Ella Vos Talks Cancer Diagnosis, Touring And ‘Watch & Wait’ EP: Interview
Everything was going to plan for Ella Vos. After enjoying a breakout 2017, which saw the arrival of her critically-acclaimed debut LP, the LA-based singer/songwriter was pegged as One To Watch. But then life got in the way. In 2018, Ella was diagnosed with cancer and spent months undergoing treatment. Which wreaked its own kind of havoc. She suffered almost complete hearing loss — a situation that was only rectified recently.
Instead of taking a well-earned break, Lauren Salamone (her real name) channeled the experience into a startlingly raw and honest collection of songs called Watch & Wait. The EP arrived in January and she is currently back on the road, doing what she loves. (You can see tour dates and buy tickets here). I recently spoke with Ella about her cancer battle and ongoing health setbacks. The “Ocean” singer also opened up about the possible direction of her sophomore LP and future club features. Get to know her a little better in our Q&A below.
How did you feel when the EP was finally released?
Relieved. I think it was mostly because I was releasing music very consistently. For all of 2017, music was coming out. And that was my plan for last year as well. But then, with the cancer diagnosis and the treatment, that wasn’t possible. So it was weird for me, as an artist, to not be putting music out.
You mentioned the diagnosis. How did you find out you were ill?
I found out one week into tour. I had gotten a biopsy done after my third show. Then, a couple days later, I got the call from my doctor. We were in the middle of Florida, driving to the next show.
What prompted you to get the biopsy?
I went to get a flu shot before tour. I had been having issues with my stomach, so I asked this doctor to check out my abdomen. I thought I had a problem with my ab muscles. She felt around and found this giant hard spot. That’s how everything started. I didn’t really feel sick. I had no idea that anything serious was wrong. So I get this biopsy and then found out when I was already on the road.
The next day, I played a festival in Florida and I just remember trying to carry on as if it was a normal day, but I felt so heavy. I remember being on stage and thinking, “Oh, this is when I can really let it go and I will just share all my anger and emotion.” Instead, I was really frozen. I didn’t know how to process it at all.
I believe you wrote “Empty Hands” while you were in treatment.
That’s right. It was one of the first songs I wrote in treatment. I think I wrote a lot of the lyrics on the very first day of treatment. ‘Cause I have all these guitar tracks that my husband had written and so I was just listening to them in treatment and writing my lyrics over them. I think that was the first one.
Why did you decide to use actual footage of you undergoing treatment in the video?
Actually, I didn’t want to do it. My producer/manager brought up the idea. And he was like, “I think it would be really great to film a day in treatment for one of the songs.” And I was like, “That sounds like a cool idea but that’s weird. Nobody wants to watch that. I don’t want to watch that.” I was nervous that it would make the experience less serious or less meaningful. Or that people would think it’s too sad. But I obviously wound up saying yes.
I like documenting stuff. This was important to document. And now, I’m glad that I did it. We filmed on the last day of treatment so it felt like closure. A nice little finish to that period of time. And so now I watch it and I feel hopeful. I was in especially good spirits that day. It was the last day and I’m smiling a lot in the video.
How do you manage your health or are you 100 percent recovered now?
Oh, no. My immune system really, really took a hit, from the treatment. I’ve been managing the side effects of that since the day treatment finished. I just get sick really easily. It has given me a lot of stuff to write about. I couldn’t hear very well for about five months. Both of my ears closed up. We tried so many different things to fix it and finally I got tubes put in my ears, so I can hear now. But for five months I was trying to record and do sessions and I literally had to put on headphones and they wouldd have to talk through the microphones because I couldn’t hear them.
That must be especially tough for a musician.
It was hard. The day that I got tubes put in my ears, it was like night and day, my mood changed so much. But I think it’s difficult for anyone when, really you’re only hearing yourself. I tend to get really lost in my thoughts. I tune things out pretty well, to a fault sometimes. And especially when my hearing was bad, I really would get lost in my head. And you can either go somewhere deep and meaningful, or you can go dark.
How do the health issues impact your ability to tour and promote?
It has been hard. I definitely had to adjust my expectations. I can’t go play every single show. I can’t be in the studio every day. My working hours are pretty limited for right now. It’s hard, there are definitely days where I don’t know if I can keep doing this because I don’t know if I can keep up. I think that’s what I struggle against the most, staying positive.
You can do a lot remotely now via social media and live streaming.
That’s true. And that’s why I have been so open about what I’m going through. My socials are really the only way to connect with people since I’m not out on the road a lot. Socials are great because you can just be in bed and texting everyone. I have really long conversations on Instagram. And that has been good, that’s something I wouldn’t have made the time to do before. I spend a lot of hours writing back to people. That’s cool.
Given everything you have been through, is the EP almost a musical account of that journey?
I don’t know. I just feel like it’s a collection of songs from that time. When I was picking the songs for the EP, I wanted to cover a few different emotions, so it wasn’t repetitive. And the thing is when I was writing the songs, I realized that they were less about going through treatment and more just about going through a big growing up period. I rediscovered who I am and found self-acceptance.
Will this introspection flow into your next album or will you switch it up?
I think it will be different. I don’t think it will be as introspective. I mean, I don’t know. I want the next set of songs I write to be a little bit… bigger, I guess. More like “Cast Away.”
I love that song.
Thank you! I don’t like listening to my own music a lot after it has come out, but I do like listening to that song. And it feels like the kind of music that I listen to daily. It has a classic feel to it and I would love to make more music like that. That’s just a little bit more classic and timeless. I like the repetitiveness of it, you can get really lost in it.
This is a bit of an aside, but I love the club songs that you have done in the past. Is that something that you might revisit?
Yes, there is more of that coming. I love those too, especially because they’re so different. It’s fun. Yeah there’s one that is coming later this year, don’t worry.
How will everything you have been through affect your live show?
I set this date, I don’t know, maybe in November. And I was like, “Okay, if I feel well enough by December 15, then we’re going to book a tour. And then December 15 came, and I still didn’t feel well. But I was like, “I will probably feel well in three months, which is still good.” I figure even if I’m not 100 percent by the start of the tour, that’s fine too. I don’t want everything to just stop just because I’m not 100 percent. That isn’t how life works. I figure I’ll just go and do the best that I can.
Thank you for your time. Get well!