Adelaide singer-songwriter Emily Davis is headed to the Hunter for two shows this weekend. We caught up with her ahead of her gigs at The Stag & Hunter on 18 May and The Junkyard on 20 May.
The ocean is such a big part of your music. How has it influenced the sounds on “You, Me and the Velvet Sea”?
I grew up on the dramatic and pristine beaches of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and the imagery of the ocean has always had a huge impact on me. The sounds on the album reflect the drama of the ocean. Sometimes its still and calm, other times its dramatic and tumultuous. The use of tremolo guitar and fiddle really draw on these sounds, along with some very big drum and bass lines in some of the rockier songs.
You’re a part-time celebrant! What have you learnt about love from officiating weddings?
Telling people’s love stories week in, week out has always reminded me that love comes at unexpected times, and when it’s real it is palpable. You can feel it as an observer. It’s the most powerful thing humans share with one another.
Who made the headdress you wear in the clip for “Hold On”? And how did you come to use it?
I worked with a fabulous stylist in Adelaide the headpieceque Joy who crafted the headpiece using driftwood, beads and pearls. She really captured the mood of the sea, and all of the details. Her partner Brent Leideritz took all of the cover art photos too. I was truly lucky to work with such a dynamic duo. What a team! They listened to the album, really thought about the lyrics and sounds and came to me with this gorgeous headpiece and the concept for the album artwork. It was a really creative process all round!
There’s a vulnerability in your music and performances coupled with a confident delivery. How do you walk the tightrope between the two?
Its a bit of a paradox but I truly believe there is strength and courage in showing vulnerability. We’re all human and we all experience the highs and lows in life. The greatest connections that I’ve made with audiences happen when I bare all, confess, share with them but remain hopeful. Some artists like to keep a bit of distance in this sense; I prefer to get in the trenches on this one. Living through our universal vulnerability and showing that its ok, and survivable is the best way to connect with an audience.
From the outside looking in, your songs are hyper-personal. It’s one thing to record that and another thing to take it on the road. How do you get through a gig without bursting into tears?
I can’t guarantee that I won’t! But, my approach has always been simple. I can cry, and let the wave of emotion crash over me, or I can stay focussed and surf it. When you surf it, its almost like you rise above yourself and your voice really translates the emotion to the audience. I’m no good to anybody if I can’t get the lyrics and melody out, so this drives me to step away from a self-indulgent sob and deliver these emotions authentically.
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You kick-off your career in Adelaide. Do you think that’s had an influence on what’s come after?
I think the Adelaide music community is really wonderful. Not just the musicians, but the audiences, the venues, the media folk. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the scene, between songwriters and bands. People are open to collaboration, and working on new projects, trying out new things. This has had a huge influence on my confidence and my ability to try new and different styles.
Your grandmothers with big influences on you. Can you tell us a little more about that?
I was so lucky to have such wonderful women to look up to. My Nanna Val is a mad country music lover, gorgeous singer and accordion player. She used to make mix tapes for our very long drives to the coast. These tapes were legendary. They had everything from Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash (possibly even Billy Ray Cyrus for a very very short time too!!! Eek!). We’d sing along on the drives and she really taught me how to sing and harmonise.
My Taita (which is Lebanese for grandma) was an incredible matriarch who shared Arabic music with me and was so supportive of my singing and performing. She used to have this VHS recording of a Beirut Cabaret Concert from the 70s that my sister and I would watch on repeat (like pretty much every day). The performances were always so heartfelt and dramatic.
Val and Taita started my love affair with singing and performing. I don’t think I would have had the courage and the love of performing were it not for them.
What comes first for your, Lyrics or Melody/Chord progression?
Sometimes all three come at once. Sometimes its a just melody and a lyric swirling around my brain. Mostly though, I hear a ten second snippet of the whole song (words, music, chords, other instruments). I then have to spend the rest of the time decoding and building the song around that first sonic impression. This can be a bit complicated sometimes, but its always such a great feeling of satisfaction when you can capture the feeling and sound of that initial moment in your mind and translate it into a song.
Emily Davis plays The Stag & Hunter on 18 May and The Junkyard on 20 May with Dearly Departed as support.
PHOTO: Brent Leideritz