This Is Me: Ellen Campesinos!

Bass player, tattoo enthusiast and soul searcher Ellen Waddell talks about music, life and love

Interview by Sofie Jenkinson, photos by Simon Ayre

I asked for a bass guitar for Christmas when I was 17. It seemed like a fun supporting instrument rather than the main thing and I wanted to feel like I was helping rather than leading. I made a conscious decision to teach myself in my own time rather than have lessons which means my technical ability is pretty “unique” and I have lots of bad habits but I work with it.

I attempted to learn the piano when I was 10 and the flute when I was 11. The results were choppy to say the least, I didn’t have the patience or the understanding of how my brain worked back then so I would get continually frustrated at my inability to play the darned things, plus when the focus was just on me I tended to panic and mess it up. I have this horrible memory of doing my grade one piano at my teacher’s house and starting this piece again and again and again. I just gave up in the end.

If I had not been playing bass I would like to be traveling with a camera and a laptop, writing the female version of Tropic of Cancer but with more sanitation and less sex.

The strange thing about being in a band is how your memories get shelved in this little strange area of your brain only to be recalled with gentle coercing by other band members with words like “Do you remember when we got those Lego figures made of us in Iowa?” or “That venue in Alabama with the massage chairs was weird wasn’t it?” and then it all comes flooding back.

I have so many highlights but the other day I was suddenly struck by this beautiful memory of myself and our old singer Aleks being given a late night guided tour of Mexico by a taxi driver while our favorite songs from our university dancing days played on the radio. She left to study neurology a couple of months later and I miss having her around.

I used to think female musicians got a bad reputation when we first started but I was fresh off a journalism course with a dissertation on sexism in music magazines under my belt so I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I realized that lazy journalists and the media can resort to tired clichés when reporting on women, only comparing them to other female musicians etc but in terms of the general day to day people you meet in the industry I honestly have not noticed that much difference.

90% of the time people assume I am a singer rather than a bass welder. I have received a few remarks from “fans” which I have found quite demeaning or patriarchal, references to my appearance or even unhappiness with my appearance but I also think that’s just ignorance and rudeness rather than out and out sexism and it’s still a rare occurrence because in general our fans our bloody lovely.

I really enjoy jet lag. I love wondering around a place like Hong Kong or Japan at 6am when everyone is just waking up, seeing fish being carried to the market. Or sitting outside a coffee chain in Shibuya and talking to some guy who wants to practice his English and realizing that he studied in Bath for a year and knows some of your friends, or going to some college town in America and having a favorite book store or café that you have grown to love, yet it is completely disconnected from your normal everyday life.

Off tour daily life normally involves overpriced coffee in a place I can get away with sitting for hours and writing in, running while listening to a podcast, (my favourites currently include The Bugle and Filmspotting), going to the cinema or having a drink with nice people. And I especially love driving around in my car singing loudly, badly and out of tune. That’s a special pleasure of mine.

I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday and have eight in total, some I prefer more then others but none I regret. I have a particular fondness for a quote from Jane Eyre on my left arm. I got it done at a really low point emotionally to remind myself to chill the fuck out, and that if I can find solace in books and imagination then everything else can fall away for a bit

I have learnt over the past year or so how insignificant I am in terms of the bigger picture, the scale of the entire universe. Not to negate my importance to those around me or my impact on them but realising that nothing you do really matters is quite freeing, so you might as well try and do what makes you happy

I live for interesting conversations more than anything else and I am privileged to be friends with some very smart and interesting people whom I learn so much from.

I am a voyeur, I’m nosy. I really enjoy making little documentaries about our tour experiences because I think it’s something about five fans like seeing, plus when I am old I will be grateful to have visual proof of my experiences to show my grandkids.

There is something incredibly pleasing to me about editing footage together. It’s similar to making music and has to have a certain rhythm to it to keep it interesting.  It would be cool to one day maybe make something fictional, but I think that’s something I have to build up to.

I think I am lucky to have achieved quite a lot so far despite myself, but I would really like to travel around America and have the privilege of documenting my experiences through the medium of writing and have it published by someone, that would be nice. I would also like to go to Comic Con and Universal Studios in the same week.  And write a book, and make a film, and own a cat. And have a really nice house with huge bay windows overlooking some kind of moving water. And fall in love for a long time.

I love the dissection and examination of people at their very worst, it’s something I enjoy writing about, the morbid fascination of people being horrific to each other because they are just these scared vulnerable things. I wish I had written the film Closer, the way it depicted relationships really appealed to me.  I think it’s a theme that will never tire, and the ins and outs of human behaviour is a subject I am kind of obsessed with, it’s what makes us all individual yet utterly the same.

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