On March 11th the much beloved singer/songwriter Emmy The Great will release her gorgeous third album, Second Love (her debut was called First Love, Virtue her second). It’s her first album in five years and it was well worth the wait, each song like a poetic love letter that goes straight to your heart. A very wise love letter that also paints vivid images in your mind, stimulating all sorts of wonderful thoughts. It’s my hope that the following interview will stimulate your mind as well. It was conducted via E-mail, Emmy taking time out of her very busy schedule to do this for us. Read on…
MM: Your bio states that you progressed to programming and engineering while making Second Love. Does that mean you produced the record yourself? If you had co-producers, who were they?
ETG: When I started the record I had very rudimentary abilities and gear and could only really do acoustic demos. During the process of recording, I was able to watch some very talented people working, and ended up picking up some skills, which I continued to hone in my own time. The record is absolutely produced by Dave, Ludwig and mixed by Neil. And Nick Trepka, who recorded the demo of Swimming Pool, gets credit too, because we used every element of his demo. What I learned from making this record is that you often step over the boundaries of your named role. I made production calls, and recorded and programmed stuff, and so did Leo, who played guitar on a lot of stuff and produced the Social Halo demo. Everyone made songwriting calls, including my mum and brother. Neil, when mixing, definitely put production touches on, and Dave and I were always in the room giving notes on mixing, not to mention the input of my manager Michael and Mark from Bella Union. It takes a village! But definitely I’m now at a stage where I’m producing my own music again, for the first time since my sound was almost entirely acoustic. The most recent song of mine I produced is Go Far, the end song to Mystery Show.
MM: Are all of the beats on the album programmed or do some tracks have live drums?
ETG: There is one song, Part of Me, with live drums, and Never Go Home samples live drums from Dinosaur Sex.
MM: What software and hardware did you use in the making of Second Love?
ETG: I generally demoed in Logic or Ableton, then Ludwig did the bulk of his programming on Ableton. Dave and Neil use Protools. I don’t know what kind of stuff they use in their studios for pre-amps and compression. The funnest thing we played with was my Ableton Push board for random sound generating, and one of the loveliest instruments we used was the grand piano in my old house in Silver lake, owned by my housemate. I think my favourite plug-in was Izotope Stutter Edit, which Leo used to fuck with my vocals.
MM: How does the songwriting process usually work for you? Do you start with lyrics, beats, a melody…
ETG: It’s a very random situation where I have ideas, melodies, lines and drum ideas and they all come together, or they don’t.
MM: Who is your all-time favorite music producer?
ETG: AW! I would have to say Dave and Ludwig and Neil!
MM: While making the album, you moved from London to Los Angeles then to New York. Why did you move so often? Can you tell us about one song you wrote in each of these cities and how the cities influenced you, if at all?
ETG: I moved to LA to start the record with Ludwig, then to New York to move in with my partner, who I’d started seeing. I wrote Swimming Pool in London, Algorithm in Los Angeles, and I wrote Hyperlink in New York. I think my LA songs are very open and ling, and my New York songs are generally more detailed and angsty.
MM: How long have you been in New York now? Whereabouts in New York do you live? Do you plan to stay longterm?
ETG: I live in South Williamsburg. My boyfriend works here so yeah I’ll be staying for as long as he has a job. I don’t see myself settling down here, because England is where so much of my family is, but maybe I will. I don’t make too many big plans for the future, as it just makes for too much ironic laughing when everything changes.
MM: Whereabouts in Los Angeles did you live? [I lived in Glendale. Don’t laugh.]
ETG: I live in Silver Lake, and I used to drive through Glendale a lot, for some reason. I love that whole part of LA, it’s so suburban and sunny. I do miss it every day, but all my friends moved on with their lives when I did, and I feel we’ve all done the right thing.
MM: Do you prefer playing live or making albums?
ETG: Making albums. Today I gloomily looked at my boxes of gear and wires, and asked myself bitterly if it was even worth making another record if I have to collect this much random crap. But once you’re actually playing shows, you decide that playing shows is the best and you’ll never stop. Then you crash. Then repeat.
MM: When I listen to Second Love, I come away from it feeling like I’ve just listened to an exploration of the human heart. Is that the desired effect?
ETG: That is so extraordinarily kind, and makes me feel so happy. If I had to pin down what I hope people think of the album, that would be it. These are the songs that happened while I explored my own heart, I guess.
MM: Is “Lost in You” about losing yourself in someone or a place?
ETG: Lost in You was written during my first few months in LA, during summer, where I was going to random parties and experiencing this particular sweetness in the air that I believe is unique to LA, that happens as the night begins to fall. At those times, I felt I would never go home to England ever again.
MM: Tom Fleming of Wild Beats sings on “Swimming Pool.” How did that collaboration come about? Might you reciprocate and sing on the next Wild Beasts album?
ETG: AHAHA!!!!! I would DEFINITELY say yes, if they asked me. But so would most rational humans! They are the best! I simple asked Tom during a quiet period for them, and then ran around the studio screaming ‘it’s wild beasts day’ for 24 hours until he arrived.
MM: “Swimming Pool” first explores the life of a rich kid before exploring how you fell for him. Is this a true story from your life? Are you referring to an actual swimming pool or is swimming pool a metaphor?
ETG: A lot of people ask me if this is a metaphor. I guess anything simple can be taken at face value, and also as a metaphor. I don’t want to direct people really, I want them to have their own interpretation.
MM: Is “Less Than Three” about you wanting to take things slow or is it the other person who’s going too slow? Or both?
ETG: I think it’s the other person.
MM: Have you ever produced or written songs for other artists? If so, for who? I’m just curious because I read your interview with Caroline Polachek and you were impressed by the fact that she’d written and produced Beyoncé’s “No Angel.”
ETG: I have written for other artists, recently a pop artist in the UK. I feel a deeper respect for the process of pop songwriting after I’ve been in one of those rooms. Everyone is just trying to get that one thing – the undeniable song. It’s admirable. The work ethic is strong. I love when women produce music, and Caroline’s stuff is always amazing.
MM: Have you ever attended one of those writing sessions like Rihanna has where they get something like 20 writers and they go on a weekend retreat and write a bunch of the songs and then they choose the best for her album?
ETG: I know people who have! I’ve been in those days where you get randomly placed with writers in rooms, but they can be a bit weird. At the moment I prefer knowing people and what you’re supposed to be doing.
MM: Who plays guitar on the album? I’m especially curious about “Constantly” and “Social Halo.”
ETG: Guitarists are Leo Abrahams), Ludwig Goransson, Simon Oscroft, Robin Moss, and me.
MM: Who is talking in the background on “Hyperlink”? What is being said?
ETG: That’s my beloved friend Jeanie Annan-Lewin. Towards the end of the album process, I started getting separation anxiety and decided the best way to put it out in the world was to put my friends on the records, so they could travel with it and keep it safe. I skype’d Jeanie and we both recorded ourselves, then I messed around with her voice and turned it into samples. When she first heard the song, she said, ‘I sound like a man’, and I was like, “Um, I pitched you down by like six notes.’
MM: What do you mean by “Social Halo”? I understand the lyrics to be about someone who’s cold and distant, but I don’t know what you mean when you sing “I’m starting to lose my social halo.”
ETG: I guess it’s that thing where you accidentally like your ex’s new girlfriend’s photo at 3am, and that perfect outside image is shattered.
MM: The songs on Second Love remind me of things I’ve written about while journaling. Do you keep a journal? If so, how many notebooks have you filled thus far?
ETG: I have like three old diaries and a couple of word documents. At the moment, I just note down mundane details like what I’m wearing, and where I’m sitting. I have this weird idea that my future self will remember the emotions but not the detail so I just keep a record of stuff that is insignificant. it’s an experiment.
MM: Between the entertainment journalism you’ve done and the lyrics on your new album, it’s quite obvious that you’re a highly intelligent writer who excels at human observation. Have you ever thought about writing a novel or memoir?
ETG: erm, not before I write you a love letter! Can I use that quote in my Christmas family mailout? I’m writing a novel right now, which I feel really attached to and hope to see through to the end.
MM: What do you think about Spotify and other streaming services? Do you use them?
ETG: I do use Spotify. I use it for everything because I moved, and left all my physical music in England, and I’m so crap with my stuff and keep losing mp3s. I don’t blame streaming services for my loss of income – they’re just trying to facilitate some kind of accountability for online listening. But I do wish there was a way I got more money per stream, cause it can be negligible.
MM: Vinyl has been making a steady comeback. Will Second Love be released on vinyl? Do you listen to vinyl at all? What is your preferred way of listening to music, be it CDs or vinyl or mp3s?
ETG: Second Love is on vinyl, and I want to release the other two on vinyl too. I have been listening to vinyl recently, because like I said I’m crap with stuff but vinyl is cherishable and even I know that it needs to be looked after and appreciated.
MM: At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions. Here are yours:
MM: What is your favorite series on Netflix?
ETG: At the moment at my house we are watching Rick and Morty on Hulu and my favourite thing on Netflix is Arrested Development season 3.
MM: If you could compose a new theme song for any show which would you pick?
ETG: Adventure Time, or Frasier
MM: Name five of your favorite books, movies, tv series or albums.
ETG: right now: Infinite Jest, 2046, Frasier, Graceland, Loop of Jade
Special thanks to Emmy for doing this for us! Thanks also to Sally Hedberg at Pias for facilitating it!
Second Love is out March 11th On Bella Union
Listen To ‘Swimming Pool’ On NPR: http://cooperativemusic.cmail20.com/t/j-l-hkuidly-pbhlido-y/
US Tour Dates
Feb 23 – Boston, MA – Cafe 939
Feb 24 – Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right
Feb 26 – Philadelphia, PA – Boot and Saddle
Feb 27 – Washington, DC – DC9
Mar 1 – Portland, OR – Bunk Bar
Mar 2 – Seattle, WA – Barbosa
Mar 4 – San Francisco, CA – The Chapel
Mar 5 – Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Bar
UK Tour Dates
11th – Oxford Academy 2
12th – Nottingham Bodega
13th – Newcastle Cluny
15th – Glasgow Stereo
16th – Leeds Belgrave Music Hall
18th – Bristol Thekla
19th – Birmingham Temple
20th – Manchester Band On the Wall
22nd – Norwich Arts Centre
23rd – Southampton Joiners
24th – London Islington Assembly Halls