The Seventh Hex Interview: Emma Ruth Rundle

Emma Ruth Rundle’s first official solo album, ‘Some Heavy Ocean’, presents a collection of impassioned, cathartic songs, exorcising the ghosts of one of life’s dark detours. Melancholic, but equally hopeful and accessible, the album wears its emotions on its sleeve. We caught up with Emma to discuss her songwriting process, a penchant for visual art and the need to keep evolving…

TSH: Firstly congratulations on such a profound album with ‘Some Heavy Ocean’… Though it was exhausting emotionally and marked by personal struggles, how cathartic and compelling was it to express your convictions and state of mind with this collection of enthralling songs?

Emma: Thank you very much. Writing and recording “Some Heavy Ocean” was a trying, yet cathartic experience. As the songs became more fleshed out and instruments other than guitar were added I certainly felt something like a sense of relief.

TSH: It’s been mentioned that you literally moved into Sargent House’s home studio in Echo Park, sequestering yourself for two months writing and recording, what was the level of focus like during this period?

Emma: This is true - I stayed locked away down there for a bit and woke up each day to work. It was an intense time and the focus was there but that’s not to say there was no experimentation. Each song required its own approach and arrangement. Because there was no deadline and I was working out of the home studio, there was a lot of leeway in how and when we did things. For instance, if I felt that recording vocals for a certain song would be done best at night in an upstairs room, we could wait the day and prepare for that. Recording this record was unlike any other recording experience I’ve had.

TSH: How key was it that this album allowed you to make a statement about a different facet of your musical character that you hope will serve as a platform to continue releasing music in a similar realm?

Emma: It was an important album in that way - I had been releasing music under the guise of a band, “The Nocturnes,” and felt that by releasing ‘Some Heavy Ocean’ under my real name I was setting the stage to continue making similar music while establishing my own career as a solo artist. It was also important for me to be able to tour without a band after the record came out.

TSH: Does your crafting process involve ideas you’ve consciously looked to imply or is it a series of organic expressions realised by the simplicity of guitar and voice?

Emma: The songwriting process is more organic. The songs all have meaning and a story to each which the guitar helps to pull out of my head and heart. I almost always start by just playing. The things I play often reflect my mood or the state of my emotional brain - so I guess the stories and music often mirror each other in real time as they manifest.

TSH: Was it uplifting to have violinist Andrea Calderon, of Corima on board for the record?

Emma: Without question, Andrea is one of the most talented musicians and uplifting people just to be around. Her intuitive playing and singing really made the record special for me. She brings true interest and thoughtfulness with her contributions to everything she does. I count myself very lucky for having had her on board. AND Cormia is MINDBLOWING ha! If you ever get the chance to see them - do not miss it.

TSH: Let’s talk about the album. Firstly, ‘Run Forever’… Talk us through structuring this song and at what point in the process did you realise what you were going to do vocally with such enchanting instrumentation?

Emma: ‘Run Forever’ is one of the older songs on the record and actually has the simplest main guitar part- so when you strip away the slide guitars, drums etc. it’s a very basic song. Again, in writing this, the melody and subject matter was ready to come out too. Some of the lyrics and idea in the bridge and intro to the song (Your Card the Sun) were set down during recording.

TSH: Tell us about your admiration for the song  ‘Living with the Black Dog’ - the song holding a lot of emotion because your heart was heavy and this song is the best representation of this…

Emma: ‘Living with the Black Dog’ was another “no work” song. It just came. It’s a one live take recording of a performance - in other words, I just sat down, the tape machine got turned on and the song was captured then and there. I feel that it’s the most honest in that it is so direct and needed nothing other than the lyrics and guitar to carry the emotion across. I’d like for all songs to be so simple but I guess that’s just not the way it works.

TSH: And of course the meaning behind ‘Living with the Black Dog’ is in relation to Winston Churchill’s moods…

Emma: Yes! You’re the first to make the connection. I think it’s a powerful thing to give the illness that troubles your being a name. It allows you to point directly to it and say “it’s you again.” I just happened to think he came up with the most appropriate name to describe the character of what is the Black Dog- It goes back into folklore too and makes for some interesting research. I love myth and legend as a key or guide for naming and identifying states of mind or experience. Marriages explore similar ideas by using the Kitsune for a model of psychological transformation.

TSH: In what way is the title track in relation to a visual aspect, with the lyrics creating the visual representation of something very vast and unknown?

Emma: It was a true conjuring in that the title track was actually the scrap of another song I hadn’t liked - I reversed the parts and “heard” the words “guide me to some heavy ocean.” It was with the least amount of purpose but with most subconscious movement that this song and title came to be. It all just manifested toward the close of the recording process.

TSH: You’ve stated that you feel you’re a nervous type of person, do you feel at all vulnerable to know that you can’t hide behind a band and that you’re directly linked to your songs in many ways?

Emma: At the start, yes I did. Stepping away from The Nocturnes was frightening. From now on there is no band name to hide behind so if I hate what I’ve done on ‘Some Heavy Ocean’, I’m forever tied to it. I took comfort in knowing that I had already released “Electric Guitar: One” under my real name and that it was not at all main stream or singer songwriter but instead a collection of improvised soundscapes that might fall more into the world of art or experimental music. This gave me the confidence to just work under my true name as it leaves the door to other genres open. I hope to never be stuck in any one world, as I feel often happens to bands and artists, but would like to create in an uninhibited fashion or act in whatever way is honest. I am just a person making noise - sometimes its folk sometimes it’s not.

TSH: With the airy ambiance and confessional poetry your songs take on, what aspects do you feel are most integral to manifest themselves?

Emma: Staying true to the heart. I hope to never sit down and study how a pop song’s success is structured.

TSH: Do you tend to at times focus more on harmony and controlling your voice when your material is taking shape?

Emma: It’s not something I’ve thought about until recently and after touring more with the solo work. There are some very quiet and delicate moments, which I can only sing when remaining still and focused. This is sometimes hard to do live when you’re tired and travelling from one bar or venue to the next. I am not a trained singer. I’ve intentionally focused on writing louder, more robust vocal parts for the upcoming Marriages record knowing that I will have to sing powerfully in order to cut through the band and make an impact. With the solo stuff it’s still just whatever comes naturally.

TSH: What kind of motivations and outlook do you take on for the live translation of your music?

Emma: Not playing with a band right now allows me to take great liberties with the songs and I find that I can meet them, like new people, every night. There is no one I have to keep in time with or worry about so I’m free to do as I please and this is what I like about playing this record live. I do love to play with other musicians and it’s not an experience that can be replaced but the freedom to explore is how I am approaching this material.

TSH: How gratifying is to have someone like Cathy Pellow on board – an individual who goes above and beyond to support you and push you to stand on your own…

Emma: I feel that she has pushed me especially to stop hiding behind things. She lives life and speaks her mind and won’t let anyone get away with less than they are capable of. She sees who and what artists are, what they can do and she demands them to live up to that. I would have long faded into the background of a band had she not come up behind me with all of her support. She really is like family to me and I owe her everything.

TSH: How do you like to use the downtime whilst on tour?

Emma: Each tour I’ve been on has been different - downtime depends on how many people there are, how long the drives are, who does what etc… In Red Sparowes I used van time to record EG1 - in an ideal world I would always have time like that. In more recent tours, there has not been so much real downtime or at least not enough to really focus on much, so I make the occasional drawing or painting and always bring art supplies.

TSH: Tell us about your penchant for painting, I understand you’re doing more oil paintings now, as well as working on a painting of Joan of Arc…

Emma: Visual art is a compulsion for me. I would never claim to be good at it or to know what I’m doing, technically speaking. When I was little I really wanted to be a visual artist but never made it to any classes etc. So it’s just something I do. The series of oil paintings you’re referring to were an experiment in that I was trying to use diluted oil on raw canvas to create a watercolour effect. I’m not sure if it was a success but the expression of love between two people was captured in the three paintings and I’m happy and a bit attached to them ha. My Joan is mostly done but I want to learn about using metallic paints before finishing it. I hope to create something like those Greek orthodox icons - very two-dimensional figures surrounded by gold. I love religious art.

TSH: Also the violent Korean movie ‘I Saw the Devil’ was so good you watched it twice…

Emma: I’m big on serial killers and Asian horror… what can I say…

TSH: Outside of music, how do you like to unwind?

Emma: Not proudly - a lot of beer and cigarettes.

TSH: What sort of sustainability do you look to maintain and stay true to heading forward?

Emma: I hope to keep evolving and making things without being too worried about how or what. In the current climate there are no guarantees at all. The thing that has brought me to where I am now has been to never give up or stop. This is all I know and outside of making things, I’ve only ever worked with instruments. This is my life and I can only keep living.