SQUIRREL FLOWER – ” I Was Born Swimming “

Posted: January 3, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Squirrel Flower (aka Ella O’Connor Williams) is releasing a Dinked Edition of her Polyvinyl debut, I Was Born Swimming, at the end of the month. She made a splash with lead single “Red Shoulder,” a wrenching rock tune that pairs her poised vocals with scorching guitars,

No matter how vulnerable or genuine a musician’s work is, when they get up on stage there is always an added performative element. Whether under their own name or an alias, they’re recreating a past state of mind — one that still might be fresh, but is reconstructed nonetheless. Ella O’Connor Williams considered this when deciding to make music under her childhood moniker Squirrel Flower. After releasing a few albums under her birth name, she opted to change it up a bit when her music started to evolve.

She landed on a vibrant and playful phrase with an origin she can’t recall. When people critique the name, she gets defensive and rightfully protective over a piece of her younger self: something she recognizes in various ways through her music. Her debut album I Was Born Swimming is built from flashes of her past — from reflections about her birth to moments when she was attending college in Iowa — with moody country tracks that detail tatters of lost relationships and crunchy rock songs that document her growing fortitude.

sounding astoundingly alive. “Headlights,” Williams’ second track from the record, is practically its opposite—a soft, shimmering track that proves she’s just as excellent in the realm of tender introspection.

Her first semester away from home wasn’t the easiest. The transition from just 20 minutes outside of Boston to a rural farm town led to homesickness, depression, and taking the next semester off. It was during this resting period that she started making music as Squirrel Flower. She soon realized that time in Iowa had left its creative mark.

“I had written all these songs that were different from what I had been making in high school,” Williams explains. “I think the songs I was writing were influenced by just how stark the winter and the fall there was.” She contemplated transferring, but decided to stay. “It was a great decision because I ended up being really happy there,” she says.

Her music as Squirrel Flower isn’t something you’d find out of the hippie movement per se, but there are remnants of folk, twinges of Joni Mitchell or Neil Young. She began releasing EPs in high school, self-taught and inspired by British folk and 2010s acts like Bon Iver and Laura Marling. (Learning from the latter, she explained to me, was a blessing considering Marling’s songs are in “crazy open tunings” that gave her “a totally different way of playing” guitar.)

It wasn’t until her second year at Grinnell — where she double-majored in gender, women, and sexuality studies and studio art — that Williams started experimenting with distortion and electric guitar. She liked how powerful she sounded. Moving forward, she was determined to balance the blunt spaciousness of her folk music and powerful grandiosity of electric guitar-based rock.

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