Interview: Upbringing: Emmy the Great

Upbringing: Emmy the Great

Emmy discusses her musical upbringing: from Elton John to Metallica.

“My previous recordings were a reflection of my internal world, but this,” Emmy the Great says of her new EP, ’S’, “is a record of me trying to engage with the outside. Over the course of travelling and touring for the last two years I inhabited many cities and landscapes.

“While I wrote this EP and the album that will follow, everything changed. As I wrote the songs I began to reflect more and more the world that I saw around me, incredibly bright, technologically breathtaking. I am curious about being a person in this world, and I tried to write that into the music.”

In an exclusive Upbringing interview with DIY, Emmy reflects some more: on her early days growing up and getting into music, from her first musical obsessions to best ever gig, and wanting to be in Sleater-Kinney (DIY’s February issue cover stars, no less) - it’s all covered.

What was the first gig you went to? Describe the experience.
I think it was Kylie Minogue at a stadium in Hong Kong when I was seven. I had a really bad fever but my parents thought I would feel better if I went so I remember lying in my mum’s lap for the entire show. I remember going to see David Copperfield do magic soon after at the same stadium, with Ash who is now the singer in Emperor Yes and our friend Dan. Shows in Hong Kong, where I lived before I was 11, weren’t really gigs, because there weren’t really any dive bars or small clubs. They were big events with huge artists who were doing world tours. There’s more of a gig scene now because kids who grew up in that era learned about punk and DIY and kind of imported the spirit as best they can in a finance-obsessed culture.

Was there a good supply of venues to go to where you grew up?
Not in East Grinstead, where I spent my teen years. There was a club called Martine’s, but if you went there the guy in your group was guaranteed to get punched. When I got into going to shows I usually travelled to London to the Astoria or Brixton Academy, and me and my friends used to go to a lot of club nights like Afterschool or Pump Up the Volume so we saw some smaller shows there. We also used to go to watch local punk and hardcore in Aldershot, weirdly.

Can you remember the first song you developed an obsession over?
I think it was the song ‘Daniel’ by Elton John, when I was a kid. I thought Elton John was a lot like my dad because he was English and had a piano. I remember borrowing his Elton John CD and playing it in my room while drawing alternate album covers. I also remember buying the Metallica album as a kid and getting to the bonus track which had the word cunt in it, and going to my dad to tell on myself for listening to music with cusswords in it. I remember he laughed.

What’s the story behind you getting your first instruments?
I asked for a guitar for Christmas when I was fourteen and we went to the shop in East Grinstead and I picked out a blue one. I was going to a new school the term after this so the blue guitar was a big thing that I was showing the other kids as part of my quirky identity.

What's the best and worst show you've ever played?
Best show was probably the first time we played Glastonbury’s John Peel stage, because when I was eighteen at my first Glastonbury I’d been at that stage and told myself I would play it one day.

Do you have any music-related bad habits?
I’m too controlling I think. Sometimes I forget music is supposed to be free and fun.

If you could be in any band from the past two decades, who would you be and why?
Sleater-Kinney, please. But I don’t know what I’d play. Maybe I could just sit in the van writing gags for their between song chat.

What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
I like advice so there’s a lot. A recent favourite was on my flatmate’s wall last year, it relates to dance as she was a ballerina… something along the lines of self-doubt being a form of vanity, so just shut up and get on with things.

If there's anything you could tell the person you were when you started writing music, what would it be?
Relax.

Emmy the Great’s new EP ’S’ is out now via Bella Union.

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