This past week I stumbled across Some Heavy Ocean (out May 20th on Sargent House), Emma Ruth Rundle’s first solo album. Being only vaguely familiar with some of her other work in The Nocturnes and Marriages, I was blown away by this body of work. Genuine and beautifully crafted, Emma Ruth Rundle’s darker, yet harmonic exploration of composition, stands out in a modern flood of indie guitar and electronic rock. Hers is truly a sound that comes from within.
For me, there is no better introduction to her work than simply to listen to it. But being curious, I wanted to know more. So Jon and I wrote up some questions and Emma kindly answered them for us. The resulting conversation follows.
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E.R.R.: Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. Almost all of the songs on the record were written in the year preceding the actually recording. Some of the arrangements and lyrics were even finished in the studio.
How does the process of writing music purely for your own production and performance differ for you from being a part of say, The Nocturnes or Marriages?
The Nocturnes was always my band. I have made the decision to step from hiding behind the name as well as leaving behind any long term commitments to other players. It’s freeing. Marriages, on the other hand, functions in its own strange way and is very much a collaboration between its members. There is no leader or sole writer.
How has being in these two bands and Red Sparowes influenced how you approach your guitar playing and singing?
If any influence at all, I would have to say that especially Red Sparowes made me a lazier guitarist for a while simply because there were two other guitarist to rely on. I was a unique experience in that each of us would take turns or work together to create textures or melodies whereas being the only guitar player in The Nocturnes (early on) I wrote more complicated parts to fill in space I thought, at the time, needed to be taken up as there was no bass player. Melodies and establishing root notes had to be done alone. Since RS and even “Kitsune,” Marriages’ first release, my playing has been simplified. For now I think this works to support more song based music that is intended to support a vocal as its focus. I hope that makes sense.
Were any of these songs originally intended for Marriages?
There was a time in the history of Marriages during which both Greg and I would occasionally bring in fully written songs. “Shadows of My Name” was one of these and it suited the Sargent House “Glassroom” series of videos that feature bands playing acoustic or tempered versions of their material. So you may have noticed that there is a video out there where this song is said to be a Marriages song. It fell flat when we tried it as a full band and I took the song back. Marriages has since figured out that we do best as a team.
We read that you recently went through some tough times and that is partly what drove the recording of this album. Do you care to tell us about any of the issues that Some Heavy Ocean maybe be based on?
I’m torn between wanting to speak candidly about life and feeling that it may be inappropriate to do so. I feel comfortable saying that the answer is in the songs and lyrics themselves.
Is your sister Sarah-Ray Rundle the subject of the song “Oh Sarah”?
Yes, she is and that was the first song I wrote for this record.
What was your original intent going into the studio and how does it compare with the resulting album?
My original intent was to capture, in a very simple way, the songs without much production or additional instrumentation. I thought it would be sparse and the idea was to make something I could tour on completely alone. When Chris Common and I started the process, the songs grew and we ended up adding much more, i.e. drums, strings, bass, guitar overdubs, and even pedal steel – recruiting the talents of a few friends. I’m very happy with the result.
What were the setbacks while recording the album? Were there any songs that fell into place, or others that were a struggle to finish?
There was a song called “City of Light” that was an acoustic adaptation of a song I had written under for a different solo electronic project that ended up sounding really silly. We just couldn’t do anything to make it right- I took the stems from the songs, rearranged them and now you have the intro and title track to the record- “Some Heavy Ocean.”
The song “Living With The Black Dog” fell right into place and was accomplished in one take. It’s raw and is my favorite song.
The album allowed me to make a statement about a different facet of my musical character which is a more direct conduit to my heart. I had been wanting to record a collection of more traditional songs vs. soundscape, electronic or band-based music for some time. Some Heavy Ocean is the result and will hopefully serve as a platform to continue releasing music in this realm.
Do you see yourself recording future solo albums based on the experience of making Some Heavy Ocean? If so, what would you do differently next time?
Yes. Recording this record was such a strange and unique experience. I wont be able to replicate it exactly. I can never seem to plan exactly what will happen with recording or how it will end up. It depends on who, if anyone, I end up working with and the approach I take. I may end up doing something lo-fi and all one take or may use a band or may just play electric guitar vs. acoustic next time. Who knows? I’m sure Ill be all over the place until the time comes to settle on something.
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How do you define your music differently than other musicians in the same genre, such as Chelsea Wolfe?
To be honest, I don’t listen to much contemporary music in this genre so I don’t really know how to answer. Even if I did, its always hard to know what one “sounds like.” Though I’ve had the pleasure of touring (in Marriages) with Chelsea and share a label with her, I wouldn’t want to compare. I hold her in the highest esteem; her music is elegantly composed and she has, by far, the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard.
What and who were your musical influences growing up? How about today?
Growing up I listened to a lot of different music and went through many phases of having favorites from Skinny Puppy to Kate Bush. In the last few years, I’ve really looked to artists like Mark Kozolek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters) and the late Chris Whitley, who I especially admire for his complete honesty as an artist. While his music may not be a direct influence, his story and life are. I could go on forever about Chris Whitley and what a special person he was. My hope is to maintain that kind of integrity in and out of obscurity with total heart and reckless abandon.
If you could have a guitar shredding session with any of your favorite guitarists, who would you pick?
Given my last answer, I’d have to say it would be Chris Whitely.
Will you be touring or performing (outside of LA) for Some Heavy Ocean?
Yes- I hope to tour this year although nothing is booked as of yet.
What does the future have in store for you? I know that Marriages is close to wrapping up on a new full-length, when can we expect it to be released?
Good things I hope. An Electric Guitar: Two is in the works. More music like Some Heavy Ocean and of course new Marriages which should be released by the end of summer or some time in fall of this year.
Some Heavy Ocean is out on May 20th.
Kelsey also writes for her own site, The Aural Premonition.
There has never been a better time to be in love with indie music and the musicians who create it. I write about and share what I discover because I find it difficult not to.