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What's Up Magazine

Austin Ellis at Rams Head On Stage

Jun 04, 2012 10:40PM ● By Anonymous

If the nearly-full house last Wednesday was any indication of how the area has received him, I’d say it’s with a resounding “Welcome!”

Nelly of Nelly’s Echo opened the show with a smooth sound and a stage presence that was both fun and engaging—I’ll definitely be watching for future shows from him—and local favorite Pressing Strings followed up with the kind of reliably fresh and entertaining set we’ve come to love from them. Both acts were a fantastic lead in for Austin Ellis, who describes his music genre to friends as “acoustic soul.”

After catching two of his shows in one week—equally impressed both times—I sat down with Ellis to talk about his music, his life, and his connection to our beloved town. Here’s what he had to say.

Q. First, how would you describe your music—what genre do you consider yourself?
A. The funny thing about genres is it depends on who you're talking to. To a music industry professional it’s considered “adult alternative,”—but what does that really mean? To a friend or new acquaintance I'd describe it as acoustic soul. Like John Mayer or Jack Johnson, with a little more R&B influence.

Q. Which came first for you: singing or playing the guitar?
A. I started playing guitar when I was 15, freshman year of high school. Although there were guitars laying around my house my whole life from my father, singing came first. I start as soon as I could speak, singing along to a little Fisher Price tape deck to Boyz II Men and Michael Jackson.

Q. Who else did you grow up listening to?
A. I grew up in a house that had a huge music collection. I grew up listening to blues, classic rock, Latin, singer-songwriter, rap, R&B, neo-soul, Motown, reggae, and even a little old school country. What really got me into singing and what probably explains the romantic vibe of a lot of my music, was listening to R&B slow jams before bed as an adolescent. Then the singer-songwriters I mentioned before led me to combining those R&B influences with the acoustic guitar and songwriting.

Q. You’ve said that your parents split when you were 15, and that’s when you really jumped into songwriting, playing music, and singing. Why then?
A. Really I just needed a way to express the feelings that had become overwhelming to speak on, and it was a great distraction from the turbulence. Also let’s be honest… I was a 15-year-old guy going into high school...girls love guitars and music!

Q. We have one thing in common, and that’s that we came from small towns south of Annapolis, went to big schools in Tennessee and then returned. How did you land on MTSU and what made you return to Maryland?
A. True. Actually I had decided to do a couple of years at a community college after not be able to find a music business program to my liking towards the end of high school. Then I was teaching guitar lessons the summer after graduation and a long lost friend stopped me in the parking lot and told me about this world class program in Nashville where I could get in-state tuition. I went home that day, applied,—meeting every deadline by a day or less—packed up my car and moved to Nashville. Crazy, but a great experience. As far as returning to Maryland, I'm a very loyal person, so being near my family, friends, and home is important, especially in a business that requires a certain amount of travel and flexibility. It’s my home base and it keeps me grounded.

Q. How has Maryland, and specifically Annapolis, embraced your return as far as the music scene goes?
A. The whole DMV has been really incredible and supportive. There is so much opportunity here and so many great people who love music. Annapolis has been particularly supportive, from WRNR to Ram's Head, to the music-community, it’s a real blessing to have such great resources to grow and thrive.

Q. What musical (or other) artists keep you inspired?
A. There are so many, it’s hard to say, but I really look up to emotive singer/songwriters like Bill Withers and Ray Charles. As far as contemporaries that really paved the way for me and sparked the thought, "Hey I can do this," guys like Ben Harper, Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, and John Mayer were big time influences.

In the next couple of weeks you can catch Austin locally at Sly Fox Wednesday night, June 13th beginning at 8 p.m., at Dock Street Friday, June 15th at 8:30 p.m., or on the Schooner Woodwind, Sailboat Cruise Concert on Thursday, June 21st at 6:30 p.m. For more information, clips, and additional show times visit