Some debuts really deserve the attribute “labour of love”, and after the talk with Ella Walker, better known as WILDES, I’m getting the expression that this term was really invented for her crafting her first full-length, emphatically titled Other Words Fail Me. “I’m just so happy that it’s coming out”, Ella shares, “and it doesn’t feel real. It still feels like ‘should I be allowed to release now?’ Because it’s been such a long time coming.”

“Writing the songs literally was the way that I came to understand and process what had gone on. Any other words literally did fail me… so it was just like these are the words that can sum up how I’m feeling.”

Until recently, WILDES hasn’t been releasing new music due to legal issues with her old label, she had a falling out with. “My manager was very controlling and didn’t let me release any new music, which is crazy”, she recalls. “It was killing me that I didn’t, but I was so used to not releasing music regularly that it was just normal.” Needless to say, Ella has fought her way back into artistic liberation, and for the first time, is content with everything: “Finally I can release regularly, so here I am… I’m really enjoying it, although it’s a lot of work. I am really enjoying having the creative control and everything.”

Love Lost

Other Words Fail Me, probably different from many debut records actually, does not stray around with its subjects from one topic to another. It is “about a really bad breakup following a quite abusive relationship that I was in for five years”, Ella frankly states and quickly follows up with a heart-wrenching account how that had ruined her: It kind of destroyed me as a person, it was very limiting, my partner was very controlling and I just lost any sense of myself, living for other people.”

“I wrote it at the start of lockdown as a way to process all the emotions I was feeling, because I was gaslit and I have been quiet seriously emotionally abused and I just didn’t know what was going on.”

Just as the pandemic hit, with nothing else to do but write herself out of the oblivion, she sat down and started writing what turned out to become Other Words Fail Me. I was forced to look within myself, it was so uncomfortable but I had nothing else to do… all my shows were cancelled, I had no work, I didn’t have a job.” Not consciously intending an album to emerge at the end of the tunnel, the process helped her see more clearly the wrongs going on: 

“I was really disorientated and really really wanted to break up with my partner but I was so scared to do it. Writing this album made me sort of realise that this wasn’t okay. I needed to do something and change my life. So the album really convinced me to break up with him, and I did. I look back at it now and it doesn’t feel like heartbreak, because… it was and I still think about it now, but for now, I look back at that time of my life and don’t see any of the love. I don’t see it was a relationship to be heartbroken over, because it was so much sinister than that… I was more heartbroken at how I lost myself rather than him.”

“Settle down restless /
I’ll close your eyes on the way as you go /
Settle down restless /
I’ll hold you tight till the end of the road” (Restless)

Closing The Wound

With no opportunities to perform or work towards a specific project, Ella’s writing began as a task for its own sake, which she felt to be quite a liberating thing after all, as she describes to me:

“As an artist you always think you have to write for something. How can I promote my music, it has to be a project. But because I didn’t even know if I would have a job after the pandemic, because the industry was so destroyed, there was no pressure for it to be anything. I could just write for the sake of writing.”

At the end of the “six or seven months” of just writing, the cleansing outcome became aware to Ella: 

“I didn’t realise how cathartic it would be… I always found songwriting a very therapeutic thing, because I wasn’t very good at expressing my emotions. Which may seem surprising given my job. I shut off, I didn’t ever listen to my emotions, I was quite numb, probably because of the whole situation I was in. It’s so therapeutic, because it is like a non-judgmental space to write.”

If one listens closely, the charged tension of the process can be felt on Other Words Fail Me, all throughout the intense and reproachful Woman In Love to the tender and atmospheric Flames to the gloomy-tinted Real Life or the soaring and hopeful True Love. Sonically touching on ethereal folk-pop terrain somewhere between the intimate and atmospheric realms of Daughter, Angel Olsen and London Grammar, WILDES carves out her own musical space in sincerely laying bare her very bones and delving into the process of healing her heart, ultimately arriving at moments of profound self-discovery and newfound respect for herself.

“Because I was so confused I didn’t know what I was feeling, so nothing was right or wrong. It was just a chance for me, to let everything come out and once it was out I could try and make sense of it and organise it in a way that I understood.”

“If you want a soul to fight beside /
Oh, I will follow far and wide /
Sleepless nights and all the tears we’ve cried /
Oh, I will follow far and wide” (Far And Wide)

“Breaking Out Of The Confines Of My Life”

The particular beauty of Other Words Fail Me lies in how the heartbreak turns into a self-transformative experience, and ultimately newfound self-respect and acceptance. Ella describes the soul-searching process as follows, stressing the redemptive qualities at the end of the tunnel: 

“The main pillar of the album is finding myself and standing up for myself, which I only recognised late in the process. Really letting myself have a voice for the first time, not having that voice be changed by anyone around me, because that was what my life had been for so long.”

The first track of the record, Woman In Love, points sharply at that, artistically walking the thin line of vulnerable sentiment and confident encouragement, not to speak of a certain raging heart speaking through the lines:

“Bitter memories, digging up the treasure I sunk /
Love your enemy, maybe you can keep them infront /
How would you know what I’ve seen, what I’ve done? /
How would you know I’m a woman in love?” (Woman In Love)

About that particular song, Ella states that she “was really angry, and I never really expressed anger in music before… it just came out. I wanted to be really sarcastic and quite biting and show a side of myself that I wouldn’t let even myself see.”

“It was just a great way to channel lots of frustration, scream and wail. That was really cathartic in a different way actually.”

The album then ends with a conciliatory note, heading into the powerful ambient True Love. “The final thought that I had for making this album was that I’ve learned to love myself”, the songwriter explains. And indeed, the track embraces hope beyond the fear and hurt experienced, expressing a sacred momentum of self-esteem and newborn respect for what lies ahead. And what a fitting way to end this album, right?

“All these nervous emotions that you feel when you fall in love with someone else, I was feeling about myself, because I’ve never showed myself the amount of respect and care before, and then it felt like a positive end to quite a heavy dark sad album. It is quite a joyful end to a heavy album. I think we needed the relief.”

WILDES’ debut LP Other Words Fail Me is out now via AWAL