Interview: Emmy the Great

By on Monday, 16th February 2015 at 11:00 am
 

Last month, Emma-Lee Moss aka Emmy the Great released a new EP on Bella Union, ‘S’. Being a fan of hers since her debut album ‘First Love’, I was a little taken aback by her new, electronic-tinged sound and I was very curious to ask her about her new approach to songwriting and how things have changed since she first started. Good timing for this q&a, as she’s starting a short East Coast tour in America tonight at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn and is headed to play for us in Washington, DC tomorrow. And away we go…

Hi Emmy! How are you doing? Where do we find you today and what are you up to?
Hi! I’m at rehearsal in London, just finished rehearsing for an acoustic show we have next week. But I’m also preparing to return to New York and start pre-production for our East Coast tour.

You just released (as of the 26th of January) your latest EP ‘S’ on Bella Union. It’s a departure from your two albums ‘First Love’ and ‘Virtue’ and their anti-folk, unconventional indie leanings. Was there a defining moment that led to your decision to take on a new tack on ‘S’? Does this feel like a brave new world / brand new chapter to the Emmy the Great story?
It felt so necessary and natural to take these musical steps that I almost feel like it would be a bigger shock to the system to have produced another acoustic record. I hope that anyone who knows my music will still get similar feelings from listening, I hope my songs are the same. I think when people hear the record, they will hear what they heard in ‘First Love’, just living in a 2.0 world.

The EP’s lead single ‘Swimming Pool’ features guest vocals from Tom Fleming of critically acclaimed Kendal band Wild Beasts. Had you been a fan of the group prior to working with him / were you mutual fans of each other’s work? How did this collaboration come about? Are you pleased with the results? Do you think you might work together again in the future?
I am such a fan of Wild Beasts and Tom’s voice is outrageous and one of the most effortlessly beautiful and haunting voices I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. I met him through Leo Abrahams, who co-produced his last album and played guitar on my record. Then we sort of bonded at a show we both did together, or me and my girlfriends followed him around backstage fussing over him cause he’s so great – one of those. Anyway I have to stop telling this story because I think he heard me tell it the other day, and I’m embarrassed!!

When the song premiered on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable late last year, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be ok with a new direction towards dream pop. Did you have any apprehension about premiering your new sound?
Everyone around me did I think. But I’ve always thought that if you behave authentically, like if you make a song that you would want to listen to, people will come with you. I wouldn’t have wanted to listen to it in any other incarnation. Because I’m not trained in music I need a very simple basic set of principles to work with, otherwise I might get lost.

Back in the day when I was introduced to your music (via ‘We Almost Had a Baby’ being played on Radcliffe/Maconie when they were still on Radio 2), I imagined you must do most of your songwriting alone and with a guitar. Has your songwriting changed (or needed to change) with the new direction, additional instrumentation / electronics, etc.?
Yes I used to write with an acoustic guitar, a laptop and a desk. Now I write with all sorts of instruments on different software, anywhere I want. BUT I still like going back to that first process, it’s my indulgent zone.

My favourite song on the EP turns out to be the one most like your past albums (or so I feel anyway), ‘Somerset (I Can’t Get Over)’. The vocals on it are incredible, they make me weepy. You name drop F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams, do they / have they influenced your writing?
In that song I’m more talking about someone else’s taste in books, but I do love books by both those authors, On Booze and The Glass Menagerie in particular.

Your EP is titled with a mysterious single letter. What/who does ‘S’ stand for? (Feel free to elaborate if desired / you feel comfortable to. I thought it might be about someone…)
Ahhh, nothing clever. It stands for ‘Swimming Pool’, ‘Social Halo’, ‘Somerset’ and ‘Solar Panels’.

You said in an interview in session this last week with Marc Riley on BBC 6music that some of the songs were inspired by traveling you did in Japan (and Asia?), Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Can you tell us more about this? Pretty sure you’re the only singer/songwriter to have written a tune about the energy made from solar panels in the desert.
Yes, I started writing when I was on tour in Japan during a Japanese heatwave. It must have set the tone, as would have the return through polluted, sci-fi Hong Kong in the summer. Then I went to Utah in deep winter, then I moved to LA. So I’ve seen some landscapes. The thing that sticks with you is horizons. I wanted to make my album wide because of this, if that makes any sense.

Many thanks to Emma for answering my questions and thank you also to Brid for sorting this out for us here at TGTF!

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