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Ella Mai Wears Her Heart on Her Sleeve in Sophomore Album

The British songstress returns with new captivating R&B tracks.

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Ella Mai Wears Her Heart on Her Sleeve in Sophomore Album

The British songstress returns with new captivating R&B tracks.

Ella Mai has got us deep in our feelings with her latest sophomore albumHeart On My Sleeve. 

Following the success of her eponymous debut record, the British songstress confessed that she was worried about the “sophomore curse” and thought it would be hard to top her first project. However, we think it’s safe to say that she definitely delivered once again with her raw words and moving beats. “It took me a while to get to that place because I just wasn’t sure if I was saying what I wanted to say or sounding like I wanted to sound,” she tells us.

Subsequently, after almost completing her second album, the artist experienced her first heartbreak, which some might assume would’ve affected the outcome of Heart On My Sleeve. However, with her resilience and determination, Mai continued the process as planned, resulting in 15 final tracks. “I’m not really one to dwell on things. I didn’t want to make super sad girl music because genuinely I’ve been really, really happy for the last couple of years of my life,” she explains.

Prior to the release of Heart On My Sleeve, we spoke to the singer on Zoom to talk about the making of her new album and what she has in store for the rest of the year. Read on for our full conversation.

 

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A post shared by Ella Mai (@ellamai)

Congratulations on the new album! I immediately got chills when the first track played. I personally have been a fan since 2017 and it’s exciting that you’ve returned with new music after two years. How would you describe this new version of Ella Mai?

Definitely elevated — just really a more mature version of myself. I was invested in my debut album, but I was like really, really invested in this album too just knowing who I am as an artist a lot more than I did when I recorded my debut. I’m 27 now and I dug a little bit deeper. I was 23 when I released my debut, so I felt like in the last four years, I’ve just matured as an artist but also just as a woman. I think that shows through the music.

On top of working on your album during your hiatus, what else were you up to?

The album was my main focus. Obviously being that we were in a pandemic, there wasn’t much to do anyway. It really did actually help me focus. I made 80 songs for this album process. I was in the studio for quite a while and because of the pandemic, it was quite a stop-start. Sometimes the studio would be open, sometimes the studio would be closed. I have a home studio, but I like to be in the studio with people and feed off of their energy. Working from home was quite hard for me, I didn’t really do it much during the pandemic. I kind of had to wait until I could really get into a rhythm when studios were actually open. Other than that, it was really just me coming up with ideas but not really finishing anything. The execution rate was not that great when it comes to home recording. I really was just focused on studio time, and really other than that, I was at home. But I am quite grateful for that time because I had a really crazy 2018 and 2019. I think just being able to slow down, sit down and reflect on the past two years was good for me.

“I’m just really proud of how resilient I am and how much I can take away good things even if situations don’t go the way I want them to go.”

You mentioned you wrote 80 songs for this album process, which is impressive. How did you narrow it down to 15 tracks in the end?

It was probably the hardest part of the whole process. As artists, we get really attached to our work. We did the same thing in my debut album process and I hadn’t made as many songs then, but a lot of my team was really involved in picking the tracklist because essentially it’s not just my album, it’s all of our albums. I have my favorites of course and everyone else had their favorites. We sat down in the room and everybody made a list. As hard as the process of elimination is, it means that there are not just five songs that everyone likes and the rest are just fillers because everyone has different favorites. However, it did get complicated because everybody wanted different things. It was definitely a lot of back and forth, but in the end, we kind of just stuck with what stuck with people the most. As I said, I recorded 80 songs and there were some songs from the very beginning of the album process that still stuck with everyone. I feel like that’s a testament to how much they liked those songs and we couldn’t leave those off.

Do you plan on releasing some of the unreleased tracks you made in the future? 

I’m sure some of them will see the light of day because I genuinely love about 90% of them. I would love for a lot more to come out in due time or perform them. But there’s no plan yet. We’re just focusing on this album right now and then what comes after that, we’ll figure out at a later date.

Why did you decide to drop “DFMU” first?

“DFMU” is just like a really special song to me, it’s really nostalgic. It feels like the music that I grew up on. I worked really hard on the harmonies and backgrounds on “DFMU,” and just the story itself. I think it’s super relatable. It was something I was going through at the time where I think a lot of people have been when you are in a relationship or even just a “situation” and you’ve been let down before. You understand what that feels like and you just don’t want to experience that again. But you also understand how invested you are in the situation and that is possible. It’s almost like me talking to someone and saying, “I’m here and I’m invested, but please just don’t mess this up. Don’t let me down. I want to be full-on in this if you feel the same way.”

You read somewhere that you had your first heartbreak. What was it like working on the album with that experience in your mind?

So my album is about my life in real-time. I was really recording everything that I was going through at the time and a lot of my recording process was before my heartbreak. When I went through it, I was almost done with the album, and I’m quite a resilient person. I think that’s something that I knew already but I learned even more during that time. I’m not really one to dwell on things. I didn’t want to make super sad girl music because genuinely I’ve been really, really happy for the last couple of years of my life. I have some sad songs on there but the majority of them are happy songs because that’s just really the place that I was in. I’m just really proud of how resilient I am and how much I can take away good things even if situations don’t go the way I want them to go.

 

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A post shared by Ella Mai (@ellamai)

What about the creative aspect? Can you share with us the process for putting together the album?

It was actually quite hard compared to my debut album. With my debut album, I feel like I was quite naive and sometimes knowing less is way better. Now that I’ve done it, I’m way more clued up on how the industry works. I feel like there was a point in time with this album process that I just started to really overthink everything and obviously coming off of the back of a really successful debut album, everyone talks about the sophomore curse. I was really getting into my head for a little bit. Once I got over that hump and everyone talked me out of it and told me to calm down, it became really fun and therapeutic. It took me a while to get to that place because I just wasn’t sure if I was saying what I wanted to say or sounding like I wanted to sound. When you overthink as a creative, it’s the worst feeling ever because you literally question everything and it takes away from the creative aspect of it because you’re now overthinking. You end up not saying what’s on your heart or doing what feels right, but I feel like that’s what makes the best music.

What message do you want your fans to take away from Heart on My Sleeve?

Just honesty, really. I think I keep having this conversation too, that being emotional or being in touch with your emotions has such a negative connotation to it. I personally think that being able to be emotionally intelligent and in tune with your emotions is quite hard. Being honest is really scary sometimes but it’s always going to bring out the best result even if you don’t understand it in the moment. I’ve been super honest on this album and the songs are really close to my heart, and I just hope I’ve done a good job portraying that.

 

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A post shared by Ella Mai (@ellamai)

You’re currently living in the U.S. but you’re originally from the U.K. Having spent a significant time in both countries, how do their R&B scenes differ? And what makes them unique?

I love that question. The scenes differ a lot actually, but only in terms of the way the music is dealt with or the way the music is taken in. I think in the U.S., as much as R&B still isn’t super mainstream, it’s a lot more mainstream than it is in the U.K. where there are plenty of really good R&B artists. However, I just don’t think that the industry knows what to do with them. I feel like they’re almost unaware of how to tap into the fact that this is a sound that everybody wants to hear. Nobody really knows how to do it. When I went to the U.S. and “Boo’d Up” and “Trip” went so crazy, I think people saw that there’s obviously a market for it and it’s possible. I’m only one person, so to recreate that success is pretty hard. It doesn’t mean because it worked for me that it will work for everyone. It’s just trying to figure out how the music will break through because we have an incredible R&B scene in the U.K., we really do. In terms of major labels, I think everything is so pop-based in England. When it comes to the charts, I genuinely feel like they think R&B is a waste of money for them. Although people are becoming a lot more aware of the market for it and the talent that we have, it’s just taken a lot longer than I think a lot of people want it to. A lot of us are working really hard to try and break down those barriers — we just have to continue doing that.

Are you working on anything else this year?

I can’t wait to get back in the studio and get back on the road. I had such a great time touring in 2019. I feel like it would almost be a disservice to Heart On My Sleeve and the work that I put into this album to not be able to tour and see my fans again. So that’s my main focus for right now, getting back on stage and being able to perform this album live.

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