At times we at Fame are totally in awe of the raw talent some people possess in this world. Whilst many of us struggle to play one musical instrument, there are some who can turn their hands to anything. One such multi-instrumentalist is Brooklyn-based Emily Wells.
The wonderfully talented Miss Wells is currently doing the rounds promoting the European release of her album ‘Mama’ (out June 3rd on Partisan), this will be released as a double album (which will feature the full release and an acoustic version as well).
Fame caught up with Emily during her press tour and asked her about her career to date, this new album and her involvement in the soundtrack for the Pan Chan-Wook movie Stoker, which stars Nicole Kidman. Here are highlights from Phil’s interview.
Hi Emily, first thanks for taking the time to talk to us at Fame Magazine. Are you excited about the European release of your album ‘Mama’?
I’m thrilled for the release!
We hear you perform the majority of the instruments on ‘Mama’. How did you even begin putting together this album using only your own musical skills?
Well, I did have some help. Though I play entirely solo now, I’ve worked with the same drummer (Sam Halterman) and bassist (Joey Reina) for years. I do play some subs and drums and create beats, these two are definitely present on this record as well as my other releases. .
During the writing process I’m always keeping my eye on how something will be played live, and I suppose the inverse is also true. I employ live sampling on stage, so many of the arrangements already exist before the recording begins.
I love the benefit of touring with new songs before putting them down on record. The audience gives something to a song that you can not give it yourself. As for the recording process itself, especially when working alone, beginning is always the most difficult part.
I put the skeleton of the structure down first on 8 tracks of tape, and then transfer the those tracks to protools [recording software] and add the full string arrangements and additional instrumentation there.
This forces me to capture single takes for those primal parts of the song and not second guess myself with too many options. I’m learning to enjoy my limitations.How would you describe the album’s sound to our readers?
It sounds like a canyon in California with the light just right. It sounds like an overture that got caught in a windstorm and fell into a loop.
It sounds like someone who really likes Biggie Smalls but doesn’t sound anything like him so instead they’re drawn to a clear kick and snare and a slow heavy beat.
It sounds like someone who is curious about sound itself and can’t stop playing with it. I’m terrible at describing my sound.
The album will also feature an acoustic version as part of the package. Who decided to offer this bonus with the original, and why?
The acoustics came about as an accident. Long after the record was recorded and even released, I recorded a couple versions on a whim, thinking maybe I’d give them away to the most curious of listeners.
I became intrigued by the process of stripping away everything except the voice and a very simple guitar part. It was as if I was discovering the original to a remix.
I was also intrigued by how the meanings of the songs evolved, took on a different shape when sung in a more gentle way. I wanted to approach them almost sweetly which gave another life to the lyrics.
When I was finished I knew that above all else, I wanted to hear these recordings on vinyl. I sent them to the label and they agreed enthusiastically.
I’ll come out as a separate companion piece in the US, but Europe is lucky cause they get the deluxe version which includes both all together.May we ask you Emily about how you broke into the music industry. Have you any advice for an aspiring artist starting out today?
Ahhh, hmm. How to answer…I don’t know that I’d consider myself fully broken…I say this with a smile. And I doubt I’d be the best to turn to for advice on the music industry, but what I can say is that I’ve always continued to search within the work itself.
I’ve been persistently, doggedly curious about the work itself. I’ve gone in the room alone. I’ve stayed in the room. I’ve been foolishly without fear.
When I’ve become discouraged, I’ve talked myself out of it. I’ve tried to behave with artistic integrity when making choices as an artist and as someone selling this work. I’ve stopped believing my press, be it good or bad. I’ve beenlucky.
You have some work included in the soundtrack for Director Park Chan-Wook’s new film ‘Stoker’. How did that come about and who chose the material to be used?
Director Park was given some of my music by the sound editor for “Stoker” Ted Caplin who’d been following my work for a few years after hearing it on a radio station in Los Angeles.
Park wasimmediately drawn and I believe felt some sort of comradery between my sound and the protagonist of the film, India Stoker.
We met in LA when he came to a show and about a year ago after the film had been shot. Rather than place something already recorded, he instead asked me to create an original song from India’s perspective as the film closes.
They showed me a rough cut and we talked about the themes and ideas, along with a monologue that opens the movie and would mirror the lyrics I would write at the end.
He had a clear vision for what he wanted, but flawlessly gave me the room to find it for myself. It was a collaboration I will take with me into my work to come.
Can you describe to our readers how it feels to know millions of movie-goers will be hearing your work and of course potentially buying/downloading the soundtrack?
Wow, I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms! I’m just very proud to be part of the film and love the idea of people experiencing the song when it happens, which is, well, a crucial moment. I’m also honored to sit among Clint Mansell, Phillip Glass, Nancy Sinatra, and Verde on the Soundtrack…
That’s good company…(There’s also a bonus track that’s a collaboration between myself and Clint).
What is next for you Emily. Have you any tours lined up, or new material ready for release?
I’ve written most of my next record and have been playing some of the songs at recent shows. I’d love to record the record this year and release it in 2014. There is of course touring in Europe to come and the US as well. My life continues to surprise me though, so we shall see.
Have you any artists who not only inspire your work, but perhaps you would like to collaborate with?
I want Wale to sample me and rhyme over it. I’ve also been listening to Ace Hood for the past couple of days; I’d be into him sampling me too. Dan Auerbach, as a producer, would be dreamy. I love the sound of his records.
I want to sing with Gillian Welch (by a river somewhere of course). And really I could be okay just to sit and watch Tinariwen rehearse for a few hours.I’ve also been a long time fan of Toumani Diabate and been floored at his ability to collaborate so seamlessly with Western artist. Yeah, he’s the one at the top of my list.
Finally Emily can you give our readers an insight into the day to day life of an artist such as yourself. Is it as exciting as it sounds?
Well, you could ask me this question last week, or next month and I will always be answering it differently. Touring is exhilarating and exhausting and hard work. It’s not as glamorous as people think, but when the audience shows up, and the sound is good, it’s worth every minute of the tedious
minutia it takes to arrive.
When I’m home I try to be good to myself and run and read and listen to a lot of music from different times and places.
I practice my craft…Sometimes that’s with lots of gear at hand, sometimes just focusing on the rudiments of an instrument (last year it was drums). I collaborate and remix as much as I can and have been working on the score for a film about Richard Brautigan that I just know I’ll finish this month!
On the other side of things I manage myself, and released my first couple of records myself so there are often some basic label/managerish things to tend to.
Today for instance, I went for a run, played drums for 10 minutes, put on make up, had a photo shoot, uploaded files, returned emails, had a phone meeting, bought some studio monitors, then talked with my best friend (who lives across the country) for an hour while walking my dog.
Each day has its beauty if I remember to look, and that’s the best part, no matter where I am: the looking.