Sitting down for a virtual Q&A with members of the Nashville media, Ell revealed that halfway through the writing process for the record, she realized it was following the order of the seven stages of grief – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance – citing the idea for heart theory to be a concept record as a “happy accident.”
“I feel like sometimes we need to go through things to truly find out who we are,” she shares. “This isn’t about packing the messy emotions into neat little packages and putting them on the shelf – that’s not what life is. It’s about getting into the messiness and living and breathing in it to fully find that deeper layer of who you are.”
Ell drew from a pool of Nashville’s top songwriters to take this personal deep dive, calling on Kane Brown, Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line and Brandy Clark as co-writers. Written by Ell, Brown, Lindsay Rimes and Matt McGinn, “wAnt me back” introduces the anger phase and finds the singer stepping into her power by telling an ex that she too would regret being in his position after letting her go. Ell admits that anger was the most challenging emotion to navigate, but is grateful for the strength and self-empowerment it provided her with. “When you can recognize it, anger allows you to own some of that pain in order to process it and then move past it and let it go,” she observes. “I’m proud of myself that I was able to feel angry and recognize that and then turn it into self-reflection and good.”
One of the most powerful songs on heart theory is “make you,” co-written by Ell and Clark. The striking song journeys through the pain Ell endured after she was raped at the age of 13 and the shock waves she felt in the aftermath. Though the song acknowledges feelings of shame and guilt and the walls she built in response to the trauma, Ell placed the song at the beginning of the acceptance stage as the lyrics express, “It’s amazing where a broken heart can take you/All the things that bend and stain and break you/That’s what’s gonna make you.” “I really want that song to be a beautiful moment where people can forgive people from their past, but mostly forgive themselves,” Ell encourages of “make you,” which was released on Global Forgiveness Day.
Through processing these in-depth stages, Ell was ready to step into acceptance, bringing the album to a close with “ReadY to love.” The upbeat song sees Ell in a state of happiness where she’s ready to let love in after a series of hardships that took her across a vast terrain of emotion, applying the lessons she learned in each step to then walk fearlessly in her truth.
“There’s such a beautiful side of all of the painful things we go through and they make us appreciate each other and the things in our own lives that sometimes we can take for granted. The last stage of grief is being able to reflect back on your life and accept everything that you are; be able to look in the mirror and be proud of all of those things that have made you into the stronger, beautiful human that you are,” she reflects, adding of the album’s purpose. “I really just want it to help people. I want it to have lasting arms to wrap around those that are looking for comfort [and] know that we are all the same and we’re all going through this together.”