“My heart is a wildfire,” Emma Louise sings on Colours, and by the time you’ve been swept up by the emotional storms of her second album, you know how true that is. On Supercry, the Brisbane songwriter holds nothing back: all the aches and desires of a gifted songwriter moving into adulthood are laid bare. Yet even with all the successes that came her way after the release of 2013 debut album vs Head vs Heart, Supercry is the second album that might never have been made.
Writing songs is as natural as breathing to Emma Louise, and right from the start as a schoolgirl in Cairns it was the quality of those songs that seemed to make her path into a musical career inevitable. A stunning 2011 debut EP, Full Hearts and Empty Rooms, announced Emma Louise on the national stage as a rare kind of talent, one who creates songs with a resonance far beyond the instant sugar hit of so much pop music. Once you hear tunes as intensely evocative as Illuminate, from the new album, or Jungle from Full Hearts, you don’t forget them.
Jungle went on to become a Top 5 hit in the UK, France and Italy, also endorsed by iconic brand Yves Saint Laurent, but even with all these affirmations coming her way Emma wasn’t so certain that on stage as a musical performer was where she wanted to be.
“Making that first album really affected me, it was hard to do,” she says. “It took me a while to learn that it’s okay to work with people and to trust them. I went through a break-up, the relationship ended and working the album ended at the same time. Looking back on it now I think I was taking everything that was coming back to me all too seriously. I’m a sensitive person and it all became too much for me. I needed that break and for two years I was learning about life, travelling, exploring.”
Emma Louise, who first came under the public gaze when she won a state-wide songwriter’s prize at just 16, was finally able to do the things most young people are able to do. If she wanted to go on a travel adventure with a friend she did. If she needed to take time alone in a cabin in Japan to reflect, she did it. Even when she connected with Belgian producer Pascal Gabriel in his studio in the south of France, she wasn’t sure if or how the songs would see the light of day. But as the songs took shape in the studio, she knew this was where she wanted to be, that she was ready to take her songs to the world again.
“When I was on that break from music the songs kept coming, all kinds of different songs, but they were for other people to sing,” she says. “At the same time there were these other songs, on the side I thought, that were just for me.”
Gabriel, it turned out, was the perfect choice to work with. A songwriter (he wrote tracks with Dido for her classic No Angel debut) and producer (Ladyhawke and Goldfrapp are among his many credits), Pascal’s energy and enthusiasm, and the solitude of his studio in the village of Sablet in the south of France, helped Emma Louise create her strongest work yet.
Emma loves to be involved in every aspect of her career, from providing original paintings for her cover art to designing on-stage outfits, but she knows that her songwriting is the foundation for it all. “Writing songs is what I am best at. I can’t do that unless I am by myself so I spend a lot of time alone, which is probably why it was hard for me working with other people at first. With the first album I was very rigid, fighting for control. With this one I loosened up so much; it felt so natural and honest.”
Honesty is what these songs are all about, from the plea to talk it over in Talk Baby Talk to the note-to-self of Everything Will Be Fine and the stunning, soul-charged end-of-the-chapter that is Shut The Door.
“Everything Will Be Fine was written in the cabin I stayed in when I was in Japan. I wasn’t doing very well and it was a sarcastic song at first,” Emma Louise says. “It was later, just being able to sing the words to myself, that it became comforting.”
Grace is a song of love and thanks to Emma Louise’s best friend since school who has been there for her in her most difficult times. Nowhere is about the urge to discover something new: “I met someone at a cafe who has become one of my best friends. One day he rocked up with this motorbike and we went off for a week, exploring in the hinterland. I got obsessed with motorbikes and escape.”
On Illuminate she works through all the doubts of the past few years (“Shake me ’til I wake, I know I’m braver than this”) and arrives back in the spotlight, re-energised: “That was a song I recorded when I got back to Australia with producer Styalz. It feels like a bridge to the whole album, about coming through challenging times and back to something colourful. I really love what I’m doing now.”
Another of the album’s emotional high-points is West End Kids, set in the Brisbane suburb that is a magnet for students, outsiders and creative types of all persuasions.
“West End has such a potent vibe to it and a lot of people get trapped there. The song tells the story of what went on with my relationship; we had this crazy and beautiful time there. When it ended I had to get out, and of course when I went back everything there reminded me of him.”
Despite the inner turmoil that fuels the album, the music itself has a calm, inviting presence. You can imagine Emma Louise up high in that castle, looking out at the Provence countryside through the changing of the seasons, finding herself again with her music.
“Pascal’s place is in a medieval village, the walls are a metre thick. For the first four weeks of recording I hardly left the place but you could walk out on to the tower with the world spread out before you. It was so beautiful.”
Finally, Emma Louise knew what she had to do.
“That’s the job as a creative person, to be honest about what we are going through because that’s what is healing. You are saying, ‘You aren’t alone feeling that, I’m feeling that too because we are all human.’ ”