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Spotlight: Ella Williams, a.k.a. Squirrel Flower

Squirrel Flower
(Image credit: Tonje Thilesen)

ELLA WILLIAMS

HAILS FROM: Boston, Massachusetts USA
PLAYS: Solo (as Squirrel Flower)
SOUNDS LIKE: Powerfully emotive, driving folk
LATEST DROP: Planet (I) [LP out now via Polyvinyl]

What’s your current go-to guitar?
I’ve been playing acoustic a lot more in my free time, and my go to is my Gibson Robert Johnson. It was the first guitar I ever bought for myself after saving up for three years, working at a bakery throughout high school. I walked into a shop in Massachusetts and saw it – I was first drawn to the colour, and as I tried it out I knew it was the guitar for me. It was so gentle but also resonant, the neck was so comfortable, and overall it just felt so full of character and dynamics. It also smells delicious, like vanilla wood or something. 

How did you initially fall in love with the instrument?
The first time I played guitar I was 14. My dad had an old Yamaha that was really busted, and one day in November I just picked it up and learned my favourite song by ear. I think it was a Bon Iver song. After that, I kept the guitar in my bedroom, and every night after school I’d play it for hours instead of doing my homework. My parents had actually bought me a mini electric guitar when I was nine, and my dad was going to teach me how to play, but I was too stubborn and lazy so I dropped it.

What inspires you as a player?
I owe my influences to everything, because I literally learned how to play guitar by learning songs by my favourite musicians as a teenager. Laura Marling, Joni Mitchell, Grouper – I think something all three of them have in common is their tendency to play in alternate tunings. To this day, I play mostly in open tunings – although with this new album I tried to experiment with standard tunings a bit more. I think the way I play now is a bit of a mix of the folky fingerpicking of Laura and Joni, and the ambient minimalism of Grouper. I’m also really influenced by heavier stuff like Pavement, Guided By Voices, and the looping beauty of Moses Sumney’s playing. 

Are you much of a gear nerd?
I would say I’m a gear nerd in that I’ve found what works for me and I stick to it. I’m super picky, but also most of what I use, I use because I’ve just always used it, or it was a cheap option, or I just came across it, or I was gifted it. My main pedals are the Fulltone OCD and Source Audio Soundblox 2 Dimension Reverb. My main amp is a Fender Blues Junior, which is f***ing great because it’s not super heavy and still sounds amazing. I think I’ve been able to develop a really unique sound with just a few simple bits. 

Do you have any ‘white whales’?
I’d really love any sort of vintage Rickenbacker.

What would your signature model look like?
It would be light, probably a short-neck, probably red, with humbuckers. 

If you could jam with any guitarist, dead or alive...
It would probably be Adrianne Lenker. We’d do a lot of improvising – I love what happens when two people sit down and play music together with no expectations, rules or restrictions. Improvising with someone else usually just feels like a musical conversation.