Emma Dean – Life is a Cabaret!

Emma Dean just about has to be the sweetest person I’ve ever interviewed so far. She speaks with a level of excitement, optimism and enthusiasm found normally in young children. A talented singer/songwriter/performer, Emma is about to start a residency at El Rocco’s in Kings Cross with her new one woman show “Stripped”. Taking a stripped back approach to her music and performance for a series of intimate shows featuring guests from around the country as support. Emma speaks of how the show came together, reveals some exciting plans for the 2011 and how she was blown away by the New York Post claiming her to be an artist to watch in 2011.

Music Feeds: Tell us a bit about the new show “Stripped”?

Emma Dean: Initially I wanted to put on a residency in Sydney and my agent at Harbour booked me El Rocco’s in Kings Cross. I thought instead of just calling it Emma Dean’s Solo Residency, I wanted to make it into more of a show, so I choose the idea exploration of musical nudity. [It’s] totally stripped back and bare with just me on the stage with the piano, which doesn’t happen to often these days. It will be a nice change for me to do that!

I’ve asked guest performers from all over the Australia to come and do support slots. There’s a spot in each of the shows each week where one of the performers will come up and do a song with me. So there’s a little bit of collaboration. It’ll be quite different and it’s been interesting trying to find a way to present a solo show in a unique way but I think I’ve come up with a good idea.

MF: You put on Facebook asking people to come up with ideas, what songs they want to hear plus also to suggest support acts, how vital was that process to this idea?

ED: Yeah that was fantastic, just to hear the songs they want me to play at the shows has been really helpful. Obviously I can’t play all those songs, but it definitely gave me some ideas for older songs that I should pull out and learn. I’ve kind of been getting their opinions on various support acts. I’m originally from Brisbane, so I’m relatively new to Sydney. I’ve only lived here for a year now, so I’m still learning who’s out there in the local scene, so it’s been really great to be introduced to some new acts.

MF: So can you tell me who is going to be supporting?

ED: Yeah. There’s some amazing acts actually. so on the first week it will be an act Fronz Arp, which is the project of my partner Ben Stewart who recorded “Dr. Dream And The Imaginary Pop Cabaret” as well as two of my other CD’s. Also on that night is Big Smoky. Then I’ll be performing with Tony Dean, my brother the next week with Martyn Badoui, who performed at my launch at The Raval [last year]. Then on the final week, Cookie Baker and Jacob Diefenbach.

MF: Can I ask, with the “Dr Dream” album, you didn’t really tour the album when it was released, was there a reason for it?

ED: Well I did an East Coast tour. Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and I also did a launch in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Apart from that, I didn’t have enough money or maybe even audience members to make it worth my while. I think I’m not getting a huge amount of airplay in Australia, which is fine. I find that overseas have been really responsive. But that particular show was really really expensive. Being a solo performer I had to pay everything for all my performers. So you can imagine, you know how much it costs to go to Brisbane for the weekend, well for six people and paying for everything…. its pretty full on to do it. But I’ve got a tour lined up for May so hopefully I can get to a few more places.

MF: I was going to ask and since you mentioned some interest from overseas, the New York Post had you as one of the top ten artists to look out for this year. How did you react to that?

ED: It was so weird! I think it’s really a weird thing knowing that people overseas are listening to my album. I’ve always found that really strange. But ever since I’ve been online I’ve noticed I do get a a lot of interest from Europe and from the States, which is wonderful!

What that did, the New York Post thing, was drum up a bit of interest from a few people like record labels over in New York. And at the moment I have a radio plugger, plugging my songs over there. So I guess only time will tell what will happen from that. Even if nothing happens from it, it’s always such a beautiful thing to be recognized as doing a good job you know? So I was really really happy and it was such a lovely way to end last year.

MF: Can you talk us through the songwriting process for you. How does it all come together for you. Do have to force yourself to sit down at the piano to write or is a more natural, organic  experience?

ED: It’s a really interesting question that songwriters get asked a lot. My process has seemed to change over the years. But when I’m in a really open and creative frame of mind, the songs just kind of flow. Usually it starts of with me going to the piano and it’s usually from a physical urge to go to the piano. I guess, if I go to the piano something’s going to happen. I don’t know what it is. It’s the creative force going “NOW, now, now, now, now, now!” and so I go to the piano and just start playing notes, I don’t think in chords so much anymore, I keep playing until something sounds nice. Then the words come and then it’s a process where I have to record on my iPhone or dictaphone because I can’t remember the process at all! It’s like I go into some bizarre little trance and then come out the other side and there’s a song. So on my iPhone at the moment I probably have hundreds of recordings of me singing these songs which I can look back and cannot ever remember writing them. It’s absolutely bizarre. I kind of have to go back and relearn them. Thats kind of the process for me.

But as I get older, I let that happen and I take those songs away and I play it for Ben and he’ll usually critique it. I then might workshop some of the lyrics or change little bits and then solidify the song in whatever way it needs to be chopped and changed and then I’ve got a song!

MF: I always tend to ask that question because everybody has a different process and I’m fascinated on how people approach it. For some people it’s a chore and I get the impression as a musician, if it’s a chore to write a song, is it really what you should be doing.

ED: Yeah! It’s interesting and actually you bring up a good point. At the moment I’m writing music for a show, so it’s a very specific topic. So it’s a different mindset and you’ve got to flick that switch from “What am I feeling today” and letting whatever happens happen to actually having to write about this specific theme to give a very specific meaning. And it’s not a chore but it’s definitely does take a little more thought. It seems a little bit more like work I guess, but thats okay because you do always have to work at your craft and your art and sometimes thats hard but thats okay.

MF: So quickly on this show you’re writing for, can you give any details?

ED: Yeah for sure, I can give as many details as I know. It’s definitely a work in progress. I’m putting together a Creative Development Grant at the moment with Lia Reutens who played Henry in Sydney, as one of my imaginary friends and Amanda Laing who played GG in Sydney and we’re putting together a show which is based on one night’s sleep. I won’t say anything more than that, it may change.

It will involve some physical theatre and some circus and lots of really cool things. Hopefully, it will be a long term thing. I don’t think it’ll be anything that we’ll churn out quickly. For one we want it to be really, really, really good. We’re aiming for Speigel tents and Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe and all of those. It’s definitely more of a theatrical show. It’s very exciting and hopefully it all comes together.

MF: If you could play a show with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?

ED: This is a hard question, there’s so many! I really love an artist called Taylor Mac from New York and he’s coming to Sydney. He’s show starts the 25th and runs til the 2nd of March And he sort of does this crazy theatre show which consists of him doing music on ukulele and him in drag doing a massive hour long monologue and it’s fascinating. He’s just absolutely captivating. I think I would love to do a show with him.

Also, I’ve been asked to play the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the end of the year, which is incredible and I’m so excited. So I’d like to do a gig with Liza as well. Liza Minnelli!

MF: Oh wow congratulations on the role, thats awesome.

ED: Yeah I know. It’s going to be happening in August and hopefully touring around in 2012. So hopefully it will come to Sydney.

MF: Now, you play a few musical instruments, is there one instrument you would love to learn to play?

ED: Yes. I’d love to learn the cello, it’s my favourite. I love the cello so much. But also, I have a new piano accordion I was given at Christmas and I’m still learning it but I’m really really bad which is weird because I play piano! (laughs) So I would love to be able to play and be really good at piano accordion.

Emma is playing El Roccos in Kings Cross on Wednesday 2nd, 9th and 16th of March. Tickets are $10 and available from the venue.

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