We Catch Up With Emzae Ahead Of The Release Of Her Debut Album

Photos: Nigel King
Interview: Izzy Morris
Monday 28 August 2023
reading time: min, words

Emzae is all set to launch her debut album All Those Things I Thought I Knew at Rough Trade and she is proud and nervous, but above all, excited...

Beat The Streets 2022 Nigel King Live Pic 4 (1)

How would you describe your music to someone who has never listened to you before?
If you like pop music (and in my world, who doesn’t?) but you like it a bit wonky, a bit strange, then you're in the right place. I’m terrible at picking artists that sound similar to me. But there’s a place for party tracks and stuff like that, but if you like songs that are thoughtful and interesting, and you never know where they’re going next, but still sound familiar in some ways, then you might like Emzae.

Your debut album All Those Things I Thought I Knew is coming out on 1 September. Other than excited, how are you feeling? 
A rollercoaster of emotions, but I’m trying to focus mostly on the excitement at the moment. I feel very scared, because it dawned on me recently that it’s such an absolutely wild thing to do – to put yourself out there and say that this is a thing that I’ve made. I’m hosting a week’s celebration for it, and you can buy it and see me play it. It has been my world for such a long time I’d kind of forgotten that really it’s a big deal and a challenge. So yeah, I’m definitely feeling nervous because when you spend so long on something, you naturally fear that it’s all going to flop, and nobody is going to show up or buy any copies and it’ll all be so horribly sad and tragic. But I think I put in all the work and hopefully it’s going to be good. I’m so proud of it, and if nothing else I can say that I did it!

In the run-up to releasing the album, you’ve been uploading weekly chapters on your blog. That’s a very creative way of connecting with your audience in such a personal way. What made you decide to do that?
So, I started working on this album six years ago, so it really has been a saga because so much has happened in my life and in the world, which is one of the reasons why it’s taken six years! When I started it back in 2017, I started recording video diaries as I was doing it, and throughout the tracks on the album I’ve got clips of those recordings sprinkled around. I’m considering turning it into a documentary one day, but we’ll see. I also really enjoy writing and have a newsletter, so I thought it would be nice to release it as weekly chapters and use some of the video clips in order to tell the story. It’s been going down quite well with the people who read the newsletters. I just like telling stories, and there’s a bit of humour in there as well along with all the ups and downs.

It’s almost like audio-visual scrapbooking. Do you think pairing this storytelling with your music furthers the catharsis that a lot of musicians experience when they release music?
One thing I have learned is that it’s quite hard to get your head around making really emotional music, then listening to it again to mix it, and then writing the PR stuff for it. For this campaign, I’ve done everything myself where I’m turning all this footage into content and constantly reliving things, which is a bit unhealthy in a way, but can also be really empowering, like when I’m on stage and I’m telling my story.

But yeah, it is like scrapbooking, and the album is almost like a snapshot of where I was in those years when I was writing it and all of the things that I learned up until I was writing it, which I suppose is quite common with debut albums. People usually say you get years to write the debut album and then you get like six months to write the next one. 

Is it more empowering to tell your story in a live setting than to have it in a recording? What does an Emzae gig look like?
I perform on stage completely on my own, with an MPC Sampler, a synth, a guitar and my vocals. It took me a lot of time to put my set together because it’s quite difficult to translate stuff from the studio to a live show. I have no issues with performers who use backing tracks, but I really wanted to get across the fact that I’d made it all, if that makes sense?

As a female artist especially, sometimes people assume that you didn’t make it, or even write it sometimes, so I do want to get it across that it’s all mine. So I incorporate elements of both live performance, and pre-recorded samples, and I switch things up. I usually like to talk in between the songs with strange anecdotes and stuff like that. 

There was a really empowering moment on stage recently where I did sort of realise that I feel alive and I feel like I can take on the world and all my challenges and turn them into something. I’ve said empowering so many times, but that really is the word! I’ve also tried to get a lot of audience participation going, even though I am quite introverted and it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m excited to get people singing back to me.

On the 1 September at Rough Trade for my launch event, I’m really hoping it’ll be like one big party where everyone feels involved. It’s a lovely venue and I’m really looking forward to it. 

Emzae Live At Rescue Rooms Nigel King

You’ve gone from performing in small pubs and venues in Nottingham to your own launch event there! Where were your most frequented spots in Nottingham when you were starting out?
I’ve played the Bodega Acoustic sessions in the bar a few times, made a lot of friends doing that and met some amazing musicians. Same thing at the Rescue Acoustic Rooms. I’ve played at City Arts a couple of times, which is a really nice venue, and The Chameleon which has amazing sound. I have perfomed at Dot to Dot and Hockley Hustle as well. It’s a strong scene with really connected venues, organisations and creatives. Especially Hockley Hustle which has a unique vibe with musicians on the street with their guitars. Overall it’s been so good to get back into Nottingham after the pandemic. I’ve played at Rough Trade a few times for BBC Introducing and I’ve always really liked it, so it’s got to be there for my launch show. 

Do you have any favourite artists from the Nottingham scene?
Most of them are either my music friends or people I admire from afar. Mollie Ralph is amazing. BEXX is really cool, Chloe Rodgers is really amazing. There’s Simon Waldram, Tori Sheard, Nina Smith – I really loved her album and I hope she makes music again. Fang Jr. is really cool as well. I definitely will have forgotten people, but it really is such a talented city and scene. 

Why do you think Nottingham is so special in terms of its music? What is its biggest characteristic when you compare it to other cities?
Maybe because it's smaller and the venues are closer together, it’s possible for everyone to know each other, and it feels cosy. Hockley Hustle and Dot to Dot brings all the venues together and there’s almost like a tree to move up. Like, you can start with Bodega acoustic sessions and make it up to Rock City one day. There are big promoters in Nottingham and festivals, and when things like Nusic used to be around, or Future Sound of Nottingham, there’s always things to get involved in. And things like LeftLion as well! There are so many strands bringing everything together. You can definitely tell the difference when you go to other scenes, and that’s not to say other places aren’t trying, but Nottingham has been sustaining these events and initiatives for such a long time. I really hope the music industry will start acknowledging Nottingham a lot more as well, rather than just the massive cities. It’s happening slowly but surely. 

I don’t really think of music in terms of genre because it kind of confuses me. So I make my playlist based on feelings or emotions

In your diaries, you said that Lucid Dreaming was inspired by trip-hop and meditation music, which is a really interesting combination. How do you discover new genres?
So, this might sound weird, but I don’t really think of music in terms of genre because it kind of confuses me. So I make my playlist based on feelings or emotions. I often do this with settings like, one song might sound to me like a cityscape or something like that. People can probably hear pick up that I’ve got a lot of different decades going into my music, and with 'Lucid Dreaming', I was listening to a lot of meditation music coming back from work, and I like a lot of the beats in trip-hop and the way they use samples, which is something I do a lot in my music. I keep playlists of all the songs that have influenced my music, and a lot of them do tend to come back to pop and electronic music, but it’s definitely not rigid. There’s not enough time to listen to all the music! 

If we’re thinking about music in an abstract way, what flavour would Emzae’s music be?
Ooh, that’s hard. Maybe like, a pink sherbet. I don’t know if that’s going to be too weird for LeftLion readers. There’s that sort of sourness like, the type of music I really like is uplifting but also has some mysterious, dark undertones. The beat might be really positive and going in one direction, but there are layers to it. I don’t like to be on a downer, but there’s a tang. 

Tonally and thematically, what can we expect from the album?
It’s called All Those Things I Thought I Knew and it took me quite a while to settle on that name. It’s autobiographical and references some things that happened in my life before I was writing the album as well as things that happened in those six years.

It’s definitely set in my twenties and talks about universal themes - like everybody’s competing with each other to be the most stable and the most content and accepting that you’re different to other people. It also talks a lot about living with chronic illness and coming of age, specific to that experience, which is quite unique and isn’t talked about that much. 

Sometimes I’m expressing fears for the future, like I’m trying to catch up with everyone else and the guilt and shame that come with having a chronic illness. And then, realising that I’m actually enough. If that resonates with anybody listening, I hope it’s cathartic to them and that they know they’re not alone and that there’s nobody better at being them than them. Albums aren’t always going to be perfect, and there’s not a perfect resolution of ‘I’m all fixed now!’ at the end and there isn't supposed to be. 

Have you got anything else to share with the LeftLion readers?
Come along to my launch event on the 1 September at Rough Trade! I’m going to be supported by Sen Olette, who’s incredible and has also been empowered by music. I’ll be playing the whole album front to back, so grab a ticket and please come! Also, my message to people is: go for your dream no matter what and try to find a way to make it happen even if you can’t see a path, or space for you right now. Create it, and go for it. You can never really fail if you try your best, as clichéd as that is. 


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