For Folk’s Sake Interview: Emmy the Great

For Folk’s Sake: Why did you decide to go it alone with your album?
Emmy The Great: I don’t know, I didn’t find it very easy whenever I was given the opportunity of doing it the traditional way, of signing with a major or a good indie or whatever. They didn’t ever really have the same ideas as I did and they’d say ‘we’ll just go with this producer’, who would have just done the equivalent of White Lies or something. Ultimately we just ended up whittling away and in the end we only had ourselves.

Did you feel like they were trying to turn you into NME fodder?

It’s really hard in the British music industry because it’s so small even the people who are basically good people, trying to put independent music out, are still really influenced by the business and the way to do things and it’s really hard to avoid that.

Do you think having creative control and taking time over the process will give it better longevity?

I hope it’s going to have longevity, I mean I just bought the first ever Grandaddy album, and that must’ve come out 15 years ago or something, and to me that’s longevity. I hope people cans still buy it in 15 years.

Are you pleased with the album?

No I don’t think so. We made a lot of mistakes but that’s part of it I guess. It’s your first album, though, I think you are supposed to make mistakes

You rejected lots of tracks like Gabriel, which is one of FFS’s favourites. Why didn’t it make the cut?
I felt like I’d already recorded it to the standard that I wanted to record it. If there’s a song where I didn’t feel like we’d done it justice – I’m so attached to my songs – then I’d want to record it again but with that one I was like, ‘OK, I’m more about the lyrics to that song, I don’t really care about the arrangements’ so that was done. As long as people get to hear it how I wanted it to be heard.

How about Canopies and Grapes, was that the same?
I just didn’t feel like…. I didn’t even remember that song until someone requested it at a gig and I thought I’d better find out the lyrics. So I looked it up and then I realised that so many people had that song. There’s a YouTube clip of someone singing it and so then I realised that I should bring it back but I never really thought of it.

Did you have to look on the internet for your own lyrics?
Yeah, it was the second song I’d ever written.

When did you start writing songs?

Four years ago now, I was 21 when I did my first gig. At my first gig I only played two songs, I played Canopies and Grapes and a cover of Justin Timberlake. I’d already written another one but the other one was really dreadful, it was called Me and My Guitar or something. It was really bad. It’s probably floating around somewhere.

You do quite a lot of music journalism, was that what you wanted to do before you started writing music?

I just really like writing. There was a period when I didn’t write any songs. I was like, ‘I don’t feel anything, I don’t like music’. And then I went and did journalism. Now I find that I have to be writing in all my spare time and I have to have different projects – make sure I always have an article I have to write and make sure I’ve always got something to write in my diary or a sci fi project I’m doing and my songs, so that at any given moment if I want to write I have something to work on.

You said that We Almost Had a Baby is one of three autobiographical songs. What are the other two?

Everything reminds me of you, I wrote that the moment my boyfriend walked out, I wrote it in five minutes. And then I don’t know… Canopies and Graps is pretty true I think

Where do you get inspiration from apart from that?

For everything I ever write, I have to cast the characters in my head, so be like – that is my friend Jazz, that person is my boyfriend. I get inspiration from feelings I have about people around me and also from seeing realy beautiful nature. You know when someone paints a really nice painting and they do it because they would like to see that. When I write my songs I want to see the place where the song is set. All the songs happen in the same place, it’s like my version of Narnia I guess.

You have quite a lot of religious latin in your songs, why is that?

The world where I put all my songs always had a church in it, it’s a country church. My dad’s a Dauist, my mum’s just superstitious but I used to go to school next to a church and I used to go in and go, ‘Oh it’s so pretty’. But I haven’t had to deal with any of the hypocrisies of being forced to go to church.

You’ve worked with Johnny Flynn, Tom Fiddle from Noah and the Whale as well as Young Husband and Stars of Sunday League, but you’ve expressed reservations about the scene, why is that?
I don’t like the way the press lumps people together, especially when it’s inaccurate.

How did you meet the people you have worked with?

I didn’t work with Johnny, oh yeah I guess I did he played violin for me, but that was like ages ago. That was before either of us… well before I gave a shit anyway, I don’t know about him. But the reason why I don’t play with Noah and the Whale any more was because we actively decided that we didn’t want to be in a scene together. Like people were really pushing this point and we really don’t want to be associated.

Who are you happy to be associted with?
I want it to come from like a genuine like-mindedness. Me and Euan have the same ideas about making music so if someone wants to refer to us together we’d be happy to do that. But if you get referred to with people you really don’t agree with then you feel like their politics might besmirch yours. I have a friend who, before he knew me, he fucking hated me. And I was like, ‘Why did you hate me’ and he said, ‘You know cos you’re all friends with all those people’ and I was like ‘I’M NOT FRIENDS WITH THOSE PEOPLE!’  It’s just the papers.

Some of them do definitely hang out.
I know yeah, Johnny and Laura they went on a tour and they called it the folk tour, and I wish that that would be their thing because that’s what they want and we can have our thing.

So which artists are you happy to be associated with?

I don’t know, There aren’t parameters so much, we wouldn’t go on tour and call ourselves ‘The Other Folk’ or wait… what was the one? We were trying to go for ‘menopop  for the older lady…’

Who’s coming with you on your UK tour?
Younghusband, he’s playing in my band and he’s supporting. Tom from Three Trapped Tigers is my piano player, Rick from Pengilly’s is my violin player and a guy called Pete is on drums. I hate saying that cos he doesn’t have a band.

In ‘Dylan’ you said that you really wanted this guy to like you, and you were trying to prove yourself to him…
He was my great love at school

Did he know?
Yeah he knew I was in love with him. Everybody did.

Also in your Darnielle article you said you really wanted him to like you too, do you really want people to like your songs as well?
I really want people to like me, despite everything. Maybe it’s a female thing, or a Chinese thing – if you’re Chinese you can’t lose face. But I am desperate for people to like me.

Does it apply to your music as well, or just to you as a person?
There’s nothing I can do about the way my music sounds, I can only do one thing because I’m not an adept musician. But in life I am always trying to make people like me.

When you get a bad review, does that really affect you?
I literally did not get out of bed yesterday because someone sent me a bad review. And I went on Drowned In Sound and read the comments. Oh my God, the people who go on Drowned in Sound are so horrible. And I just read a few comments and I was like, okay I’m just going to go to bed and I just lay on my bed for a really long time. I felt like I’d been physically assaulted.

What are you going to do after the tour?

I think we’re going to have a party, and then we’ll probably be playing more gigs, festivals, putting the album out in other countries.

Have you got plans to record more stuff?
I’m just going to keep writing, and when it sounds like an album it’ll be an album.

Kind of the same as last time?
It’s not going to be four years. Since that first gig when everyone was like when’s your album coming out there’s been a year with no activity at all where I didn’t do any music, and then it’s only been in the last year and a bit that we’ve been thinking about the album.

What were you doing in that year?
I wanted to study English, but then I got this gig on the day I was supposed to go and sign in and I just played the gig. I’m actually a student at Goldsmiths, I got accepted and then I didn’t sign in because I went to the gig so I never went.

Interview: Lynn Roberts