Tea-lover Emmy The Great talks to Dazed Digital about writing, Sweet Valley High, and her ipod-less life.
DazedDigital:What’s your background?
Emmy the Great: I am from Hong Kong and I moved here when I was 12. I didn’t want to play music; I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t even about writing a specific genre like poetry but just the action of writing made me happy, like when I had to write school essays or papers… I wrote a play as well.
DD: What made you switch to music?
EG: A band called ‘The Get up Kids’. After my A levels I went to Glastonbury and I had this really weird weekend and at some I ended up completely by myself and I met this band. And at the end I said ‘I want to come back later and see you guys again’ And they said ‘Only if you start a band’. And so I did. But my band was really shit. (laughs)
DD: This is your first album, First Love. How much of you and your personality comes across? Are your lyrics based on personal experiences?
EG: Yeah. In terms of the songs, I write them all myself and they are about characters in my life, like, I identify who in the song is which person in my life. When it comes to the recording, everyone’s personality gets ‘distilled’ into one thing. Like, Euan, from Young Husband is into grunge or Tom, in piano, does most of the arrangements…
DD: What influences do you have or what sources do you use to create your music?
EG: I’ve never had to travel or go to certain places to find inspiration but I like to go somewhere peaceful because London can get very distracting. And also when you wake up in the morning after getting really really drunk, there is always a song in my head. But you have to remember that it’s fun, as soon as you come to enclosed into the process, then nothing will come out.
DD: So if you had to chose, would you prefer the creative process, or recording at the studio or playing live?
EG: My favourite bit is finishing songs. Playing live is fun and good for gathering ideas but when you turn them into songs, that’s the best feeling.
DD: Have you ever encountered a cold audience? What did you do about it?
EG: Yeah, we’ve had bad days. But you just learn to get over it. Sometimes, like when we played with Get Cape Wear Fly, I talked a lot to the audience and everyone was like: ‘why did you talk through the whole gig?’ but other times, like when my guitar fucked up, I was very nervous on stage and it’s just something you can’t do anything about.
DD: If I were to look in your iPod, what would I find?
EG: I don’t have an iPod! I don’t have an mp3 player! But on my stereo…Beach House’s Devotion, Sleeping States… oh yeah!…
DD: Female singer-songwriters you listen to?
EG: (Long pause) … Jenny Lewis, I like her production… or… Nina Nastasia… Cat Power!
DD: What do you carry in your bag?
EG: Crap! I have empty wrappers, bits of merchandise like badges, my notes...
DD: What books or mags are you currently reading?
EG: I love sci-fi. At the moment I am reading the Sweet Valley High book series. It’s like pulp fiction for teenagers. I love Operation Love Match and Almost married.
DD: Being English-Chinese, does it affect your perspective of the world? Do you think people see you differently?
EG: I feel quite exempt from the English class system. You know when people say, ‘Oh that is so middle-class’ or ‘You’re so posh’ or something. I didn’t grow up here, you know? I just chose this way of speaking. I chose the accent. When I came here I thought, ‘I don’t want to sound like an American anymore’. I’ve created my own English identity. Also, I have to say this – a lot of people think I am twee, but they say that because I am Asian, and they have this preconception, but it’s wrong.
DD: Three words that you’d use to describe yourself.
EG: Mary Whitehouse. That’s two words. (laughs) Pretty much.
DD: Favourite item in your closet?
EG: I don’t see my closet anymore! My hairdryer in my suitcase… to warm up my face (laughs).
DD: What do you dislike the most in the music business?
EG: Everything! I even hate my own music… (laughs).
DD: Where would you like to see yourself in 20 years?
EG: Sitting at a desk in a room, writing, with a big window and a dog. And a garden… and tea! Who doesn’t like tea?