July 2013

Amanda Carr sits down with singer/songwriter Ellen O’Brien

Ellen OBrien
I’ve interviewed a number of female artists who have been invested in this business varying amounts of time, but I would certainly put you in the ‘career musician’ category. What has kept you in the game so long?

I love to sing more than anything in the world. To say music is my passion is an understatement. I love being around music, musicians, vocalists, the stage, studios, rehearsals, etc. It is definitely one of the hardest businesses in the world and there have been times when I got tired and just wanted to give up and take the safe way out or get married or get a “real job”, but anytime I thought earnestly about doing one of those two things, I literally felt like someone was putting their hands around my throat and choking me.

Having a dream is what drives most artists to battle through the challenges and obstacles this business promises to offer, so how has your ‘dream’ evolved over the years and what role does it play in keeping you motivated.
As young as 7 years old, I knew that I would sing. I was already singing full songs since the age of 2. I had no clue how it would happen or play out, but I just knew at a young age that singing was my destiny. At 12 or 13, I wanted to be the ‘most famous singer in the world’. I would pray for that every night and even wished upon stars for that. But, as we all know too well, as we get older, the reality of life hits. Things aren’t always as easy or as fair as we think they are when we’re young. My life and vocal health took twists and turns but my passion never waned. I kept saying, when I’m rich and famous I’ll help this one or do that. Then one day I said to myself, “What if you die without getting rich and famous? You have a voice, love and compassion here, right now. What can you do with it?” So, at this point, I might not be a household name or rich, but I sing and use my voice, heart and compassion to help others on a smaller scale. So I guess you could say, my dream never changed, it did come to fruition, just a little different, that’s all.

You moved back to New York City from your home town in Boston a few months ago after re-evaluating your career goals. Why did you choose to move back and how has this decision affected you?
Moving back to New York was the best decision I ever made. I chose to move home to help out with my brother-in-law’s ailing father, but also in the back of my mind, I thought I would find all the answers at home: a happy family life, a husband, a child and a great singing career. The last time I lived in New York, I allowed people to convince me that my self worth as a person and as a musician was all on my weight and I wouldn’t go to ‘open mic’s’ because I thought I looked fat! (I was a size 9 by the way!) This time around, I’m not letting anyone, including myself, get in the way of my destiny. I go out almost every night to an open mic and sing. I bartend at a piano bar where I have to get on stage and perform during my shift. I’m immersing myself into the world where I belong and I feel alive for the first time in years!

Can you talk about what you’ve learned over the past 10 years about yourself and how you relate to the music business in general?
I’ve learned that I need to be true to who I am as a woman and an artist. That I have to love and accept myself just the way I am before anyone else will. That I’m not going to please everyone and everyone will have a critique or suggestion that I definitely need to be open to listening to, but ultimately I have to trust myself. It’s ok to take chances. It’s good to take risks and it’s ok to fail. Nothing is life and death except life and death.

How do you feel you have changed or evolved as an artist?
As an artist, I’m now more relaxed in my own skin and in my craft. I know what I want from myself and my musicians when it comes to sound. I think more like a musician among other musicians instead of a singer who has musicians playing for her. I’m definitely in a school phase again where I’m loving to learn. Also listening to more people and music. I feel like there were a lot of years that I was just listening and singing a lot of the same stuff. Then I realized I don’t feel good unless I’m growing. I’m like a sponge soaking in as much as I can. Also with the help of Rob Rose, Bruce Owens, Daniel Day, you Amanda and other people I’ve admired in my life, I’ve learned that being responsible, accountable, true to your word, showing up and treating people with kindness and dignity will get me much farther in the music business than just having a good voice. I’m not perfect, lol, that’s the understatement of all understatements, but I try to be a better me than I was the day before.

I ask this question a lot, but if you could go back and change any one thing regarding your career, what would it be and why?
The only thing I would change is not allowing other people to decide my self worth. And most of that had to do with people thinking I should be a size 6 to be successful in music, to get married, anything in life that I thought I wanted. I was convinced for many years it was out of my grasp because of my size. Other than that, I wouldn’t change anything because all of the mistakes and triumphs, ups and downs, lessons learned have made me the woman and artist I am today.

What exciting projects are working on now?
Through my friends and fans, I was able to raise money to record a Jazz CD of fan favorites. I had to put it on hold while I got myself situated down here in NYC, but as we speak, the CD is finally getting mixed at SoundTrack Studios in NYC! I’m hoping for a fall release date.

You have such a dynamic presence, are you hoping to translate some of this into acting, possibly in the Broadway circuit?
I’m actually training for auditions in the Fall. Never thought of doing Broadway or musicals, but the universe seems to be guiding me that way, so I’m going for the ride. It’s time to learn something new,… that’s what keeps me young! I am only 29 you know. lol

How important do you feel social media is in helping artists today?
Social media is the best thing to happen to artists in a long time. It’s a way to not only get yourself out to the world, literally, but to be able to connect with fans in an instant, let them know about show dates, CD releases, Kickstarter campaigns etc. I love vlogging (video blogging) and keeping everyone up-to-date on my musical journey and to be able to get an instant reaction from fans especially when it’s so positive. It keeps me going strong and keeps me motivated!

Can you talk a little bit about your personal struggles over the past 20 years and what you draw strength from. Does this ‘strength’ and resolve inform your artistry?
Ok well without going into a long drawn out story, I decided to take the Bonnie Raitt route. I had low self esteem, didn’t believe in myself and ultimately self-destructed. I thought if I got a big break and got on stage, people would say ‘Oh God, who told her she had talent, she’s a hack that’s full of crap.’ It took a lot of work and I’m still working on getting rid of those old demons that say you’re not good enough, you don’t deserve these good things in life, you’re always going to be the girl from the wrong side of the tracks even if you’re in a ball gown. But with so many wonderful, beautiful people in my life and the fact that I am such a spiritual creature who is constantly and consistently building and strengthening my relationship with God, those demons are slowly disintegrating. When someone comes to see and hear me sing, you can hear the despair and loneliness I’ve felt in my life, but you can also hear and see the pure joy and gratitude bursting out of my soul into every note.