Nieve Ella is having her main pop girl moment

nieve ella

“I dread my birthday every year,” Nieve Ella sings on ‘19 In A Week’, her latest upbeat indie-pop single. Through the lyrics, the 19-year-old paints pictures of her fleeting adolescence, and “turning in my sheets” on the daunting cusp of adulthood. “Feeling like I’m grown but I’m still in the backseat,” she sings, encapsulating this uncertain period which she is figuring out beautifully through song.

The fact that NME is chatting to Ella from the London office of AWAL – home to Little Simz and Girl In Red – speaks volumes. Prior to the release of her debut EP ‘Young & Naive’ in January, Ella had only picked up the guitar as COVID took hold, using the “doomsday” feeling of a global pandemic and the time afforded by lockdowns to fire up her long-harboured desire to be a pop star.

“I never knew how to write songs before; it would just be me singing melodies,” Ella says, sitting cross-legged on a sunken sofa. But as soon as she played a guitar that her late father had left behind at home in Wolverhampton, she “just figured it out”. Ella studied tabs online, writing her first song ‘Four Years Gone’ in less than a week. “Playing guitar was a saviour for me,” she adds.

Fast forward three years and Ella has streams in the hundreds of thousands, and recently supported Inhaler on their UK tour as well as Dylan on her European stint. After every date of the latter, Ella – whose backing band comprises her “best friends” Finn Marlow (guitar), Matt Garnett (drums) and Fran Larkin (bass) – had hour-long queues of fans waiting to greet her at the merch stand. “Some girls were crying and saying, ‘You’ve really inspired me,” she says. “I want people to feel the way I feel when I listen to music; connected and not feeling alone.”

nieve ella
Credit: Frank Fieber

Ella’s songwriting process is as direct as it can be. Honed from her bedroom in lockdown, she found that speaking rather than singing lyrics over her guitar helped keep her style “conversational”. That’s reflected in the snippets of recorded phone calls with her mother on her ‘Young & Naive’. Elsewhere, on EP standout ‘Glasshouses’ she addresses her father, who passed away when she was 11, in the present tense (“I know you’re still out there somewhere”). Her father never lived with Ella and her two brothers at home with their mother; when she was a child, he moved to Spain and they had little contact. Songwriting, therefore, is a form of therapy for Ella.

Ella says that she used to be “very shy”, and when NME suggests that her teenage years were stunted by grief, she nods. “I think so too. I’ve definitely realised that before it was like, ‘Oh, I’ve just got to carry on with life.’ But actually it’s a big thing.” She continues: “Music literally did save me. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s just the best feeling.”

Her songwriting heroes Sam Fender and Phoebe Bridgers have done much to inspire her raw writing style. They in turn have helped pave the way or boosted the profiles of dozens of other exciting British acts, such as last year’s BRITs Rising Star winner Holly Humberstone. The Grantham artist’s heartbreak anthem, ‘Scarlett’, for example – written about her best friend’s doomed relationship – mirrors Ella’s flair for imagery of splintered romances. “My friends say you don’t care / I can tell by the way you stare when I’m talking to you,” Ella sings on ‘Fall 4 U’. Performing the track live has allowed her to unlock the confidence that has always been there, hiding behind her timidity.

“I feel like I’ve connected to my family more because they’ve heard me now,” Ella says. “Instead of me just being a child at a party, sitting in the corner not talking, they all say to me, ‘Nieve, you’ve become so confident.’ I’m like, ‘This is who I am; I am confident.’ I just didn’t want to show it before.”

nieve ella
Credit: Frank Fieber

Despite applying twice to sing on Britain’s Got Talent as a child, Ella used to hesitate about sharing her musical dreams with her family. Songwriting has since provided her with that avenue. “It feels like a relief,” she says. “They can finally hear how I feel about growing up – and my dad – without me directly telling them.”

While other songs on ‘Young & Naive’ explore emotionally unavailable boys (‘Blu Shirt Boy’, ‘Girlfriend’) over peppy indie compositions, Ella teases that the new music she’s writing has a rockier edge. “I love writing angry songs,” she says, describing how her bright melodies may have given a false impression of the frustrations she’s felt towards previous exes.

Yet Ella is willing to let her music evolve naturally. Tunes full of vigour about relationships and growing up, paired with emotive acoustic ballads, may be her starter pack, but a pluckier sound – starting with forthcoming single ‘Big House’, which she’ll take to Reading & Leeds and TRNSMT Festival this summer – lies ahead. “I feel like the new music I’ve been making has a lot more grit to it,” she says. “I just want to be out there on stage playing my songs; I want to do this forever.”

Nieve Ella’s new single ‘Big House’ will be released on April 7 via AWAL

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