Less than an hour south of Chicago, along the shores of Lake Michigan, sits the Indiana Dunes, a protected expanse of shoreline recently designated a National Park. When Ella Williams first visited the Dunes, she was awed by the juxtaposition of its natural splendor within the surrounding industrial corridor of Northwest Indiana. “Every time I go there, it changes my life,” she says, without a hint of hyperbole.“You stand in the marshlands and to your left is a steel factory belching fire and to your right is a nuclear power plant.” Across the water, Chicago waits, its glistening towers made possible by the same steel forged here. For as long as she’s been making music, Ella Williams’ songs have been products of the environments they’re written in, born out of the same world they so vividly hold a mirror to. This environment is where her magnetic new album, Tomorrow’s Fire, lives.
The music Williams makes as Squirrel Flower has always communicated a strong sense of place. Her self-released debut EP, 2015’s early winter songs from middle america, was written during her first year living in Iowa, where the winter months make those of her hometown, Boston, seem quaint by comparison. Since that first offering, Squirrel Flower has amassed a fanbase beyond the Boston DIY scene and released two more EPs and two full-lengths. The most recent, Planet (i), was laden with climate anxiety, while the subsequent Planet EP marked an important turning point in Williams’ prolific career; the collection of demos was the first self-produced material she’d released in some time. With a renewed confidence as a producer, she helmed Tomorrow’s Fire at Drop of Sun Studios in Asheville alongside storied engineer Alex Farrar (Wednesday, Indigo de Souza, Snail Mail). Williams and Farrar tracked many of the instruments, building the songs together during the first week, and then assembled a studio band that included Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver), Seth Kauffman (Angel Olsen band), Jake Lenderman (aka MJ Lenderman), and Dave Hartley (The War on Drugs) lending their contributions.
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