Emma Cook in Jasper April 17 behind fourth album
The Toronto-based singer-songwriter released her fourth album, the first since a 2013 head injury sidelined her, in February. Now she is on her first tour, a three-week ramble that will take her to The Stand Easy at the Jasper Legion on April 17. She spoke with the Fitzhugh last week.
Emma Cook: I’m touring with a pared-down band, drums and keyboards. We’re going to try to represent the album as best we can. The album itself is pretty introspective and indie-ethereal-pop style; definitely a singer-songwriter vibe, so there’s a story in the songs. It’s really listening-type music, not dancing and that kind of thing.
Fitzhugh: That kind of thing. There’s no dancing in this town, sir. This is like Footloose.
Emma: Ha HA!
Fitz: You used the word ethereal there. Talk more about that.
Emma: My big thing is my voice and harmonies and the songs are all pretty introspective. There’s a lot of vocal layering and kind of interesting synth-pads and it gets sort of a feeling of otherworldliness.
Fitz: How did it feel to put together the new album, your fourth?
Emma: It actually was totally different. My first album, I was really young and I was obsessed with, like, Ani DiFranco and I was really into aggressive guitar playing and pretty political, kind of angsty lyrics. This album I wrote all on piano instead of guitar and a lot has happened in my life, obviously, so it’s a much more adult album. The lyrics are about life experience instead of a commentary on something, if that makes sense. Even just sonically it sounds completely different so I’m not sure somebody would even be able to tell it’s me, listening to the first album.
Maybe because of my voice but the songs are so different. This record is more lilting, there’s some more strings. It’s leaning toward pop but it’s not Madonna-like pop.
Fitz: Tell me more about writing on the piano versus the guitar.
Emma: I’m pretty self-taught on guitar, it’s always been my instrument. I never learned to play piano at all. It’s a bit of a long story. I had a head injury between my third album and this one and I took a long time off from writing. I feel like when I was learning the guitar when I was younger, that really fuelled a lot of writing. The learning part got me on the guitar all the time trying to work stuff out, and songs would come that way. Once you get used to the instrument and you play it for a long time, you get in this rut of ‘oh, I’ve done everything,’ or ‘nothing new is coming on this instrument.’
Probably subconsciously I knew I needed to change it up and needed something fresh and new in there to get those juices flowing. So I thought I’d get a piano and fool around with it. It works. I didn’t take any lessons, and definitely songs began to come. But I’m by no means a piano player. I don’t play piano live, really.
Fitz: So that’s been a pretty defining event for you?
Emma: Yeah, the most defining thing so far, negatively, but I’m mostly better. If you’d ask me a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I could be doing what I’m doing and coming on tour. I’ll be touring for three weeks, it’s the first time I’ve done that since. It’s been a pretty hard couple of years.
I’ve been back for a few years now, but there was probably four years where I didn’t do any music at all.
Fitz: What are you looking forward to, then?
Emma: I used to tour a lot on my own and I really love driving through the mountains. It’s beautiful, so there’s that. I also now have two little kids, and it’s horrible to say … I’m not looking forward to leaving them but I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the self that I was before. Musically, I’m looking forward to – there’s something different that happens when you play everyday, right? You get comfortable, the band gets comfortable and the real magic happens that doesn’t when you’re doing one-off shows.