Jocelyn Ellis is working it. A singer, songwriter, composer, and producer who describes her sound as urban folk, Ellis' musical influences are Prince, Chaka Khan, U2, The Police, and Sade. The twenty-two-year-old Durham native and UNC Charlotte senior has a growing following, and with her band, The Alpha Theory, she released a seven-song EP in May titled In the Beginning. Performing in front of packed crowds at recent shows at the Evening Muse and Neighborhood Theatre has helped foster her belief that Charlotte will support local artists.
Find out what Ellis thinks about the Charlotte music scene and how she wants to use her business degree to start a company that helps emerging musicians.
If you're going to be a big-time musician, do you really need college?
Knowing business in general, I hope, will help me be savvy as far as the industry goes. And that was my whole mentality for studying business, like let me do something that I can apply to music. Business, music—music business—you know.
How did you get started with music?
My first performance was at four years old, during my preschool graduation. When I turned twelve I started taking piano lessons. And off and on I was involved in school choirs and church choirs. I've just always had a passion for music. When I came to UNC Charlotte, it gave me an opportunity to get involved in talent shows and showcases. I just really loved it and developed it, then I started doing gigs off campus and it just grew from there. I'm working with a band now, The Alpha Theory, and we're trying to push this musical movement through true expression.
What do you think about Charlotte's music scene?
I definitely think it's grown since I've been here, which is exciting. The biggest thing I think about the underground and underground artists is unifying and coming together. So I've seen that. We've had the opportunity to grow and now we're at a point where we're going hard. And Charlotte is starting to support the arts more. You have the new venues that just went up at the Music Factory and even the EpiCentre has an art gallery, so you see this whole revitalization of the arts. As underground artists, it's not as easy for us to get onto the radio or to put an ad on TV for our new CD. So being recognized by our community—I'm so happy to see that and it's such a blessing.
You've been doing a lot of live shows lately.
We have to get out there. There are so many people who live in Charlotte, and the whole area like Kannapolis and Matthews, so to go to events like FemmeFest and perform gives people the live element and a true vibe. You can listen to a CD, but when you go to a live show you can feel the energy. I think when you see us on stage you can tell how passionate we are about what we create. And it gets the next person on board with spreading the word about our music.
At your show at the Evening Muse there were a lot of UNCC students there. What kind of support do you get from them?
I think a lot of them have seen my growth. They saw me at the talent shows and showcases and then when I started doing gigs off campus, they followed. It's great to see them out in the crowd.
How did the EP come together?
I write all the songs, and I'm proud to say that because some artists don't write their own material. I compose as well, like for “If Cupid Had A Girlfriend," I actually composed the piano piece for that. Then with the tracks with live instrumentation, The Alpha Theory created the music. And we had a couple of producers on the project as well.
How did you link up with The Alpha Theory?
I met the drummer in one of my classes. He'd done a gig with me and he said, ‘I have a band. You should come check us out.' And we just hit it off and started working together. They're just phenomenal musicians. A lot of times they'll put the music together, like for “Wake Up" and “Sugar Rose" they put the music together and then I wrote to it. Honestly, our process just flows. We'll go into a room and express and create. We just click.
Your sound seems like it can fit into several different categories, depending on what song of yours we're listening to.
My sound is very diverse because I'm diverse. I can write to anything and I love to play with my voice and I love to experiment. I would describe my sound as urban folk/indie rock. I say urban folk because when you think of folk you think of being on the porch telling stories and that's what I do—I try to tell stories, tell my life, and just be real with people. I throw urban in there because we're using contemporary instrumentation to convey what we want to say.
Where do you want to go with music?
My short-term goal is to start a music production and publishing company and that would house what we do. Inevitably, I would like to start a company—I don't want to call it a record label because, in my opinion, we don't make records anymore and I don't want to label anybody. But it would help other artists get their music out. There's just so much talent in North Carolina. And since I do have a business background, I want to take that and my understanding of the artistry and create a community where they can freely express, but also have somebody looking out for their best interest from a business standpoint. Then, I have a lot of ideas. I want to get out there with the band and have people hear our music and in the next two years be on a national level and going on tour.
To find out where you can see Jocelyn Ellis and The Alpha Theory perform and to purchase their CD, visit jocelynellis.net.