Kristian Bush, John Mayer and the Unexpected Story of Lindsay Ell’s ‘Worth the Wait’ EP
Producer Kristian Bush made her. It was her homework for two weeks before they even thought about cutting the blues-influenced tracks that introduce Ell as not only a great guitarist, but a pure vocalist — an artist.
Bush's approach to producing music is unconventional, or at least it was in this case. The singer spent time listening to how she talked about herself and how others referred to her, and she recognized something obvious was missing in the conversation.
"You play guitar and people go, ‘Oh my gosh,'" Bush told Taste of Country, recreating the conversation. "People go, ‘Look how cool she is, she’s beautiful. Look how cool she is, she’s a great writer.’ I said, ‘No one yet has said the obvious, which is you’re a great singer.’”
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From there Bush dug deeper, past Ell's hesitance to complain or even talk about her personal and professional struggles. He simply asked when the last time she felt like herself was, and what album was she listening to then. The answer was immediate: John Mayer's Continuum.
“I don’t know, Lindsey, if you know how to record music by yourself," Bush says, still recreating his half of the conversation, "but here’s your first piece of homework. You’re gonna go into a room that’s not your house and you’re gonna re-record Continuum. And you can’t ask for any help. You can only have a guitar and a bass and shaker and microphone. That’s it. Send it to me in two weeks.”
Ell did it, and Bush mixed it in a way that abandoned sonic balance in favor of a focus on the 28-year-old's vocals. “This is you," Bush told her. "Do you even know you? Have you met you? You’re awesome.”
From that point forward, Bush instructed Ell to record every song the same way, so in secret she cut the six songs that make up Worth the Wait. Her record label, Bush says, didn't truly even know what was happening — they indicated they were mostly playing around, but wouldn't need much money. Eventually his band came in to round out the project, which he said was amusing because many are, like Mayer, from Atlanta and actually played on many of his most popular albums.
This exercise in recording an entire album that works breeds familiarity with the process. It's the equivalent of fixing an old timepiece with a manual, as opposed to rough markings and a gut feeling. Did it work? Did Bush succeed in his goal of bringing the artist out of her?
To each their own, but it's impossible to overlook the difference between Ell's previous singles ("Shut Me Up," "Trippin' on Us") and these songs. There's a looseness in her guitar work and vocals. You hear her breaths and the emotions she's holding onto during each phrase. She soars in ways not heard in her voice before. "Criminal" and then "Space" are cathartic. The title track is a tender addition to a dynamic project.
Through it all, her guitar work remains present. In fact, you hear from her fingers before her voice — the pristine licks that open "Waiting on You" demand your attention for a few songs, and from there Ell — with help from Bush and Mayer — truly introduces herself.
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