Brooklyn resident Emma Frank has a sound so multifaceted it intertwines folk, R&B, and even jazz to create shifting tempos and winding melodies that are poignant, propelling and all-engulfing. Having recently signed to Justin Time/Nettwerk Music Group, Emma releases her new album Come Back on September 6th.
Throughout the album, Emma taunts with ideas of love, lust, self-doubt, commitment and sadness to relinquish the most intimate corners of her mind with her listeners. Emma’s songs are journeys of self-discovery, framed by insightful lyrics and her warm, gossamer voice that songwriter Leif Vollebekk described as “like leather on silk.”
We caught up with Emma to find out what she’s all about.
Hi Emma how are you?
I’m so great, thanks.
How would you describe your sound?
I’m not quite sure. I go back and forth between equally vague descriptions – sometimes I say that I’m ‘exploring the intersection between folk, contemporary jazz, and art-pop.” Other times, I say that I’m a singer songwriter who likes to record things live off the floor and has a penchant for intimate, elfin sounds. Maybe my dream review would describe what I do as Joni Mitchell meets Hanne Hukkelberg meets self-help new age-ness. Definitely working on that.
Your new album ‘Come Back’ will be out September 6, can you tell us what we can expect?
Well, I hope that people find the recording soothing, that they find the songs to be a stimulating, calming, ambient space to feel their feelings in. I like listening to these songs next to silence, as in giving space to rise up. Like, I don’t put on Lizzo before I listen to these songs. There’s a quiet, steadiness about this record that hopefully feels soothing and intimate and can keep you company in a gentle, loving way.
Tell us about our new single, Before You Go Away?
I initially wrote this song about my dad – we were in some kind of conflict and I was getting sad thinking about how mortal he is, how mortal I am, and what a bummer it is to waste time being attached to our pride and being wrong or right. Then the song kind of evolved the more I sang it. By the time I was singing it in the studio, I was singing it to myself, reminding myself that I don’t have time to waste being unkind to myself (sorry that’s a lot of ‘myselves”). Aaron Parks and I recorded it in studio, and got this really intense version, that ultimately wasn’t exactly what I wanted for the song but that was pretty special regardless. So eventually, my husband Pedro and I recorded it in our living room in Brooklyn. Pedro’s playing all the instruments on there. We tried to keep it really simple and soothing.
How does the creative process work when you are writing new material?
Well, there’s always the initial desire to create, but that only gets me so far. So, ideally, I feel inspired and sit down at the piano, with my trusty smartphone, and make a voice memo of myself improvising – I improvise lyrics and melody and harmony at the same time, usually. If I’m lucky, I’ll stumble across an idea that I think is promising. I’ll listen back to it, and learn it, and then expand on it. Maybe I’ll put several sets of lyrics to it, so that I start to see a song shaping up. Basically, I get my outline sketched as soon as possible, and then I can start letting it simmer in my mind. So the second part of songwriting is walking around the house, or the park, or doing dishes, and repeating what I have to myself and trying to suss out what rings false and what rings true, and to see if I can improve it.
As a New York based singer, does New York influence your music in any way?
It’s hard to say. Ultimately, I’m sure it does, but not necessarily in the way I thought it would. I think New York has helped bring my true personality to the surface in ways I didn’t expect. Just on a day to day basis – there’s so much noise, so much stimulus, so many people like…being so beautiful, or kind, or funny, or maybe…literally defecating in front of you on the subway. It’s just a lot all of the time, in both the best and worst way. I have less energy to mask anything and just feel like I’m being myself on a very instinctive level. So if anything, New York has helped me feel more grounded in myself as an adult person, and expressing myself creatively has begun to feel more natural and cohesive because of that.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
In no particular order, and definitely not a complete list: Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Hanne Hukkelberg, Blake Mills, Michelle Willis, Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato, Amanda Baisinger, Aaron Parks, Cassandra Wilson, Lizz Wright, Wilco, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Dominique Eade, Joao Gilberto, Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Hiatus Kaiyote…
If you were stranded on a desert island which three albums would you choose to have with you and why?
I’ve been asked this question many times and it never gets easier. Mostly, I get hung up on logistical questions, like “why am on I on a desert island with a record player? Do I have food? Is there even electricity? Am I all alone and going crazy?” So, my answers are pretty vague. However, I do feel that something by Stevie Wonder, maybe Songs in the Key of Life, and probably some Aretha, would help me stay positive in this hypothetical nightmare.
Stylistically, where do you think your music fits in today’s climate?
Lord, I don’t know. Stylistically, I get shy going into all of the hyphenated genre names…. If anything, I feel like there’s a movement across the arts right now of (particularly women) expressing their search for self-love in a way that’s deeply cathartic and inspiring. I feel connected to that, and I feel that my life has improved dramatically because of artists who have put themselves out there in that way – their struggle to be kind to themselves, to love and to be loved, and to live a meaningful life. And I think the music part is fun too.
You’re playing in the UK in September. For those who haven’t seen you play live, what can people expect from your shows?
They can expect to walk away with a free car, just like on the Oprah show. Oprah and I share a birthday, January 29th, (thirty-four years apart), so I like to think of her as a guiding Aquarian star. I mean, I hope that it makes you feel warm in a deep, meaningful, possible cathartic way. I hope you see yourself in the songs, that the lyrics invite you to open up to the music, and that the music is healing and that you have fun!
Lastly if you were to recommend just one of your songs to listen to for people to understand you as an artist. Which would you pick?
My favorite song in my repertoire is currently “I Thought” – the first song on “Come Back.” I want to make more songs like it. Working on that now 🙂
Photography by Shervin Lainez