Two years after her critically acclaimed debut ‘First Love’, Emmy The Great is set to release her second album ‘Virtue’ it’s out 13th June on Close Harbour Records.A new track from the album is currently available for download on RCRD LBL:
Download ‘Century of Sleep’ here: http://rcrdlbl.com/artists/Emmy_The_Great/track/Century_Of_Sleep
Written and recorded under very different circumstances to her first, ‘Virtue’ began as a series of stories Emmy embarked on after her engagement to an atheist, but took on a very different shape when he left her for the church.
Using symbols borrowed from fairy tales and mythology, Emmy added the icons that have replaced them in our modern consciousness – industrial buildings, mushroom clouds, West London’s Trellick Tower. This was Emmy’s personal collection of myths that she fitted to her music – a genre she refers to as digital medieval. She’d noticed that women only make it through the woods in big myths if they keep their virtue and she felt lost in the woods twice while writing the album, first when she got engaged, the second time when the stitches came apart.
When her fiancé left, Emmy had to pick up the pieces. She hid in the country, lost herself in books about saints, archetypes, and folk tales, trying to make the world work. But she didn’t want the album to be about her. It had to save her from what had happened, but be about everything.
‘Virtue’ was made in London and Sussex. This time round, Euan Hinshelwood, her long-term musical collaborator, and Emmy took the reins, rather than develop the songs with their full band in the studio. Euan came up with the guitar palette, strange, ambient, twisted and atmospheric; while Emmy wrote backing vocals for different characters she voiced herself. The ghosts of the Cocteau Twins and Suzanne Vega feature, as well as the stories of Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter, and the writing of cultural theorists like Marina Warner. Emmy wanted a cast for this album, to lift up the world she was trying to conjure, and kept albums in mind that have similar ambitions – Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’; Janelle Monae’s ‘The Archandroid’. While making it, she listened to girly pop like The Bangles, tempered with religious choirs, folk from the South Pacific, while Euan became obsessed with post-punk and Bulgarian choirs. They even spent a night Googling Enya.
Producer Gareth Jones (These New Puritans, Depeche Mode and Grizzly Bear) indulged their romanticism, but understood their wish to make the music sound precise, rather than precious. Emmy also knew she had to let go – to confront things without fear, to throw her head high, say what she thought, things she couldn’t say to herself without music. It’s this record, she says, that’s made her feel like a person and that she hopes will speak to others who’ve endured and survived.
Track by Track
One tour I took photos of power plants around the north of England. When I started writing the record I stuck these photos on my wall, along with some of a cargo bay in Hong Kong that had fascinated me as a kid. I’m terrified about climate change in an abstract way, which I imagine is what it was like to be growing up in the shadow of the Bomb. I would have been one of those people who built a bunker. To an extent I think there is always a young person terrified about the end of the world, whenever and wherever humans have got to.
A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep
We named the backing vocals for this early on. Hysterical Ladies in the chorus, and the Nuns in the calm bits. It was always in my mind that the songs would be peopled with characters from the other world, and that the protagonist would be lost there. Gareth made me realise that I could apply this musically and not just lyrically.
Iris is part me and part lots of girls I know – ‘Princess Impermanent’, always deeply unsatisfied with right now, very optimistic about tomorrow. There are some nights though when it all comes together, fleetingly.
Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Creation)
I heard the end of a Patti Smith song which talks about being ‘blessed amongst all women’, and it resonated with me because at the time I had what apparently all girls should want – security, engagement, a good man – but I was totally disconnected from it. I felt that my ingratitude would be the thing that pulled it all apart, but also that even if I did that I’d be blessed because I’d have just observed something incredible falling to pieces.
I pulled out some very important looking books about Jung at my local library, and ended up reading the Idiot’s Guide graphic novel. There was a section called Cassandra Complex. I’ve always sympathised with Cassandra. She had some bad luck. And she was always right, like my mother. I see her existing through the ages, in many situations.
There is a scene in Men in Black where our Universe is revealed to be in a marble being played with by aliens. I always assumed their Universe is also in a marble. I liked the idea of the narrator in my song writing a creation as a list, and probably being the product of one too. All creation stories give me shivers, like trying to imagine Space. I think Genesis is beautiful. I think we should sing evolution to kids.
At the beginning of the writing process an aunt of mine had passed away, and her husband donated her house in North London for me to write in. All I had to do was keep the flowers alive. It was a weird time. The days were formless because I was trying to come up with starting points, and I kept falling asleep. It was just me and the plants, but the house was filled with the presence of my aunt and I often dreamed of her. This song came out of that period.
It recently occurred to me that there is a Metallica lyric in this song. The story for Exit Night is so specific and set in my mind that I’d be devastated if it didn’t come across. It has the most ‘characters’ in it, all trying to snatch at the two people who are trying to make it through the night. One of them is old and probably the mother. I managed to get a pair of sisters for some of the backing vocals for this.
Lots of ideas of paradise went into this – North America before it was discovered, magnetic North, Bali Hai, Ultima Thule…as well as lots of types of people who would try and colonise it. One of the starting points was the book ‘North’ by Pete Suart, and different accounts of missionaries in the New World. I made a mixtape while I was writing this song to send to Twitter friends. It had songs like ‘Isla de Encanta’ by the Pixies, ‘The Idea’ of North by Shellac, ‘Calypso’ by Suzanne Vega…I got mixed up with my warm and cold paradises, and Gareth and Euan had to make sure the arrangements sounded cold like it would be in ‘North’.
I moved to West London when I got engaged, and discovered Trellick Tower. It became my totem when I ended up living next to it and alone. I still know exactly where I am when I see it.
20th – Liverpool Sound City festival, Studio 2
21st – Friends Of Mine Festival, Manchester
06th – Manchester, Sacred Trinity Church
08th – London, St Pancras Old Church SOLD OUT
09th – London, St Pancras Old Church SOLD OUT
10th – London, St Pancras Old Church
11th – Wakefield Cathedral , Wakefield
24th – Glastonbury – Oxlyers Stage
12th – Kilkenny Arts Festival, Kilkenny
14th – Beacons festival, Leeds
2nd 4th – End Of The Road Festival