It can be hard to assume what’s coming next from composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells. Although the Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter was originally best known for her work on violin, her live shows often have her playing live drums, guitars, analog synthesizers, beat machines, cello, and viola (which she generally handles all on her lonesome… if you don’t count loop pedals…) And while she has put out an album of symphonies (2008’s The Symphonies: Dreams, Memories & Parties), she’s also recorded a rather famous, and exceptionally great, cover of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.” Some of her work sounds along the lines of postmodern folk, but much of it also sounds like lo-fi trip-hop. She’s apparently a big fan of Philip Glass, but also a lot of “rap and dark electronic music” (The first time we spoke she emphasized that these genres had come to be the soundtrack of her latest obsession and presently most profound influence… running.) In addition, she’s also good buddies with local heroes The Roots and in 2013 she even released a collaboration with Dan The Automator under the moniker Pillowfight. Well, Emily Wells’ latest release would seem to be a little bit of many of her musical passions. Last month Wells released her In the Hot EP, a collection of B-sides and live studio recordings. The release followed-up last year’s Promise, her first album on her own imprint, Thesis & Instinct.
Promise and In the Heat see Emily Wells returning to self-releasing, after her first stint on a label, when Partisan put out 2012’s Mama, followed by 2013’s Mama (Acoustic Recordings). The last time we spoke was shortly after the release of Mama, in May of 2012, for High Voltage Magazine, so it’s been a while since I’ve caught up, so during our most recent chat, last month, I ask her what’s currently been influencing her most profoundly, curious if running is still a major muse: “[laughs] I’m still running, but I’m not as focused on it since we last spoke. Recently I’ve been very inspired by contemporary dance and creating visual elements for my live shows; I’ve been chopping that footage up. I’m really into Pina Bausch and also working on putting some imagery of climate change and hurricanes, and extreme weather in there.”
When Emily and I chat about what she’s been up to in the past half-decade (She has played a handful of Philthy shows, each of which I, unfortunately, had to miss.), she tells me that there have definitely been a few changes and new experience she’s gotten to partake in since the release of Mama: “Since Mama came out… I did a song for the film Stoker and got to work with Clint Mansell and Park Chan-wook and go to Sundance and all that, which was really cool, like collaborating in a new way. I also started touring Europe. I never toured over there before Mama came out, but now I get over there once or twice a year.” I ask her how touring Europe compares to touring in the states and she admits that it does offer a little bit more to non-mega-stars.
“They’re a little gentler, like they look out for you more. And they have a huge emphasis on the details, the lighting, the sound quality. They care about the aesthetic in a different kind of way. They have lighting that you would only have in a 1,000-capacity venue over here in every venue, and I’ve played every kind of venue over there from churches to shitty bars, and gear and sound equipment is always a big focus. It’s a little more of a listening audience.”
Emily Wells is about to kick off a short string of East Coast dates that will have her playing Boot & Saddle this Saturday, April 8th. I ask her what should be expected of her live set this time around and she says that she will definitely be playing tracks off of In the Hot, but that she’s also recently found new “inspiration” and churned out a batch of unplanned songs that will likely be played: “I’m gonna be playing some stuff off of In the Hot, and then also some newer songs. I finished In the Hot a week after that awful thing happened – I dare not speak its name – and I just started writing things I didn’t intend to write to address what it feels like for me in the moment… And I’ll be on my own, although that’s not necessarily new.”
I inquire about the motivation behind her recently released collection of rarities and live recordings, something that rarely makes its way to CD or vinyl these days (It’s available on both… in addition to lamer, digital formats.) She tells me that the release served both a practical purpose, but also allowed her to release music that would seem to be in the “hard-to-fit” category.
“I’m really into making songs and my ethos for keeping a song alive is through live performance and not letting it get too static, which is what you’ll hear on the live recordings. And sometimes I’m called to do a song for a soundtrack or a cover and it’s not really right for the current project. Like, ‘In My Time of Dyin’ was a gift to my girlfriend after her father had passed away. We listened to it his birthday after he died and then I went into the studio that afternoon and did the recording. With a release like this, there’s also the feeling of just wanting to keep things going and have something new to promote on the road.”