The indie-pop enigma Emma Louise is officially back. The singer/songwriter took time out following the release of her beguilingly melancholy concept album, Lilac Everything; A Project By Emma Louise, last September. Emma was then reluctant to tour, telling Music Feeds that she felt “a bit burnt-out”. Now, she’s ready.
Hailing from Cairns, Emma Louise Lobb was a precocious teen, composing on acoustic guitar. She dreamt of being “a rock star”. Emma broke through with ‘Jungle’, a triple j fave, from 2011’s EP, Full Hearts And Empty Rooms. Two years on, she established herself with a debut, vs Head vs Heart – which made the ARIA Top 20. Emma returned with 2016’s Supercry, a break-up album. Meanwhile, she became an accidental dance diva after the German DJ/producer Wankelmut remixed ‘Jungle’ – the ensuing ‘My Head Is A Jungle’ a hit across Europe (the original likewise charted in France). She’d collaborate with Flight Facilities, notably featuring on 2014’s ‘Two Bodies’ (and their Live With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra album).
Emma settled on a very different direction for Lilac Everything. Initially, she wrote material during a restorative trip to Mexico. Emma subsequently reached out to Canadian indie-type Tobias Jesso Jr via Instagram, sending him ‘Wish You Well’. She asked if he might produce her music. Jesso had issued 2015’s acclaimed album Goon. But, though he’d penned songs with Sia, Adele and even Niall Horan, he’d never guided a project. Still, Jesso recognised the potential in Emma’s demos. They recorded Lilac Everything at Bear Creek Studio in rural Seattle. At the last minute, Emma, recollecting an old studio discovery, suggested Jesso pitch-down her voice, inspiring a digital alter ego she’s named ‘Joseph’. As such, Emma’s dramatic ballads were transformed – Lilac Everything falling somewhere between Nina Simone’s vibrant jazz, Joni Mitchell’s pastoral and Lorde’s psychedelia. The album attracted rave reviews (Pitchfork rated it 7.6), but the unusual vocal effects confused some fans.
In 2019, Emma is sanguine. She has prioritised self-care – lauding The Hoffman Process, an intensive psychoanalysis program beloved by celebrities like Katy Perry. The super-private star is also in love, recently marrying Jesso – her “best friend and soulmate”. She is also recording a new album.
Emma – until lately primarily residing Byron Bay’s hinterland – has performed intimate shows Stateside. But, come September, she’ll embark on a Lilac Everything Australian Tour. The first stop is Sooki Lounge in Belgrave – a boho hub in The Dandenong Ranges, of all places. “I think it’s nice to start off in a regional town, ’cause I grew up in regional areas,” Emma says cheerfully. “So it’s comforting for me. I feel way more at home in a regional area than in a city. I do love me some mountains.”
Music Feeds: I was wondering where you’re calling in from, because I got the idea you are overseas and not in Byron Bay?
Emma Louise: Yeah, I’m actually calling from Home Depot in Los Angeles.
MF: What are you doing out there?
EL: I’m making a mould. I’m getting some plywood; I’m making a mould to fill with concrete. I’m making a garden sculpture.
MF: Are you based out there now?
EL: I’m kind of half here, half in Australia. So we spend half the year here, half the year in Australia. But we’re going back in September. So [it’s] pretty exciting – pretty, pretty exciting.
MF: I spoke to you about the time when Lilac Everything came out. You were a little bit reticent about touring. You said you were burnt-out, but that you would think about how to approach this record and then tour it. What prompted you to go out on the road now? What changed?
EL: Well, I think I wasn’t very ready to tour. I actually did this thing called The Hoffman Process. You pretty much do, like, 10 years of therapy in one week. I did that and I think I kind of sorted out a lot of things that had been holding me back. Afterwards it felt like I was ready to tour again.
MF: James Blake has talked about something similar [EMDR, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, therapy]
EL: I wonder if we did the same thing? Yeah, oh, man – it seems such a crazy thing to me. It’s changed my whole outlook on life and stuff.
MF: How will you perform Lilac Everything live – especially when you’re doing some of your older songs as well? I assume Joseph is along for the ride?
EL: Yeah! Joseph is definitely along for the ride. But, yeah, I think I’ll be playing Lilac Everything very true to how it sounds and then I’ll be playing old songs and also a few new songs as well.
MF: What did you make of the reaction to Lilac Everything? I guess, as critics, our immediate response was to intellectualise it; to say, This is a statement about gender fluidity or how artists present themselves.
EL: Well, I think it’s a big question of judgement. If people are a little bit too judgemental, they’ll cut it off before it grows with them. But, if they’re open to it, and just listen to the music and the songs, just the way it is, it’ll reach them in a place that it should. But I didn’t wanna make a statement – or it wasn’t an intellectual decision at all. It was literally just, I heard my voice slowed down on tape when I was 18 or something and was like, “I’m gonna do a whole album like that one day” – and then that was already kind of in the back of my mind. Then, when it came to mixing the album, I was like, “Let’s see what it sounds like pitched-down.” I had a very physical reaction to it – which only happens to me when I know when something’s right. So I went along with it. But it wasn’t at all some kind of profound statement or anything.
MF: Did you have to fight to put this record out at all? Because the industry still tends to think in terms of radio play and commercial dictates, but I’m not sure that is even relevant anymore with streaming. What did the label think when you handed it in?
EL: They were pretty scared – you know, my manager and the labels and my publishers and stuff, they were like, “This is stupid.” But then, as soon as I was like, “No, please, it is just the way it is…” And they’re kind of used to me doing really weird things and pulling weird moves. So, after they realised I wasn’t bullshitting, then they all got on board. I didn’t really have to fight for it to be released. But, at the same time, I don’t think I would ever fight for anything to get released – ’cause I believe that music finds people. I believe that, if people need to hear it, they’ll hear it at a certain time.
MF: I’m intrigued about the new music you’ve been writing, because I know a lot of artists are always creating. What have you been up to on that tip?
EL: I mean, that’s a big reason why I didn’t tour for a bit, because I’d been writing so much. I’m really excited about this next album… I’m just really proud of the songs. I used to be really kind of self-critical and not be able to say that I was proud of anything or whatever. But I’m genuinely proud of this next group of songs. I feel like I’ve really, more than anything, just been focussing on how to craft a song. So the next album is just like a collection of songs (laughs). That’s so funny, ’cause that’s so vague – because every album is a collection of songs, but you know!
MF: What are you feeling creatively out there – whether it be music, art, movies, TV, anything. What is inspiring you?
EL: I’m so inspired by visual art…I’ve been making sculptures – like, so many sculptures – and drawing and painting and stuff. But it’s been keeping me really busy and inspired and keeping the flame lit in a really beautiful way. Yeah, I’m so grateful to be able to just make stuff. It makes me so happy. That’s what I’ve realised: I’m truly happy just whenever I’m making something.
MF: Would you ever consider doing visual arts professionally?
EL: Yeah, I actually think that that’s what I’m gonna do, for sure.
Emma Louise will bring ‘Lilac Everything’ to life on the road this September. Dates below.
Emma Louise ‘Lilac Everything’ Australian Tour
Tickets on sale Friday, 7th June
Thursday, 12th September
Sooki Lounge, Belgrave
Friday, 13th September
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tickets: Corner Hotel
Saturday, 14th September
Tanks Art Centre, Cairns
Thursday, 19th September
The Tivoli, Brisbane (Brisbane Festival)
Tickets: Brisbane Festival
Friday, 20th September
The Factory Theatre, Sydney
Saturday, 21st September
Byron Bay Brewery, Byron Bay