There’s a certain kind of female that occupies a space in which she’s perpetually young and girlish but also wise and worldly. Goldie Hawn is one, and so is Jena Malone. When they’re young, they’re playful but seem ahead of their years because of a graceful ease, and when they’re mature they are both judicious and mischievous; always they give the impression of being oddly, beautifully not of their age in life. This ethereal mix of capability/vulnerability resides in Emma Louise, the young songstress from Brisbane who lassoed our tickers last year with her debut singleJungle. Having just been signed to American indie label Frenchkiss and with her EP Full Hearts and Empty Rooms recently flying into the gold camp, pixiegirl Emma is back in the studio to concentrate on her next release.
“I’ve put about seven songs down [so far],” she says hesitantly, taking a deep breath while pondering what to say next. She speaks in shorts bursts and then thinks hard, kind of like Bambi trying to get up. “We’re just working on a song now called Seventeen Hours. I recorded piano on it and, h-yeah,” she laughs. “I’m only a beginner on piano so I’m not too happy with what I did. So I think I’m going to hand over to [my bass player], who is exceptional at all instruments.” Her single Boy has a rich, deep organ sound throughout – you can hear the weight of the keys. Considering it’s the base instrument for the track, and yet Emma does not think herself so competent on the piano, she still doesn’t mind explaining the writing process. “I do a lot of writing on piano, but technically I’m not the best piano player. I have trouble playing in time... but it’s a lot of fun, I love piano. Yeah! Well I guess when I’m writing, nobody’s listening to me [singing] ‘la, la, la’... and then have a big gap when I’m changing chords and stuff,” she giggles.
Emma’s primary instrument is guitar, her affinity with which was immediately obvious to fans through her YouTube videos, which she often recorded at her parents’ house in Cairns. “You know, I haven’t uploaded one in a while,” she says thoughtfully. “It used to be kind of, I’d write a song and put it up there so it was somewhere, and it was doing something. So they were kind of my demos. Now anything I write could be on an album so I can’t really put them up there.” On camera, her sweet demeanour and messy hair show her to be calm and unpretentious. It hadn’t really occurred to her that she was performing to a virtual, not-yet-formed audience, but her ability to visually connect is amazing. “I guess it is pretty weird, thinking about it now,” she says. “I tried a few times talking to the camera, saying, ‘Hi, I’m Emma and this song is,’ and then I look back and just end up deleting it because I hate watching myself talk on camera, it’s so awkward.”
The way she plays her instrument is most definitely not awkward. “I love my guitar; I’ve got a new Gibson. Before that I had a Maton, and before that I had a Monterrey or something,” she smiles. “I’ve got a little guitar I bought in London... it cost like 20 pounds and I got it from an antique store. I reckon it’s the length of my arm if I was like, putting it out.” She laughs as she tries to think of how to describe its length without coming up with an actual number which might be wrong. “It’s about from my shoulder to my fist. I love it.”
Frenchkiss, the label which wooed Emma into their exclusive fold, are “just such a nice bunch of people; really relatable.” She speaks about several labels in America taking her and her crew out in flash cars to French restaurants to “talk about money,” but Frenchkiss were different. “[They said] let’s meet up at this place,” Emma explains. “It ended up being this taco place filled with normal people. They’re just really super duper nice. In Australia [the ensemble is] independent. That’s another reason why we went with them. We could have gone with a label that had a big amount of control over what I was doing but I really like creative control and I don’t feel any pressure. They’re really supportive.”
Rocking an obvious love of vintage style, Emma speaks warmly about her friend’s clothing label Alice Nightingale. “She makes these amazing dresses in like, one night. She’s hooking me up with all my clothes; I met her at a market.” Emma’s hair is also something striking, and seems to reflect her fearless nature – not fearless in an aggressive way, but sort of unafraid to be vulnerable. “I used to have long hair, and then I cut it short – but not too short,” she says. “And then I got this day job, where I had to advertise a hair company. They said ‘If you’re going to work for us you can’t have shitty hair,’ so I went in to have a complimentary haircut. I have a tattoo on the side of my head. They saw that and were like ‘Oh my God, can we accentuate that?’ So they shaved half my hair off, like a panel, and dyed some of it bright pink, and I ended up crying.” The next day Emma went to her friend’s house and shaved the lot off, and when she returned to work she was promptly fired. “Apparently you can’t have bald people working for a hair company,” she says grimly. But, she’s come to terms with it now: “It was actually probably the most liberating and best thing I’ve ever done, it feels so good. I reckon I’ll probably do it again one day.”
BY ZOË RADAS
EMMA LOUISE launches her single Boy at The Northcote Social Club on Thursday June 28 and Friday June 29 (sold-out), and Splendour In The Grass in Byron Bay on Friday July 27 (sold-out).