Chicago-based artist Ella Williams, aka Squirrel Flower, releases her sophomore album aptly titled Planet (i) on Friday
Conjured from the depths of her mind, Planet (i) is both Williams’ fantastical realm, which humanity has the potential to destroy after leaving Earth in ruins, as well as the domain where her unrestrained creativity resides.
Recorded in Bristol, UK in the midst of the pandemic, Williams weaves through cycles of creation and annihilation as she navigates through self-healing.
“It was really intense and scary at first,” she said. “I went at the end of August and COVID just didn’t seem like a thing there. People didn’t wear masks and really didn’t care. I had been in strict quarantine with my family for like five or six months…I walked around wearing a mask the first couple of days outside and people looked at me like I was crazy. Aside from just being a culture shock because it was my first time traveling in a while, it took me a little bit to get acclimated to the different comfort level.”
Despite the tumultuous upheaval and adjustment, Williams made Bristol her home for an additional month and a half during the recording and mixing process alongside producer Ali Chant (PJ Harvey, Perfume Genius), Matt Brown and Adrian Utley of Portishead.
“It was a really special time,” Williams reminisced. “[In terms of] making the record, we had so much space and time to do it. It didn’t feel rushed at all… It was a very intentional, layered process. Every part had time to breathe and sit before moving on to the next thing.”
Squirrel Flower largely remains a solo endeavor and artistic pursuit of Williams, yet after being asked to contribute guest vocals to friends’ records in 2020 the idea of enlisting guests to do backing vocals on tracks became an appealing and welcoming option. Including Tenci’s Jess Shoman, Sarah Beth Tomberlin and her brothers and father on Planet (i), Williams’ tracks became a means of intimate connection and community in a period of vast isolation.
Grappling with themes of the inevitability of change and the struggle for survival in her singles “I’ll Go Running” and “Flames and Flat Tires,” Williams aims to honor her impulses and movement on her own accord as she roots herself consciously within the present.
“There’s this Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese, [with a line that states] ‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’ I really like that,” she said. “The way you think you want to spend your time, leaning into whatever feels good as opposed to thinking you should be doing something because you think other people are doing something. It’s all about finding the balance between what feels good and joyful in little moments.”
In terms of battling feelings of discomfort and pain that inevitably wax and wane with life’s natural course, Williams shifted to mindfulness practices and being intentional with her actions and perspective.
“If you’re having a really bad time, emotionally or physically, it’s still your life that’s happening to you and there’s beauty in that,” she said. “I think I’ve just learned over the past two or three years to lean into that and experience pain and discomfort as not a horrible, scary, anxiety-inducing thing but more part of what it is to be a creature in the world.”
Those in Chicago can attend Squirrel Flower’s album release show on June 26 at Sleeping Village. Williams is also performing on a mostly sold out U.S. Soccer Mommy tour beginning in September.