Siobhan Wilson has come on a long journey to release her full debut album, There Are No Saints on Song, By Toad Records. Starting in Elgin in Northern Scotland, she was discovered online by a French label and gained a reputation playing around Paris under the name Ella the Bird. Fortified by a grounding in classical music and theory, her music is varied in style and influence, but unified by a warm, personal honesty.

Ahead of a few dates around the UK later this month, we spoke to her about the album, its spiritual inspirations, whether she thinks there is still a stigma around classical music in pop and the importance of relocating to a big city for emerging musicians.


From your career to date, it seems the music you make changes with the state of mind you're in. With There Are No Saints, was it an active decision to make a "breakup album"?

I guess I don't really see it as a breakup album. I would say I don't go into a studio with a definite purpose. It's not until after I hear the songs that I can identify what it is I'm doing. I plan things like tours, but I tend not to plan anything emotional, or any creative outlet. That has to be spontaneous.

Listening to your older music too, there is more variety in the styles of music you draw from than so many other musicians.

I think it's funny how much you can change just depending on what you've been listening to and what's been happening in your life. I started off listening to a lot of classical music because I played the cello and piano when I was a kid. That was my thing, I wanted to be a cellist. But then my dad also had quite an expensive 70s rock collection of vinyl, so I had that going on at the same time. And my sister used to listen to The Prodigy and early dance music. And in the past few years, I've been listening to a lot of Perfume Genius and Sharon Van Etten and re-listening to Joni Mitchell and things like that. So maybe some of that came out on this record. I find it difficult to write about something lyrically unless I really care about it. You can connect with other people as long as you're authentic.

You mention the classical background, which you can hear on the album. I think, for better or worse, a lot of listeners might still find 'classical' a bit of a scary word. Do you think there's still a stigma in 2017 around classical and pop music existing together?

No, I don't think so. I know what you mean, but I think a lot of people have an amazing connection with classical music in one way or another. Whether it's spiritual music in the church from when they were younger or a scene in their favourite film. Artists like Bjork and Sigur Ros use that cinematic, orchestral, classical influence really effectively.

Sometimes when people talk about a classical concert, it might be a bit daunting to some people. It seems more formal sometimes, but I really think the contemporary classical world just now is realising that it has to break down those walls. The world is so multimedia now, and the home studio age has started to break down the walls anyway, and the internet makes all kinds of music more accessible and relatable. I'm quite an optimistic person, I wouldn't see it as a stigma, I'd rather see it as a challenge. It's cool making fusions.

Your album was produced by Chris McCrory from Catholic Action. That's an interesting choice for a set of really intricate, delicate songs. Was there something about his DIY style that you thought would be a good fit?

Definitely, he's a really inspiring person to be in a studio with. He works really quickly and gets so passionate about things. And I'm a bit quiet and brooding, so I come in with an idea, and he gives it life. He also has a passion about the one-take performance, which is exactly what I'm into, so we had that in common. There are quite a lot of one-takes on the album.

Chris McCrory is associated with punk music. Would you say there's any of that DNA on There Are No Saints?

I think of punk as more of a mentality than a musical form. That DIY love of the untouched and imperfect - it's not synonymous with punk but it's related to it. I don't think of There Are No Saints as a political album, so it's not punk in that way, and it's not abrasive or a protest. But I feel completely at home in punk venues and with the DIY style. I feel like there's a lot of room for creativity there, and it's less interested in commerciality, and that's something that my label Song, By Toad has in common with it too. I suppose it's a bit strange because I've got quite a clean, classical upbringing and I like writing angelic pop songs, but I listen to a lot of rock and punk music at home.

You're originally from Elgin, and I know you went to Paris to get your career up and running there. Do you think artists are still drawn to the big cities, or would it have been possible to do what you're doing if you stayed in Elgin?

I'm scared to say something about Elgin that's unkind! It's hard to say, there are so many different courses you can take. I got discovered on MySpace by a label in Paris, so I didn't go to France to get discovered. I had a place in Manchester to study classical musicology and cello when I was 18, and I was just writing a few pop songs in my spare time, when the label in France saw my MySpace and sent me an email, and through that I decided that I could go to Paris for a few years. But I didn't go there with a mission to become a singer.

There's one venue in Elgin now, which wasn't there when I grew up there. It was fun to play there this year. When I was growing up, we used to play in each others' garages, doing covers of Nirvana songs. There was quite a lot of music actually. But it depends on your level of ambition – if you want to be a big famous person and be on Radio 1, maybe you do need to live in a city, but if you just want to play in small venues and build your audience and keep your artistic integrity and keep your experimental nature, I'm not sure if you do. It's a really difficult question to answer.

At the shows I've been doing this year, people have been coming up to me and saying things like, "Oh, I heard you on Cerys Matthews on 6 Music," so I think radio shows and podcasts still hold a lot of significance to the live scene. Sometimes I wonder if things like Facebook actually translates into attendance for gigs. On the other hand, it is so much easier to stay in touch with my fans through social media. Especially for the ones in France, because I don't get to go there too often to play. So that's quite cool.

Your album is called There Are No Saints, and you recently said, "we all have a capacity for good and evil, and none of us are worth more than anyone else." The whole album seems to be about your own personal sense of spirituality and morality. Is there also a religious theme to the album?

It's hard to sing about anyone else's spirituality. If you sang about that, they would have to write the words. I'm only equipped to sing about my own experiences when it comes to religion. I wouldn't feel I had the right to sing about anyone else's. Through that, it's an exploration of faith, and a realisation – maybe other people figure it out when they're younger, or they never think about it – that religion is irrelevant in my current life. It wasn't a shaking off of religion, but a realisation that I have faith, it just doesn't need to be religious.

I grew up really Catholic, which was great, because I played in an Episcopalian cathedral every Sunday, singing in Bach chorales, and did St Matthew's Passion in a cathedral in Orkney. That was a really cool thing to experience, so I'm really thankful for that side of religion. It makes awesome music! Pop music just wouldn't be where it is if it weren't for religion.

I remember being at a school talk and a minister came in and said the most important part of faith was questioning it. That's why I'm still confused – if you question your faith, does that mean you actually have faith? I don't know. It's really difficult to be decisive about what you actually believe unless you know the facts, so it's just a big question mark.

The song 'Dystopian Bach' shows off your more experimental side. Is that something we can expect more of in the future?

Definitely, yes. In one way, I'm going to make more fusions of classical and experimental stuff with my pop music, and in another way, I'm going to start separating them onto different projects too. I'm going to explore and expand on the two genres, there are plans to do either a classical EP or a classical album at some point. And there'll be another pop album, which I've started writing, and that's quite electric guitar-y and DIY in nature, with a little Cocteau Twins in there too. I'm working on that now, writing lyrics and new songs. It's not really about religion or love this time.