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Vocalist Jocelyn Ellis explores 'Life of a Hologram'
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Charlotte-based singer/musician Jocelyn Ellis (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Ellis)

Suspend disbelief for just a moment and fast-forward to Earth, year 4013.

Facing a limited amount of water and oxygen, two warring powers fight to take over the world and disseminate their own plan of how these scarce resources should be conserved. Having no need for commodities like air or water, holograms are recruited to perform menial labor, and one advanced — yet shackled — prototype stands to tell the apocalyptic tale.

This is the world local vocalist/musician Jocelyn Ellis has created for her first solo album, “Life of a Hologram.”

But first, a little background

For those yet to be privy to Ellis’ musical stylings, the most accurate (and least descriptive) label for it is, simply, “genre bending.” Get a little more creative, and you could call her sound “urban folk.” Really get your flair on and you end up with “neon folk,” a hybridization of hip-hop, EDM, soul and gospel with folk aspects. A 20-something Durham, N.C.-native, Ellis believes her propensity toward the eclectic is rooted in her early influences. She grew up in a family without a formal musical background but with a clear creative leaning.

“My mother was an artist; she sold ceramics for a while and even had her own African art store. And my younger brother is a writer,” said Ellis. “My earliest performance, I was like 4 years old at my preschool graduation. And anywhere I was that had a piano, I’d be on it. Not to mention, I knew every Michael Jackson move there was.”

When she was 12, her interest deepened, and the sounds of Stevie Wonder and Phil Collins (among other artists) drew her to begin taking piano lessons, then to writing and composing her own pieces. “The first song I wrote was directly influenced by Alicia Keys’ [song] ‘Fallin.’ I give her credit for showing me that it was possible to be a young woman and conquer your dreams in music. I know I’m going to meet her one day — and I’m probably going to faint when I do.”

Ellis sang in choirs throughout high school and auditioned for the music program at UNC Charlotte, but decided to major in international business upon being rejected. “I thought if I couldn’t major in music, I might as well … have the other side of the knowledge game so that I could manage my career.”

But in 2008, before said career could take off, she became the lead singer of a Charlotte-based band called The Alpha Theory — a move that would put Ellis on the fast track to exposure. But after two years of playing gigs around town and across the nation, she parted ways with the band, choosing to focus solely on songwriting. “I felt strong as a performer, and I wanted to feel strong as a songwriter. I started pitching songs to other artists, so I was able to do songwriting sessions, work with producers in different settings: Nashville, New York City, Atlanta. It’s a much different side of the business; it’s a lot more about networking and building a catalog.”

OK, back to that new album

Time away from the stage gave Ellis the fuel she was seeking to connect with crowds again, an energy she kicked into high gear when the idea for her solo album dropped on her head “like an anvil.” The tracks on “Life of a Hologram” are pieced together to produce a funky version of “The Hunger Games” … sort of.

“My brother majored in creative writing at UNC Wilmington, so after the idea came to me I spent a couple weeks convincing him to undertake this effort with me. When he agreed we got to work on writing a story that would drive the album.”

The upcoming album explores themes of self-discovery, self-destruction, discrimination, classism and power as experienced by the main protagonist, Loah, a second-generation hologram prototype. According to Ellis, what makes Loah unique is her ability to interact with human beings while being cognizant that neither her will nor her fate is her own. Ellis was drawn to the idea of creating a character who was witnessing life without being able to fully participate in it. “It’s the idea of being both attached and detached. It really represents how I felt at the time I thought of it. I felt like I was just this entity watching everything around me, and I sort of felt like a hologram — someone that is watching everything around them but really doesn’t have much of a right to do more than what their programming has set for them to do.”

Slated for an April 2013 release, Ellis is currently seeking the support of her fans to help bring the album to life. She launched a campaign on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo.com to help fund "LOAH," attracting contributors with incentives ranging from a special digital download of the album before it's released, to a VIP dinner or a hot air balloon ride.

With January 20 the last day to pitch in, Ellis is about halfway through reaching her goal of $5,500. The project marks a decisive step in the direction her career will take. “There’s some ideology that teaches us to make our dreams smaller, make our thoughts smaller. I’m going to have a voice, and this is me about to scream about it right now.”

For more information about Ellis’ new album — or to contribute to her crowd-funding project – visit her Indiegogo page at Indiegogo.com/jEAlbumLOAH.

This article is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.
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April 24, 2014
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