Join us for a chat with one of’s Top Local Artists of 2023: Ellie Stokes, aka Grooblen. Ellie is the founder and lead singer of the psychedelic band, which has grown from a solo project into a five-piece band. Grooblen currently consists of Ellie Stokes (vocals, guitar, keys), Sean Aaron (drums), Alejandro Lara-Agraz (Bass), Spencer Lay (guitar), and Eva Gogas (vocals). With their music deriving inspiration from artists like Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley, and Genesis and expressing an overall alien tone, what isn't there to love?

I recently had the chance to sit down with Ellie at’s studio to talk about the development of her music, personal projects, inspirations, upcoming plans, and recent release, A Wormhole is a Freeway to the Stars. Learn more about the mind behind one of San Francisco’s favorite local bands, Grooblen!

How did Grooblen evolve from a solo project to a five-piece band??

[My solo project started] during the pandemic, and I had so much time then. I worked at the circus because they were doing social distancing work, and I volunteered at a radio station. I had a show called S’Morgasbord where I’d feature independent artists' music submissions from all over the world. But I had so much time, I was like, “I'm just gonna learn how to play the guitar.” And it opened my eyes to how I could challenge myself…what I could learn and do creatively. It was so independent.

I originally had a band with my brother and my friend Jack, a long-time family friend, but they both moved to college. I was kinda just left with these songs that I wrote during the pandemic without anyone to play them with. Then I met Sean, my drummer, through the radio station and we became a White Stripes-style duo for awhile there. Alejandro came along–we met through another band–and then Spencer came along, we also met through the radio scene although we didn’t meet in person for a long time. It was a whole crazy story! I met Eva through Spencer…It all kind of just gelled that way. A bunch of little connections…and it became a lot more collaborative.

Your music, more specifically your album A Wormhole is a Freeway to the Stars, takes the listeners on a journey. What kind of journey would you say you are trying to get your listeners to go through when listening to the record?

I designed that album to be like a playlist. There are four tracks on there with more jazz club-type vibes and then other ones that are more of a psychedelic, prog-rock vibe. As far as the journey goes, when I was putting the songs together, I was dealing with a lot of things. I had a very particular traumatic instance happen, and I had a lot of time to think about it, which might have been part of the problem. I wrote a lot of songs during that time. The journey is about overcoming traumatic experiences and finding the joy in community and finding your people through that and not being afraid to rely on other people for support.

It's kinda weird listening back to the songs now because I was a completely different person. I feel like I was just so different. I rarely listen back, but when I do, I’m like, “Oh Wow. I was really sad when I wrote this.” It's about picking yourself back up again.The album ends with, “It Costs $0 To Be Kind.” In that song, I just wanted to hammer in the message that it really doesn't take much to check in on someone or ask how someone's day is going. It's about building your support system, realizing what's important, and asking how I can support my friends and my people. You can do that in very low energy and simple ways, like asking someone how they are doing.

For your song "Gastropod," the music video is very psychedelic, picturesque, and trippy. What process do you go through when planning or shooting your music videos?

That music video was really special. That one and “Escher Girl” were done by my dear friend Jozie Zamjahn. She is in local bands here, called Dogs That Bite and Vertical Trap, and she is an amazing visionary and director. For that one in particular, we didn't have a distinctive plan for it. I was just like, “Do whatever you want Jozie, take it away.” That was the same for “Escher Girl.” She came up with this whole beautiful story, and I came up with the basic idea of what if I turned into a worm at the end, and she was like, “Oh my god, yes!”She figured out how to get there. “Gastropod” was trying to capture that psychedelic feeling using the ocean imagery and the shell. Karo, who is also in Vertical Trap, helped on set. I can't recommend Jozie enough.

In your songs “Dinosaur Planet” and “The Spider” from your 2022 record, One of Four, you talk about what you were going through after your diagnosis of an optic nerve and artery condition. I’m sure that was a very stressful and intense time. How do you think your passion and ability to write and express yourself musically helped you through that impactful moment of your life?

It helped so much. That was a whole other thing. I forgot that happened! I didn't wear glasses before the pandemic, and one day I woke up and I had super bad vertigo and everything was blurry. It was so weird. Everything was double vision. One of Four was all about that experience. The doctor basically said I was one of four people who have [this condition]. I became a study subject for all of the pandemic. I was written up in some medical magazine. I was like 18 or 19? It was weird and so surreal.

Writing was all that I could really do for a while because they couldn't figure out what was going on for months. I didn't have anything to do. I would lie down all day. I would go outside to my backyard, put a yoga mat down, and lie down and look up with a guitar in my hand. I couldn't really look at anything up close, so I was kind of feeling around the guitar, feeling chord shapes and stuff. I wrote “The Spider” and “Dinosaur Planet” then. I was given medication for the nerve thing but it was also a psychiatric medicine and it was making me feel emotionally weird and it was messing with my brain chemistry. That's what “The Spider” is about, warding off those unwanted feelings. I wrote those during those times; it was a big waiting period. I kept feeling like something was on the cusp of happening. I felt like I was in limbo for, like, two months.

Illustration of Ellie by Sean Aaron, created during this time

What is a song you wrote, released or unreleased, that has an especially personal connection to you?

There's one coming out soon called “Egg Freeze.” We are putting out two new singles: “Reverse Sky” in March and “Egg Freeze” in April. “Egg Freeze”...I don't know how to describe it. It's taking a concept of something I'm going through personally and dramatizing it.

I've been suffering from chronic pain for two years. Nobody knew what to do. It was really impeding my life. I went to my gynecologist because she thought it could be endometriosis, and she walked me through what that is. The first doctor I went to was like, “Well, you know, the only way to deal with it is to get a hysterectomy.” Which is obviously not true. But walking out of the office, I just felt so hopeless and weird. I did more research, and I now know that’s false and she did not give me the right information at all. At the time [of writing that song], I wanted to catch that feeling of walking out of a doctor’s office and being like…how is it that I live in one of the most progressive cities in the United States and that's still the advice that a doctor gives to you? And you're supposed to trust them? I learned to really do so much research and be your own advocate for your health. It has been a weird journey, and I haven't grown distrustful of doctors entirely, but that was definitely a weird experience.

I spent some time ruminating on it. I wrote the lyrics down as a poem, and then I eventually put it to music. But I wrote it [from the perspective of] the initial shock of getting that information and being like, "Okay is this REALLY my only option, and if that is the case, how would I react to that?” While I feel extremely lucky that I live in a place where I can get healthcare it's also just…there's so many hoops to jump through, and I can't imagine what it would be like for other people where it's worse. That song is kind of based off of that. It’s a little more blatantly personal, and it’s supposed to be a little more dramatic.

If you could choose one song that describes you as a person, what would it be?

Oh my god, wow, that's so hefty. I'm totally gonna think of a better song later, but this is my new favorite song that one of my old coworkers introduced me to: it's called “Next Time Might Be Your Time” by an artist called “Blue” Gene Tyranny. It’s such a crazy song. It's like six minutes long, and it's really beautiful and heart-wrenching but hopeful in a way. It's kinda just about, like, finding love in your community and in your friends and all these little things that make life worth living and beautiful…Taking pride and finding joy in the little things. It's such a cute song.

You are the founder and CEO of Big Leap Collective! The nonprofit’s mission is to empower independent and diverse artists through inclusive and accessible events, education, and mutual aid. Can you tell us a little more about its core goals? Why do you think those goals are so important now?

I feel like there's something just so vibrant about the Bay Area scene right now and musically what's going on. This is a really hard place to live, and it's a hard place to stay afloat. I think that accessibility in music is one of the most important things. It's all about making sure people have a creative outlet and that they can go just to see music and be proud of the creativity happening where they are living. Accessibility, education, shows, financial accessibility for artists and attendees is the number one core goal of Big Leap.

I think it's really important because for me, personally, because having pretty much grown up in San Francisco, I was so connected with the local scene. I would go and see shows as much as I could. There was a great local venue here that closed down that would throw all ages shows. They would have something every night, and it was like five bucks. I would see the most amazing bands there. It was just so cool. That's the kind of ethos we need to have in the city. It's really hard to be a young person in San Francisco and to connect with music because there are so many bars and so many places that are all centered around booze. It's really important to have spaces where people can enjoy music that doesn't surround alcohol purchases. Again, I mean like, we still throw shows at bars all the time because they are easy to book and you don't have to worry about as much overhead for the room. It's way more expensive to book an all ages venue, which usually makes the ticket price more expensive.

That’s why I’m really excited about these amazing outdoor spaces that have been activated by nonprofits in the community, like Illuminate the Arts, which has really been shining a spotlight on the Golden Gate Park Bandshell that has been sitting there not being used and other areas throughout the city. I have been working closely with Steffen Franz, who does the live performance booking there, to make street festivals and fairs and places where people could just take the bus or walk by and see music for free, while still having the bands be funded because these organizations have funding for the arts. We have an artist fund that we pull from to make sure we can supplement the artists' pay so we don't compromise ticket prices so people can still come and enjoy. I really want to keep that partnership going so that people can get out there and feel like they actually belong in the city, especially if you are a young person and you're just finding your people and what you love. For me and all my friends, music has been the way I have connected with people and being able to access that is just so beneficial. So yeah, that's the goal.

As someone who had a radio show and met your bandmates through radio, why do you think community radio is so important? What does mean to you?

Community radio–I know it sounds dramatic–but in a way, it saved my life. It really gave me a purpose. When I was a DJ, I learned so much about music and the local scene and independent local scenes from all over the world. I think it's just so valuable to have that resource listen to and be like, “What is happening in my local community?” There's a whole vibrant scene here and our strength and our care for each other as a community starts with art in a lot of ways. Art is such a uniting force, and I think music is such a uniting voice. I never go a day without listening to music. To be able to share that with people and know what's going on locally, it makes you feel like you're not alone. I love the accessibility of community radio and You can always rely on that. Spotify is great, but then you have to pay for it and there's so much around it. It's nice to know that there's something you can listen to where you can find new and cool music selected by people that are volunteering their time to strengthen the community and share the music they like on the airways.

A Wormhole is a Freeway to the Stars
is out now!
Learn more about Big Leap Collective and see Grooblen at the Noise Pop Bender's Happy Hour on February 27. Follow Ellie on Instagram to find out more about upcoming Grooblen shows and look out for their new song, "Reversed Sky," on March 15!