‘Make music as true to you as you possibly can’: An Interview with Emma Blackery
Emma Blackery talks to Alex ahead of the release of her debut album about her career in music, touring, and the personal experiences behind the songs.
Alex: Your debut album Villains is about to drop, how are you feeling about it?
Emma: You know, when you’re a kid you always dream of, if you want to go into music, having your music in HMV. It’s a dream you know? I used to go in there and buy all the CDs when I was a teenager and dream of being on there, so it’s weird knowing the album’s going to be in stores.
Alex: You’ve released 5 EPs previously, and I was wondering how different you found making an entire album in contrast?
Emma: Oh man, when I decided I wanted to make an album, cause’ it was just a decision of “I’m going to write all these songs and make an album”, I really thought would be like recording an EP, just twice as long. I used to find the experience of writing and recording an EP, you know, pretty stressful, pretty intense, and then I wrote an album, and everything changed *laughs*. Writing an album is so much more in-depth, you put so much more love into it. I was pulling my hair out earlier this year with how stressful an experience it was. It was still an amazing experience, I loved it, but I really wasn’t prepared for how much writing an album takes out of you. I can’t really describe why it’s different, there was a lot of pressure I put on myself from it being my debut album and wanting it to sound absolutely perfect with a brand-new sound, and I spent a really long time on perfecting each and every song. So yeah, it was a very different experience, and I’m just kinda’ glad it’s over on Friday, I’m glad it’s going to be out, everyone can finally hear it!
Alex: That must be really exciting! What do you think are some of the common themes and stories that tie the songs together to make the album as a whole?
Emma: So the album itself is one that I started to write when I was going through some personal friendship drama. I had friends slating me in the public eye, or on social media, and I just thought “why is everybody turning on me?”. I really felt I hadn’t done anything to upset these people, but it felt like friend after friend was starting to betray me, so the album shares a common theme of how it feels to lose a friendship, to have friends talk about you behind your back, and the personal drama that comes with falling out with someone. I deliberately didn’t want to make a breakup record, or any sort of ‘love’ record you know? Everyone writes about love a lot of the time, and I’ve written about love before, and it’s good to hear something different now and again. So I made up my mind about writing an album which didn’t have songs about being in love. I did have to compromise and put one in admittedly, but no, the album’s about friendship.
Alex: It must have been cathartic to let it all out!
Emma: Oh so cathartic! When I was falling out with people, there’s so much that you can’t say! People take sides, can get the wrong impression of you, there’s so much you can’t let out. So this album was so cathartic for me, you know just get all of my feelings out, to process how it really feels to lose people you know? So it’s lovely that I got to do that.
Alex: And of course, people get to relate to that feeling now with your music, how does that feel?
Emma: Exactly! Everyone has lost a friendship haven’t they, everyone’s lost someone, but we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about how devastating it can feel, so that’s what the albums about.
Alex: Your previous releases such as ‘Perfect’ and ‘Sucks to be You’ had more of a pop punk feel to them, while your new songs have more synth pop influence. What made you make the choice to evolve your style in this way?
Emma: Really, I’ve heard some people saying “oh you’re only doing what’s popular, because it’ll make you loads of money”, let me tell you that’s absolutely false! The reason I changed is simply because I always make music similar to what I’m passionate about at the time, and that’s what influences me. I grew up being in pop punk bands, listening to pop punk and going to pop punk festivals, but over time I really started falling in love with the pop genre. Artists like Taylor Swift, Halsey and Chvrches, I just found really inspiring and great to listen to, so I wanted to contribute to that genre and give my take on it. I always think you should make the art or the music that you feel is missing from the world, so that’s what I did! I wrote the album which I would consider my perfect pop album.
Alex: On your upcoming tour supporting the album, you’re playing some large venues such as Manchester Academy and the KOKO in London. But you’re also playing some smaller venues too, in the form of people’s local HMVs! How different do you find the experience of playing in such varying size venues? Do you have a preference?
Emma: There’s absolutely a different vibe! When you play to a smaller audience it’s always going to be more intimate, the jokes you make land differently. In terms of preference, it’s like comparing apples and oranges as they’re just different experiences. I love doing both, meet and greet tours in the past in tiny venues, and I’ve played large venues such as gigs at Wembley Arena and the O2. Whilst it would be obvious to say I prefer playing Wembley Arena, that’s not strictly the case. What matters to me is that I’m playing music in front of people who enjoy what I make, whether that’s a hundred people, or ten thousand people. It’s about being able to connect with an audience with your music, and I don’t care what scale that’s on.
Alex: Is it ever a nice change going from small venues to large venues and vice-versa?
Emma: Oh yeah! The large venues are always going to be more energetic, while small venues are always going to be more intimate, but there’s a lot more pressure that comes with that! When there’s a large crowd, if you make some sort of mistake, which does happen, every artist forgets a lyric or make a joke that’s not actually funny out loud. While in large venues you can kind of hide behind the atmosphere in a way, the buzz in the crowd is so big that people are engaged more with the energy of the room than solely with you. In a small venue, everyone hears every word that you say, which is fair bit more pressure *laughs*.
Alex: I bet! I was wondering as well, what’s your process in deciding on a setlist for you concerts?
Emma: I actually usually plan my setlists months ahead of time! By the time I’ve written an EP I already know where the songs sit in a setlist. I start tour rehearsals this afternoon, and I haven’t worked out my setlist yet. I really just want to engage with my band and see what works because it’s still, in a way, a new genre for me. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, I think, working out the setlist for this tour, balancing out old and new sounds. But, I think I’m going to focus more on the lyrical content this time for working out the order.
Alex: Do you have a particular place you’re really looking forward to playing on your tour?
Emma: Well I should probably say Liverpool shouldn’t I? *laughs*. I could say wow I’m playing Oxford Street, but the fact is, what matters to me is that my album is going to be in HMV, cause as a teenager, that’s what I dreamed of. Like when I went in to buy the new My Chemical Romance CD, I dreamed one day someone could be able to do that with my own album. So it doesn’t matter where I am, it just matters that I’m in a HMV, being able to see my album there and meet my fans who want to hear it, which is a dream come true honestly!
Alex: And is there a song off your new album which especially you can’t wait for people to hear live?
Emma: There’s the opening track to the album called ‘Villains Pt. 1′, which I think will be amazing because the chorus is one of the best I’ve ever written! I also really can’t wait to play a song called ‘Third Eye’ just because, musically, it slaps hard. I can’t wait to see the crowd’s reaction to it! I haven’t released it yet but my fans have been asking for even a snippet of it, so it’s amazing to have a fan base as passionate about your music as mine!
Alex: What has been the defining moment of your music career so far?
Emma: Hmm that’s tricky. Like I said I’ve played the O2 and Wembley Arena and I’ve had my album artwork shown live at the Apple event in September last year. But I think one of my favourite moments was in 2016 when I did my first ever headline show in the O2 Academy in Islington. I played the first two songs, one after the other, and then I stopped to say hi to the crowd. I couldn’t literally say a word for about two minutes! The crowd were just screaming, I couldn’t get a word in so I just stood there and took in what was such a crazy sound to me. Looking back, it felt pretty cool *laughs*.
Alex: Here’s hoping there will be more moments like that on your tour! I’m sure a lot of your fans wonder as well, which artists would you collab with if you got the chance?
Emma: Hmm, I think a safe answer is Taylor Swift. I really love Taylor Swift, and I know a lot of people have their own strong opinions of her, but as a songwriter I think she’s such a genius. She’s been through so much personal drama but she just keeps on being a complete, total rockstar throughout all of it. She’s such as personal hero of mine, so a collaboration would be amazing! I usually don’t think about collaborations though, just in case they don’t happen, but I’m open to working with anyone who shares the same ideas, dreams and passions about music as I do!
Alex: Who do you listen to which might surprise fans of your music?
Emma: During college I used to listen to a lot of Rage Against the Machine all of the time! Nine Inch Nails as well, so I definitely come from that sought of industrial rock background, which is probably what is most surprising to people. I still listen to a lot of post-hardcore and pop punk, like A Day to Remember and all the others bands you still find in Kerrang. So that might be quite surprising to those who know me through my new music.
Alex: If you could speak to yourself from years ago, when you were starting to write your own songs, what advice would you give the young Emma in terms of her hopes for being a successful musician?
Emma: I would probably say a cop out *laughs* just keep doing what you’re doing! But really I would just probably say be stubborn, don’t let other people tell you what your music should sound like. I’ve always remained in control of my music since 2012, if I like a song, I put it out, if I don’t, I’ll get it changed. I oversaw the mixing of the album. Overall, I would just say do you need to do to make music as true to you as you possibly can, and I like to think that’s what I’ve done!
Emma’s debut album Villains is out now! Check it on Spotify here.
Make sure to catch Emma at her performance and album signing in HMV Liverpool on 5th September at 5:30pm, along with her headline tour in October!
Image Credit: Chuff Media