Emily Lee – Interview
Emily Lee – The Interview
If you’re are a Londoner you have probably seen Emily busking in London’s Southbank a couple of times. We bet that your reaction was the same as ours…hooked and surprised by her incredible voice! In 2015 Emily dropped her debut EP “Don’t Forget To Love…” and she’s now gearing up to release her sophomore EP, “Dance My Demon Away”. Emily is planning the full reveal of her new EP on the 1st of September 2018. She’s bringing the new record to the heart of London with a FULL band at The Lexington in central London. She’ll be playing her new record in full, songs from “Don’t Forget To Love” and brand new songs that have never been heard before! So we thought it would be a great idea ask her about her plans and…everything else! Enjoy!
1. Hello Emily! Welcome to Box Of Tunes! Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you start writing songs and play guitar? Do you come from a family of musicians?
I started writing poetry in 2011 when I was basically very depressed and lost. I really didn’t know what I was doing with my life and I wasn’t very well either and really didn’t know if I was going to be ok. I had picked at the guitar (at my last place there was a children’s guitar) a little but I was by no means good. I started turning my poetry into melodies and I’d get someone who could play guitar well. In August 2012 I learned the guitar properly and began some sort of career.
2. Why did you start busking? I’ve heard you saying that you’re not busking that often anymore. Is there a specific reason for that? What’s the best and the worst thing about busking in London?
The worst thing about busking is the fact you feel you have to sound perfect every single time you go out. There’s this enormous pressure to deliver a stunning hour filled with vocally impressive songs. I’m a very animated performer and I need a lot of energy and some days, most days, I found it incredibly hard to bring that energy to each hour. Then you’re hanging around for hours waiting to go back on and there aren’t many places you can sit without spending money to be there (as is the protocol for most cafes). It’s a very exhausting business. There’s also this enormous pressure to make good money every day and that won’t always happen which over time can be detrimental to your self-worth because you start convincing yourself that your talent is based on the money in your guitar case, and that simply isn’t true. Another bad thing was the people who would stalk you daily and get aggressive when you asked them to not say or write inappropriate things to your face or online. There are no laws in place to protect people from emotional stalking so it was probably the scariest and most draining part of busking – stalkers.
The best thing about busking is that I built an amazing fan base from it. I’ve met some incredibly wonderful people through busking and I have fans who genuinely want to follow my journey and support me by coming to gigs and sharing my music online. That’s been the best part.
3. Your 2nd EP ‘Dance My Demon Away’ is going to be released officially in September. How’s everything going with that? Give us some info about the new EP.
The new EP is a 5-track record and my launch is being held at The Lexington on Saturday 1st September.
4. Why ‘Dance My Demon Away’? Where is the title inspired from?
The song I wrote inspired the title, “Dance My Demon Away”. I wrote it in 2016 after I discharged myself after I’d gone back to therapy to have my reassessment but until I could have therapy again, I had to see a counselor to “keep me sane”. I found her to be really unprofessional and I ended up telling her I wanted to be discharged and I’d find help elsewhere. I was so upset after our last session because of how she had spoken to me that I walked home and grabbed my guitar as soon as I got home and wrote “Dance My Demon Away”. I just wanted to show her and my boyfriend at the time, (who found it very hard to support me whilst I went to therapy) that I was trying as hard as I could and could they give me a chance because no one wanted me to feel better more than me.
5. How different was the creation process of ‘Dance My Demon Away’ in comparison to your first EP ‘Don’t Forget To Love’?
The creative process between “Don’t Forget To Love” and “Dance My Demon Away” is astounding. “DFTL” was recorded mixed and mastered in four days and “DMDA” was recorded, mixed and mastered over eighteen months. For this new record I actually collaborated with a producer called Max Prior who helped me with all the orchestration. I basically chose the songs and me and Max would try and make a skeleton base for that song i.e using guitar and we’d build around it with me playing different instruments like the Mellotron and Moog Taurus. It was magical every day.
6. Do you have any special approach to the songwriting process?
I actually don’t. It’s different each time. Sometimes I’ll have one line and I’ll build from that and then other times I’ll start with a verse and work my way around the melody to fine a chorus I like. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like I’m writing. I look back at lyrics and can’t imagine I wrote that. They seem so dark and direct and maybe that’s a version of myself I don’t look at a lot.
I think it was Jack White (but I could be wrong) that got asked a similar question and he said something along the lines of, “When I sit to write a song, it’s like God walks into the room” – and for me that says, another being or force comes in and unleashes what you wanted to say and maybe couldn’t write or say in another situation. It’s like when you meditate and you feel your body and mind so deeply. I truly feel with songwriting, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience. I do love it. That’s why I don’t believe in writer’s block. There’s always something to talk, say, write about.
7. You have a powerful voice that you combine very successfully with an acoustic guitar. Your arrangements are simple, emotional and ‘warm’. Are there times that you think that this country like – acoustic approach is kind of restrictive to your composition process and to the sound variety of the EP? Would you like to experiment with a full band and maybe touch ‘pop or ‘rock’ music areas?
I don’t think making music with guitar or piano or voice is restrictive at all. The only thing that’s restricting you is your own fears and imagination. I’d rather push the envelope and experiment with instruments I haven’t worked with before and keep instruments I know and love well. It’s about connecting them and making you feel something. I’ve had a full band before with backing singers and it was brilliant yet I disbanded because my drummer was my boyfriend and we broke up, then I asked my friend to stop managing me and I took that time to re-evaluate what I actually wanted to say rather than what I wanted to sound like. I have a horn section and string section for the launch in September 1st at The Lexington and I can’t wait to begin rehearsals.
8. What do you think of the music scene in London? Is there any future for artists like you? Can indie artists still make a living just from music?
I think the scene in London is like anyone. It’s diverse and it’s saturated. There will always be a future for musicians who work harder than the people they know and there will always be money to be made if you’re forward thinking and careful. Will we all be millionaires? No, but that shouldn’t be our drive. I like being paid for my work and I don’t work for free unless it’s for an event or person close to my heart because I am self-employed and I’ve got to show my accountant I make some money however how you make your money…well there are so many avenues you can take. It’s about whether a musician can work for it.
9. Tell me a male and a female artist who you feel to have ‘similar sound’ with. Who’s your favorite singer and your favorite band?
I can honestly say I haven’t heard anyone sound like me (yet). In terms of my favourite singer, I couldn’t say. There are so many. The same with bands. I could never narrow it down!
10. How do you seek out opportunities? For example, new gigs or artists to work with.
I can honestly say it’s a mix. Sometimes I’m offered opportunities and some times I make those opportunities happen by booking my own gigs (like my launch) and sourcing people to work with. My friend told me a great quote that said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” – to me that means you have to constantly work towards goals. Being good at music isn’t all you can be these days. You need to do so much more. Music makes me feel so good and worthy that I like fighting to be heard. It’s exhausting because you’re the only person who truly believes in you but it never falters. I get bad days where I want to end everything and as someone who has depression it can be truly awful to carry on sometimes but no matter how low I’m feeling I always feel this tiny flame, almost out, almost dead inside of me but somehow still burning and that gets me back up. I won’t quit whilst my body and mind doesn’t.
11. You can spend an hour with a musical icon living or dead, who would you pick, why and what would you speak about?
That’s too hard. Not fair.
12. You are a woman playing guitar and singing, and taking care of promotion by yourself. How hard is that for an artist without management?
I pretty much say it in question 10. It’s very hard. The shop is never shut. I don’t do holidays. My “time off” is spent being at my computer or practicing or writing. I’m totally immersed in my work. I’ve dated guys where they’ve found that extremely hard because I feel a lot of people still sign up to this outdated notion that women are not meant to be as ambitious or aggressive as men in business and it’s bollocks. Aggression also relates to “take action” and in that regards, has nothing to with violence or harmful behavior. For me , I like to take charge of my affairs and I have a very clear idea of what I want including when I don’t know what I want, if that makes sense? I’m open to being wrong, making mistakes, trying again and that’s something humans are incredibly reluctant to do. However, going wrong is still an opportunity; it’s an opportunity to learn and come back stronger.
13. Have you ever felt discriminated against or in favour of male musicians?
14. Do you have any advice you’d like to give to younger girls starting out busking?
Can we change that to music? Busking isn’t something people need advice on because it’s a job where you’re a music service for the streets. It’s a passerby trade and no one can advice you on that. You just get up and go.
In regards to people starting out in music I would advise they do what feels good to them. Don’t pander to the people around you. Know that the more you grow, the more people you will lose and eventually the better the people you gain around you will be. Believe in yourself at all times. You have to spend the most time with yourself so your thinking time is precious and what you choose to think about in regards to your music, life and decisions is precious. Never ever measure your successes and failures against other people’s criteria’s because it really doesn’t matter.
15. Why do you create music and how do you feel when a piece is done?
I create music because I feel whole when I do. I can feel very anxious about things but music is something I don’t feel anxious about, in terms of the writing and composing. It feels wonderful, so I trust it. When a piece is finished I feel amazing. I want to shout it from the rooftops.
16. If your last EP was an animal. Which one would it be?
“Don’t Forget To Love” would be a white bunny rabbit; shy, reserved, cute but can bolt like a mother fucker when shes wants to.
“Dance My Demon Away” would be a wild wolf. Definitely.
17. If you were a song, which one would you be?
No way! Too hard! I get into so many different moods, I couldn’t pin myself down to one song!
18. What’s your future plans? What’s after the EP? Any plans for a full album release?
I don’t know what the future holds. I really think taking things one adventure at a time is the way to work in order to be healthy and kind to yourself. If I constantly try and reach a certain goalpost, it will always feel like I’m disregarding everything in-between. Every moment is a blessing and all I want is to smash this EP launch. I want to sell every ticket, get my CD sorted, bond with my band and give the audience an amazing night. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. I can’t predict what happens after or even on the night, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I’m sure I’ll think of something more impressive to do after but for now I want to relish this build up. This is massive for my fans and me. I want to give them a night they’ve never seen before and I intend to accomplish that 🙂
Emily is launching Dance my Demon Away with a “full band” live event in London on September 1st. Find out more and get your tickets HERE.
Follow Emily on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @EmilyLeeMusic