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8th December 2013
METAL DISCOVERY: You seem to have a great progressive and innovative mentality with the music you make in all the new sounds and styles you explore. Is that your biggest impetus as an artist; in challenging yourself to try and create something that’s always fresh sounding?
EMILY: Yeah, it’s like that fine line; you wanna be timeless and fresh at once… [laughs] And I’m influenced by music of so many different eras and I’m not shy to take from all of ‘em, whether they be modern or old or whatever. But I think I keep it fresh for my own entertainment, just to keep myself engaged. It’s probably an asset but also a flaw because it means my sound is always evolving, and you can’t just say, “oh yeah, that’s that mood that’s created by this thing that this person always does.” But I don’t know how to do that so…
(Emily Wells on collaborating with Park Chan-wook for the movie 'Stoker')
"...he was great at knowing what he wanted but also allowing me to feel really free and not have that feeling of like, “oh shit, I’ve gotta make it exactly this way”, which can be really stifling as an artist."
Emily Wells in The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, UK, 8th December 2013
Photograph copyright © 2013 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Emily Wells Official Website:
Midori Sour (1999)
Albums & EPs
Thanks to Frankie Davison for arranging the interview
Shadow Box (2001)
Music for Geek Love (2004)
Emily Wells Official Facebook:
Making Static (2005)
Emily Wells Official Twitter:
MD: Through that progressive mentality, do you regard your music as transcending genre?
EMILY: Yeah, I guess. I certainly never was like, “I’m gonna just break against genre.” That was something I never set out to do, I just have a lot of influences. But, yeah, the most annoying question is casual conversation like, “what kind of music do you play?”
EMILY: So I’d rather just not casually tell people I play music! [laughs]
MD: Just evade the question!
EMILY: Yeah, evade, evade!
MD: There are only two genres in music anyway - music you like and music you don’t.
EMILY: Yeah, there you go… [laughs]
MD: As soon as music gets labelled as something then I think it becomes limiting for some people’s listening proclivities.
EMILY: It is, yeah.
MD: Would you say your fanbase is generally an open-minded one that’s along for the ride in whatever you do, so you don’t have to worry about alienating them with all the different sonic paths you take?
EMILY: I think so. I mean, people seem pretty game, I would say. I think people definitely maybe expected ‘Mama’ to be a little more heavy, a little more strings, a little more hip hop or whatever… more juicy, you know, that kind of thing, and I decided to go a little more song and less conceptual. So I don’t know; I don’t know that I necessarily lost people to that, but it could’ve been an expectation I did not fulfil, so to speak… [laughs]
MD: You wrote ‘Becomes the Color’ last year for ‘Stoker’ - how did that opportunity arise?
EMILY: Yeah, Park Chan-wook, the director, got turned onto me through his sound editor who is an American guy who I didn’t know personally, but he’d kind of been following me for a few years. And, yeah, he came to a show and director Park is a person who knows what he wants in every aspect of his films. So he knew he wanted a song at the end; he knew he didn’t want any other music placements throughout the film other than score.
MD: Isn’t there an old Nancy Sinatra track at one point during the film?
EMILY: Yeah, but it’s being listened to on a radio.
MD: Ah right, yeah, that’s what they call diegetic… rather than non-diegetic.
EMILY: Yeah, that’s what it was. So he didn’t want anything to overtake until that moment so I crafted the song specific to that scene and specific to that character.
MD: Have you experienced a bigger degree of recognition for your music since the movie’s been released? Like, more Facebook or Twitter followers, or whatever?
EMILY: Sure, you can see growth from that. It’s kind of a small film; it’s not like some major motion picture where it’s changed my life or something; you know, like, “oh now you have millions of people who care what you do.” It’s more like, it changed my life as an artist, getting to have the opportunity. And yeah, it definitely brought people to my music. And I got to work with someone who inspired me so much.
MD: Yeah, I gather you got to collaborate directly with Park Chan-wook during post-production before you actually wrote the song?
EMILY: Yeah.
MD: How was that experience? Did he have a particular sonic vision for the kind of piece he wanted from you?
EMILY: Yeah, he did. I mean, he took references from some of my stuff and I was on tour, actually, at the time, and we were talking over the phone… everything through a translator. So, yeah, he was giving me feedback and we knew that there was to be a pause at a certain point and, you know, there were a few things… he knew that he wanted strings… there were things that he was like, “this aspect of your work is what I want you to draw from.” And he was great at knowing what he wanted but also allowing me to feel really free and not have that feeling of like, “oh shit, I’ve gotta make it exactly this way”, which can be really stifling as an artist. And I feel like he brought that out in the actors and the other people he was working with… Clint and, you know…
MD: But all through a translator!
EMILY: All through a translator who was amazing. I went to Korea with him, with director Park, for the premiere.
MD: I’ve seen a clip on the Blu-ray with him talking about how great it was to collaborate with you. That’s got to be a huge compliment from such an esteemed director.
EMILY: Yeah, exactly, and god, you felt his respect in South Korea.
MD: I presume he’s something of a superstar over there?
EMILY: Yeah. Like, we had a police escort to the radio station. That type of superstar!
MD: Was that quite overwhelming that whole experience for you?
EMILY: I mean, my life is just a series of odd experiences that I don’t know what to expect. Like, for instance, I’m here in this place tonight and I just keep rolling with it! I came in for over a week and my album was also released there at the same time, so I was playing shows; I was doing tons of promo; I was just like, boom, stuck into this world. It was a thrill, I would say; definitely a thrill.
MD: Once you’ve had so many random experiences then I guess it stops feeling so random, these kind of things!
EMILY: Yeah, exactly! [laughs]
MD: And you got to work with Clint Mansell for another song that wasn’t in the film but was on the soundtrack - ‘If I Ever Had a Heart’. How was working with Clint?
EMILY: It was really great. Clint and I had a funny introduction because I actually wrote ‘Becomes the Color’ before he scored the film. And so they gave him all the stems so you’ll hear little pieces of ‘Becomes the Color’ in the film. And so he would say, “you play this other thing again…”; you know, and so that’s kinda how we got talking and chatting and becoming friends or whatever. Then he was like, “let’s try this thing together.” And we did it and director Park loved it, which is why it’s on the soundtrack but he said, “we can’t hear her voice until the end.” He really needed it to be… he wanted it to be a surprise.
MD: So Clint used actual cues from your song in his score?
EMILY: Yeah, yeah.
MD: I presumed that was the other way around…foolishly!
EMILY: Most people would, yeah, totally.
MD: But you get no credit, it’s just ‘soundtrack by Clint Mansell’. It should be ‘Clint Mansell with a little bit of plagiarism, or pastiche, from Emily Wells.’!
EMILY: [laughs] Which is fine. I mean, I’m credited in the publishing.
MD: Ah, there you go. At least you’re getting the money for it!
EMILY: [laughs]
MD: Were you ever a fan of Pop Will Eat Itself, his old band? Have you checked ‘em out?
EMILY: I sure have now. We did some shows together, actually. He came to New York and he’s got this really rad project he does every once in a while. It’s a live thing and it takes pieces from all of his different films and stuff like that. So, yeah, everyone was like, “you’ve got to check out his band”, which I did.
MD: I gather you’re already quite far into the recording process for your next record – what can fans expect from the new Emily Wells album?
EMILY: I think it’s gonna be… well, so far, I’d say the beats are a little more rowdy than ‘Mama’. My main thing with this record is… and I learned this from the acoustic record actually, in a way, is to let my voice be the thing that it needs to be. I always, as my own producer, end up making my voice just another instrument. That’s the thing I’m always gonna turn down in the mix, if you know what I’m saying. And, so, I’m really forcing myself to think of the vocals as the central character. And, yeah, a lot more strings, I would say, too. I’ve been playing a lot of viola on this record, and a little more drama I think.
MD: A little more guitar?
EMILY: Electric guitar, yeah. I got this gorgeous 1960s Gibson Tremolo tube amp.
MD: Oh, nice, yeah.
EMILY: I mean, I’ve always put electric guitar on my records but this one, yeah, I think it’s gonna stick out a little bit more.
MD: The final thing - if you had to summarise in three words how you feel where you’re at with your career right now, what would they be?
EMILY: I would say grateful, hungry and stupefied… [laughs]
MD: Marvellous words!
MD: Thank you so much for your time.
EMILY: Oh, it’s such a pleasure.
Beautiful Sleepyhead and the Laughing Yaks (2007)
The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties (2008)
Dirty (2009)
Mama (2012)
Pillowfight (2013)
Mama Acoustic Recordings (2013)