Adelaide singer-songwriter Emily Davis is launching her third studio album, You, Me and the Velvet Sea, at Jive this Saturday with the first taster from the album – Hold On which is an absolute stunner. As a full-time musician and part-time celebrant, marrying couples on the weekend. Emily has taken her experiences of love and created a luscious and surreal world for the listener, as each song explores human connection and her enduring belief in the transformative power of love in all of its incarnations. Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles has been lucky to catch up with Emily ahead of the launch.
What is that feeling like when you know that the album is finished and you can’t do any more?
Its 98% Euphoric and 2% terrifying! Apart from tattoos or children, an album really is ‘forever’; and, it will have flaws and imperfections, and show parts of you that you’re not entirely comfortable with. Learning to accept that really is the gift in this process. Ultimately, you’re taking a sonic photograph of a moment in time; of your sound and yourself. I think after the third album I learned to be a lot kinder to myself. I focussed on telling and felling the story rather than undermining myself and stewing over irrelevant distractions during the process. There really is no point getting your knickers in a knot! Once this revelation occurred, with some help from the wonderful women in my band, the recording process became so much fun. We all just knew when it was complete. I remember after I finished You, Me & the Velvet Sea, I burst into tears from relief, but also sadness that the process had come to an end.
Third album in how do you think you have evolved?
Sonically I’ve become a bit grittier, with a lot more rock and blues sounds working their way in. Lyrically I’ve worked very hard to create an aesthetic that helps tell the story, painting the backdrop more clearly and descriptively so that the story can set sail with real mood and feel. That was very important to me. My voice has changed too. As I age different textures come out, but I also know myself so much better. I think after three albums I’ve settled into myself, and found my most convincing narrative style.
Did this album challenge you in ways that you never thought it would?
Yes. I thought it would be easy to make an album about all the people I’ve loved, who have loved me and who have shaped me during the past few years. I was totally, utterly wrong. It’s a highly emotional and transformative process. It’s definitely not a sad album, but I had to walk back through heartbreak, intense euphoria and loss to really connect with the songs and who they were about and to capture those feelings in the recording. In ‘Heartache’, (the last song on the album) I couldn’t get through a single take without crying in the same place in the second verse. We were live tracking, so we had to get a clean take the whole way through.
Every time I went for a pass I would get to the same place and completely crack up. My fiddle player was in the control room, and I could hear her also sniffling away when the poor sound engineer would chime in through the monitors. ‘Are you ok Em?’ he’d ask, when I’d go quiet (sobbing into my cardigan). I’d hear Tori sniffling in the background, and I’d sob some more. By the end we were all cry-laughing. Turns out, it just wasn’t going to be sung without tears. I’d be faking if I tried to sing it straight and emotionless. So, the album version has me losing it ever so slightly, in the second verse, and that’s something I’m totally ok with.
When it comes to song writing do you doubt yourself and what you’re writing?
Not so much during the process. You can’t really be judgemental or dubious when you’re trying to work yourself into a state of flow. Sometimes you don’t have a chance to second guess yourself because the song is already born before you’ve thought about it. Other times, if you let doubt creep in as the words or music are moving through you, the song becomes elusive, and impossible to finish. I really have to commit to being in the moment when I’m writing otherwise it’s a very frustrating exercise. Afterwards, however, I am almost always dubious! Incredibly judgemental. Half the songs I’ve written will NEVER EVER be heard by anyone else. The ones the make it through are therefore quite special to me.
Is this the most satisfied you have been as a singer songwriter?
Are we ever satisfied? *cue existential crisis…I kid… I’m incredibly proud of these songs, and I’m satisfied that the recording, and the way the band arranged and performed the songs are exactly as I heard them when I wrote them. In this sense, yes, I am satisfied. But in general, I’m still hungry to write the perfect song. A simple, beautiful song, that says everything I mean and sounds effortless, haunting and enchanting.
What is the background to the single Hold On?
It’s a love song about holding on and keeping hope alive. An anthem about how transformative the power of love can be. I’d never experienced a love that was so deep. So, of course, I had to write a song about it; but how do you even start to find the words for something so big and mercurial? The lyrics that mean the most to me are in that song; ‘Even if I was broken, words left unspoken, they would be written there all over your skin, for you to read when we’re apart. If I ever lost you, I’d come and find you, I’d navigate a way using only the stars, back to you heart, back to your heart.’ These lyrics were inspired by a story I’d heard about some ancient mariners who had lost their way at sea and used the constellations to navigate huge bodies of water to make their way back home to their families in their tiny, rickety boat. No compass, no candles, no maps. Fuelled only by love and hope that the universe would show them the way home. This symbolism and imagery really resonated with me. I played the song acoustically to the girls and they got right on my groove with it, adding some gorgeous complementary guitar chords, harmonies and a heartbeat-like bass and drum line that gave it the intensity it needed.
You’ve with some awesome artists, which has been your favourite and why?
Clare Bowditch was an absolute legend to share the stage with. She was so kind, funny and attentive. We were backstage and we’d run out of cups and we ended up swigging white wine straight from the bottle and chatting before she went on for her show. She really took the time to get to know me and shared some real pearls of wisdom about songwriting, overcoming nerves and how to make perfect meringues. What a humble goddess she is!
Do you learn a lot on these tours?
Yeah, you learn how well you can actually function on minimal sleep. You learn the power of having good manners and being on time. You learn how to become a boss at packing a car full of gear (it’s called Tour Tetris for a reason!). You learn how to be in the moment. You also learn how lucky you are to be performing music to strangers and how kind and generous people are! We musicians are very, very lucky people to be able to do what we do.
Do you enjoy being a celebrant now?
Oh God yes. It used to be considered a daggy job when I started about eight years ago, but now it’s become quite trendy! I love being able to officiate for people, share their story and get to know them. It’s a big turnaround from processing divorces (which I used to do as a paralegal in another life!). I mean really, there are very few jobs where your clients are having one of the best days of their life. Everyone is happy to be there, from grandparents to little kids. The air shimmers sometimes. You get to share in some incredibly moving moments between two people and their families. It never feels like work! I always have a very lovely feeling when I drive home after a wedding. It’s serene and inspiring.
It must be an awesome thing now that marriage equality has been embraced?
Absolutely. We’ve been fighting for this for so long! I wrote a song about this a couple of years ago called ‘Stars Grow Cold’ which is on the album. It was a special wedding gift for my two best friends, Robert and Michael, who live in the UK. They’re Australian, and they would have loved nothing more than to come home to get married, but the law was still stuck in the dark ages and they couldn’t wait any longer. They got married in the UK, and I wrote this song (sitting on the tube of all places!) for them to celebrate their wonderful 18 years together. We all met at university, and I was privileged enough to witness their love story unfold before my eyes. Their love is like any other. Enduring, true and deep. I just couldn’t understand why we would deny two people the right to celebrate and confirm something so important. I’m so pleased Australia finally came to its senses!
What’s the next challenge for Emily Davis?
Huh! Well, there’s some international touring on the cards, the launch of a little label I’m working on that features powerful and unique singer songwriters from Adelaide, a little jaunt to Ukraine with my partner (not challenging, just fun) and lots and lots of song writing. It’s always the way; the moment you start recording your current album, you hear the next one knocking on your door.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Don’t miss out on seeing Emily Davis launch her brand new album at…