If you came early to 2013’s North American Deafheaven shows, you probably saw Marriages. If you weren’t too moved in advance by the notion of Red Sparowes alums in a new band, bearing witness to Emma Ruth Rundle leading that trio on guitar and voice like a blackened PJ Harvey likely swayed you. If you were indeed so moved, you probably sought out Marriages and Ms. Rundle on the interwebs, anxious for your next fix of bleak, metal-spiked, atmospheric rock.
Well, it turns out that next fix is Emma Ruth Rundle’s debut solo outing, Some Heavy Ocean, and it doesn’t sound like any of her former heavy selves. It is “heavy,” however, in the “as a death in the family” sense, but this record is resolutely “for the moms,” albeit the ones who were into clove cigarettes and light cutting as teens. Like some chance meeting on the dissecting table between Kate Bush, the Cure, and the Cocteau Twins, Some Heavy Ocean is a 4AD-tastic song cycle in which darkness is barely overcome, all bummer guitars and swimmy synths tucked into the lush production wrought by engineer Chris Common. You don’t have to be bummed to enjoy this record—when we speak, Rundle takes pains to point out that she is not. In fact, she lit up when we talked last week about silly kids’ cartoons, her awesome manager/landlord and the not-so-fucked-up David Lynch film she’s overlooked.
Noisey: I hear a lilt in your voice, like English or Irish, when you sing. Are you from outside the US?
Emma Ruth Rundle: No, I’m LA-born and raised. I get that a lot actually and I’m not sure why—even in conversation! It might have something to do with my grandfather; he was an old-school Shakespearean actor and maybe his [archaic] style of speaking rubbed off on my sister and me.
Did he go into voices or anything like that?
Well, he wouldn’t do accents of different characters but it was just an old-fashioned way of speaking.
What it makes me think of is Kate Bush or Cocteau Twins. Were they an influence?
In general, yes. Kate Bush is an all-time favorite, as well as Cocteau Twins, though I couldn’t imagine attempting to be as good as them.
But there’s no obvious connections to your past in heavy music. It seems like you went from a sideperson to being a frontwoman to being solo. How did that evolution come about?
Well, I grew up with folk music and it’s been around me my whole life. I had a project called the Nocturnes that focused more on song-based music. But I’ve always been a fan of heavy music and was a fan of Red Sparowes when I joined. I got caught up in that and contributing to that, making guitar-based music.
That’s where I met the pedal-steel play Greg Burns and then we started Marriages, which is closer to where I came from but still in the heavy realm. Meanwhile, I’d always been working on my own stuff and finally decided it was time to release it not as the Nocturnes but under my own name. It was just a series of events that led me to having the opportunity to release that record through Sargent House.
What were those events?
Just working with Cathy [Pellow] with the aforementioned projects; she was aware of the other stuff I was doing. I proposed a solo record a few times. When we came back from the Marriages tour with Deafheaven, I was living at Sargent House at the time and the producer of some heavier stuff [drummer/engineer Chris Common] was also there and we just said, let’s do it, let’s make this happen. And that ended up being the collection of songs that made this record.
The record sounds like someone coming out of a dark period and into a cautiously optimistic space—it sounds like someone who has worked their way out of something. Were there personal experiences that triggered this material?
Yeah, they were definitely very specific events as well as an accumulation of a lifetime of being a crazy person. [Laughs] There were things I dealt with in that year: trying to be sober and getting out of a really self-destructive time. It’s hard to talk about. It’s less like, “This is what’s happening, and this is what I’m trying to get over.” It’s much more amorphous.
Sure but this kind of music is less convincing without personal experience.
I can see that. I’m not trying to do anything expect be honest. You can’t come at something from an analytical standpoint; it just kind of comes from the heart, not to sound cheesy.
That doesn’t sound cheesy at all. Do you feel like you’ve tamed some of the beasts that come from being a “crazy person” by releasing this music or this an “in the blood” kind of thing that just takes another form?
I think it’s an ongoing thing. I don’t think that darkness can ever be dissolved or overcome; it just kind of comes in waves. When you’re making this music your sort of reside in that space.
No Weird Al-type material coming any time soon?
No, but you never know. [Laughs] I am a fan. But you don’t want to take yourself too seriously. One of the reasons I do this is so that part of myself can sort of live here and have its space to be its own world. This is the area where you’re allowed to explore and be in touch with this part of things. I’m definitely not sitting there all the time. [Laughs]
You give those feelings somewhere to live so you can have a life. David Lynch pointed out that when he removed darkness from his own life, it didn’t leave his art, he just understood its place better.
I think that’s a good way to think about it. [Making art] makes that darkness a little more tangible in a sense, and you can observe it from an outside perspective. I don’t know that he’ll ever make a straightforward, happy movie.
Well, that was sort of the point of The Straight Story. Did you see that?
I didn’t. That was the Disney movie, right? I can’t believe there’s a David Lynch movie I haven’t seen. I’m always looking for something to watch.
Especially now that there’s too much to watch! What something good you’ve seen recently?
I just rewatched I Saw The Devil, this super-violent Korean revenge movie [it’s on Netflix Instant, btw], similar to Oldboy. I also really like cartoons. [Laughs] I love Adventure Time. I feel like since Ren & Stimpy, there hasn’t been something for kids that’s also really weird and captivating for adults.
If you’re really into crime dramas, you should watch this BBC show called Top of the Lake. It stars Peggy from Mad Men as a cop investigating a murder in a small town that has all these weird characters like Holly Hunter as leader of an all-woman cult.
You sold me on cult. [Laughs]
So getting back to Some Heavy Ocean, I wanted to ask you about sequencing. The first track, the title track, is by far the weirdest. Was there anyone nudging you not to make that the first track?
That started as a whole other song that wasn’t working and I rearranged it into what you hear for a textural intro thing to the record. I know in some schools of thought that that’s not how you start a record, but it’s not a mainstream pop record and doesn’t need to adhere to those guidelines.
Who was involved in the record?
Chris Common and I were living at Sargent House and we recorded it there. He has a home studio there and he recorded the whole thing, as well as playing drums, bass, and singing some back-up vocals.
Tell me about living at Sargent House. People can live with Cathy Pellow on an as-needed basis?
Yeah, it’s kind of a rotating cast of characters. Some people will be on tour and between places. There’s always an “artist-in-residence” there. Cathy helped me when my place was completely burglarized—literally all my stuff was stolen by some scary gangsters—I had nothing and she took me in.
It seems like Cathy invests a lot into the artists she takes on.
Cathy is a mad genius. I can get really choked up talking about her. She does everything with honesty and integrity and she works so hard for her artists. I owe her a lot on a personal and career level. She’s family to me; I’m very grateful.