Friday, 13 February 2009

Emmy The Great Interview

I’m thinking that interviews aren’t meant to go like this. Emma Lee-Moss is sitting opposite me telling me about living with Charlie from Noah and The Whale, and coming home from a holiday to find Laura Marling in her house, and nicknaming Marling ‘Anne Frank’ because she was always in Emmy’s attic.

I ask her about Charlie as though I’ve known her for years, when in reality her PR only just introduced us, and I’m suddenly aware of just how unusual it is to speak to an artist that isn’t answering-by-rote. To the contrary, Emmy is completely unguarded when she leans forward and says, “We never touched or kissed or anything, but he lived at my house, and we slept in the same room because we were so inseparable. We were intensely good friends for six months, and then one day I came back and Laura Marling was in Charlie’s room. And then Charlie violently moved out, I don’t know what happened.”

What happened is that Emmy went on to shun everyone’s predictions that 2008 was her year, veering past major-label record deals and turning her back on the hype – and the new folk ‘scene’ in the process. It’s now 2009 and her album is only just about to be released. It’s called ‘First Love’, a title almost on a par with her own in levels of unbearable tweeness. Emmy’s been trying to tell everyone that the title ‘First Love’ has some kind of literary origin, but it seems unlikely, and the fact that the media lap up her stories is clearly a game to this deadpan, half-chinese, middle-class English girl with her smiling eyes. There’s a Catch-22 irony about a humble person self-titled ‘great’, and it smacks of good humour.

Personal difficulties aside, Emmy seems to struggle with the very idea of any ‘scene’. “Most of this new folk thing, I can see all the contradictions,” she says. “There are so many complications when the press decide that something is a scene, it’s just so much hassle. I just want them to all get in a group and say that they’re a scene and then for someone to take a picture.” She sounds at once brave and slightly indignant, but the message is clear: Emmy The Great intends to do things her own way, whether anyone else approves or not.

‘First Love’ rattles with that homemade feel; it sounds like faded wallpaper and peeling lacquer and the lingering warmth of recent sunshine. I assume this is intentional, but Emmy doesn’t seem so sure. “I’m aware of the record's flaws,” she says. “We made a lot of mistakes. I didn’t want it to sound hi-fi, so it sounds fucking awful, I wanted to use bad equipment. We maybe didn’t spend enough money on the actual recording.” A couple of days later she will hunt me down on facebook to give me a link to the remastered version with its much improved attention to balance and sonic consistency, and I’ll be left thinking, again, how rare it is in the music industry to find someone quite so unaffected.

Today, Emmy is half way through telling me about the time she got sold for ket at Reading Festival when her PR tells me to wrap up the interview, and it seems suddenly formal juxtaposed with all the chatting we’ve been doing. The NME, perhaps confused by someone so reluctant to leap onto bandwagons, described Emmy as the girl that boys want to take care of and girls love to hate. In truth, Emmy The Great is much like her music: disarmingly honest, steeped in good-humour and genuinely charming – qualities that confuse most people in this business. Here’s hoping she stays that way.

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