Witching Hour is a festival that brings creatives from different fields and mediums together to explore their creativity, present new work and connect with other artists and academics. Ella Williams of Squirrel Flower gave a performance that exemplified those values when she opened for Julie Byrne at the Mill on a Friday night. She breaks out of every mold and can’t be confined to any one genre because she brings a new and unique sound to every song. Her skill and stage presence were that of a headliner.
She took to the stage sporting a denim jumpsuit and launched into a series of songs keeping time with her two-tone cowboy boots. She only stopped to share little stories, like the time a Russian rapper stole her song “Conditions” and renamed it “Lisa”. She was accompanied by bass player Victoria Park and drummer Jacob Getzoff.
Headliner Julie Byrne also gave a bewitching performance, with her soft and hauntingly beautiful voice. Ella talked about how great it was to open for such a talented artist. “Julie Byrne was mesmerizing. I’ve been in love with her music for so long. She commands the space so gently, and such a softness is rare.” Check out Ella’s favorite Julie Byrne song- “Holiday”!
Performing at this festival was special for Williams and carried an immense weight because it is likely her last show in Iowa for a while. She will be graduating from Grinnell in December for GWSS and Studio Art and is planning to move back to Boston. She has played Mission Creek twice and feels close to the Iowa City music and art scene, and they’ll always hold a special place in her heart.
Ella Williams became Squirrel Flower when she moved to Grinnell to start college. She used her experience with the Boston Children’s Chorus, DIY music, folk and the Boston underground scene to create a unique alter ego. Her heavy lyrics and fresh compositions prove that she’s an impressive emerging artist.
She doesn’t consciously aim for a single sound so her music is dynamic. She doesn’t constrain herself with tonal or categorical expectations, which is partly responsible for her eclectic vibe. However, according to Williams, her recent work is a mix of slow heavy rock and choral inspired melodies with a minimalist ambient twist.
Iowa and Inspiration
"I find myself lyrically returning to Iowa seasons again and again."
Iowa has been important to Ella by inspiring her and being the place where she began performing as Squirrel Flower. “That first semester at Grinnell was creatively paradigm shifting for me. I’m deeply affected by environment, wherever I go, and Iowa was no exception. The slow pace of life, huge sky, and quiet stillness of rural Iowa has influenced my music style, and I find myself lyrically returning to Iowa seasons again and again,” Williams said. She is transient by nature, but she becomes attached to geographical locations very easily, and they influence her art.
She’s also a very self-motivated person. She feels the need to constantly be making music and creating. This has led to her pushing genre limits and establishing herself as an artist and a creative force of nature.
Album and Upcoming Tour
"Love and friendship can feel like a game of winners and losers."
At the end of her performance, she announced that her album Contact sports has been released on vinyl with two bonus tracks. It’s a collection of songs about the ways in which relationships and friendships can feel like contact sports; love and friendship can feel like a game with winners and losers, and this album is her trying to define herself in relation to some of those ideas. She also just announced an upcoming European tour with Adrianne Lenker!