Behind The Music With Dot

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If you’re unfamiliar with artist, producer, DJ, and record label owner, Dot (Kate Ellwanger), then now is the perfect time to familiarize yourself with this multi-talented it-girl. With an EP set to release this summer, new music video for her song, "Silence is Golden," and master's degree in the works, Dot is unstoppable. We caught up with the L.A. local to learn more about her life in the city, musical background, and more.
"The greatest service I can offer as a producer and leader is my ability to help artists uncover their own voices and blossom as only they can."
How did you get started in music and how has it impacted your life?
In all honesty, I can’t really remember when I started. Music has been a lifelong practice, and it’s hard to articulate how its impacted my life. I started formal music training with piano when I was very small, and also began singing in church and choirs around age 12. I left my hometown of Olympia, WA when I was 17 to attend music school in Southern California, and eventually began to pick up more instruments and dive deeply into music production all along the way.
Music has brought me around the world, taught me everything I know about our human existence, and simultaneously causes more pain and more joy than anything else in my life.
Where did your name, Dot, originate from?
It’s actually my Grandmother’s name! She passed away before I was born, so I never got the chance to meet her, but it was important to me to choose an artist name that carries on the tradition of music in my family. My dad also bestowed her old banjo to me, which was custom made for her in the 1920s, and it sounds unlike any other instrument I’ve ever heard.
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Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
My influences are sort of all over the place. I got into jazz, blues, and vocal pop through my dad, and would listen to artists like Miles Davis, Coltrane, Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry and Elvis. My Mom would listen to a lot of country, and put me on to Patsy Cline. I also studied a lot of classical music in lessons and school, and was mostly drawn to French composers like Ravel, Satie, and Debussy. Then there was all of the music that my classmates turned me on to: Radiohead, Nirvana, Love, J Dilla, Portishead, The Beatles, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu…I can go on endlessly!
How would you describe your sound?
My answer to this question changes daily, but I like to think of my sound as being retrofuturistic—combining the songwriting sensibilities of my favorite music from the past with the modern production techniques that I love to experiment with.
What’s one of the first songs you’ve ever written?
I wrote and produced a lot of instrumental music throughout my life, but it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I had the courage to sing on my own music. I think the song “Let Me Go,” was one of the first tracks I used my voice on, but you can tell I was nervous about singing by the way the vocals are all cut up and blended into the track.
Born and raised in Olympia, WA—how does life in Los Angeles differ from your hometown?
The biggest difference is having access to so many incredible music venues, and exploring the intersections of various cultures that makes L.A. what it is. There are worlds within worlds here, and undergrounds beneath undergrounds.
That being said, I mostly stay around Echo Park, which feels like a much smaller community and has a neighborhood vibe similar to where I grew up. I can’t leave the house anymore without bumping into someone that I know.
With Unspeakable Records, what have you found to be the most rewarding as a business owner of an all-female record label?
The most rewarding part of running this label is witnessing my artists’ growth and musical development over time. I choose people to work with based on their future potential rather than their current skill sets. The greatest service I can offer as a producer and leader is my ability to help artists uncover their own voices and blossom as only they can. Seeing artists gain confidence, courage, and strength with each release is greater than any experience I’ve ever known, and I hope to do this for the rest of my life.
Tell us the story behind your guitar?
Her name is Helen, and she’s my partner in crime! I found her in a little shop called Rosewood Music in Bellevue, Idaho (aka the middle of nowhere), which isn’t far from my family’s house in Sun Valley. I stay out there most summers and winters to get away from the city, and my exploration of surrounding towns led me to find her in a divinely-timed way. It was meant to be.
Every artist has their own special way they like to prepare for live performances. What does your prep routine typically look like?
Meditation and Mezcal.
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What can we expect from you in 2018?
I’ll be releasing an EP this summer, and also teaching an online artist development program from June-August. Then I’m moving to Spain for a year to pursue my Masters in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation at Berklee College of Music in Valencia!
Is there an artist you would love to collaborate with in the future?
I’d really love to work on a song or entire record for Frank Ocean at some point in my life. He’s endlessly inspiring, musically unafraid, and honest. The authenticity is what draws me to his work the most.
Tell us about your DJ residency at Los Angeles’ Ace Hotel and what your experience has been like thus far?
It’s such a lovely place to share music and gather with friends! The views from the rooftop take my breath away every time I play there, and I appreciate having carte blanche to book whoever I choose on a month-to-month basis. I’ve had residencies at all sorts of other venues around Los Angeles, but Unspeakable has had this night for about two and a half years now, and it’s been my favorite by far.
Dot is wearing: Boilersuit, Marcile Heel
What song(s) are you currently playing on repeat?
I love anything Anna Wise touches. And Yaeji! We actually released an early EP of hers on Unspeakable Records under the name ‘The Gradients Project,’ and it’s been so incredible to see the growth of her career since then.
Describe your personal style and how denim plays a role in your wardrobe?
Denim is my everything. My work as a musician is very physical—I’m constantly loading gear in and out of places, or crouching in awkward positions to plug things in, so having a great fitting pair of jeans on the road or at home is crucial to my existence. I’ve also been taking a lot of style cues from 60’s era French Pop lately, so on the rare occasions that I do dress up, you might find me in shift dresses or mod-inspired prints.
Lastly, in what way do you personally feel lucky?
I feel lucky to create music and share my gifts with whoever will listen. God has blessed me with so much in this life, and the more of myself that I give to music, the more comes back around in ways I never could have planned for.
Keep up with Dot on Instagram: @dotmvsic
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