sounding luminaries of the local music scene, as well as a number of other projects lined up for the rest of the year.
“I recently asked Katrina and Stephen of The Pastels to collaborate on a song for the next record. They agreed, so I am very happy about that.
“There is a lot of scoring work I am focusing on right now. I will tour Europe in January. My remix for Warp Records should be released then and Fabric London is about to put one of my dance tracks on their upcoming compilation. I record every day, so I will continue to be prolific!”
Ela Orleans plays CCA, Glasgow on November 5 with Remember Remember.