For most recording artists, a life and career really gets going when a big label picks them up. Yet for UK-born singer/songwriter Ellie Lawson, it began when she left a major label. Signed to Atlantic Records last year, she was, as with many other new and developing artists in these trying times for the music business, pulled from the label's roster in early 2005. Since then, Lawson's profile has only been rising higher and higher thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, who championed the singer/songwriter on her hit talk show; a highly downloaded "single of the week" on iTunes; inclusion on the soundtrack of the hit comedy film "Monster-In-Law;" and Barnes & Noble's exclusive distribution of her shimmering self-released debut album, The Philosophy Tree
(Whatever It Takes/Create Your
"My lawyer, who's been in the music business 25 years, has said that he has never seen this before," Lawson relays. "Where more things are happening to an artist after she had been dropped than when she was on the label!"
All of this activity and attention is well deserved, as The Philosophy Tree bears an astoundingly melodic, intelligently written and intensely catchy crop of pop song fruit. Lawson's exotic, snaking vocals (think Alanis Morissette meets Dido meets Esthero) weave revealing, earthy lyrics into stunning aural sculptures. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Lawson also twists the hip-hop tradition of sampling, reworking existing instrumental tracks into sparkling, all-new pop gems. Her infectious ode to a sunny Californian city, "LA," was constructed from William Orbit and Beth Orton's "Faith Will Carry," while the Orbit/Madonna track, "Time Stood Still," was reconfigured into "Inside Out," a luscious celebration of feeling real love from
the "inside out."
You can hear echoes of Lawson's influences and favorite artists (including Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and The Fugees) on other The Philosophy Tree standouts: the tropical percussion tinged "Hour of Need," R&B flavored "Friends," harmony-drenched "Bigger Than," and swirling, guitar-soaked "Gotta Get Up From Here." The Philosophy Tree's tracks were produced, mixed and played on by Lawson and a superb ensemble of guests including Limp Bizkit's acclaimed turntable-ist DJ Lethal, John O'Brien (Dr Dre, Joss Stone) OD Hunte (Missy Elliot, Byron Stingily), Jeff Philips (Michelle Branch) Dave Harewood, and Matthew Gerrard (Kelly Clarkson, Eden's Crush).
Raised in a welfare house in South London, England by her mom, Lawson turned to music for escape (the song "999," which refers to the UK's emergency telephone exchange, addresses those difficult days). About 10 years ago, with help from a drum machine, instrumental tracks she found on hip-hop single B-sides, and an 8-track recorder, she put her first songs to tape.
After graduating in communications from London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Lawson found employ as a telemarketer, hawking products as varied as Scandinavian lighting strips and stationery. "All I remember is people hanging up on me," she laughs. But in 2004, it was Lawson who received a phone call from Atlantic Records. She was signed, a video was shot for "Gotta Get Up From Here," and the single was released to radio. Unfortunately, the label was in the midst of a merger with Elektra Records that rattled the upper ranks, and while "Gotta Get Up From Here," an iTunes single of the week, was downloaded more than 200,000 times, mainstream radio did not immediately respond to the single. Lawson became a casualty of a fast-paced environment where talented new artists are often not given the time and focus they used to get from their labels to create a solid foundation for their burgeoning careers.
Then, serendipity struck. On a flight from Los Angeles to New York, Lawson struck up a conversation with a gentleman in the next seat: Tony Okungbowa, the DJ on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." She played him her music on an iPod, he liked what he heard, and so did DeGeneres, who invited Lawson to perform on the show in April 2005. An enthusiastic fan, DeGeneres went on to further champion Lawson in a Billboard Magazine profile.
Barnes & Noble was next to get behind Lawson, offering an exclusive distribution deal for The Philosophy Tree, which can now be found in Barnes & Noble stores nationwide and on their website, www.barnesandnoble.com. For Lawson, who set up her own label in the process, this arrangement is ideal and she's taken an active role in marketing the CD on a grassroots, personal level although not by making cold-calls like in her
"I'm glad I'm not doing that now," she laughs. "But I feel like it really suits me to be independent. I like working for myself and making it happen. I have an amazing team of people involved and every day I'm finding more and more support out there."
And Lawson's beautiful Tree continues to
take root and grow.
Ellie Lawson- Inside Out- Philadelphia Gig / Atlantic Records
Ellie Lawson: Audio
Ellie Lawson: Inside Out from her album The Philosophy Tree
Ellie Lawson - 'Under the spell of LA' From her album The Philosophy Tree
The Philosophy Tree by Ellie Lawson bears an astoundingly melodic, intelligently written and intensely catchy crop of pop song fruit. First released on Atlantic Records, and now re-released on Lawson's own Whatever It Takes/Create Your Own Reality-Records, the exotic, snaking vocals weave revealing, earthy lyrics into stunning aural sculptures. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Lawson delivers sparkling pop gems.
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