Classically trained pianist Ella Vos, born Lauren Salamone, has already fit a lot into an eventful career. After a period with a number of bands, things really looked to be taking off when she was hired by singer-songwriter Børns, but that experience lasted just a couple of months as she became pregnant with her son.
As well as being an overwhelmingly positive experience for obvious personal reasons, motherhood also ended up giving her career a jolt.
“In 2014, with Børns, it was my first time getting hired to play in a band,” Vos says. “That was exciting for me, and a big confidence boost. You are a real musician. It was my first time getting paid to be a musician, and it was really fun. His band is amazing and I'm still really close with the members. But unfortunately it was a really short period of time — I got pregnant a couple of months after I joined. But yeah, that experience was great.”
Vos had been looking to start her own project for a while, and parenting gave her the kick in the butt that she says she needed. At six months pregnant, she started writing the material that ended up on the Words I Never Said album in 2017. She knew she was quitting her band and wouldn't be able to tour with Børns anymore, so necessity drove her. The first single, “White Noise,” is specifically about being a mother.
“I like spending a lot of time with my son, so it's hard to leave for weeks on end to tour or be completely in the studio for twelve hours a day,” Vos says. “I'm always trying to find a balance, using the time that I have. I don't think I would have started writing if I didn't have him, so there's that. 'White Noise' is the song that started my career. I don't think I could have written from that deep of a place without that experience. It keeps me going when I'm tired.”
Hard work is something that she has never been afraid of. At the age of 5, a young Salamone became obsessed with playing classical piano, taking lessons and practicing at every available opportunity.
“It was my passion growing up,” she says. “I went to college for classical piano, and then when I was finishing up college, and I was considering getting my master's in music theory or something really nerdy, I got asked to join a band. I then fell in love with playing in bands. That was my introduction into songwriting and singing.”
While some children have to be forced to practice their chosen instrument (or the instrument that has been chosen for them by an overbearing parent), that wasn't the case with Vos.
“No, I loved playing piano,” she says. “They actually had to beg me to stop. Like, you have to stop and come for dinner, and go to bed. You have to go to a friend's birthday party, and stop playing piano.”
To this day, the singer-songwriter retains an interest in classical piano, though she says that she has some serious study time before performing a recital again.
“I've been playing a lot less in the past couple of years,” Vos says. “But I can still sight-read anything, just about. If I'm feeling particularly stressed, I'll sit down and open up some sheet music. It's really relaxing. But I wouldn't perform any classical music right now — I'm really rusty.”
While Vos says she learned a lot from that first indie band, she looks back on it as an unfortunately unpleasant experience.
“I don't want to say the name — I have bad memories of it,” she says. “But I learned a lot about the music industry, and just being onstage in a different way. Not sitting at a piano. I would do piano recitals all the time growing up but it would be so stressful, because I would be so scared the whole time that I didn't miss a single note and my teacher would be mad at me. Then when I played in a band onstage, I realized that you can play whatever and people love it when you mess up.”
So with all of that in mind, it makes complete sense that she'd be more comfortable as a solo artist today. It allows her to focus on her own sound and style, in her own time, while also keenly contributing to causes that she cares deeply about. For example, in 2017 she remixed her “You Don't Know About Me” song to raise funds for the ACLU.
“I had written the song about abortion rights, and women's rights in general,” Vos says. “I guess there are a couple of organizations that I could do that remix for, Planned Parenthood obviously. But ACLU — I had been to an event of theirs and felt really connected. I like a lot of the work they do. I was looking for a way to support them. We came up with the idea of doing a remix and giving all of the proceeds to them. That was really fun. They were really grateful and they're constantly emailing me. It's cool.”
Vos released a new EP, Watch & Wait, in January, and it continues her musical journey. She describes herself as a chill pop queen, and that makes sense. Elements of Lorde, recent tour-mate Freya Ridings and even Tori Amos can be heard in her music. She aims to soothe and, for the most part, she meets that objective. Mind you, she gets inspiration from a high place.
“One of my favorite artists is Joni Mitchell,” Vos says. “I just like the freedom in her music, even though my music sounds nothing like Joni Mitchell. I think if you like Joni Mitchell, you'd probably like my music.”
Vos plays the El Rey this week, and she says we can expect a fun and intimate show, with pretty lights and maybe some tears. After this current tour, she'll be back in the studio and says we can expect new music in the fall.
What we know is that the music will be ready when it's ready, and it will be worth checking out when it arrives. For now, these shows will provide more than enough chill.
Ella Vos plays with Clara Mae at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, at the El Rey Theatre.