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Emilee South is set on breaking your heart

“I always wanted to play that real rock’n’roll sound, and I feel like that’s kind of finally happening with my music now.”

It’s no secret that Melbourne is a goldmine of talent and a hotbed for the blurring of artistic categorisation; some of our greatest exports have simply refused to name their own genre. In saying this, it comes as no surprise that powerhouse vocalist and songwriter, Emilee South, falls into the same category.

Throw together blues, soul, rock, a voice strong enough to rival John Farnham, and ultimate creative flair and what do you get? South’s 2017 EP, MOTEL, which cemented her presence as one of Melbourne’s most interesting and robust artists on the rise.

2018 is proving to be an even bigger year, as South and her band have a single lined up, an album on the way, a July residency at The Gem, and a whole show brought to you by Leaps and Bounds Festival. As staggering as this may be, South isn’t letting herself miss a beat.

“It’s very exciting because now it feels like it’s going to be a big, fun show in the middle of even more really fun ones,” South says of the Leaps and Bounds show.

“We’re also releasing our new single, ‘Heartbreaker’, on Friday July 13 during our time at The Gem, so one of our shows is going to be a party for that. There’ll be a lot of songs that people can dance to, and hopefully keep them dancing all night.”

Though triple j and Double j host Zan Rowe described South’s previous sound as “classic ‘60s soul done very well,” the new album is less about the ballads and more about the rock. South admits that the new tunes are more rock’n’roll as a result of having undertaken songwriting as a band.

“Since Matt [Dixon] and I went to Nashville last year for Americana [Festival], we began writing more rock songs, and also began writing as a band. It feels great because there’s a lot of trust; sometimes I take half-written songs to the others and we just build on it as a group,” she explains.

“I trust them, and it’s good because now we have an almost entirely new set list – The Gem shows will see a few sneak peeks from the new album.”

During a whirlwind 2017, South and the band made their debut at Americana – one of the biggest festival-meets-conferences in the States – which amasses thousands of fans from around the globe across a five-day program of American-influenced sound. Having come from the crazy amalgamation of musical genres and subcultures in Melbourne, South was inspired by the sheer number of classic rock bands – crooning vocals and all.

“In the US, it was so impressive to see so many rock’n’roll bands that have a similar sound to us, and to see them performing such tight sets. With ‘60s soul, there’s a formula of songwriting that gives each song such a perfect simplicity, and I really admire it as a songwriter now,” South says.

“While we were there, we went down to Memphis to go to Graceland, of course, and saw Elvis’ house – it was amazing. Then we went down to Mississippi to see his birthplace, which was hilarious, and we accidentally crossed the border into Alabama. So we decided to go see the Muscle Shoals studios as well, because why not?

“Just being in that place, seeing and hearing all of the histories of where the music came from and how segregation played a part and how newer versions of the genre came out of those situations, it just felt huge.”

Considering this pilgrimage to explore and pay homage to the roots of her favourite genre, can her fans look forward to this being reflected in the upcoming album and performances? Definitely, South says.

“I’m playing more rhythmic, groovy guitar, and there are a few riffs that are a bit faster than usual,” she explains.

“Since I started playing as a teenager, I always wanted to play that real rock’n’roll sound, and I feel like that’s kind of finally happening with my music now.”

Emilee South will perform at The Gem on Saturday July 21 as part of Leaps and Bounds Festival. Leaps and Bounds runs from Friday July 13 until Sunday July 22 in venues throughout Melbourne.