IT is rare I get to interview a musician that is Taylor Swift-approved and has…
a J.K. Rowling work on their C.V. Blind Pig was included on the soundtrack to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and has pushed Emmi’s work to new audiences. Already approved by a certain Miss. Swift and talked-about across the U.S., Australia (Emmi was raised in Perth) and the U.K. – this year will be a fantastic one for the young songwriter. Emmi is optimistic about this year and talks about new work and her influences; how it felt to get a song included on the Fantastic Beasts’ soundtrack (and have to keep it secret for so long) and how life in London differs from that in Perth. Emmi is one of the most striking and accomplished artists I have encountered in a long while so I was excited to find out her influences and how she began in music; what advice she would offer to new musicians coming through. An exciting and frank interview to kick-start 2017…
Hi Emmi. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey Sam. Incredible, thank you. I’m at home in Oz, taking a breather for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long. I’ve been sitting on my favourite sand dune with a good Chardonnay; looking back on the year gone by and counting my lucky stars basically.
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself please?
Sure! My name is Emmi. I was a songwriter for others for many years before I got brave and decided to release songs in my own name last summer. I make piano-led Soul pop music. I love a good vocal stack of harmonies and I try to write about stories from that character in the movie no one gets to hear from. I have a confusing accent and a lot of hair that I like to hide in. That’s basically the score of me.
You grew up in Perth but reside in London. How does the music scene in both cities differ and what motivated the move to England?
It was actually acting that brought me to London. I scored a film agent there and it was while I was working as an actress that I got the bug for songwriting. It wasn’t a conscious decision to make music in London - so much as I just stayed where the inspiration started and got to work.
Having stayed in London, Europe and the States since; I can’t speak with too much authority on the Australian music scene. I’m told Indie-Rock bands, cool Electro. D.J.s and Dance-Pop artists tend to dominate the homegrown scene while genres like RnB and Soul tend to be imported from overseas. Quite different from the U.K. perhaps: the birthplace of so many soul and songwriter artists of their own (Adele, Amy Winehouse; Ed Sheeran, Jake Bugg etc.)? I’m only retelling what I’ve been told and I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions on both sides but I do often wonder how my sound would have differed if I started making music back at home instead.
I travel all the time so my sound is inspired by the scenes in Europe, the States (and all over really). Berlin really changed me, for example, and opened me up to a whole new layer or creativity.
I’m really excited to finally be bringing that music back to my home country. It’s been really special.
Australia is producing a lot of great music but often gets overlooked by international media in favour of the U.S. and U.K. Do you think Australia deserves wider attention?
Australia makes incredible music and the Internet makes it a lot easier for Aussies to cross over these days which is wonderful. So many great artists are cracking the big time internationally (Sia, Lorde; Iggy, Flume and 5 Seconds of Summer to name a few) and if I’m quite frank, I’d say the level of success is impressive and proportionate to the size of the territory. There are only fifty places on the worldwide charts on any given day. London alone has three times the population of Australia in its entirety, and on a larger scale, the same is true for the U.S. So, I’m actually really proud of how many Aussies are killing it right now. The industry is certainly paying attention to what is being made down there.
2016 was a hard year for a lot of reasons. What was it like for you and what were the memories, either good or bad, you take from it?
On a personal note, it’s been an absolutely unforgettable year. Winning MTV Brand New' in Oz, performing at the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend; performing for 60,000 people in Oslo; singing in Fantastic Beasts'!
Even if I had my voice ripped from my throat tomorrow I could look back on this year alone and be content with what I achieved. It was also the hardest-working and most challenging year of my life, and from the other side, I can see how much I have grown as an artist and a businesswoman and even a human being. I’m very grateful for that. I’m walking into 2017 with a sense of assurance I’ve never had before and an even deeper love for what I do and why I do it.
On a universal level, though, I know this year has not been easy but I hope if nothing else it has left us with a collective determination to be the change we hope to see. I feel a real shift in my generation that I actually think is inspiring and necessary. When you come to understand the ways in which you are powerless, you see more clearly where your power does lie and can decide to make good use of that power (or not). I am hopeful.
Blind Pig was ‘your song’/moment from the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them soundtrack. Can you remember the moment you heard the news and what was it like hearing it on the soundtrack? Are you a big fan of J.K. Rowling’s work?
It was a secret, even to me, for so long. I recorded a very strange tune in my bedroom but it wasn’t ‘til much later that I understood it was being used for a J.K. Rowling film. Not only that but that I would motion-capture the character myself. Coming from an acting background, it was like everything had come full-circle and I couldn’t believe it.
My generation grew up with J.K. Rowling. She is legendary.
So, to realise not only I would have something to do with the world she has created, but that I was to sing words written by her was unbelievable. I carried that secret around with me like a diamond in my pocket I couldn’t show anyone. I’m still pinching myself.
Couldn’t Care Less was released in November and has gained a lot of love and praise. Can you tell us the meanings behind the song and what inspired its creation?
I’ve had this song for a few years now so it feels so great to share it finally! Contrary to how the title might sound, it’s a love song (which is a rarity for me).
At the beginning of the session, when we wrote it, I started playing these dark, sultry chords on the piano that conjured this image of a chanteuse in a smoky bar singing (in my mind). The song was born from that feeling. I wanted to write from the perspective of someone who loves someone who doesn’t return the feelings but there was no way I was going to be a sop about it. A love like that is unconditional. It waits forever and gets nothing in return and somehow survives anyway (isn’t that beautiful?) So, I wanted to write a proud and rousing anthem for anyone who has loved like that. I know I have. I wanted to celebrate love however it happens to you.
Perfect to Me and My Kinda Swag are previous (2015) videos of yours; I love the visuals/storyline of both. Do you enjoy shooting videos and how involved are you in the process?
Thank you! I love shooting films and I am super-involved. It’s all part of the world I am creating around my music so I’m very particular about it all. For example, I choreographed My Kinda Swag myself based on the movement style of Bob Fosse. Another video (Sleep on It) I created myself on iMovie using still photos. Perfect to Me and another tune (If I Ever Come Home) both feature footage from my real life and were homemade by me too.
When you’re an independent artist you don’t have a big budget to rely on, so sometimes you have to get creative and be hands-on. I wouldn’t change that, even if I had funding.
I just want to be a part of every bit of what I put out so people know when they hear and see me, they are hearing and seeing…well…me.
People and real life are a big influence with regards your songwriting. How important are issues like relationships and love to your music or do you write when the inspiration strikes? What kind of people/subjects compels you to put pen to paper?
As a songwriter, you quickly realise that most songs are about falling in or out of love and I’m certainly not one to break the trend! But I’m also not limited to talking about that. What really inspires me is hearing a story (or imagining one) that hasn’t been told before and then putting myself in the shoes of one of the characters to tell it. It’s almost like acting to me. In one song on the album, I actually narrate an event between two people as if I am a bystander. I like exploring different kinds of relationships other than romantic ones. I have songs from the perspective of an old couple, friends; a parent to a child. If it happens in life, it’s song fodder.
I know Carole King and Amy Winehouse are idols of yours and I hear shades of both in your music. What kind of musicians did you grow up listening to and was music a big force in your household?
Music was always on in my house. For my parents, it was Elton John, Deep Purple and Diana Ross.
For me, as a kid, I was a bit of an odd, introverted (kid) and would go to my room and listen to Classical music. I just loved how it transported me and lifted me higher than the real world, you know?
Then it was Jazz (nothing short of an obsession!) and then I got stuck on the Beach Boys for about two years. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I started actually listening to music of my own generation and enjoying it. Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor was my initiation.
PHOTO CREDIT: Darren Skene
Now 2017 is here, can we expect to see any E.P. or album coming? If so, what kind of songs/themes might we see explored?
I definitely want to put my first album out this year. I’ve written about four albums-worth in secret now so I’d say it’s well overdue. Every song probably explores love in all its many forms; in ways that people might not expect or even like but it’s a case of in for a penny in for a pound with me. I hope there will be something in it for everyone.
What else do you want to achieve in 2017? Do you draw a list of ‘to-dos’ for the year or just take it month-by-month?
I’d love to get back out on the live scene this year and really start meeting the people who are supporting me. I also want to set my debut album free (by hook or by crook!). ‘till now I have been playing things month-by-month but this year I am looking ahead and making sure that I create a body of work to call my own. So, I have a six-month plan. I’m excited!
If you could take only three albums to a desert island – a remote a possibility, as you can imagine – which would they be and why?
Ask me tomorrow: you’ll get another answer, I promise… but…
1: Elton John - Yellow Brick Road: this is purely nostalgic but Dad used to play this album every time there was a storm and we would watch the lightning together with it. So it brings good (terrifying) memories back.
2: Carole King – Tapestry: as my friend’s dad says of our Carole: “Every one’s a winner!” - and it’s true.
3: The soundtrack of Love Actually: God Only Knows by the Beach Boys; The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and Eva Cassidy - the list goes on. You have all you need and more.
This year has seen a lot of ‘Ones to Watch’ polls emerge. Which artists are you most excited about at the moment?
I’m excited about 2017 for music all round. So, many of my favourites are coming back (Lorde, Ed Sheeran; London Grammar and more…). Billie Eilish looks set to be a pretty exciting artist all round, so she’d be my ‘one to watch’ vote.
Have you any advice for similar young artists, like yourself, coming through?
I’d say… create and get it out there. I sat on my music for a very long time; afraid to share it in case it wasn’t perfect and waiting for the right moment, the right team, the money. It wasn’t until I took things into my own hands and just got it out there I started to understand the power of the Internet. The possibilities are endless! Taylor Swift would never have found my song if it hadn’t been out there to be found. That’s a fact.
Don’t be afraid. If you love it and you’re proud of it put it out and see if other people connect. They may not, but even that’s worth finding out! You really can’t make mistakes at the beginning because you’re anonymous.
The Internet will find you if it’s working or forget about you if it isn’t. The only mistake would be to sit on great tunes and not try at all.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like (rather than one of yours as I’ll include that) and I’ll put it here.
Tilted - Christine and the Queens
PHOTO CREDIT: Darren Skene