Emily Wells’ debut offering, Mama, is an intriguing thing. A double album, the first disc is a subtle combination of lo-fi hip- hop, sparse electronica and folk, whilst the second reworks these songs into bare, acoustic renditions. With the same rawness of Daughter, emotions are laid bare alongside Wells’ echoing, other-worldly vocal. It’s something unique, and very beautiful. We spoke to Wells not long after Mama‘s release here in the UK…
Hello, please introduce yourself and your music to the uninitiated.
My name is Emily Wells. I write songs that sometimes sound like compositions, sometimes sound like folk songs. I’m interested in sound in general and can be found in the studio experimenting or writing when I’m not on tour, which lately, has been most of the time. On stage I sample myself using a few instruments, namely violin, synths and drum machines, and then sing and play live drums once I’ve built up a few layers.
Tell us a bit about your latest release?
This is a special one for me. Not only is it the first official release I’ve had in Europe, it’s a double album. Mama is a collection of songs recorded on a horse ranch in Topanga, CA, mostly focused on the subject of loss and change. There are a lot of sounds, beats, layers and strings going on in these recordings. After some time had passed I recorded Mama: Acoustic Recordings’ in an attic in Portland, OR. These are incredibly simple renditions of their originals, focused mostly on voice and restricted to voice, guitar, and spring reverb, recorded to tape. They draw out the meanings of their predecessors and give a gentleness to the original heartaches.
What was your best ever gig?
It’s possible that it just happened. I played in Los Angeles a few days ago, where I lived for many years. This show felt like a homecoming and I realized how many of the songs I was playing had been written there, and as I told the stories of the songs a map of our shared city began to evolve. I played for nearly two hours and felt incredibly connected to the audience.
What’s the worst thing about being a musician?
The self-doubt and the travel when your body is beat.
What inspires you?
The people around me, their faces. Not just those I love but the people I encounter on the street and on my travels. Also, experiencing work from other artists, whether it be through books, visual art, or music.
If you won a billion pounds what would you do with it?
I’m into gear, recording gear, instruments, all that stuff, so I figure I’d build a recording studio somewhere. But I would also feel, with a billion pounds, an incredible responsibility to the planet and might switch my entire focus in life to climate change and poverty.
Which of your songs is your favourite and why?
Usually my favorite song is the one I’ve just written, which is good because it gives me the power and courage to attempt it live.
What are you plans for the future?
I’ll finish the tour I’m currently on and head home to start recording a new record, which is nearly all written. I’d like to enjoy the city and my pup as well. I’ll come back to tour Europe in October and put out a new record next year. In the long term, who knows – maybe I’ll start working on climate change.
Finally, we’re always looking to expand our musical horizons. Do you have any recommendations of bands or artists we should be looking out for?
Timmy Straw is one of my favorite artists out there. Her approach to lyrics and melody along with her mastery of the piano gives her songs a quiet power. I hope she’ll have a new record out in 2014 but her 2008 release is timeless. Also, I love Tinariwen, a band from Mali. I just toured with Kurt Vile, he made a great record with Walkin’ on a Pretty Daze that I’d recommend picking up. And if you’re looking for something inventive and instrumental, the band Live Footage out of New York is rad, and has a new record coming out later this year.