Squirrel Flower: “I love playing weird venues…” (3/12 at The Church)

Polyvinyl indie folk artist Ella Williams, better known as Squirrel Flower, has the unique distinction of being the very last artist I got to see perform live before the...

Polyvinyl indie folk artist Ella Williams, better known as Squirrel Flower, has the unique distinction of being the very last artist I got to see perform live before the pandemic shut down any and all legitimate forms of live musical performance for a year-and-a-half.  Squirrel Flower was headlining The [newly-renamed] Lounge at World Café Live for a performance which she tells me, during a recent phone chat, was certainly a standout moment in her musical history.

“Dude, that was one of the weirdest shows of my life.  That day the shit really hit the fan.  I remember we were sound checking as we heard people at the bar say that the St. Patrick’s Day parade was cancelled, and that’s a big deal in Philly!  We all played that show being like, ‘We’re gonna have to cancel the tour,’ but then we played New York the next night, before going home…”

However, Williams tells me that the forced break brought upon by lockdown was not all bad, giving her, “Time to reset and have basically a year of doing nothing but chilling,” going on to admit, “Getting money from the government was a new experience for me, as an artist, and not having to work.”  She says it also prompted a few major changes to her current life: “My life has really blossomed since then; I moved to Chicago like two years ago.  I’ve been really busy, and it’s been really great.  It feels very different from pre-pandemic, when I was a recent college graduate, living with my parents and working in a café.”

Since then Squirrel Flower has released 2021 full-length Planet (i) (which propelled her to open a run of dates for Soccer Mommy, including a sold-out stop at Union Transfer in September of that year), in addition to the Planet EP, which dropped in January of 2022.  And just this January Squirrel Flower released single “Your Love,” a full-band reimagining of the stripped-down “Your Love Is A Disaster,” from the EP.  “As an artist, I really love covering an old song of mine and reimagining it and making it different,” she tells me.  And this new, bigger version of the track, inspired by her time playing the song with a full band on the road, features guitar from beyond-buzzy indie musician and friend of Ella’s, MJ Lenderman, although she tells me his contributions weren’t done in a particularly traditional manner: “He’s my buddy, and I needed a guitarist and reached out to him.  But he recorded it while he was on the road.  The whole thing was recorded in a kind of hodge-podge way.”

However, Squirrel Flower recently kicked off a handful of dates that have her stripping her sound and lineup back down again, something that she tells me will likely take a little readjusting: “It’s weird to play solo because most of what I’ve been doing recently is the full-band thing.”  The majority of the dates will have her double-headlining with Dimitri Giannopoulos of Horse Jumper of Love, where they will both be playing their music solo.  Although her final date on this solo run will have her headlining a special intimate, seated show on her own in The Side Chapel of the First Unitarian Church on March 12th, with Brittle Brian supporting, which she tells me she’s very excited about: “It’s gonna be a tiny show, very stripped down, just me and Brittle Brian…  I love playing weird venues like that.”

Over the years Squirrel Flower has played some of Philly’s most varied spaces, which Ella tells me she appreciates: “I’ve played basements, I’ve played warehouse spaces, I’ve played little venues, I’ve played normal venues…  I fucking love Philly.”  However, when I ask her if she has a preference, she admits that she has some very particular things that she cares about: “I feel like my ideal venue is a club that is in a community space, that is all ages, and has good sound and also has a green room…  I don’t know if that exists [laughs].”  But one of these qualifications has become especially important to Williams over the years: “Most venues are strictly 21+, and I hate that shit.  Most of my teens were spent not being able to get into 21+ shows, or going to all ages shows that changed my life!  Moving forward, I’m trying to play more of those.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.