LILAC EVERYTHING; A PROJECT BY EMMA LOUISE
Ethereal, engrossing, and burning with inventive insight, Emma Louise’s new conceptual album Lilac Everything is a transformative exploration of the artist’s life since the critically acclaimed Supercry (2016); it hinges on the most profound musical choice she has ever made, the secret of which is revealed in its very first vocal notes.
Emma has always found a certain discomfort in the way the singer-songwriter-artist scheme works. “It can be really confusing, because all of a sudden your identity gets mixed in with this inflated version of yourself,” she says. Wishing to escape a slump in Melbourne, Emma touched down in Mexico three days after booking a flight, and during her stay underwent a musical reinvigoration. She wrote an enormous amount of material and decided to cold-send a sliver of it to an artist she’d admired for some time: Tobias Jesso Jr. The Canadian musician, producer and songwriter (for Adele, Sia, John Legend, Niall Horan, Paloma Faith and others) replied: he was blown away, and encouraged Emma to meet with him and his band in L.A., to which Emma agreed.
Not long into demoing Emma’s tracks with his own band, Tobias agreed to take on the material as his first ever production project. “I never wanted to be a producer until I heard Emma’s demos,” he says. “She has perfect instincts when it comes to songwriting; she means what she writes, and that truth comes across in her lyrics. Her songs make me feel as though I’m working through the same emotions as I listen, which is exactly what good songs do.”
The group removed to the stunning Bear Creek Studio in Seattle, a converted wood-panelled barn located on a 10-acre horse farm and a favourite of artists including Fleet Foxes, Soundgarden and Eric Clapton. It was during the concluding moments of this recording session that the vital cornerstone of Lilac Everything was laid. Emma asked Tobias to artificially pitch all of her vocals down… and things suddenly slipped into place. “It was honestly the most relieving decision I’ve ever made, musically,” she says. “It just felt so right. I didn’t even have to think about it.”
She had toyed with the idea once before, during the recording of her debut album vs Head vs Heart (2013): “There were a few songs where I pitched the vocals down and put them underneath [the main melody], and I called them ‘Joseph’”, she smiles. “I said, ‘I’m going to do a whole album of Joseph one day.’ But I didn’t know it was going to be this one.” Through this method of separation, Emma found a psychological freedom she hadn’t before. “It made the album swell,” she explains. “It expanded. I think, creatively, I was able to do whatever I wanted.”
The result is thoroughly and uniquely Emma Louise. Opener Wish You Well’s simple piano chords and respiring harmonies transport us into an introspective soundscape; Never Making Plans Again smoulders with the warmth of Nico, as horns surface amongst beautifully hazy strings; Gentlemen’s joyful, pattering, Paul Simon feel balances the synth-swaying Just The Way I Am; and closer A Book Left Open In A Wild Field Of Flowers features two diaphanous Emmas, slightly out of sync, which eventually ripple away with the otherworldly clacking of a Ghibli train. The altered vocals reveal previously unheard details in the quality of Emma’s voice, and it’s a reflection of that time in the studio: “It was the most magical, magical thing,” she says. “It was in the middle of nowhere; we were drinking six bottles of wine a night. We did all the songs live.”
Emma credits the talent of Jesso Jr – “Every decision that he made was the right decision,” she says – and lauded Grammy- and Juno Award-winning sound engineer Shawn Everett (The War On Drugs, Grizzly Bear, Weezer, Kesha, The Killers) with actualising her vision for the album. However she has clearly never been so content in her world, and it’s the bright beauty of that state – all Emma’s own – that ultimately breathes spirit through Lilac Everything.
Emma Louise came to Australia’s attention in 2011 when her self-filmed acoustic guitar originals gathered an online following on YouTube; in the same year she was nominated for triple j’s Unearthed Artist of the Year and released her debut EP, Full Hearts And Empty Rooms, which spawned the internationally acclaimed single Jungle. Her debut album vs Head vs Heart (2013) earned her an ARIA nomination for Best Female Artist, and her second album Supercry (2016) was applauded both at home and abroad for its maturity and honesty. Both albums charted in the ARIA Top 20. Emma has toured with Boy & Bear and Sam Smith; she currently resides outside of Byron Bay.