Als Emmy The Great das letzte Mal kurz vor Weihnachten in Berlin aufgetreten ist, habe ich mich mit ihr über ihr zweites Album, die Idiotien der Musikindustrie, alternative Wege zur Finanzierung von Plattenproduktionen, gemeinsame Celebrity Crushs und Mariah Careys Brüste unterhalten.
Some time ago we did a questionnaire about your favourite records and you said “MFG” by Fantastische Vier is your favourite german song ever…
Emmy The Great: Oh, yeah, I remember that Questionnaire! I learned german for my A Levels. I do really like a song that’s Number One right now in Germany, it’s by Marlon Roudette. We wrote some songs together but they didn’t get on his new record. But I think I’m in spirit there on his album *lacht*
Usually all english acts namedrop either Neu! or Can or Kraftwerk so “MFG” was quite an unusual choice.
Emmy The Great: I can even actually rap that song!
beginnt auf deutsch zu rappen:
“MFG mit freundlichen Grüßen!
MFG die Welt lieg uns zu Füßen
und wir stehen drauf!
Wir stehen drauf!“
On your debut album there’s a song called “Museum Island” whose lyrics reference Berlin.
Emmy The Great: Yes, because a few years ago I came on a holiday – with my boyfriend and my mum – to Berlin to visit a friend and I still remember being at Museum Island. I went to Museum Island alone and it kinda opened up my brain and I felt like I could write a song. It was a really helpful trip for me in terms of being creative again.
When I was listening to your second album I got the feeling that compared to your debut and your early singles it sounds way more fleshed out. Is it a conscious decision to shape the songs that way or is it just because you just have now the possibility to record it in that way?
Emmy The Great: We had a similar budget for the production of both albums. We’ve chosen to use more sounds and better quality mics and stuff. You always try to do the opposite of what you did before. I felt we made the wrong decision on my debut to make everything so lo-fi.
Do you think your first record was Lo-Fi?
Emmy The Great: Yeah. We specifically did say “no we don’t want that instrument, that big sound” on the record. We actually do that all the time. So the second record was the attempt to sound “more developed”. Now I think for my third record I’m gonna take the best out of those two worlds. And I wanna go more simple again.
But even on your first record: when you compare the album version of “M.I.A.” to the version that was featured on your earlier “My Bad EP”… the EP-Version sounds like a bedroom demo. Which version do you like more?
Emmy The Great: I think the second version. I always regretted those early demos. I made them and put them on the internet – you know, at the beginning of Myspace!
I think we had an advantage back at the time with the Internet making music so accessible but we also suffered with all those changing processes. I don’t think I’d put my demo out so quickly nowadays.
Do you regret putting them out?
Emmy The Great: It’s more like that we didn’t have much control about it. I don’t regret putting that early “M.I.A.”-version out, more like other demos like “Canopies & Grapes”…
… which was featured on the “Edward EP” later on…
Emmy The Great: Yes. That was my way of “reclaiming” this song. It sat around the internet for so long, so we re-recorded and released it officially in order to have a version outthere that I really like.
So those songs as demos don’t sound like you want them to sound?
Emmy The Great: It was just putting down ideas and then the next thing you know it’s all over the internet.
I really like those early demos, they got so much charme – and it was very difficult in Germany to get my hands on any vinyl you had released, so it was the only way for us in Germany to actually listen to your songs.
But going back to “M.I.A.” – it’s very fascinating that it is “nice sounding” but its lyrics are very bleak. Is there a story behind the lyrics?
Emmy The Great: It’s about a car crash I was in, back when I was in school. I was seven years old and I remember sitting injured in that crashed car and thinking about “I don’t wanna miss Sesame Street” and “I don’t want my school bag to be dirty” – I was thinking about such mundane things but there was all that destruction around me. And that is still in my head. My biggest worry when I got home wasn’t about the people who were hurt in the accident but “there’s blood on my school bag and I don’t know how to wash it off!” That made a big impression on me how I reacted in that situation.
When very weird things happen your thoughts turn to something normal, probably in order to stop thinking about the weird stuff.
Your lyrics sound pretty personal, sometimes even like reading someone’s diary. Is this just a style you adopt or are these stories personal indeed?
Emmy The Great: I think that the debut was more personal. I tend to write stories that draw from my experiences. Sometimes I think my whole life is like a diary entry and I tell people too much stuff. Even if the story in my lyrics is fictional it’s still about stuff that really happened, like the Car Crash in “M.I.A.” or a trip to Berlin in “Museum Island”. “Museum Island” for example is about a friend of mine who went through a difficult phase when her dad died.
I heard your new album deals with the break-up of a relationship and that you almost got married?
Emmy The Great: Yes. That massively influenced the lyrics of that album. I got engaged pretty much as I started writing this album and all my songs were very fairytale-like. Those songs were supposed to be about women who are getting married and the perils they are about to face. “Paper Forest” was a nod to old folk tales which were ways of women communicating to each other in codes about things they weren’t allowed to write or talk openly about.
When he broke up with me, I remembered all those terrible things that happen in the old folk tales and suddenly it made sense.
Is it true that the guy you were supposed to marry turned into a hardcore Christian and left you because of that?
Emmy The Great: He became a missionary! Out on the streets in asia! A real missionary.
He never really told me about it before. To me it felt like out of the blue but in retrospect I think it was always on his mind.
You’ve financed your new album with Pledge Music. (Anm.: Emmy hat ihr zweites Album so finanziert, dass Fans vorab gewisse Dinge “bestellen” konnten – von handsignierten Alben bis zu Privatkonzerten in ihren Wohnzimmern)
Did that work well?
Emmy The Great: It was supercool. I was obviously really messed up because of the break-up when we were starting to record the new album and I even moved back to my parents.
It was singlehandedly one of the most uplifting things ever to meet up with fans for the stuff they “ordered me to do” on pledgemusic. They were just the nicest people ever. People who pay for you to play in their living room tend to be groups of nice, chilled-out people who really like music and want to have some fun. I’ve made a lot of friends with those living room gigs.
Were you afraid that when you had to go to someones house and play a gig that you could end up playing for some weird freaks?
Emmy The Great: I was worried at the beginning, so I took some people with me when I was doing those living room gigs. My friends, the band Summer Camp, they did a “pledge” as well. And we all bought their gig as a surprise and we got a stranger to open the door for them – we looked for a really creepy looking guy and they were really scared when they did arrive. But when they started with the gig we all, maybe 15 of us, jumped out and surprised them *lacht*
Do you think that is some kind of model how music can be financed in the future?
Emmy The Great: I think so. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails did something similar. So people are doing this for a while. We were one of the first bands who financed their album with PledgeMusic but since then so many people have done it and moved on to have really successful records.
I’ve read that you were frustrated with the way the music industry is working regarding your debut album.
Emmy The Great: When I first started everyone wanted me to be “The Next…” – in the beginning they wanted me to be “The Next Lily Allen”… then Kate Nash came along so I had to be “The Next Kate Nash”… then Laura Marling… And the record labels wanted me to go along with the same producers that produced those albums. But I felt like my music wouldn’t work with them and I didn’t want them to be turned into pop songs. They wanted me to work with Adeles songwriters, which is obviously amazing but I just knew in my heart that it doesn’t suit my music to sound like Adele’s songs. So I had no choice but to crash out and doing things on my own and so I went independent.
Does it bother you in any way that someone like Laura Marling or Florence & The Machine are selling way more units than you even if they started out on the same level as you?
Emmy The Great: Yeah. But Florence was always going to be massive and that was where she wanted to go. At the beginning I was always like “I want to be on my fifth album til I actually start selling much records, I want to evolve” – but I have to admit that it was frustrating and that I sometimes think “how can I even finance my third album?”. It’s a harder road but I’ve specifically chosen it. Sometimes it can be quite hard, though.
I think with Florence it’s strange how much her sound changed from the first single to the first album…
…that was the way she decided to go…
…whereas with Laura Marling it seems to be more like an organic development.
Is it true that you’ve started out as a backing singer with Noah & The Whale?
Emmy The Great: I did briefly.
Laura Marling was backing singer with them as well, wasn’t she?
Emmy The Great: Yes. She went in right after me.
So you never shared a stage with her?
Emmy The Great: The guys in the band weren’t even allowed to talk to me when she was their backing singer. Because she didn’t like them to talk to me…
As you mentioned Adele: the kind of success she had with her second album is phenomenal.
Emmy The Great: Yes, mental.
I’d say she made the right record at the right time. Plus, when you’ve made a record that’s very successful it has a snowball-effect. But it’s not just a marketing thing – every single she released from that record is an amazing song. She has just done everything right. I don’t own her record but everytime a song of hers comes on the radio I think “that is a great song, isn’t it?”. You don’t mind hearing her songs on the record and that’s a blessing ‘cause I usually don’t like many songs that got played on radio. It’s a relief when someone puts an Adele record on.
I think her formula is to make songs no one can hate *lacht*
Talking about songs that get played on the radio, what do you make of Lady Gaga?
Emmy The Great: Lady Gagas music sucks, everybody knows that. But she is really interesting to look at. I thought that’s a given that no one likes her songs. Her music is a bland part of her extraordinary image. What do you think?
I think the singles of her first album are way underrated. “Bad Romance” is probably the best pop song of the last decade.
Emmy The Great: “Paparazzi” I do like. I did cry when I watched “Born This Way” on TV, cause that was amazing. But I think she is an “internet artist” – she appeals a lot to people who download music so she doesn’t sell as many units as Adele in Britain. That’s another reason why Adele is so succesful, even if people don’t dare to say it that way: Adele sells so many records because she appeals to people who don’t know how to use a computer. Adele bridges the generations – Gaga, you wouldn’t play to your mum, whereas my mum would love Adele. Speaking of it, I guess I have to buy my mum that Adele album for Christmas *lacht*
You’ve recoded a Christmas album with Tim Wheeler of Ash!
Emmy The Great: We got snowed in last Christmas on our second date! It was supposed to be one evening but we stayed together for ten days! So we wrote some songs together.
I never thought anyone would put it out but Infectious Records, the first ever label of Tim and Ash, really loved our songs and wanted to put it out.
What’s your favourite Christmas record?
Emmy The Great: Phil Spector… Elvis… The Beach Boys.
Oh, and the Mariah Carey – Christmas record is my guilty pleasure. That’s actually our familys Christmas record.
I got it for my mom as a Christmas present when it was released!
Emmy The Great: It’s so fucking christmassy!
I love it. That video with the dogs and the sleigh! That’s amazing. She was in a celebrity Magazine the other day. She is pregnant and her husband is holding her boobs – so Mariah Carey and her husband grabbing her boobs, that was the cover shot! She looked fantastic! Like Demi Moore on Vanity Fair in the 90ies – but Demi didn’t get her boobs fondled. *lacht*
You did collaborate with Darren Heyman of Hefner on his last record.
Emmy The Great: Yeah, I did that five years ago and it just came out last year. When it came out I really had forgotten that I’ve sung on that song! It came out in my “year off”, when I was taking a break from music.
Did you collaborate with other musicians on your own songs?
Emmy The Great: Dev Hynes of Lightspeed Champion did a Christmas song on my Chris Moss EP a few years back and Young Husband collaborated with me as well. On my new album there’s a guy called Gabriel Bruce who is singing backing vocals. He just signed to Mercury and I guess he’s gonna be a big thing next year. Do you know my song “Gabriel”?
Yes, that’s a seven inch single you’ve released before you recorded your debut album, isn’t it?
Emmy The Great: Charlotte Hatherley! I’ve decided that she is my god. She played with Ash for the first time again the other day and I embarrassed myself because I went up to her and said “You are the most amazing person in the whole world!” – I was literally starstruck and couldn’t properly talk to her. I was really worried that I couldn’t be around Tim and Ash when Charlotte was touring with them because I felt, like, she is so amazing that I would be intimated by her!
That’s funny cause Charlotte Hatherley was the first celebrity crush I’ve ever had as well, back in the mid 90ies when she joined Ash…
Emmy The Great: When you watch her on stage she’s like one of the greek goddesses if they would have played guitar! She owns the stage, she just walks around, going “Whatever! Fuck all you people!”…
Emmy The Great hat im letzten Jahr ihr zweites Album “Virtue” veröffentlicht und zuletzt mit Tim Wheeler gemeinsam eine Weihnachtsplatte. Im April befindet sich Emma-Lee Moss aka Emmy The Great gemeinsam mit Ben Howard auf Deutschland-Tournee:
18.4.2012 Berlin, Huxley’s (verlegt vom Kesselhaus)
21.4.2012 Dresden, Alter Schlachthof (verlegt vom Beatpol)
22.4.2012 München, Muffathalle
23.4.2012 Köln, E-Werk (verlegt vom Gloria)
3.5.2012 Offenbach, Capitol (verlegt von Frankfurt, Batschkapp)
4.5.2012 Hamburg, Große Freiheit 36 (verlegt vom Grünspan)