Squirrel Flower, the moniker of Ella Williams, announces her new album, Planet (i), out June 25th on Polyvinyl, and today offers its lead single and video, “Hurt A Fly.” Planet (i) is the follow-up to 2020’s I Was Born Swimming, which boasted “peaceful, almost-ambient songs as well as heavy, hook-laden rockers” (Rolling Stone). Planet(i) is a world entirely of Williams’ making. The title came first to her as a joke: it’s her made-up name for the new planet people will inevitably settle and destroy after leaving Earth, as well as the universe imagined within her music. The record is a love letter to disaster in every form imaginable – these songs fully embrace a planet in ruin. Buoyed by her steadfast vision and propelled by her burning comet of a voice, Planet (i) is at once a refuge, an act of self-healing, and a musical reflection of Squirrel Flower’s inner and outer worlds.
Williams wrote most of the songs on Planet (i) before the COVID-19 pandemic, but disaster looms large in its DNA. Susceptible to head injuries having played a lot of sports in her youth, Williams received three concussions from 2019-2020. Amidst the chaos of touring internationally during her own healing process, she began weaving threads between her physical and personal sense of ruin and her lifelong fear of the elements: of being swept up by storms, floods, and the deep ocean. “To overcome my fear of disasters,” Williams says, “I had to embody them, to stare them down.” This journey of decay and healing is the lifeblood of Planet (i).
Once quarantine set in, Williams began to produce demos in her room, amassing a collection of more than 30 recordings. Feeling a sense of artistic synchronicity over international phone calls with producer Ali Chant (PJ Harvey, Perfume Genius), and with newfound covid antibodies, Williams flew to Bristol, UK in the fall of 2020 to record Planet (i) at Chant’s studio, The Playpen. “We had this shared creative language,” she recalls, “and the recording process was, like my demo process, very sculptural. Instead of recording live with a full band, we built this record layer by layer, experimenting, taking risks.” While Williams and Chant played most of the instruments on the record, Bristol drummer Matt Brown and Portishead’sAdrian Utley also joined their sessions. When Chant suggested the idea of backup vocals, Williams, whose voice had until now stood alone in her songs, enthusiastically enlisted friends and family to join her remotely with their voices and instruments; Tenci’s Jess Shoman, Tomberlin, Katy J. Pearson, Jemima Coulter, Brooke Bentham, and her brothers Nate and Jameson Williams, as well as her father Jesse.
The songs on Planet (i) are Squirrel Flower’s instruments for connection: with the people in her life, her collaborators, audiences, and ancestors; a lineage of artists whose spirits continue to inform her art. At the heart of this record is an insistence on connection and healing in the face of catastrophe. On the explosive lead single “Hurt A Fly,” Williams is a volatile, relentless presence. She takes the persona of a manipulative lover as she lurches from guilt to sorrow to renewed fury, backed by whirring, frenetic guitars. The accompanying video, directed by Ryan Schnackenberg, visualizes this energy, as Williams moves around inside a plastic bubble.
“‘Hurt A Fly’ is me embodying a persona of gaslighting, narcissistic soft-boy type shit,” says Williams. “The classic ‘sorry I acted violently, I’m not mad that you got upset at me, wanna hang out next week?’. I wanted to see what it was like to be a character trying to skirt around accountability. It’s an angry and unhinged song, and for the video I wanted to be inside a bubble writhing around and trying to get out. A stranger filmed me practicing choreography at a public park, submitted it to a meme page making fun of ‘influencers,’ and the video got 1,000,000 views, which in my mind is perfect thematically.”
On Planet (i), Squirrel Flower reveals a bright and uncompromising vision, confident in her powers of self-healing and growth. No matter what the disaster ahead of or within her looks like, and no matter how she shape-shifts to meet it, Squirrel Flower will always be a world of her own, a space-rock flying down the road in flames and flat tires.
Pre-order Planet (i)
Planet (i) Tracklist
1. I’ll Go Running
2. Hurt A Fly
3. Deluge In the South
4. Big Beast
6. Iowa 146
8. Flames and Flat Tires
9. To Be Forgotten
10. Desert Wildflowers