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In-Demand Guitarist/Data Nerd Ellen Angelico Picks Her Own Path


I first encountered Ellen Angelico three years ago through her edu-taining videos and social posts for Fanny’s House of Music, the charming East Nashville shop that narrowly avoided total destruction in the 2020 tornado. Ellen was a bit tornadic herself, demoing instruments, critiquing them in real time, and dropping gems of snark and nerdishness on her YouTube series “Ellen’s Favorite Thing At Fanny’s Of The Week,” which ran from pre-pandemic until last year. Eventually, I came to understand the bigger picture. Angelico is a busy studio and stage musician with a rising profile in the Nashville indie universe. In 2020 she landed an Americana Instrumentalist of the Year Award nomination. I kept seeing her credit on albums. So I sought her out for a chat.

“Fanny's is a special place. Fanny's is a beacon,” says Angelico in Episode 289 of The String, clarifying that just recently she’s stepped away from her gig there to have more time for the musical gigs that are core to her livelihood. “That doesn't mean that I'm not still going to be there all the time, because I certainly was there all the time before (I worked there). I just adore them. And the owners, Pamela (Cole) and Leigh (Maples), are like my parents. We have such a special relationship, and I am honored to be associated with Fanny’s.”

We focused on other relationships for this conversation, especially the impressive cast of artists Ellen’s recorded or toured with. Her guitar is all over the new Kyshona album Legacy. She’ll be a prominent sound on the Wild Ponies new album this fall. She's been on tour lately with Brandy Clark, showing her impressive pedal steel chops (a very hard instrument even for guitar players to pick up). In this episode you’ll hear her play (and sometimes sing) with Lola Kirke, Cam, Adeem The Artist, Emily Scott Robinson, and Kalie Shorr.

Ellen Angelico playing with Mickey Guyton

Ellen grew up in the Chicago suburbs playing guitar and some bass in the school orchestra. Unlike any musician I’ve ever interviewed, she traced her musical obsession to concerts by the kid-focused folk artist Raffi. “I was, by my parents’ account, transfixed,” she says. “So I just knew from a very young age, you know, before it was perhaps responsible in terms of my motor skills to be taking lessons on an instrument, that that was my path.”

Another unique surprise in learning Ellen’s background was that she started keeping a log of every gig and every recording session going back as far as 2005. This took form as an Excel spreadsheet that she’s been updating ever since. And to my great delight, she sent me a copy. 

Instead of some bland professional bio, I could follow Ellen’s journey from high schools and coffee shops to cover bands and wedding gigs to student ensembles at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she moved in 2007. Her first gig in Nashville came in December of 2010 after she’d wrapped college and joined an indie rock band called The Winter Sounds, her sole project for the next few years. Freelancing would come later.

“Only relatively recently did I disabuse myself of the notion that I had to be in a band in order to have a career and have a living when I moved to Nashville,” says Angelico. It was the only way she’d seen modeled. “And I moved here, and it turns out there's 100 ways that you can be a musician and have a career, which I think is a really beautiful part of the music industry.”

Since she did take the plunge, Ellen’s played all kinds of gigs from Lower Broadway to armed forces tours to backing artists at CMA Music Fest. But with time she says, she’s found a niche and a tribe in the Americana world. “I've also been really fortunate in a lot of ways for some of those opportunities that have come my way to sort of self-select,” she says. “I'm not a musical chameleon, I would say. I can sort of fake it, but I think I'm starting to have a fairly distinctive voice. People who hire me tend to know that's who I am and what I bring to the table. My appearance, my gender identity, is not what is the typical norm for a sideman, and as a result, the opportunities that have come my way, I am so grateful and excited to report, have been very geared to me and geared to my strengths.”

In our talk, Ellen talks about her place in Nashville’s queer community, her work with Brandy Clark and Adeem the Artist, and a story about a bro country card game she’s invented that you don’t want to miss. It’s an exceptional, surprise-filled conversation and I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>
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