Inside Sister Ray’s Unfiltered & Liberating Debut ‘Communion’: “If anybody’s gonna get crucified, I want it to be me tonight”

Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins
Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins
Sister Ray’s Ella Coyes dives into the trauma and triumph of their liberating debut ‘Communion,’ an achingly raw alternative / indie folk record built on unfiltered honesty and intimate vulnerability.
for fans of Julien Baker, Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, Ethan Gruska, Eve Owen
Stream: “Crucified” – Sister Ray




I don’t know how to write about things that haven’t happened to me; these are all just really elaborate ways of telling my secrets.

Listening to Sister Ray’s debut album feels like peeling back the layers of a life in motion.

It’s deeper than a diary: From trauma to triumph and everything in between, Communion reckons through the beautiful wreckage in real time. In processing their own world through song, Sister Ray gives listeners a vessel through which we too may reflect and react, internalize and explore the highs and lows of our lives through a fresh set of eyes.

Communion - Sister Ray
Communion – Sister Ray
Goddamnit I should have been sleeping by now
so hard when I know you’ll touch me when the lights go out
I wanna kiss you on the forehead
but your shoulders so much closer
to my mouth, now, let’s try to go sleep

stare at the stars on your ceiling
Left from the kid before you
while you try to keep your nose from bleeding
I watch those silly green things
until I hear your settled heavy breathing

Released May 13, 2022 via Royal Mountain Records, Communion is an achingly raw introduction to Sister Ray, the artist project of Edmonton-born, Toronto-based Métis singer/songwriter Ella Coyes. Having formally introduced themselves just this past January, Coyes has spent the past five months steadily teasing out an artistry built on unfiltered honesty and vulnerability. Their vivid lyrics blend storytelling with introspection, metaphor, and observation, diving into intensely intimate depths alongside a moving indie folk soundtrack that calls to mind contemporary artists like Julien Baker, Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, Ethan Gruska, and Eve Owen.

Produced by Toronto/Brooklyn producer duo Joe Manzoli and Jon Nellen of ginla (prev Empress Of), Communion is a stirring and soothing emotional unveiling: A tender tempest that holds nothing back as the artist delivers a kind of coming-of-age statement of purpose and intent.

Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins
Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins



“While writing Communion, I was exploring my identity in a way that involved grief and insecurity,” Coyes says. “These songs were written with liberation in mind.”

As they go on to explain, this record is quite a long time in the making.

“When I first started Sister Ray I was playing improvisational sets, and they were an introduction to a sense of freedom that I hadn’t felt in music before; [it’s the] the closest thing I’ve felt to playing like a child,” Coyes tells Atwood Magazine. “There are many things on this record that I wanted to ‘fix,’ but those are the moments where I see myself the most clearly. A big part of making this was discovering not only what I want to sound like, but also what I must sound like, and playing in those spaces.”

“I was supposed to start recording in the spring of 2020, but then the pandemic happened,” Coyes tells Atwood Magazine. “I came in the fall and Joe and I were going into the studio in Toronto while Jon was recording in NYC. We’d just send bounces back and forth and FaceTime. I hope to never have to make a record that way again, but I’m so happy that it’s how we did this one. Before making this record I’d spent pretty minimal time in the studio. I had a strong sense of what I needed the songs to feel like, but the ceiling really lifted for me after the first couple of months of recording. I’m used to playing alone and feel like I have pretty easy access to my intuition in those places, but trusting it in the studio was a learning process that totally changed my perspective.”



The title Communion is a strong nod to Coyes’ childhood and upbringing: “There are some religious themes across the record,” they explain. “I grew up Catholic and it’s one of those words that feels heavy in my mouth. I was really into those ceremonies as a kid, communion in particular. Music has filled that space for me.”

I’ve been having visions of you sleeping
in them, I can’t open the door to wake you up
I’m just waiting in the space between us
I’ve been having visions of us
I’ve been having visions of us
Tell me was it my compersion
No, it wasn’t that
tell me then what’s happening
Could you at least ululate with words then and tell me all about
everything you said all about your visions
– “Visions,” Sister Ray




Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins
Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins



Communion is quite the spiritual cleansing: 

From the very first moments of opening track “Violence,” Sister Ray envelops listeners in a raw space of pain, healing, and renewal: “Can you feel your violence or does it only touch me?” they sing plaintively over solemn guitars and a moody, atmospheric backdrop. “Are you hearing the silence? Are you hearing the silence you breed you’re dug deep in my belly I thought we’d agreed no babies…”

Per Coyes, this “had to be the first song. I feel like it introduces that universe that I was trying to build on this record, starting with such a specific image and in it exploring the idea of victimization.”

So begins a powerful record balancing life’s softly muted highs and searing, burning lows, with the in-between everydays we are all too often inclined to gloss over. The lilting “Good News” finds Coyes ruminating on their family, indigenous heritage, intergenerational trauma, and both the pain and joy of their birthright. The charged, yet fragile “Visions” moves through an ethereal, yet grounded space of grief, and the acoustic guitar-driven “I Want To Be Your Man” is an outpouring of desire that, while inherently subverting traditional norms, plays like a no-holds-barred love song. “

I wanna be your man, be a very good apostle, reach in deep inside for your tonsils, maybe there then I would find only you,” Coyes croons, emotions spilling like a raging waterfall from their vocal chords. It just so happens to be Coyes’ favorite lyric on the whole album. “That line, ‘be a very good apostle, reach in deep inside for your tonsils,‘ that seems totally ridiculous, but absolutely accurate.” The song’s conclusion is equally hair-raising as, heart in hand, they declare, “All I wanted was a picture of us for when i’m too tired to remember what i looked like on fire.

I wanna take you dancing
Move around to Jackie Shane again
like when I took your hand in the kitchen and there
it was only you and me in my mind
All I wanted was a picture of us
for when i’m too tired to remember what i looked like on fire
begging for you and only you




It’s just one of many moments of truth on an album that wields vulnerability as a resounding strength.

Further highlights include the smoldering, arrestingly candid “Jackie in the Kitchen,” the beautifully showstopping “Crucified,” and the warm and wondrous finale, “Prophecy.”

Coyes cites “Violence” and “Crucified” as their two favourite tracks. “We got those ones really right,” they beam. “‘Crucified’ also has my oldest favorite [line], I want to kiss you on the forehead but your shoulders so much closer to my mouth now. I wrote this song over three years, with each part coming together through improvisation when playing live, and it feels like it continued to appear more and more each time I played it. It very much moves with its arrangement, as in A, B, and C, and I wanted it to feel close and zoom out into a bigger landscape. It starts in such a close moment and works its way back, allowing a bigger picture of a person and the flaws that arise as we know and see more of someone.”

But if anybody’s gonna get crucified
I want it to be me tonight
Honey, I swear I’m fine
If I’m singing all my gospel to a hundred praises
then I’ll take the fine and I’ll take the blame
It’s on me this time
But if anybody’s gonna get crucified
I want it to be me tonight
Honey, I swear I’m fine
If I’m singing all my gospel to a hundred praises
then I’ll take the fine and I’ll take the blame

It’s on me this time
Do you see what I could do you
1000 times over the course of a year or two
I know everything must die
You forget it when the pleasure comes every time
You can forget it until I light everything on fire
– “Crucified,” Sister Ray
Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins
Sister Ray © Vanessa Heins



Communion dwells in a state of visceral reverie. Sister Ray’s music is an uninhibited, unapologetic embrace of self-reflection and self-discovery, with a consistent yearning for actualization and release that, just like in real life, doesn’t always come when we want it to. Still, one would be hard-pressed to come away from this album without a feeling of catharsis: That realignment of the emotional and spiritual.

“I don’t know how to write about things that haven’t happened to me; these are all just really elaborate ways of telling my secrets,” Coyes shares.

“Sharing that has been challenging, but it’s slowly morphing into relief. We made this record slowly and in isolation, so I had so much time to be with it, but I don’t really need it to be mine now. My hope is that people will listen to it and feel like it can be theirs too. I feel like my job as a musician is to create spaces for other people to explore themselves and the experience that they have in the world through sharing my own.”

Waters rising, there’s a baby here
Would somebody close their ears
they have a lifetime to live in fear
Me I’ve just been hiding
Give me money I won’t ever need
more than I have ever seen
I’m just like everybody to think that I’m exempt in greed
Do I seek justice or merely my own comfort?
Fighting battles from another’s bed
All I really wanted was rest

Couldn’t do enough to earn my bread I was complicit
I just wanna make my body clean
Let the water wash over me
I don’t mind the burning if it makes me pristine
Do I seek justice or merely my own comfort?
Will I seek justice or merely my own comfort?
– “Justice,” Sister Ray

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Sister Ray’s Communion with Atwood Magazine as Ella Coyes goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their debut album!

Communion is out now on Royal Mountain Records.

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:: stream/purchase Sister Ray here ::
Stream: ‘Communion’ – Sister Ray



:: Inside Communion ::

Communion - Sister Ray

— —

VIOLENCE

This song had to be the first song. I feel like it introduces that universe that I was trying to build on this record, starting with such a specific image and in it exploring the idea of victimization.



GOOD NEWS

Good News is like crying in your bedroom but you can smell that supper’s on and it smells *really* good. Being Métis was always something I was very proud of, and as an adult, I’ve been able to explore my Indigeneity. It’s full of contradictions for me, and I see how directly that intergenerational trauma affects me and my family, but how isolating it also can be. There’s shame in, well, am I Métis enough to claim this pain, how do I talk about this without only centering pain, how do I share the joy and resilience that being Métis gives me?



VISIONS

I learned the word “ululate” the week I wrote this song and it was a huge impact on how the rest of this song was written. A lot of songs I write start with a word or a phrase that feels exactly right and summates so much of what I want to express. It’s a word often used in a religious context; ululating in celebration at a wedding for example, but is also a word for expressing deep grief.



I WANT TO BE YOUR MAN

I Want To Be Your Man started with the title. I grew up seeing relationships quite firmly planted in traditional roles, and my desire at times has been great to be “the man.”

REPUTATIONS

After I wrote this one I’d go for drives and listen to it really loud. It was just an acoustic demo, but it felt like an anthem. A song to celebrate self-interest.



JUSTICE

A song on doom scrolling and the associated guilt. The smallness of feeling powerless to tragedy, and stuck in unethical cycles.



JACKIE IN THE KITCHEN

This title is taken from a line in “I Want To Be Your Man.” Both of these songs are, in part, an exploration of my gender, and how deeply that’s impacted my experience in relationships.



POWER

This song is quite old, and I debated whether or not I wanted to put it on this record, but this question of power, where I find it and where I feel I don’t have access to it is important to why I make music in the first place. This was the first real Sister Ray song.

CRUCIFIED

A little trilogy, written and rewritten over many years throughout different parts of the first time I think I really got to fall in love. Moving through the anticipation of all of it.



PROPHECY

I knew I wanted this to be the last song on the record, it’s the only one i wrote while we were making the record, and acts as a meandering question. Am I destined to be this way, are these events predetermined and inevitable, and how do I make sense of it?

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:: stream/purchase Sister Ray here ::



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Communion - Sister Ray

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