Now Hear This!: Emma Louise - 'Vs. Head Vs. Heart' (North American premiere)
PopMatters presents the North American premiere of Vs. Head Vs. Heart, the debut album by fast-rising Australian songwriter Emma Louise.
There are two biographical notes that inevitably get cited when Emma Louise is mentioned: how young she is -- 21-- and how successful she is in her home country of Australia, where she has already won numerous awards and has a hit single "Jungle" on her resumé. But these factoids matter only because of the precocious musical intuition on full display on her debut full-length Vs. Head Vs. Heart, which makes its North American premiere on PopMatters. On the album, what you notice is a sense of feel and adventurousness that belies her age and experience as Emma Louise moves from fragile folk tones to coffeehouse electronica fluidly and with touch, recalling Beth Orton in her quieter moments or a more low-key Florence + the Machine. Emma Louise caught up with PopMatters in the midst of her Australian tour, telling us more about how Vs. Head Vs. Heart was made and how she's taken her initial success in stride. Vs. Head Vs. Heart comes out in North America this week on Frenchkiss Records.
Photo by Stephen Booth
PopMatters: One of the first things that's mentioned about you is how young you are. Yet your age isn't something that's obvious to anyone listening to your music, considering how polished your songs sound. Has songwriting always come naturally to you or do you see it more like a skill that has taken time and training to develop?
Emma Louise: I think maybe a bit of both. I have written songs since I was 12. I wrote songs to express my feelings. It's kind of the same now, but there's just more of a process until I get fulfillment out of them. I think I'm always learning and growing in being a songwriter. I think everyone is.
PopMatters: No matter what your age and experience level are, Vs. Head Vs. Heart seems rather sophisticated for a debut album -- some of Vs. Head Vs. Heart reminds me of quieter, mid-tempo Florence + the Machine tracks. Was it a challenge thinking in terms of making a complete, cohesive album, as opposed to writing individual songs?
Emma Louise: When I first started recording the album, the first few songs were more folky and I ended up deleting them. Because it was recorded on and off throughout a year, I think the songs we recorded earlier were pretty different from the ones we recorded later on in the year. Maybe it's because I see the songs as very different from one another, but I don't really see the album as very cohesive. But if that's a compliment, I guess that's a good thing!
PopMatters: You took a lot of initiative in getting you career to the point it is now, self-releasing the Full Hearts and Empty Rooms EP that drew a lot of attention in Australia. What kind of expectations did you have for yourself when you started out and have you had to change your plans to adjust to the success you've already experienced?
Emma Louise: I find it really hard to gauge the level of success I've had. I'm very grateful for everything that has happened. I would say I have very high goals and want to achieve things that are maybe a bit out of reach...which can create pressure internally. I don't feel too much pressure or expectation from outside of myself, I think. When the album was released, I felt like I wouldn't be surprised if it did really badly or really well. I'm a virgin to releasing an album, so I didn't really know what to expect. Now that I know what happens, I want to start working on the new album.
PopMatters: Speaking of success, you're quite a big deal in your home country, with a number of awards and a best-selling single, "Jungle", to your name. More recently, you've been working on building a following in the U.S., playing South by Southwest and CMJ. Do you feel that it's important for you to reach out to an international audience? Do you think your music is something people outside of Australia can instantly relate to or does some, say, translation need to take place for you to have the same impact elsewhere?
Emma Louise: It would be amazing if my music could translate to overseas crowds. I have no idea if the album will be received well in America. I hope so because I like America. I wanna tour there a lot.
PopMatters: "Jungle" was featured in an episode of Grey's Anatomy. How did that come about and do you ever find yourself in a situation where people are already familiar with your music even when they don't know you as an artist yet?
Emma Louise: Yeah, that was cool. I didn't really feel any growth, except I got repeated comments that “Grey's Anatomy brought me here” to "Jungle" on YouTube.
PopMatters: What's up next for you now that you've released Vs. Head Vs. Heart?
Emma Louise: At the moment I'm on a plane to Sydney. It's pretty great. I just ordered two cups of water and took some fish oil capsules, which are too big and really hard to swallow. We're in the middle of national tour, 16 shows left! :)