In her shared Silver Lake apartment, Ella Jane picks up one of the four guitars strewn about her room and begins strumming. Seconds ago, she was laughing about how her guitar teacher used to tell her that when his eyes were closed, it almost sounded like she knew what she was doing.
But when her fingers meet the strings, her face hardens, like ancient marble. Suddenly, she’s out of reach.
Then, as quickly as she left, she returns, a 21-year-old balanced against a shaky headboard. It’s easy to imagine her in her Tufts dorm room in 2020, fashioning a recording studio out of a stack of pillows and a twin-sized blanket, humming into a precariously placed microphone.
Jane, born Ella Jane Roth, moved to L.A. last summer after spending most of her life in New York. She grew up in suburban Westchester, raised by jazz-enthusiast parents and spent a year studying English and music at Tufts, then dropped out and moved to Brooklyn to pursue music full time.
A few months later, she released her debut EP, “This Is Not What It Looks Like!” for the Fader Label. The EP is an indie-pop gem, musing on unrequited love, coming of age and “feeling undesirable in a way that only a teenage girl can,” with melodies that would feel at home on Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” or Taylor Swift’s “Fearless.”
The most-streamed song on the EP, “nothing else i could do,” started as a high-school AP literature project and is based on the literary character Jay Gatsby. An October 2020 TikTok Jane posted about the song went viral and now boasts over 2 million views. The song later landed on the Season 1 soundtrack of Netflix’s “Heartstopper.”
Another of Jane’s songs, “Calling Card,” released in October 2021, got a slot on Elton John’s Apple Music radio show, “Rocket Hour.”
“If there’s any justice in the world, that would be a big hit for Ella Jane,” John said.
Now, she’s gearing up for her first international tour this fall — and still getting used to L.A.
“For a long time, I was like, ‘I’m not moving to L.A., I’ll just visit when I can, but New York is the place for me,’” Jane said. “I think there’s still a part of me that feels that.”
Then, her longtime producer Mike Irish made the cross-country move to L.A., and Jane quickly followed.
Unlike New York, whose smaller-scale music scene lends itself to long-term, intimate music partnerships, L.A. is dominated by a “session culture” that Irish likens to dating apps.
With an infinite number of potential collaborators, “you just keep swiping,” Irish said. “It negatively incentivizes people to settle down.”
“It gets very transactional, where sometimes you’ll walk into a room with a person that you’ve never met before, who tends to be, like, a 35-year-old guy,” Jane said. “And then you’re expected to leave with a full song in a few hours.”
But Jane doesn’t work in hours; she works in years.
She drafted the chorus of her single “I Wanna,” released in September 2022, from her freshman dorm room, and didn’t return to it until two years later. “Calling Card” took inspiration from a high-school unit on serial killers and took her three years to complete.
For most of her life, Jane saw her perfectionism as a crutch. Then she found the one place it paid off: songwriting.
“The stakes are so much higher. It’s like, ‘Oh, if I put this out, it has to be a creative reflection of me,” Jane said. “And it’s going to be out forever.”
In any given songwriting session, she might fixate on the same line for hours, insistent on getting it right.
“There’s nobody that I make music with that goes more slowly than Ella,” Irish said, reading off each date Jane sent him a new demo of “Dead Weight,” her latest single, over the last year. He counts five versions of the song from January to June.
The single, on which she sounds something like the fourth Haim sister, is not only the first glimpse of Jane’s forthcoming album, but also her first love song.
“My entire discography up until this point has been years and years of documenting intense loneliness and longing … from being a teenager who didn’t feel like I was worthy of love, to being 20 in NY and not knowing where to find it,” Jane wrote in an Instagram post about the release. “I’m still climbing my way out of that hole, but ‘Dead Weight’ feels like the first step.”
“I thought I was dead weight / But you wanna carry me / You wanna carry me home,” she sings on the track, gritty guitar sounds behind her.
At the start of Jane’s career, her songwriting drew heavily from her feelings around never having been in a real relationship. It was why she felt fundamentally unlovable, alienated from her peers who had hit that milestone.
“I Wanna,” the penultimate track on her most recent EP “Marginalia,” is about yearning to be in love. Now in her first relationship — she’s dating fellow L.A. singer-songwriter Charlie Hickey — Jane said she’s worried her songs won’t be interesting anymore.
“With me, there’s no mystery,” she said. “I kind of just run my mouth.”
Early in her career, Jane struggled to locate her music in a particular genre, torn between her pure pop influences and the subdued folk she always found herself returning to. Eventually, she realized genre didn’t matter to most of her listeners.
“There’s no such thing as subculture anymore. Indie’s gone mainstream. There’s a new trend every week,” Jane said. Now, “people just want to find a song they like, and for me, that’s been freeing.”
Among the 2,652 voice memos on Jane’s phone, hundreds of which she said are unfinished songs, is an untitled file she plans to use for her upcoming album’s opening track. It’s 47 seconds of plucky guitar sounds and big gated reverbs — where, instead of fading out, sounds cut off abruptly.
Jane describes the sample as “acoustic Sophie,” and said every song on the album will echo it in some form.
“There’s an adage: you get two projects to triangulate your influences,” Irish said. “The third one is where you make your own unique alchemy of it. In theory, this would be the third project.”
It’s also the first project Jane plans to release via her independent label Substance Pop, since she “parted ways amicably” with Fader, her manager Ben Locke said.
For the time being, she’s enjoying the creative control that comes with releasing music on her own, and selling the occasional crochet project to make ends meet.
“I just want to have my hands on every aspect of things,” Jane said, from production to visuals. “It’s tiring, but I don’t mind putting in the work for the next year or so, until I can have the best possible deal that works for me.”