emzae On New Single “I Guess, Anyway” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, May 20th, 2024  

emzae On New Single “I Guess, Anyway”

Forthcoming debut album "All Those Things I Thought I Knew" follows in September

Apr 14, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Madison Fiorenza Bookmark and Share


​Meet emzae, a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer from Derby. Her music and live performances have drawn comparisons with a host of artists ranging from Madonna and Lana Del Rey to Karin Dreijer (The Knife, Fever Ray) and Bjork. Under the Radar can bare witness to some of those descriptions, having been blown away by her live show at her home city’s Dubrek venue last November. So, it gives great pleasure to announce her new single “I Guess, Anyway” is out today followed by debut album All These Things I Thought I Knew in September. Both on emzae’s own label Zirconia Records, “I Guess, Anyway” is the first single to be released from her forthcoming album which bares all the hallmarks of being one of 2023’s finest.

The full tracklisting for All These Things I Thought I Knew is as follows.

“Overrated”

“As This Day Fades To Another”

“New Construction”

“Strip Lights”

“Another Lesson Learnt”

“Some Kind Of Cliche”

“Clairvoyant”

“Lucid Dreaming”

“I Guess, Anyway”

“It’s All Cyclical”

“Extraordinary”

“THRIVE”

In the meantime, emzae spoke to Under the Radar about her career to date and ambitions for the future.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): Who is emzae and when did you start making music?


emzae: My real name is Emma, but I came up with my stage name “emzae” when I was 15, during an MSN conversation with a friend. I wanted to basically make up a word that wouldn’t often be already taken as a username, sounded a bit more theatrical than my real name, and contained some similar letters. Back then, I called myself emz. I tried to make emz happen. To be honest with you, I still have “emz” as my Whats App name and everything. Most people in my life call me Emma or Em, but my two brothers have genuinely called me “emzae” on a day to day basis for the past few years. It started off ironically but just stuck. Then again, none of my family call each other by our real names so that’s not unusual.

I started making music about as young as I can remember. I grew up with the Spice Girls and Britney and the whole 90s/Y2K pop machine, and I just wanted to be like the women I saw on Top of The Pops or on the music channels. It was also during the era of the early talent shows like Pop Idol, Popstars, Popstars: The Rivals and the first series’ of the X Factor, and to be honest with you - I watched every single one of them and lapped them right up. After Pop Idol on a Saturday night, I’d ask my mum if I could perform for her and I’d do a bit of karaoke or sing a song. I was that kid. I was always a performer and wanted to show off wherever there was a whiff of a stage. I genuinely believed from a young age that being a musician or a singer or whatever would be my life and career.

Things were interrupted a little because unfortunately when I was in my teens I was diagnosed with M.E. and also struggled with mental illness. That turned my world upside down, and for a while I stopped believing. One day, though, I just decided that I was still going to find a way to do what I always wanted despite the challenges. Every day since then has been a fight to still achieve what I wanted as a kid, but just in different ways. When I was 18 I started teaching myself how to produce and mix music, and I also taught myself how to play guitar and piano. They’re both a constant work in progress. Sharing my music with the world has been a wonderful gift to my life, and I can now say that even though it’s hard and frustrating at times and very far from glamorous or anything, I am living the dreams of my younger self and being true to who I am and what I love.

Whereabouts are you based?

I was born in Derby and I live in Derby, in the same house I was born in, with my parents and my two older brothers. Some people are embarrassed to say they still live at home, but I don’t think there should be any stigma attached. Everyone has different circumstances and sometimes it makes more sense to be in my position. I feel like Derby is very underrated because It’s right in the middle of the country but also close to countryside if you’d like to see some scenery and have a bit of peace and quiet. On the one hand it’s a city complete with a shopping centre and everything, but on the other hand it has a nice, slow pace of life. A great base to come back to. I always joke that one day my dream would be to live on a barge so that I can barge away from anywhere or anyone (on another barge) that annoys me. I like to imagine that there is a whole barging world out there. Pubs on barges. Shops on barges. A whole barge universe where you never need to even leave the water. That’s what motivates me to keep making music. The prospect of the barge life!

What’s been your biggest highlight as a musician and artist so far?

There have been many. Honestly one of the most beautiful moments was the very first time I was aired on my local BBC Introducing show by Dean Jackson. I was 20, and making very rough demos at that point. But he was that special person in my career that identified something within my work and decided to give it a chance.

Other than that, it was really fun supporting Altered Images at The Rescue Rooms in Nottingham. When I was younger, I was a HUGE fangirl of the TV show Ashes to Ashes - I could still basically recite every line - and they were on the soundtrack. I know that younger me would’ve practically fainted at the mere prospect of this.

It was also amazing getting my first play on 6music, and every time I’ve woken up to see that I’ve been added to an editorial playlist on Spotify or Apple Music. I put in so much work chasing opportunities and I don’t have a manager, live agent or anything like that - so it’s a real proud moment when basically anything happens.

Do you prefer playing live or working in the studio?

They’re both good in different ways. I grew up performing - I used to dance, and I’d sing in school choirs and audition for any play going. I’ve always loved the stage, even though there was a period of time when I got ill where I completely lost my confidence and it took many years of trying to perform through uncontrollable shaking to feel like it was my home again.

I think with live gigs, it depends where they are and in what context. My favourite gigs are in small to medium sized venues - preferably with small green rooms to rest in, and some nice food nearby - where people have come along to listen to music and hear some new stuff. I also absolutely love festivals, because they feel like big adventures and I enjoy going around all of the little stalls afterwards.

I’m not a huge fan of gigs in very loud pubs where you could be playing the Only Fools and Horses closing theme instead of your own music and no one would notice. It’s nice to have a little bit of applause, at least. Just a smattering will do.

I enjoy being in the studio - which is my bedroom by the way - because I can take my time and express myself. I don’t have to explain any of the ideas I have in my head to another producer or anything, because I can just create them myself in musical form. That gives me a great amount of freedom, but I do feel isolated at times. Especially when I’m putting in long hours and I don’t feel too good and my friends are on holidays or something. In the future, it would be cool to add a more collaborative element to my work - both live and in the studio. Unfortunately, it’s just not economical right now for me to have a live band. But I’m hoping that with the profits from my debut album, I might be able to buy a MacBook so that I can be a bit more mobile and maybe switch things up and edit vocals in a coffee shop or something from time to time.

Your debut album All Those Things I Thought I Knew is out in September. How long has it been in the making?

As Lady Gaga says in her song “You and I”, Six Whole Years. It essentially tells the story of 60% of my 20s. There have been many ups and downs during that time - some of the biggest changes were deciding to take a risk and quit my day job to focus entirely on music. I figured it was the only time in my life when I’d be in a position - with no real responsibilities - to do it and of course the horribleness of the pandemic and all of the instability in the UK and the wider world. I think that’s reflected throughout the music.

Did the tracklist change much over time?

Many times. During those six years, I wrote what must have been hundreds of tracks - some more finished than others. I hope to release a demos compilation at some point to tide people over whilst I’m taking hopefully less than six years on the next album. There were some songs that I was almost certain would end up on the final tracklist, but in the end they just didn’t feel right. Some of the singles I released were also supposed to be on the album, like “Glory” or “Waste Our Time”. But again, they just didn’t feel right for the project in the end.

I’m really happy with the 12 weird and wonderful tracks I settled on in the end. I think they are the best work I could’ve produced at this point in my life with all of the resources I have, and I hope people will connect with them.

You have a single out this month, “I Guess, Anyway”. Why did you choose that particular song as a single? Will there be any more singles in the lead up to the album?

I chose “I Guess, Anyway” because the last song I’d released from the album was super upbeat with some dancey elements so I wanted to ensure people knew that the entire album wasn’t that so it wouldn’t be a shock! I also feel very personally connected to this track. It’s literally the story of my late 20s, laid bare. I am slightly gutted that I had to make a radio edit, because I’m a fan of a long song and I deliberately wanted to make this a bit of an epic that built up to a crescendo. I’ve been playing it live for just under a year now, in demo form, and it was always one of the most popular moments of the set that people remarked upon afterwards. I also find performing it really cathartic, so I just thought yeah - that’s the next single.

There will be two more singles before September called “Some Kind of Cliché” and “It’s All Cyclical”. I’m sorting out the videos for them at the moment!

Your music has been described as alternative pop and incorporates numerous genres from electronica to indie, folk and dance infused pop. Is that something that came naturally or was it always your intention to try and cover as many bases as possible?

Honestly, I have always struggled to categorise music or think of music in terms of genre. I admire people who have knowledge of obscure sub-genres or can take a piece of music and immediately label it, but that’s not me. My Spotify playlists are named after specific settings such as “2000s rooftop lounge” or feelings, aesthetics or vibes like “2020s at night”. I listen out to the little sounds and instruments and melodies within songs, or the way they make me feel emotionally, and I categorise them in that way. Within my playlists, I’m sure some people would identify multiple genres. But to me, almost everything is pop.

I think the variation within my music is also influenced by who I am as a person - I’m into lots of random things as a glance at my Instagram stories from time to time might imply. I am also a very up and down person mentally - I have OCD and sometimes I can be really really down or randomly really productive and creative. It all manifests itself in different sounds. I see music as images in my head, if that makes sense. So to me “I Guess, Anyway” sits just fine alongside other tracks on the album like “As This Day Fades to Another” or “Extraordinary”, but someone else might not have grouped them together sonically.

Who’s been the biggest influence or inspiration on your career so far?

I’ve got so many musical heroes and people I fangirl over. Growing up, as I’ve mentioned, I loved all of the huge popstars and girl bands of the time like Britney and Spice Girls. When I was 15, I discovered Damon Albarn and it was the first music I truly connected to on an emotional level. Particularly the blur album 13, which helped me process a lot of the loss I was feeling of the life I could have had as a healthy person.

As I got a bit older, I became a HUGE fan of Lana Del Rey - someone who I consider to be one of the most important and influential artist of the 2010s without question. Later, I also started to connect with Fiona Apple - especially as she also has OCD like me.

Those are the main people, but I also love the work of producers like Timabaland and Danja. General pop music from 2005-2008. Lots of 80s stuff. Lots of 90s stuff.

There are so many artists and albums and songs that I love.

Career-wise, I think Little Simz is amazing for sticking to her creative vision and building things on her own terms. When she got Radio 1 to play the full, 6:02 version of Introvert, it inspired me not to care about the length of my own songs afterall.

Closer to home, I am inspired by many of my creative friends including 3AM and Yay! Maria who both create incredible music alongside many challenges in their lives.

You also have your own label, Zirconia Records. Will you just be releasing your own material on the label or are there plans to release other artists music as well?

Zirconia Records is a very new thing, and the first release is my debut album. I’ve already learnt so much during this process to take into other releases. I don’t rule out releasing music from other artists in the future, but I’m going to take it slow for now and learn what to do and what not to do with my own stuff!

Do you think its important for artists to be signed to major or established labels in the internet age?

I think there are pros and cons with every option. Having ownership and control of my music and creative direction is really important to me. The thought of having to prove my artistic choices to people and test them out on tik tok for audience research before even being granted a release date is a nightmare to me. However, there is also another side to the decision. The internet, social media and streaming may have opened up the possibility for anyone to release music and get in touch with tastemakers etc. but being signed gets you heard, supported and given big opportunities much quicker and you have a much bigger marketing budget! I guess it also depends on what you want from music. My dream is to be able to make a comfortable living from it one day, with a decent enough audience to ensure that I could announce a small to medium sized UK tour and be fairly confident that I’d eventually at least get close to selling it out. I feel like, with a few years of work, that is a realistic goal to set. Some other people want to perform at the MTV VMAs and be a full on part of the pop machine - which is totally fine, and those people are probably going to need a major.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as an artist so far?

Apart from the obvious things to do with my health, I would say the biggest challenges are just trying to learn how things are done. I came into this with - and I mean this - zero contacts or knowledge of how the industry worked beyond TV documentaries and Google. I left mainstream school at 14 and only got 2 GCSEs, so figuring out how to get from that to being a musician was an uphill battle. There weren’t any specialist creative colleges in Derby, and I probably wouldn’t have got into them anyway or been well enough at that time to attend the required amount of days. My main focus to begin with was trying to rescue a future for myself where I had at least a bit of money in the bank and some work experience.

Once I had managed to do that a little bit, I had more freedom to interact with the east midlands music scene. Getting on BBC introducing and meeting other artists through that was a big breakthrough, and Nottingham was where I really cut my teeth and found my first musical friends. When I had people to talk to and ask questions, I started to find out a lot more. That’s why I always try to answer any questions people ask me about how I got a certain opportunity if I can. There is, sadly, a lot of gatekeeping. But along the way there have been kind people who told me straight, and those were integral to my progress.

Everything is trial and error, really. But once you learn something, you tend to remember it for next time.

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

I would say don’t bother with any competition to play a festival which has more than one gig as part of the process - e.g. a quarter final, semi-final and final involving some sort of battle of the bands and/or public vote. It’s a soul destroying spectacle, usually put on by the type of festivals who won’t pay you, and there will always be a band with someone in it who brings every friend they’ve ever had, ex-partners and extended family and wins it. I would also tell a new artist to draw clear boundaries between their music life and their personal life. Sometimes, people you meet through networking or other musicians may cross over and become personal friends over time. But don’t invite everyone into your personal life by default, otherwise you’ll end up in a mess somewhere down the line. Some people are just a part of your professional network. They are still friends, just in different ways.

Thirdly, I would tell them not to worry about trends and focus on building something with longevity rather than chasing things for today or tomorrow. The people you might envy now who are having huge success with a sound that is really popular right now, will probably get typecast in this era and find it very difficult to evolve beyond the label they have been given. Focus on storytelling, community building and most importantly making the stuff YOU want to make or listen to.

And finally, especially if you are a female artist, just zone out when the sound man compliments your set and then asks if he can ‘give you some advice for next time’, and delete any DM giving you advice for your next mix. They usually want to sell their services, and what you’re doing is most probably fine.

Do you have any live shows or festival appearances coming up this year?

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t yet have a live agent, so gigs kind of come in as and when - either at random or as a result of inquiries I’ve made. At the moment, my next gig is on May 6th at the Bodega in Nottingham supporting Crooked Colours. I’ll also be announcing a special album launch gig later in the year, so look out for that! Announcements will always be on my social media profiles.

Are there any other artists you’re particularly excited about that you’d recommend Under the Radar and its readers should check out?

There are countless super talented people in my city. I already mentioned 3AM and Yay! Maria, but I’d also add everyone in my Spotify playlist “Middle of the Island” which features various artists from Derby.

emzae’s new single “I Guess, Anyway” is out now on all streaming platforms.

Her debut album All These Things I Thought I Knew comes out on 1st September via Zirconia Records.

Official Website

Bandcamp

Instagram



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