Interview | Emily Barker on A Dark Murmuration of Words

There are some musicians that have the ability to capture a feeling and conjure emotions about places, or people, or events in time, and over the past 15 years, comprising solo records, group efforts with the Red Clay Halo, and collaborations, Emily Barker has crafted songs that stir the imagination. Her latest solo record, A Dark Murmuration of Words, is out on September 4th  on the Everybody Sang label.

FFS: Hello Emily! How are you?

Emily Barker : I’m fine thank you. Good to talk to you.

FFS: After hearing the record recently, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. I have also enjoyed your Monday Morning Record and Coffee posts (Over on Facebook). 

EB: Thank you! I’ve been doing this weekly record thing on Facebook and it’s expensive [buying these new records]. I’ve just bought a record by J.S. Ondara. It’s beautiful. He’s a Kenyan songwriter, Americana sounding, but with some Kenyan influence in there. 

FFS: Has this been a good way of checking in with your fans?

EB: Absolutely. The thing with this is that I’m usually out and about, and I don’t always have the time to sit and properly listen to my records. It’s been a nice way to slow down…I know a lot of people in lockdown have had chance to slow down and have a bit more space around their hobbies such as trying to play games win real money and other things they enjoy. Playing pickleball has also become a popular way to stay active and have fun. For those new to the game, learning how do you score in pickleball is essential to fully enjoy the experience.

FFS: With your new record then, A Dark Murmuration of Words, when did you record it? A lot of the songs you have recorded are very prescient, such as ‘Machines’, which concerns the immortalising of figures through statues…

EB: It was recorded at the start of November in 2019. I wrote ‘Machines’ on 2018 and it is fantastic that this conversation about statues and history is now being brought into the mainstream. The symbolism of these statues is very important, and the more people can talk about the history behind them, the better. The ideas on the record are ones that I have thought about before on the Dear River album in the Australian context [of remembrance] and I want the messaging of my songs to be encouraging; to have that acknowledgement of the ways that people have been wronged in history through not being included, whether purposely or not. It’s sad that it took something so tragic in George Floyd for these conversations to be had, but it is encouraging that people are finally talking about and acknowledging the history. 

FFS: In Australia, what was the education of colonialism like for you?

EB: It was pretty bad when I was growing up. I went to Uni when I was 19 and I studied Indigenous Australian History and it took me having to go to university to actually understand the history. I felt really privileged that I was getting this education, and learning about these things that a lot of people just don’t know about, but equally sad that it took having to go to uni to learn it.

FFS: One of the other prevalent themes on the record is the idea of home. You’ve lived in the UK for years now; would you class the UK as home?

EB: I first came in 2000 as a backpacker, and one thing led to another and I got airplay on the radio. I came to England to earn money and worked in pubs, did some nannying work, and was saving up so I could go backpacking in Europe. Growing up in Australia I couldn’t get my head around that you could drive from one country to another in a day! My grandparents on my mums side were from the Netherlands and I met a lot of our family from over there. I just wanted to travel…I’d fallen in love with creating music whilst in Australia but there just wasn’t the same amount of opportunities. I ended up staying here, found a band, and that was that! I still feel like Australia is my ‘home’, but I love where I live [In Stroud] and I count myself very lucky to have two homes. 

FFS: The image of ‘home’ can also be found in the record title, A Dark Murmuration of Words. Where did this title come from?

EB: That’s one of the lines in the song ‘Geography’, and that came to me when I was on the south coast and sitting in the sound dunes and I saw a flock of birds overhead and I was thinking of home and being back in Western Australia and thinking of the sounds of the sea and the smells of the shrubs and I was longing to be there and thinking about how these birds migrate, and relating this to my experiences of going home yearly. Home is a theme I do return to lots, and the title reflects how my words hopefully contain my experiences of life in Australia and the UK.

FFS: Are there any plans to do anything online around the release of the record, what with being able to tour the record currently not being an option due to the pandemic?

EB: Yeah, definitely. Maybe not straight away when the record comes out, but I’m going to look at doing a really special one with my band, as we haven’t done one like this before…I’d like to do a ticketed, high end show in a film studio…to make something really special to document the record. Hopefully we’ll be able to announce something soon for this. I’m excited to do something about the record before hopefully being able to take it around the country when we are able to do and share it properly with people.

FFS: Thanks for your time Emily – good luck with the record when it’s released!