Emma Anderson on “Pearlies” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 18th, 2024  

Emma Anderson on “Pearlies”

The former Lush singer, songwriter and guitarist talks about her debut album and future plans

Nov 04, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Jeff Pitcher Bookmark and Share

As a founder member and one half of the songwriting team in ‘90s alternative legends Lush, Emma Anderson needs little by way of introduction. Despite only being active for less than a decade, Lush were one of the most influential bands to emerge from both the shoegaze and Britpop scenes, releasing four critically albums and a host of EPs and singles, all of which received similar levels of reverence. Their eagerly anticipated but short-lived reformation in 2015 and 2016 also yielded an EP (Blind Spot) the following year before disbanding once more, but their influence lives on having been cited by numerous bands and musicians both past and present.

In between times, Anderson also formed the band Sing-Sing, releasing two albums in the early 2000s (The Joy of Sing-Sing, Sing-Sing and I) but it’s her brand new (and debut!) solo record, Pearlies, Under the Radar are here to talk about.

Released last month on Sonic Cathedral, Pearlies showcases Anderson’s immeasurable talents as a songwriter, singer, and musician. Fusing styles as disparate as folk, electronica, shoegaze, and pop, Pearlies is one of this year’s most essential releases, so we sat down with its main creator to discuss its origins, the past, and what might come next in the future.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): How long has Pearlies been in the making? When did it become apparent this might be your first solo album?

Emma Anderson: We had the Lush reunion in 2016 which collapsed, and there’s a little bit of music on Pearlies that was going to be for Lush. Not a lot, just a couple of bits. Then, because I was a little bit disillusioned with the band stuff, I thought about writing music for TV and films. So, I gave it a go with Audrey Riley, who I’d worked with in Lush. We did some tracks together, which I didn’t sing on as I didn’t think it would be a record. I didn’t really know what it was going to be to be honest. It was more about just seeing what happens. They were very acoustic—Audrey’s a string arranger—so it was just bass guitar and strings. Everyone was telling me to forget this film and TV thing as it’s hard to get into, and that I should make a record instead. So, I thought maybe I should make a record? There’s enough Lush fans out there and the songs are good. Audrey couldn’t do any more anyway as she was studying for a PHD. I can use Logic a bit but I can’t make a record on it like James Chapman [aka Maps], for example, who can make a whole record on his laptop. So, I went away to find a producer, and then COVID happened. It did take a long time. I’m a single parent, I work, so all this stuff contributed towards it taking a long time. I was talking to Robin Guthrie [of Cocteau Twins] at one point about working on the record, but then with him living in France and the double whammy of Brexit and COVID that didn’t happen. I had this misconception that I needed to find a producer before I found a label, but soon realized I don’t really know that many people at all. I thought of Nat [Cramp] and Sonic Cathedral, but then I also wondered if he’d mind as a lot of it was still in my head at that point along with a few really crappy demos on my computer! But he jumped at the chance of releasing the album and immediately thought of James Chapman as a producer, so after waiting so long it all slotted into place quite quickly. We made the record over the summer of last year, so it’s taken quite a while for it to come out as well. But that’s what happens these days with massively long lead times now.

What did James Chapman bring to the process? Is he someone you’d work with again in the future?

He is someone I definitely want to work with again. He’s just a whizzkid programmer, but he’s also very musical as well. You get some people that are very musical but can’t use a computer and vice versa. Whereas James just got it straight away. He added quite a lot of keyboards and bits of guitar too. One of the things I like about making a record with someone like James is it can be quite quick. Also, there’s a financial aspect as well as it doesn’t involve hiring massive studios or drumkits. But it can also sound really good and professional. I went up to James’ house in Northamptonshire and stayed in this little village near Wellingborough which was fun. I stayed there for about three weeks. He’s also a really nice bloke and very easy to get on with. James is very down to earth and not at all arrogant, so I’d definitely work with him again. Whether he’d choose to work with me again is another question!

Were there any other songs written around that time or over the same period that didn’t make it onto Pearlies, and if so, will they be revisited or released in the future?

No, not really. Sometimes I’ll write a whole song and its done and dusted. Other times I’ll write something then decide I like the ending, but don’t like the other bits. So, I normally end up throwing the whole thing away rather than going back to it. There’s a couple of endings on Pearlies—the outros to “I Was Miles Away” and “The Presence” for instance—that were taken from other songs I’d written previously then discarded. There’s another track that’s coming out on an EP—probably as a B-side—but that’s about it. I’m quite economical with songs actually. I take bits and stick things together. I’m sure the next album will just be me starting from scratch.

There are several collaborators on Pearlies—James Chapman, Suede guitarist Richard Oakes, and renowned mastering engineer Heba Kadry. Is that something you see yourself doing more of in the future, collaborating with different people and seeing where it takes you?

This is the good thing about being a solo artist as opposed to being in a band. I can’t play guitar like Richard Oakes! It was an absolute delight that he said yes. So yes, probably. I think it’s nice to work with other people. Maybe the next album might have more live instruments on as well? I’m thinking about the whole live situation. It will happen, but not this year. Mainly for reasons I’ve already said. I’m a single parent and my daughter’s only 13. But if I do get a live band together then there’s a possibility some of them may be on the next record. Who knows? But collaborations, absolutely. I’d like to have a male vocalist on the next record, doing a duet or something.

Is there anyone you have in mind?

There is someone I have in mind but I don’t want to divulge his name just yet! All I’ll say is he’s heard the record and he likes it, a lot.

All of the singles released so far—“Bend The Round,” “Clusters,” and “The Presence”—showcase very different sides of Pearlies, both from a songwriting and musical perspective. Was that your intention, and will there be any more singles coming out?

I’m always the worst person to choose singles. Nat chose those. I remember being with Lush and thinking “Single Girl” was a B-side, so what do I know! I thought “The Presence” would have been the lead single rather than the third one off Pearlies. There will be another one next year but it will be a reworking of one of the songs, so that’s four singles in total off the album. We’ve got some remixes by some very cool people on that last single. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete have remixed “Tonight Is Mine” but I’m sworn to secrecy when it comes to disclosing the others!

We’ve already spoken about how Sonic Cathedral came to be involved, but were any other labels interested once word get out that you were releasing a solo album?

No. The only other label I spoke to was 4AD, but they’ve got this policy where they don’t really sign people from “back then,” which I get. Their current roster is made up of mostly new acts. I didn’t have a lot of confidence about this to be honest. I don’t really know a lot of people any more, so didn’t hunt out lots of labels. Whereas I knew Nat, mainly through DJing for him. Also, not having a producer made me feel even less confident because what I had was all very basic. He had to be an A&R man as well because he’s normally used to being given the finished product, whereas this time we had to find a producer. Because I knew him it felt a lot easier than just approaching another label.

You’ve mentioned possibly playing live next year. Will there be a tour and maybe even some festival shows too?

I’d like to get a band together for next year then hopefully play some festivals. I’m not promising it. Part of me thinks wait until album number two. It just might be a bit easier when my daughter’s a bit older. So, there’s a vague idea that I might play live to support this record but it also might not happen. It’s a tricky one to answer because I feel a bit in limbo about it at the moment. I’m also funding everything out of my own pocket so I can’t really afford to lose money on it. I need to sit down with somebody, do the sums and get it right. I’m not a band. It’s not like I’ve got all these people in place and we’re ready to go, then we can just get in the back of a van and plug in when we get there. I’ve got to assemble all these people then work out how I’m going to pay them.

The costs of touring are astronomical at present, especially if you’re planning to go into Europe since the implementation of Brexit.

I’m sure that where there’s a will, there’s a way. But it’s not a simple process any more. I wish it was.

You’ve been making music for the best part of four decades and over that time, seen and experienced a lot of good and bad aspects of the music industry. Would you say it’s changed for the better over time, or become a lot worse? Particularly the attitudes towards women in bands and music in general?

I’ll be honest, I haven’t had many horrendous experiences—luckily—being a woman in the music industry. I’m not saying there was nothing; of course, there was sexism in the press. But I was never sexually assaulted by anyone or touched up or anything like that. Lush were on a very female-orientated label in 4AD. There were no horrible lecherous men there or anything. My experience in the ‘90s wasn’t too bad. I’m now 56, I’ve got a great team of people around me and I don’t really venture beyond that circle. I think in some ways things have got a lot better. I was in my 30s when I did Sing-Sing after Lush, and a couple of people at the time said I was too old! They said no one wants a woman in her 30s in a band, but nowadays there are loads of women out there of a similar age to me making great music. PJ Harvey, Alison Goldfrapp, The Breeders, the list is endless. So, I think that has changed massively for the better. There’s a lot more respect for older women, and older men as well. But if I’d been someone of a similar age doing this album 30 years ago no one would have cared at all. It’s always the same. Some things get better and some things get worse. Maybe if I was 25 now it would be terrible? I don’t know. One thing I have noticed is a lot more women DJing, engineering, producing, and doing front of house sound. That’s changed massively from 30 years ago. There would be very few women doing any of those roles—even tour managing as well. I did a radio show with Nat the other day and the two engineers operating the sound desk were women, which wouldn’t have happened 30 years ago. My record was mastered by a woman, whereas in the nineties I don’t remember there ever being a female mastering engineer.

Looking back through your career in music, what would you describe as your highlights or proudest achievements?

Signing to 4AD was definitely one of them. I was a massive fan of the label so when Ivo [Watts-Russell] said he wanted to sign us, that was pretty big. Even though they were quite cautious to begin with. Some of the traveling was really good, getting to see places you’d only ever dreamed of visiting. Same with some of the people I’ve got to meet over the years. I’m 56 and was actually only in Lush for eight or nine years, so it wasn’t really a long time. I think a lot of people imagine it to be longer, yet I’ve actually been an office worker far longer than I was in Lush! But if that’s what people define me by then I’m fine with that.

If you had the benefit of hindsight and you could do things differently, is there anything you’d change?

Probably quite a lot but let’s not go there! A lot of it is out of my control in some ways. The thing about being in a band is that with all the best will in the world, so much happens that’s beyond your control. Because you have to compromise with other people, sign to a record label, do all the various media rounds and so on and so on. There’s no point dwelling too much on whether you’d do things differently because you can’t change it anyway. Obviously, Chris [Acland] dying was a dreadful, horrible time for all of us. I’d like to go back in time and change that. I’m sure we all would, but aside from that I don’t really think too much about the past.

You’ve been cited as an influence by numerous bands and musicians over the years. Are there any you’re particularly fond of, or even ones you can see something of yourself in from when you were first starting out as a musician?

Ladytron actually. I’d just started working for their management, and one day I was sitting in the office when they came in. Daniel [Hunt] from the band looked at me, and then he looked at this piece of paper on my desk. One of their management team said let’s go to the pub, so we all did, and when we got there Daniel said, “You’re Emma Anderson aren’t you?” He went onto say Lush were a massive influence on Ladytron, just the two girls, two boys thing. I don’t know if you remember those body painting photos, we did with Kevin Cummins for the NME which they made posters from, but Daniel said he had those posters on his wall! So, they’re the ones I’m most fond of, then we became really good friends and Daniel also co-produced the last Lush EP in 2016. I really like Ladytron a lot. I love their songs. One band I look at now and can see a bit of us in there is The Orielles. There’s something about them that resonates with me, even though the music is a bit more dancey than anything we ever did. I like them a lot. I do like a lot of the new shoegaze bands, even though I still hate that word! Although not as much as I used to. I do think Lush had a lot more grit than some of the other bands around at that time.

One of the biggest facets about Lush was that every record sounded different, particularly the four albums, and that’s why I think the band retained its longevity even today.

It’s partly laziness isn’t it. By 1996 we were doing Britpop records anyway. Shoegazing had been eclipsed by “Ladykillers” and “Single Girl.” A lot of that was down to having people in the band that had different tastes in music. Chris was an old punk, Miki [Berenyi] was more into the garage-y side of punk more than I was. I was more into janglier stuff that you’d probably cite as shoegaze nowadays and Phil [King] was into a very eclectic mix. So, that had a lot to do with it. We all brought something different to the table, and I think it worked at times.

What advice would you give to a new band or artist just starting out? What would you tell them to do? What would you tell them to avoid?

I don’t know because I think it’s changed so much. From a philosophical point of view, I’d tell them to keep at it. I remember when Lush started people saying to us it’s a bit rubbish, you should give up. I had a couple of people say that. One was a publisher from EMI. If you believe in what you do and it’s good, that will carry you through in the end. People go to colleges now and learn how to do a lot of the practical stuff. Back in the late 1980s people picked up guitars because they were on the dole or students. We were all students when Lush started. What would I tell them to avoid? Avoid crappy people I suppose. I carved my own path and I am who I am today. I don’t really know how I got here!

Finally, I believe there is a connection between yourself and Under the Radar as you used to live upstairs from the brother of the publication’s co-founder Mark Redfern?

I can’t remember much about that time, but Mark’s brother Simon lived in the flat below me. Just round the corner from the Rough Trade shop in Notting Hill in a little cul-de-sac. I didn’t know him that well but we did go out to dinner a couple of times. I was doing Sing-Sing at the time, and I think Under the Radar was just a photocopied fanzine at the time. But I remember Mark was very keen to have Sing-Sing in his publication which I thought was brilliant, so that’s how we met. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but Mark was always very supportive of Sing-Sing and of course the Lush reunion as well.

Pearlies is out now on Sonic Cathedral.



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