Interview: Emmy the Great on her new EP 'S'

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After four years without a record Emmy the Great is back. Douglas Parkes chats to the songwriter about her new musical direction, technology and returning to the city she grew up in 
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Four years is a long time in the record industry. For a while, it looked like Emmy the Great might be finished with music. As her 2011 release Virtue receded further into the past, her profile was maintained by writing for the likes of Vice and The Guardian. Suddenly, however, it’s all go again. January saw the release of a new EP, entitled S, and later this year a new album will drop. Time Out caught up with the one-time Sha Tin schoolgirl, turned Londoner, to learn all about her new music.

You’ve just completed some tour dates on the West Coast – was it a good time?
I love LA and lived there for a year recently, so being there feels like being home. I got to stay in my old house with my old roommate and her dog who I adore. It was my first time taking my brother, who is in my band now, to this place which was such a big part of my life, so all in all it was perfect.

What are your feelings for Hong Kong? You left when you were 12, but keep coming back…
My parents, sister and nephew all live in Hong Kong now, so I am trying to get back as much as intensive, long-haul air travel allows. The feeling I get when I’m on my way from the airport to the city can’t really be explained, it feels like something clicking in place.

Does playing in HK feel special in any way?
Always. Especially because I have to get my family not to hog all the tickets so that other people can come too, otherwise I’d just be playing to a large room of relatives.

There’ve been nearly four years between your last album and your new EP – what’s been keeping you busy all that time? 
Making my third album has been all-consuming, but I’ve also been working as a freelance journalist, and I’ve written some original music for films and stuff. It’s a weird time for musicians so I’ve had to work harder than ever before just to maintain my life, and sometimes to fund recording.

How have the new songs been going over live? 
The shows are going to take a little time to really come together, as we’re working with a lot of new equipment and software, but in general it’s been amazing to make these first strides with the new songs in these small rooms where I can look up from singing and see everyone. Playing live is this thing where I get to meet all these people around the world who have given up time or energy to listening to my music, and it makes me feel incredibly lucky. It’s been really fun in America recently too, because we’re travelling as a super small unit and once we pack up the van we party with the crowd.

There’s been quite a shift from the folksy sound of First Love to a more electronic sound on S. How did you come to broaden your sound?
I’ve always wanted to make music that reflects my own musical understanding. When I first started, I only knew about acoustic instruments, so I wanted to make music where we played it together in a room and then I sang over the top. Now I’ve been playing music for a long time and I have a lot of interest in gear and different platforms and machines, and the music I make now has evolved because of this.

Modern technology is a big theme running through S. Should we be afraid of technology, or do we need to stay optimistic?
Instead of asking technology to change for us, maybe we need to re-programme ourselves to make good decisions when using technology. The same way that some poor kid gets in trouble ‘cause of a mis-timed tweet, a cop gets indicted for the first time because he’s filmed shooting an unarmed African-American man. What’s happening now is both the best and worst reflection of humanity. 

With an increasing willingness to take offence online, do we need to value genuine sincerity more?
I think so. I get stressed about the impulse of taking offence on the internet, and how easy it is to take people down by clicking buttons before you’ve thought about the consequences, but at the same time, I think internet people have a sweetness that’s never been so prevalent. At the last UK election, you saw all these teenagers using their internet slang to engage with politics, and they really weren’t being ironic, they were serious. I thought that was the best thing to come out of the election.

Emmy the Great Sat Jun 20, Love Da Café, San Po Kong. Tickets: $180 (door only).

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