Clearly not an artist who will allow the grass to grow under her feet, Ella Minehan has been busy moving forwards since graduating with a commercial music degree, releasing a clutch of songs from her final project and giving TV pop stardom a crack. NZ On Air chose to include the Tāmaki Makaurau-based singer-songwriter’s latest single First Light on their NewTracks compilation this August. It’s a deliberately fun, upbeat number, about the can-be-too serious matter of taking chances with relationships.
My name is Ella Minehan Fitzgerald. I’m from Christchurch, currently based in Auckland, and am a singer-songwriter. I’ve been singing ever since I was 3 and play the piano.
Absolutely! I loved doing music in high school – it gave me the freedom to experiment with who I was musically and my sound. I felt very supported and had so many wonderful opportunities to perform, so it was great. It was also much more enjoyable to spend my hours writing songs in school over doing statistics!
You might’ve seen me on Popstars – I was a contestant on that show! I was also a runner-up in the Tahi covers competition earlier this year.
My producer Yohan De Silva and I have been working together since last year. Every song I have released publicly has been produced by him and written by me or co-written by both of us! We are such a great team. We’re so comfortable with each other which is such a crucial part of a successful working relationship – neither of us are afraid to tell the other what we think – and him being tough on me helps me produce the best quality work possible. It makes me a better artist, for sure.
I started writing music when I was about 5 years old. It all started when I’d start listening to songs, forget the words, and just make up my own as I went – it’s fair to say I’m a lot better at writing now than I was then, haha! I love the process of developing a story for each of my songs, regardless of whether it’s something honest from my life, or a character I’ve made up. Creating a narrative that goes beyond just what people hear in the lyrics really ensures a thought-provoking song – it gives more depth and intrigue!
This was one that really stumped me for a while. My legal birth name is Ella Fitzgerald – a very funny coincidence considering I started singing before I could talk. I wanted to use my own name for my artist self, because I’ve always wanted to be really honest with people – with me, what you see is what you get. I changed my name to Ella Minehan Fitzgerald when I was about 9, and ended up figuring out that although I couldn’t be Ella Fitzgerald (there’s only one queen of jazz and it ain’t me) I could be Ella Minehan – and she’s pretty cool and unique (and much easier to spell than someone with two last names).
Popstars was a pretty insane experience, honestly. I’ve never done anything like that before, and the feedback and response I got from that show were pretty insane considering where my journey ended! I’d also just say the response to me finally releasing music was a big highlight. With the number of people who had been bugging me for years to put out stuff publicly, to the feeling of finally releasing my music into the world – it was so wonderful. I’ve always loved the feeling music gives to people, and having people approach me regarding how my music makes them feel – there’s nothing quite like that feeling.
My producer already had the instrumentation for this track, and as soon as I heard it, I fell in love with it. It was so moody and intriguing, and I knew I could do something really cool with this one. I love the journey the song goes on, and even just the cheeky nature of it. All the elements just seemed to blend really seamlessly and I’m particularly proud of the buildup from the pre to the hook – it gets me every time.
First Light was the third and final track in my three-track release. At the end of 2021, as part of my final project for my Bachelor of Commercial Music at Massey, I decided to write an EP. I wrote four songs for the EP, all of which I absolutely loved – so much so that I ended up canning the EP release and just deciding to release the first three as singles. They meant too much to me to just be stuck as part of a project where they might not be consumed properly – I wanted people to care for them the way I did. As for that fourth song… we’ll see what I end up doing with that one!
First Light is the progression from my previous track Lavender Hearts. I wrote the EP as a story, from that initial fantasy (Written Lines) moving into a heartbreak you can’t get over (Lavender Hearts), which then evolves into First Light. It details what can happen when you don’t let past trauma dictate future relationships – that moment of letting go of your ghosts and fears to allow yourself to connect with someone and where it can take you. It can be scary, taking that initial risk with someone – but can be so rewarding! It’s about opening yourself up to someone enough to give them a chance; giving them until the sun comes up (First Light) to prove your past negative experiences wrong. It’s a bit cheeky, a bit flirty – very different to my last release!
I think the fun nature of it! Not every song has to be really serious and deep – this one was meant as a fun one, a more upbeat, flirty track about taking chances with relationships. I’d just like people to enjoy it and have fun with it.
Honestly, just a feeling. I always trust my gut when it comes to music, and so far, it’s never steered me wrong. It’s always great to get other opinions, but at the end of the day – it’s your work, your art; you’re the one who has to be happy with it.
As mentioned before, my producer is Yohan De Silva. I kept the same team for these releases – even though I didn’t release the tracks as an EP, I still wanted people to feel that cohesion and connected storyline through the different singles. My engineer, Justin Cederholm (JPEC), mixed and mastered it. It’s the same team as for my two previous releases and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My distributor is DRM who are fantastic! I was lucky to work with my best friends to bring the artwork to life! Hannah Simpson created all of the artwork for these singles and my other girl, Kate Poole, digitised the art and brought the other side of my vision to life. I’m blessed to have been able to work with such talented people!
I self-manage, executive produce all of my projects myself, and handle the creative, financial and marketing sides of the business on my own too! I’m very precious about my work (I’m a bit of a perfectionist, oops) so it’s a necessity for me to be in full control (including artistically) of every aspect of the process. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve always loved a challenge, and the end result is honestly so rewarding.
My debut single didn’t get selected for NewTracks! I was soooo gutted at the time, honestly – but now I think it was for the best. Getting that rejection just made me work that much harder and be that much more determined when it came to my next release. Rejection is a healthy part of life – it keeps ya humble!
My biggest advice is to just keep pushing yourself, keep grinding – and don’t give up on yourself. When you don’t achieve the stuff you want to straight away, it can feel pretty disheartening. But everyone’s journey is going to be different, you can’t judge your success by someone else’s. If you put in the work, and you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you will 100% get where you want to go.
Now that this series of projects is done, it’s onwards and upwards! The music hasn’t stopped, and neither have I hahaha. I’ve been working with different producers over the past few months, and have some very exciting stuff in the works – can’t divulge too much but I’m stepping into a new direction of music and I think people will be very happy about it.
I love Billie NZ and Tahi – anyone who spotlights up-and-coming NZ artists, as well as established artists, are honestly doing God’s work – especially when they put a focus on female artists! There was also this Youtube channel I used to love where these two hardcore metal lovers did live reactions to Beyoncé performances (they weren’t fans prior) and it was actually hilarious – watching two people really discover Beyoncé and why she is known as the greatest living entertainer was such a fun journey, and it brought me weird amounts of joy, haha.
Be kind to yourself! And don’t be too scared to share your gift with the world that you keep it hidden! Because any creativity, any kind of music, is absolutely a gift.