Music

Emmy The Great

A girl, and a guitar. A 'singer-songwriter', dare I venture. Throw your preconceptions out the window, because the stereotypical labels that surround the 'anti-folk' Emmy the Great (real name Emma Lee Robson) fall away from her the minute she opens her mouth.

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Emmy The Great and Laura Hulley discuss 'anti-folk' and debut albums.

A girl, and a guitar. A 'singer-songwriter', dare I venture. Throw your preconceptions out the window, because the stereotypical labels that surround the 'anti-folk' Emmy the Great (real name Emma Lee Robson) fall away from her the minute she opens her mouth. Her debut album, First Love, was released yesterday, just in time for Valentine's Day - but don't expect too much schmoozing, as the album shares its name with a macabre Samuel Beckett story: "If I was with a guy and he made a big deal out of Valentine's day, I'd think he was trying to kill me or something," she muses, quite seriously.

Her following has largely been built up by word-of-mouth, with friends passing on acoustic demos and trading 'rare' recordings. Her lyrics are phenomenally addictive and couple satire with a healthy dose of heartbreak, hate and kitchen sink drama, which is probably why her appeal is so wide: everybody knows what she means when she sings 'My head hurts / I feel worse than when S Club 7 broke up'. Because we all cried on that terrible day, right?

So why is Emma so 'Great'? And why do we need her in our lives? "The Great' thing was a bit of a joke that stuck, really," she says, "And, it kind of includes the band as well, but isn't rigid, so they can go off and do what they want." Emmy is usually accompanied by a four piece electric band when she plays live, giving her that thicker texture so essential to performance but which is so often lost on live acoustic acts. This bedroom poet writ large has been taking her music to the masses for the past four years, picking up a loyal following. But with such a dedicated fan base having so many favourite songs, it must have been difficult to pick the tracks for the album? "There were lots of decisions we had to make," she says, "And what ended up on the album represents what we were rehearsing at the time. It doesn't mean that I like them any less or more."

Her back catalogue is extensive, and her list of collaborations impressive: she has worked with Lightspeed Champion and supported Tilly and the Wall, Martha Wainwright and Jamie T, amongst others. "I loved working with Lightspeed Champion - I was out of the spotlight, it was great to feel like one of the band," she says enthusiastically. I ask her if she minds being stuck with the 'anti-folk' label, and being compared to the likes of Kate Nash and Laura Marling: "I fucking love Kate Nash - she makes awesome music. I don't care about this genre thing, if the music's good, it's good: 'Anti-folk' comes from New York, and I think saying there's a 'scene' here is a bit false. I didn't start it, I wasn't there, I don't wanna be a part of that - I've been making music for years, way before all that started and way after it ended".

Emmy seems quite happy to be outside of the fickle 'scene', but I wonder if she has ever considered picking up a synth and backcombing her hair? "No," she laughs, "Just no! We could never be a 'now' band." I sense that here is a girl who sings because it's what she loves to do, which deserves respect in the capricious musical climate of 2009. Perhaps the reason her songs survive changing trends is because they are so timeless, as relevant now as they would have been if they were written thirty years ago - sexually charged tales of heartbreaking devastation that are wry, witty and poignant: "My songs come from characters in my life, and whatever I'm thinking about at that moment. They're pretty spontaneous." But are they autobiographical? A dangerous question to ask any artist. Emmy doesn't really give me a straight answer, but instead mumbles something about emotions. She seems to thrive and feed on emotions, whether her own or that of others around her.

Scenes and subjectivity aside, this is someone you need in your musical life. Music geeks will appreciate her frequent name dropping of bands; the cut, paste and twist of her lyrics and the tribute to Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', which First Love seems to centre around. For the casual listener, everything you could ever wish for is covered in this album - love, life, death, sex, gratuitous violence. It's a perfect gift for Valentine's Day.

But don't stop with the album; like all the coolest bands, the best stuff is hidden away on blogs and forums on the big wide web - just remember that Emmy the Great isn't one of those artists: "These labels come and go," she sighs, "I just carry on making my music." Some are born great, and some can just write great songs.

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