EMILY WELLS Chats With All Access About Her Latest U.S. Tour, Her Newest Album, “Promise” and Much More!
Posted On 28 Mar 2016
Tag: #WNYC, All Access, All Access Music Group, Artist Interview, Biggie, Bjork, Cabello, Carceller, Emily Wells, Johnny Carson, Los Angeles, Lyric Theatre, Mali, Mama, OutKast, Park Chan- Wook, Promesa, Promise, Stoker, Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties, Terry Riley, Thesis And Instinct, Tori Amos, Toumani Diabate, Vivaldi Concerto, Wallace Steven, West Africa, Wu-Tang
Emily Wells is a performer, producer, singer, and composer known for her varied use of classical and modern instrumentation as well as her deft approach to live sampling. Classically trained as a violinist, she also performs using drums, guitars, keys, and beat machines. Wells has recorded and produced several albums including the critically acclaimed “Symphonies: Dreams, Memories & Parties” and “Mama”. As a composer she contributed to the soundtrack for Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker and created a piece for Terry Riley’s 80th birthday in conjunction with WNYC.
Wells has toured extensively in the US and Europe and just released her latest full length album in January on her label “Thesis & Instinct” called “Promise.”
Learn more about Emily in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How’s 2016 been treating you so far?
It’s been a real pistol of year, wall to wall! Mostly I feel really lucky everyday with the occasional existential wonderings.
Growing up, did you always know that you wanted to be an artist? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
Yes, it was always something that was part of my life. I remember seeing a girl named Midori performing a Vivaldi Concerto on Johnny Carson when i was four. I was hooked… begged my folks for a violin, and they eventually acquiesced.
I was just at your LA show at the Lyric Theatre towards the end of your tour and I was blown away by how captivated the crowd was with you! How did you feel about that show?
It’s funny you ask about that one in particular as it was a continued bane of the tour… the venue got changed and there was confusion and rain and lateness, so it was a bit of a tough one externally. But from my perspective looking out into the crowd and the performance as it was happening, it was a moment of love between myself and the audience. It is a rare group who has really seen the progression of my work, my live performance and they’ve given me a lot of courage over the years.
How has the rest of your tour been going? What have been some of your favorite venues and crowds? Where are you excited to play at next?
Never dull! Nights and crowds can come out of no where and surprise you… For instance, I played last night in St. Louis, a town i’ve only played in twice over the course of the last seven years. It wasn’t a huge crowd, but it was a crowd that was so totally game, so totally willing to go there with me and we really took off together. For me, it was a breakthrough musically, i felt a new fluency with the instruments, the set, we were all at least two inches off the ground. I felt this way playing in Salt Lake City too, in a little punk DIY space… These little gems are so vital to the life of a tour and remind you that the towns you visit least often can surprise you. I’m going to Istanbul at the end of March, and next month to Italy! Really can’t wait to get back to Europe!
Your music is incredibly unique and unlike anything out there today. Where did you first get the idea to mix electronic with classical?
These things grow gradually, I don’t know that I can pinpoint, more like I knew I needed to be using the violin, my first language, on stage, and the sound has developed and grown due to people I was playing with, going solo, limitations, solutions, gear, and an openness to many genres for influence.
Can you talk about the recording process for your recently released album, “Promise”? How long did you work on it?
Boy can I! It took me two years and was the most gratifying and humbling creative experience of my life. The first year I was sailing along, writing, recording as went. Just when I thought I was ready to mix, through a series of events and outside influences, I decided to dismantle the entire rhythmic structure of the recordings and build again. It was like removing the scaffolding in order to see the cathedral… Terrifying with all that open air up there… This task took and asked a lot of me most importantly it required me to really create and define a new sound for myself. Making a record is, especially once a lot of the performances have been taken, a series of making decisions and telling yourself they’re right.
Why do you think the installation photo for “Promesa” by Cabello/Carceller fir the collection so well?
I think I was drawn to the architectural aspect, (see cathedral/scaffolding metaphor above), but I feel conceptually linked to their work as queer artists, and to this work in particular. The pools in the series are meant to depict “abandoned sites of pleasure”, which is sort of how this record feels to me, now that it is finished.
Why did you decide to start your own label? What other musicians does the company represent right now?
It’s just me for now, but I have a couple of other artists in mind. I’ve been building this small following for a few years now and it just made sense for me to keep everything in my hands. The title comes from a Wallace Steven’s aphorism “Life cannot be based on a thesis, since, by nature, it is based on instinct. The thesis, however, is usually present and living is the struggle between thesis and instinct.”
How do you think your sound has changed over the years? How do you think you as an artist has grown with each record?
I’ve gotten more ambitious, more daring, less tied to beats, less influenced by hip hop, more influenced by classical and neo-classical music and West African music, I’ve started believing in my own voice more. Each record is such a series of lessons, growth, and an opportunity to take chances.
Why do you like to combine visual arts with your music? What do you think that adds to the whole experience?
The two are entwined for me, and I think being up there alone it must feel good to the audience to have a visual representation of other bodies, faces, emotions. It feels good to me, and I believe that one can feed the other continuously.
What artists have been inspiring you since you started making music? Who would you love to work with in the future?
I grew up on classical and church music, then got into Tori Amos and Bjork, then Wu Tang and Outkast and Biggie, then fell in love with Jazz and improvisation. I’ve been developing a love and small knowledge of West African music over the last few years and would love to go to Mali at some point in my life to study melody and rhythm, the kora. I’d love to collaborate with Toumani Diabate.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from the songs?
There’s no one clear message I want people to walk away with.. . Mostly I want them to find themselves and their own stories within each song. I want them to find relief and escape and joy and a place to put their sorrows.