An Interview with Emmy the Great
As I’m directed through the labyrinth of corridors beneath the Stanley Theatre at the Liverpool University Guild, I came suddenly to a dressing room with the words ‘Emmy the Great’ scribbled on the door with a biro. Ushered in by the stage manager, I see Emmy slumped on a sofa, sipping from a cup of tea and scrolling endlessly through her Twitter feed. “Do you mind if I go for a wee?” she says, as I find myself a seat amongst the pile of clothes strewn across the sofa.
Where did the name ‘Emmy the Great’ originally stem from?
When I was at school, this boy would call my Emmy because he knew I hated it. And when I went to university I lived with him and for some reason I gave it to myself. We used to play gigs at university and we’d play under stupid names and so I was Emmy the Great.
Being from Hong Kong and having been brought up in England, what kind of effect has this had on the music that you want to produce?
When I first moved here I wanted to be accepted and I was very middle England about it. But now, since making these albums I’ve been very accepted by Hong Kong audiences as well- it’s like, you can’t run away from where you came from. It made me very Radio 4 when I first moved here but now I’m expanding a bit and I’m like- okay, I am Asian, a bit.
How big a part has the internet played in your success, for example blogging and social networking?
It definitely takes up a lot of my time. I’m literally on Twitter all day, but I leave it running on the side while I do constructive things.
Would you say it’s played a big part in raising your profile?
I don’t know, it definitely helps me get rid of brain gremlins! You know, when I’m writing a song and I get too intensely into it. And then I check my Twitter and come back and know what the rhyme should be because you’ve taken your brain away for a bit.
A lot of your lyrics refer to other artists- you reference Leonard Cohen in ‘First Love’ and Elton John in ‘Two Steps Forward’. Is there anything you find particularly inspiring about these artists?
I reckon that was before Twitter and I couldn’t get them out of my brain. I reckon now I could just tweet something about Elton John and then go back and write a song. There’s always all this stuff in my head; my head is a compendium of today’s magazine articles, I’m just like a real magpie.
Besides other artists, what else influences and inspires your musical vision?
Themes, I think. For the last album I was really into myths and femininity, and then I wrote a bunch of songs. The next album, I’ve got different ones.
What kind of song writing process do you go through? Do you actually sit down with the intention of writing or do things come to you when you’re in the middle of something else?
At the moment, I’m writing on tour and I’ll be walking around. Well, actually I went to Japan in July on holiday but with other bands. So, when I was waiting around for them to sound-check I would write a bunch of ideas down, write a bunch of melodies down, and then I didn’t think about them until this tour. When I’m walking to sound-check I’ll be quickly trying to write a verse, and that’s how I’m doing it at the moment.
How’re you finding Liverpool? Have you had a chance to look around the city and see any of the sites?
We know it quite well because we’ve been here a few times. I’m really good friends with Eugene McGuinness and so we went to Bold Street which is in one of his songs.
In terms of albums and touring, is there anything in the pipeline?
Our Christmas album is out in December, and next year I’m going to record my new album.
Earlier this year you released your second album ‘Virtue’, how does it differ from your previous album?
It was a very instant process because I broke up with someone, finished writing it, recorded it in a very short space of time. And then toured it quite quickly.
How did you manage to focus yourself so quickly on making an album?
Because you have no choice. I had no choice because I need to tour, I need to make albums otherwise I can’t eat. Well, I can eat but I’d be eating other people’s food.
If you had three words to describe ‘Virtue’ what would they be?
FML. Fuck my life.