Lindsay Ellyn can describe in detail the moment she became devoted to music. She was a college student working at Satya Jewelry on Bleecker Street in New York City when the store’s curated playlist turned to Lucinda Williams’ Grammy-nominated album, Essence. As a self-professed music lover who played guitar and piano, Ellyn’s perspective changed when Williams’ voice poured through the speakers, prompting her to study Williams’ catalogue and begin “listening to her obsessively.” “I remember this moment because it really changed my life,” Ellyn recalls in a wide-ranging Zoom interview with Audiofemme. “That album inspired me so deeply to the point where I was like ‘I don’t want to do anything else, I just want to write songs.’ That is what really made me want to start picking up the pen and paper and sitting down with my guitar and being like, ‘what do I have to say?’”
After moving to New York to attend Fashion Institute of Technology where she majored in advertising and communications, Ellyn spent years hustling in the city, working in the editorial and advertising departments for major companies ranging from Conde Nast to Bloomingdale’s. In the midst of her demanding career, Ellyn tapped into her love for music in her mid-20s, performing around the East Village and learning to write songs, leading to the release of her single “Gone” in 2010 and debut EP, Shores, in 2012. “It was around that time that I started thinking ‘I want to do this more. I really love this,’” she reflects. As she became “increasingly disgruntled” with New York, coupled with her desire to actively pursue music, Ellyn made the move to Nashville in April 2014, quickly connecting with songwriters who became friends and meeting her future husband while playing a gig, in addition to releasing her second EP, Out of Road, in 2015.
All roads lead to “Queen of Nothing,” the title track to her upcoming full-length album where she reimagines some of her previously released work. “When I wrote the song, I was in a place in my life where things weren’t going that great,” Ellyn describes of the acoustic number. A music career she was struggling to get off the ground, a day job that was detracting time from the music, and complicated relationships with family members were among the struggles Ellyn was facing at the time of the song’s conception. “I was having fun playing with this idea of, what’s the polar opposite to having it all and ‘yasss queening’ in your life? It’s losing across the board or feeling like, I’m going to surrender this feeling. I’m not going to be here forever and it’s going to keep going,” she explains. “I think when you are in the down moments of your life and you sit there and you run the diagnostic: why am I here? What’s my ownership for feeling like this? How did I get here? How can I change? That’s when the change starts to happen and that’s when you can get your life on the track to do the things you want to do and celebrate the things you want to celebrate and have the highs. But you have to sit in the lows.”
Ellyn finds herself embracing those low moments in the song’s opening lines as she professes, “I know about making mistakes/I know how it feels to miss your shot/So close I could feel it burning/And blowin’ out the flame was as far as I got.” “It’s really for better or worse, acknowledging some of my self-sabotaging behavior. I’ve definitely been in a place in my life where I’ve made decisions that didn’t pan out, and you’ve got to make those mistakes to understand that,” Ellyn says. “I think you learn more from the things that go wrong than you do from the things that go right in your life. Those things inform your way forward, so I’m trying to be grateful for that too.”
Nodding to the “self-deprecating” and “cheeky” nature of the song that paints an image of her donning a paper crown and proudly claiming the title of “the queen of nothing,” Ellyn also sees the magic in life’s darker hours that serve as the catalyst for healing and growth. “There’s this magic moment where you feel like you have absolutely nothing to lose, and that’s when you can just go for it,” she declares. “That’s why I think there’s such value in your down moments, because I feel like that’s when a lot of magic can happen. When you can embrace the times when you’re not killing it, that’s when I think you can rise up. That’s what this song is about.”
The album, out May 14 via Hail Mary Records/Queue Records, explores a variety of themes – toxic love, failure, and womanhood among them. Ellyn describes it as a journey of “self-discovery;” songs like “Helpless” capture the feeling of being stuck in a relationship she knew she needed to let go of, while “Mercy Drum” finds her reflecting on the past regrets and painful memories that continue to haunt her.
Ellyn cites the album’s creation as the “last memory” before the world came crumbling down, as a bulk of the project was recorded three days before a tornado ripped through Nashville in March 2020, destroying the office of marketing agency Red Pepper where she works as a senior copywriter, and just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic altered life as we know it. The singer and her producer Brendan St. Gelais were able to safely finish the project throughout the year.
“I feel like the stars aligned,” Ellyn says of completing the album amidst the chaos. “I had more fun in those three days than I’ve had in a very long time making music. I think it reiterated, ‘I can do this. I love this. I’m having fun. I feel like I’m supposed to be here.’ It felt very validating for me, especially as someone who has a full-time job that takes so much of my life. It felt really nice to make the record.”
The open-minded creator views Queen of Nothing as an re-introduction to herself, and hopes that listeners find their own story in the way that she crafts hers. “I think the hard things in life are the deep canyons that you find yourself in. When people can relate on those levels, I feel like that’s what really bonds you with someone,” she observes. “I think the record overall is really a reflection of a human experience. All of those themes feel very human. I would hope that people could listen to them and relate to these human experiences I feel like we all experience at some point. I hope people enjoy it and can identify with it in some way.”