Ellington Ratliff is best known for being one fifth of American pop-rock band R5, but he is so much more than just a band member. As the drummer, he is the glue that keeps the band together whilst also providing additional vocals and pouring his heart into writing song lyrics. Additionally he is an accomplished dancer, actor, and musician whose talents know no bounds.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ellington was destined to be in the entertainment industry from day one. Having descended from a family full of film, television and Broadway stars, he is even named after iconic jazz musician Duke Ellington. During his youth, he notched up various film and television credits as an actor.
However, come 2009 life changed forever when he met the four Lynch siblings. Teaming up with Ross, Ryker, Rocky, and Rydel, they formed R5, who have since gone on to garner incredible success. The band’s most recent EP New Addictions was released earlier this year, which captured the hearts of their loyal fanbase and gained them new fans across the globe. R5 are currently embarking on a huge tour spanning the US, UK and Europe.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Ellington some questions via email whilst he was on the road. Check out the interview below to find out more about New Addictions, the biggest challenges he’s faced in R5 and who he’d love to have a drum-off with.
Music and entertainment is in your blood – what’s your earliest musical memory?
It’s more of a story I’ve been told, but when I was three years old I was dancing in my grandma’s dance recital. I would hide in the wing and throw my arm out and the audience would scream, then I would hide, then throw my foot out, the audience screams, I would hide again. That’s where I first realized “Wow I can entertain people!”
You were named after jazz artist Duke Ellington. Growing up, has he been one of your musical inspirations? Who else inspired you?
Honestly I didn’t get into jazz until a few years ago. I was more influenced by my parents’ vinyl collection which had everything from Led Zeppelin to Motown. That was growing up. Now I’m also inspired by rap artists like Chance and Big Sean, and alternative groups like Arcade Fire. I’m really trying to learn about and get into every genre. Still working on getting into country music.
Having started your career in film and TV before becoming a musician, was there ever an alternative back-up plan?
I never worried about a back-up plan. We were touring by the time people were in high school and before that I was working as an actor. Also, my parents are in the entertainment industry so they were excited to push me that way.
When did you start playing the drums, and how did it become your chosen instrument?
I started dabbling in all instruments when I was around 11. I saw “School of Rock” with Jack Black and that kind of changed my life. Then I started some bands in high school where I played everything. It wasn’t until we started R5 that I zeroed in on drums, but I always had a natural gravitation towards the drums so I’m glad it worked out that way.
You’re best known for being one fifth of the incredibly successful band, R5. What has been your personal band highlight so far?
It’s hard to choose one so I’ll say three. Haha. A few years ago we packed out the Greek Theater in Los Angeles–I’m from L.A.,so that was special for me. Our biggest headlining show to date was in front of eight thousand people in Argentina. Additionally, this past summer we played Summer Sonic in Japan and got to play the same stage as Radiohead, Weezer, Panic At the Disco etc.
You’ve been a part of R5 since 2009. What are the biggest changes and challenges you’ve faced as a band?
Honestly the biggest challenge we face is overcoming people’s preconceived judgments. Some think of us as your below average cookie cutter “boy band” but the truth is we can play circles around most rock bands that play the big festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza. That’s why people become fans when they come to the show; we’re talented musicians who put on a good show and write good songs.
New Addictions, your latest EP, was released earlier this year. Which is your favourite song from it?
When you write and produce the whole EP in house it’s like picking a favorite child. “IF” is our focus track right now and it’s a synth-pop banger that reminds me of a song from the 80’s that I can’t quite put my finger on. “Red Velvet” has an Anderson Pakk/J Dilla vibe with a rap feature by our friend’s new beat fund. “Lay Your Head Down” is about a model our guitar player met in Japan. “Trading Time” is a product of a collaboration between R5 and our friends Ocean Park Standoff, and “Need You Tonight” is a cover with a twist.
You’re currently touring the US, how’s that going?
It feels good to be back on the road although it’s early on. We’re currently in Toronto (which is our only Canadian date) but the shows have been insane so far.
Your New Addictions tour will be hitting Europe later this year. Are you excited to be returning/visiting new locations?
We love touring Europe and we’ve been everywhere so we’re excited to return to some spots we’ve been to before. European fans are consistently energetic which helps because that’s what we feed off of.
What are your five must-have items for when you’re on the road?
These five aren’t necessarily must have’s but we really are utilizing them on this tour. Phones are a must because otherwise the whole tour would be a chaotic mess. We brought a kettle bell to stay fit, a coffee maker because we got into coffee. iPads are nice to put movies on for plane rides, and last but not least we have a portable studio we’ve dubbed “Smash Palace” that we bring on the road so we can keep writing and releasing as we go.
If you could have a drum-off with any other drummer, who would it be and why?
I without a doubt would choose Questlove because we’re both groove based musicians and also I just want to meet the guy.
What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you?
Pretty much touring the world and releasing music and dominating the music world. You know, all in a day’s work…
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Featured Image: Valentina Socci