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“There’s a way to be unconditionally happy no matter what happens.”

First things first: Contrary to what the Internet would have you believe, Ellington Ratliff is not from Wisconsin. “I don’t know who did it or who can change it, but for some reason it says I’m from there,” he laughs. “I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Literally, I was born in Burbank!”

The 22-year-old drummer was also born into the entertainment industry, with both parents enjoying successful careers in showbiz. “As a kid, I was all about going to school, playing video games, and going on auditions,” he says. However, it was not an audition, but a trip to the movies that would change the course of Ellington’s life. “I saw School of Rock with Jack Black, and I was like, I want to play guitar,” he remembers. “When I started playing, it came so naturally. I just gravitated towards it.” But neither he nor his parents thought that this new hobby would ever turn into a career. “My mom’s a choreographer, so she thought I’d be dancing on Broadway or something like that,” he says. “She thought music was just a cool, fun teenage thing. And so did I!”

Because when Ellington wasn’t jamming out to bands like Arcade Fire and Radiohead, he was still taking dance classes at a local studio. And it was there that he met a family from Colorado who had recently relocated to California. “I knew them for a year, like oh those are the Lynches,” he says. “They would bring their guitars around every once in a while, and we were close enough that one day, they invited me to come play drums.” However, his fate in R5 wasn’t sealed after that first jam session. “I was in a couple of bands at the time,” he remembers. “But after about two years, it started getting too hectic. I chose R5 because they were cooler to be around. I just liked being around them. I think I made an okay choice!”

R5 gigged all over California before landing a record deal and embarking on their very first cross-country tour. “I never thought I’d find myself on a tour bus, so that was amazing,” says Ellington. Ross and Riker’s respective filming schedules on Austin & Ally and Glee made the transition to life on the road a smooth one. “We’d go on tour for a month and then Ross would film for six months,” he explains. “Now that he’s off, we’re constantly touring. I’m glad I had those early years of the schedule being slow-paced. I’m ready for what’s happening now.”

And what’s happening now is well, still difficult for Ellington to process. “People were flying in from Europe to come to the Greek show,” he says of the band’s August concert in his hometown of Los Angeles, which attracted close to 6,000 fans. “Some people have been to 30 shows and 30 meet and greets.  That’s so much money and to see how dedicated they are, I don’t even know. My brain just does not compute it. I’ll talk to a fan one-on-one or I’ll read a note and I almost can’t believe it. It’s like if you won the lottery, the first five seconds are like no, no. There’s no way. It just baffles me.”

While his own stardom may baffle him, being a fan is something Ellington can fully relate to. “I grew up being in that position, and sometimes I’d have really good experiences and sometimes I wouldn’t,” he shares. As a teenager, he remembers the time he went to see an up-and-coming band perform at a Los Angeles radio station. “I was really into them, and I went up to their guitar player and he was not having it. I was so embarrassed! But then I talked to the bass player of the same band and he was so cool.” On a separate occasion, Ellington saw Devendra Banhart in the audience at a Coldplay concert. “I just walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, I really like your music.’ And he talked to me for 15 minutes. It was amazing. That’s what I want my fans to feel when they come up to me.”

As someone who’s been around Ellington on at least a dozen occasions, it’s difficult to picture him in a less than amazing mood. And the awesome personality that fans have come to know and love is something he actively works on. “There’s one book that I really got into called The Untethered Soul,” he says. “It talks about being unconditionally happy. There’s a way to be unconditionally happy no matter what happens. It’s really changed my outlook and I’m a happier person for it. I also use an app called Headspace. It guides you through this meditation and you get out of it and you feel really good. It kind of changes your whole mood. I’m getting really hippie!”

And if he’s feeling exhausted on a show day, he’s got an old standby: YouTube. “Nothing gets me more pumped than watching concert videos of bands like Arcade Fire or Snarky Puppy,” he says. “It takes me back to when I was 16 and watching White Stripes videos and saying, I wanna do that one day! And then it’s all settled.” Anyone searching R5 concert videos on YouTube would be hard-pressed to find one song being performed the same way night after night. “We’re practically becoming a jam band,” laughs Ellington. “We all look at each other with these huge smiles. We can kind of read each other’s minds. It’s like a Rubik’s cube. When you’re a band for seven years, you have the same brain.”

What fans see every night onstage is something that was evident during the creation of R5’s sophomore album, Sometime Last Night. The decision to write and record the bulk of it independently, and in their garage, was not a calculated one. “Like everything else, it just happened,” says Ellington. “We would go into the garage and vibe out so hard. Rocky would start singing stuff, I would start singing stuff – it was like a tornado of creativity every time we went in there.” Ellington’s favorite song on the album, “F.E.E.L. G.O.O.D,” was written and recorded in less than a week – the final track to come out of those garage sessions. “We had a deadline,” he explains. “We had to get it done and it was so hard. It brought us together as a band. It was a really special moment.”  

Does Ellington ever think about what his life would be like if he hadn’t accepted Riker and Rocky’s jam session invite? Or if he’d decided to focus his energy on one of the other bands he’d been playing in? “It’s crazy stuff,” he says. “I can’t even talk about it. But I realize that all my choices in the past have been good to lead me here. So I’m kind of like, I’m just gonna ride this wave of choices.”

Click here to read Rydel’s cover story

Click here to read Riker’s cover story


Photographer: Joe Magnani

Story by: Colleen Broomall

Hair: Matilde Campos

Styling: Robiat Balogun

Grooming: Joseph Adivari  


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