Interview: Emmy the Great

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Emma-Lee Moss did not want to be a musician. Worse than that – she still doesn’t. Sadly then, she finds herself in the unenviable position of overseeing the release of her debut album next month.
After a long period in development Emmy the Great’s debut album First Love will be released on Moss’s own label, Close Harbour, on February 2nd. First Love is evidence of Moss’s prodigious talents as a songwriter, but she asserts that she sees her future in areas outside music. Already writing for music magazine ‘Stool Pigeon’, in ten years she sees herself as a journalist, or perhaps a writer of low-grade fiction, ‘I’d like to write generic novels like Sweet Valley High or the Mills and Boon novels.’
Of her future in music, she is only certain of one more album, any more will depend on her still having something to write about, ‘I just want to make another album after this, I know what I’m writing about next’. It is a demonstration of her relationship with her songcraft that she is only certain of her musical productivity as long as she is sure of having personal demons to exorcise, characters to assassinate, and a message to deliver. The importance of this message and Moss’s close personal involvement with her lyrics is evident throughout her work.
‘Most of my songs have been written for one person’, Moss explains; she uses the process of song-writing to describe her feelings to people, in the hope that they’ll hear her music and understand her better. It can be painful, but she admits that she takes a great deal from the process, affirming, ‘every song you write is an act of catharsis.’ The explicitly autobiographical nature is graphic at times, and can make for uncomfortable listening. Nonetheless, it is a defining characteristic of Moss’s songs, and is often the source of the emotional resonance that drives her best work.
Only on one occasion has the personal nature of the songs been a source of embarrassment for Moss. Recent single ‘We Almost Had A Baby’ is a brilliant dissection of a destructive relationship, in which she discusses pregnancy as a means of having something to use against her partner. She recalls that performing the song at SXSW festival in Texas, in front of the ex-boyfriend the song deals -an awkward experience.

Moss is critical of the British music scene, even chiding the industry for its support of her own career. When asked what she makes of the scene she asserts, ‘It’s shit, really boring; myself included in that. People here are only making music in order to become popular musicians.’ She contrasts this with the scene in America, where artists are more likely to develop over a long period of time before becoming popular. She attributes her own success so far to the benefits of being a musician located in the country’s capital, ‘I think we’ve been really lucky, because I lived in London I’ve had more attention.’
Self-deprecation is a notable trait of Moss’s. She is unquestionably a gifted song-writer, with a capacity to awe listeners which has been showcased regularly to growing audiences in attendance at gigs in recent years. Her modesty seems to blinker the scope of her ambition somewhat, speaking on her hopes for the future it appears a very limited level of success would see her content, ‘I’m really happy the album is coming out, if we break even, which we almost have, I’ll be happy.’ Certainly the songs and their author deserve exposure which will bring Moss success as a musician beyond hoping to ‘break even’.

It seems unlikely that Emmy’s debut album, First Love, will escape comparison with one of last year’s biggest, Laura Marling’s debut, Alas, I Cannot Swim. The similarities between the two artists are not merely superficial; sonically the albums sit in very similar territory. Sadly First Love is unlikely to emerge from such a comparison favourably. The difference that strikes the listener most lies in the ambition with which each album appears to have been executed. The production-levels of Marling’s work were impressive to say the least, with countless instruments employed to bolster the emotional impact of the songs, and provide the listener with a more expansive musical experience.
First Love is a much more modest affair, perhaps this is a reflection of the close relationship Moss has with her songs as she seeks to avoid distorting their message. That Moss is releasing the album on her own label is evidence of her unwillingness to compromise her vision for her music. Certainly her song-writing is strong enough, but although such a bold exposition of her lyrics and voice is laudable it is likely to prevent her from seeing her album reach the same audience that Marling’s did last year. I doubt though, that this is much of a concern for Moss, who seems little driven by the prospect of mainstream success.
The album contains many powerful moments, ‘MIA’ in particular demonstrating the potency of Moss’s song-craft, showcasing the stirring naivety of her fragile voice against a familiarly understated musical background. This and the other stand-out tracks, ‘First Love’ and ‘Dylan’, where the modest components of Emmy the Great’s sound combine perfectly with her outstanding lyrics and voice and everything seems just enough; the sound is perfectly weighted to the honesty of Moss’s writing, and the effect is overwhelming.
Sometimes though, one suspects that greater ambition in the production of the songs may have served to enhance rather than undermine the message, as Moss appears to have feared.
Still, it’s a shame Moss doesn’t want to be a musician; she clearly has so much to offer us.

 

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