Published on December 7th, 2016 | by Cody Davis3
A Conversation with Emma Ruth Rundle
Singer/songwriter, Emma Ruth Rundle, released her newest studio album, Marked For Death, at the end of September. Rundle, of Marriages and Red Sparowes fame, now has three solo efforts to her name. This newest album being her greatest and heaviest yet. Marked For Death is a riveting composition that sees Emma confront herself and deeper personal issues over the course of eight songs. In addition to being a talented musician, Emma is a visual artist. She expresses herself through watercolor, oils, and pencil on canvas, depicting emotional complexities that often resembles the content of her music. Jon Robertson and I were fortunate enough for the opportunity to send Emma some questions regarding her new solo album as well as her time in Marriages and her visual art.
Cody Davis: We are roughly two years removed from your last solo album, Some Heavy Ocean, and last year you, Greg, and Andrew released a brilliant Marriages album. I read you were simultaneously recording Some Heavy Ocean and Marriages’ Salome. What was balancing these two projects at the same time like?
Emma Ruth Rundle: Greetings. Thank you both for your kind words and interest in my musical endeavors. Actually, there was no overlap between Some Heavy Ocean and Salomé. We started recording Salomé around the time Some Heavy Ocean was released. The difficulty that this presented was that I was on tour with King Buzzo when it came time to give Salomé the final mix and was maybe a bit checked out. I think the vocals and guitars on Salomé suffered for this reason.
Jon Robertson: What are the biggest differences between writing solo material and material with Marriages, both musically and lyrically? How do decide what songs or lyrics go to which project?
ERR: From the very beginning Marriages has very much been a collaboration between Greg Burns and myself. Andrew was, of course, a big part of Salomé as well.
I would say that the collaborative aspect is what defines the biggest difference. In Marriages I feel more of a vehicle for exploring broader themes or concepts lyrically; for example, Kitsuné touched on the transformative aspect of the Shinto fox spirit possession whereas my solo work is autobiographical in a more direct way, though I sometimes use mythological and religious iconography as tools.
JR: The press release for Marked for Death talks about the “candid, unglamorous cover portrait” for the album. What is the concept or inspiration behind choosing this image?
The cover photo is a self-portrait I took out in the Pinion Hills desert house (the farm, Sargent House) where I recorded Marked For Death. I had been into photography and wanted to document some of the writing and recording processes. I’m very proud of that photo. I believe it captures an aspect of myself that was in the ruling house when I made this record. It’s raw and honest. I see a path in the music biz that wants to walk women down the production line of mainstream, idealized feminine beauty. There is no way of saying this without opening the doors to an argument of some kind with someone these days- for my 12-year-old self, I offer an alternative to the primed and packaged people we see. I wanted to challenge my own ego as well. In a way, it’s a confrontation of the self.
CD: Marked for Death presents itself as a conduit for many tumultuous and deeply personal feelings. I understand it can be quite a cathartic experience but do you ever find it difficult to convey these feelings through your music?
ERR: The difficulty lies in having to tour, talk about and relive the content after the record is finished.
CD: Sonny DiPerri was brought in to engineer and help produce Marked for Death, who last had his hands in Mizmor’s harrowing Yodh (which is an amazing construct of blackened doom metal). He has also worked with M83 and Animal Collective among many other projects. What did DiPerri bring to the Marked for Death sessions that were different from the production of Some Heavy Ocean?
ERR: Ah! Mizmor. I am both a friend and a fan. Our community if often smaller than some may know and I love that about music now.
Sonny is a fantastic human. Recording and working with him was great. He’s got a highly tuned aesthetic – we listened to many of the same records growing up and in preparation for our collaboration. I came to trust him quickly. Sonny really listens and is present for every step of the record making process and I found his work invaluable.
While we did bring the studio into the residential setting of the vacant farm, it was a grueling lockdown for 10 days, much more traditional than the lax meandering schedule Some Heavy Ocean “adhered to.”
JR: Who are the musicians who played on Marked for Death and who played what? Is it a similar lineup to Some Heavy Ocean?
ERR: The eminent Troy Zeigler (Field, Wrath of Sad) on bass. You already know Andrew Clinco, of Marriages, on drums and percussion. The unique spirit Andrea Calderon (Corima – a must-listen zhuel/prog ensemble) on violin. There is also some guest ghost vocal lent by Aurielle Zeitler (Ghost Marrow). And Sonny does shred some mellotron and swarmatron in there. Jason Adams lends one sweet cello line in the song “Marked For Death” too.
CD: Marked for Death is much darker and visceral than Some Heavy Ocean. “Protection”, “Medusa”, and “Heaven”, for example, have these eruptions of guitars and reverb and “Real Big Sky” is an original, gritty demo. Was this more morose sound a preconceived idea prior to writing or was this something that manifested itself as the album developed?
ERR: I wonder if this would still seem the case minus drums. The biggest shift from Some Heavy Ocean to Marked For Death is the addition of full drum kit. I was really on the fence about going this heavier route, arrangement wise. I was afraid it might preclude me from touring the album without a band, which is actually what I’m doing right now in Europe in support of Wovenhand.
In the end, I set out to make an emotionally potent album and chose instrumentation that I felt suited each song.
All of this music was written on an acoustic guitar. The songs came from my heart. I certainly didn’t set out to be the king of sad or anything. Authenticity is the goal. If anything, this process has helped me to want to move on to a brighter place. To change and overcome. To write more empowered or somehow lighter music. Singing these lyrics every night is taking me back to the low.
CD: Continuing from the last question. Where did the idea to keep the original demo version of “Real Big Sky” come from? For the record, I am a huge fan of this idea. It is a beautiful song.
ERR: Thanks. It’s not the actual demo but a recreation. We approached the song in several ways while in the studio. The original demo was recorded on my iPhone. It’s a capture of me playing my acoustic guitar through a little-distorted vox amp and singing in a trailer out there in the desert. We recreated it in a pure and simple way by running spas guitar through an SVT, only doing 1 to 2 takes. Keeping the performance honest, grating and simple/pure. Ha.
CD: Are there any moments on this new record that resonate with you personally more than others? Any particular song that strikes a deeper chord with you mentally or emotionally?
ERR: It’s “Real Big Sky” for sure. There’s a little film Brandon Kapelow made that goes along with it which came out beautifully and I think it captures some of that backstory and emotion nicely.
CD: Switching gears to current and future plans. You are in the midst of a European tour with Wovenhand currently. Are there any upcoming stops on this tour you are particularly excited to see or have already seen? European culture is strikingly different than American culture, it has to be cool to experience what the world offers.
ERR: Tis true. I’m working on my infantile German skills in the car actually. It’s a great honor to share a stage with Wovenhand and a privilege to travel and play music. Something we make personal sacrifices to be able to experience. I never want to seem ungrateful for any of this. The world is so fascinating and beautiful. To see it is my most favorite thing. Especially the changing landscapes and natural beauty. I would so love to visit Asia one day and both play and listen to music there, too.
CD: Do you have any near-future plans for a North American tour?
ERR: Yes. They are not quite announced yet but I might be able to say soon.
JR: Is there any new Marriages material on the horizon?
ERR: None that is as of now written. It’s my intention to continue Marriages down the road and perhaps we will see something in 2017/18.
CD: I recently read that you have wanted to be a painter from a young age and that you are getting ready to take on more paintings this year. Do you have any desires to see your visual art become your more notable artistic expression? Your visual art seems to follow in a similar vein as your music. Holistically, it appears to create this total package of complex emotional states (from my perspective at least.)
ERR: Thank you for taking note of this. To be honest, shifting my focus over time from rock music to ambient music and visual arts would be ideal for several reasons however the little success I have gained as a musician is not necessarily reflected in the success of my visual art. The art and music sort of evolve hand-in-hand and there were several points in my life where I was torn between which one to pursue. I didn’t last in the academic atmosphere anyway… I think of myself as an artist moving through many mediums – all the time – exploring different instruments as well as materials from ink to video – master of none ever but I guess that’s not the point.
CD: Emma, thank you so much again for taking the time to answer our questions. It is truly an honor to discuss great music and art with the people who craft it. We wish you the safest of travels and best of luck in Europe and when you return stateside. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see you soon on your next United States circuit!