Sometimes you meet artists who are good in one area, and sometimes you meet people who are so creative that they find a way to make art no matter what medium. Emma June is a songstress, a videographer, a dancer, and an all around delightful person. I stumbled on her performing a EP release at Cagibi and regard her as a very magnetic and authentic performer. Emma June met with me to talk about the current state of her music project and the release of her first single from her upcoming album due in the spring.
Emma’s musical journal began with her parents, both of whom are musicians. She started violin at age three, sung in the church choir, and learned piano. With all the money that she made in seven years of church choir, she bought herself a guitar when she was around 13 years old. “My grandmother was my first guitar teacher and taught me chords that made sense,” she says. She continued on classical guitar largely as a way to develop her technique.
“As soon as I learned four chords, I began writing music,” Emma says. Music was an outlet for things she experienced. “I thought I would be a country artist at 13 or 14,” she explains. “The style was not for me, in the end. I didn’t want to be super-lyrical and straight forward.”
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By listening to different styles of music and musicians, her music developed. Her previous experiences also fed into her musical development. “From church music, harmony came to me really naturally. I used to practice singing harmony to radio songs in the car,” she says.
She’s scoured the internet listening for artists. In particular, she’s fond of Rachel Sermani from Scotland (see our review of her album HERE) and Laura Marling. “I’m inspired by Joni Mitchell to try open tuning. I now have two guitars at every show.” Francophone artists, like Les Soeurs Boulay and Gilles Vigneault, also inspire her.
“I’ve been listening to Gilles since I was six,” she says, “It was the first concert I went to see when I was seven.”
Currently, Emma is combining the electric guitar with her acoustic sound. “I love being accompanied by the electric guitar. It adds dimension to straight-forward acoustic music. I like the combination of the two. You have the low sounds on the drums too. My voice sticks out compared to the warm, low music.”
Emma explains that another thing she is doing more is performing bilingually. “I’m proud to be a bilingual Montrealer,” she says. “People like that I switch between French and English in the songs and when I speak to the audience. There aren’t many who write in both languages.” No surprise that she can perform French or English sets, as required. This flexibility has made her desirable as an opener for acts such as Stu Larsen and The Fortunate Ones, as well as given her opportunities to perform in different festivals over the past summer.
Emma’s new song, Song to a Squirrel, was recorded six months ago with Devin Nicholson as a producer in a small studio. Emma explains that the song was inspired when she saw a squirrel working hard and being dedicated, and though she shares these qualities, she gets lost in the things she loves and can’t focus on any of them. “A lot of people can relate to that,” she says.
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Songwriting generally happens out of a combination of an experience or idea and a small guitar part. “I will come up with an interesting guitar part and not know what to write about, but it will sit in the bank. Eventually there are words that will fit the guitar part. I’ll have an idea, brainstorming, no lyrics, and I have a bank of guitar ideas. When I go to write a song, I’ll use my ideas from both and develop them both at the same time. It’s like puzzle pieces that fit together.”
Emma plays solo, as well as with a band that includes a guitarist, a drummer, and a bass player. “They’re so dedicated to my music,” Emma gushes, talking about how they give her their time and energy.
I ask if Emma has any bands she wants to recommend. “CADE is opening for me. She’s from Toronto originally and new to Montreal. I’m happy to introduce her to the music scene here. Her sound is folk, jazzy, but very haunting.”
In addition to making music, Emma June’s amazing three-minute a month videos are a meditation on the life of a Montreal student. She films 10 seconds of footage each day and then strings them together into a video (generally three minutes long). See familiar places and scenes from the city, set to Emma’s own music. It’s charming!
Emma June is playing at Cagibi (5490 St. Laurent) with CADE opening on November 29 at 8 p.m. $8. She is also playing solo at the Marché de Noel de la Place Commune on December 6 at 10:30 a.m. For info on upcoming shows, click here. To follow her on facebook, click HERE.