Turtle Tempo speaks with Indie Folk artist Em George on the release of her new EP Wolves.
Em George is a force to be reckoned with in her sophomore EP Wolves, featuring her impressive lyrical songwriting style inspired by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake. Doused in nostalgia, this Australian songwriter’s music has already won the hearts of those partial to the sounds of the 60s and 70s, and looks set to take over the world of Indie Folk with the release of these five introspective songs that form the Wolves EP.
Hey Em, I’m hoping lockdown hasn’t ruined your Summer plans too much! How’s everything going?
Hey there! Who would have ever expected 2020 would start this way?! Completely necessary though to keep everyone safe.
The new Wolves EP is comprised of five really special original songs. I was completely gripped from the few notes of “Fight” right through to the final seconds of “Open Road”, just in love with that really ubiquitously nostalgic sound – was it a long time in the making?
Thank you so much! It’s been a long process full of ups and downs but I am so excited it’s finally out there. I am constantly inspired by the past and history, whether its in general or in my own life. I love film and art history and the cultural influences it leads to and it filters through to my songwriting. I’ve always been drawn to artists like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Dinah Washington, Nick Drake, Billie Holiday, Etta James, all the way to Cole Porter. I’m of the mindset that you can’t really grow and learn about the present and future without looking to the past and its lessons and I pay attention to it as I write songs and explore new sounds.
You deal with some tricky themes throughout these five tracks – how did the writing process help you find your way through some darker times?
I wrote most of the songs around the same time; it wasn’t a long writing process, the creative flow was fast! In some ways I feel it’s a bit of a concept album about heartbreak and that cycle that happens when you realise a relationship is quite toxic and holding you back- the freedom that comes with that realisation and letting it go. I’d let someone back into my life who I had hoped had changed but they had not. It was disappointing and quite traumatic but the peace that came from realising it didn’t define me was liberating. The light amongst the darkness plays throughout and I draw on my life experiences to fuel my work.
I was so excited to see names like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake listed under your influences. How have these writers influenced your own songwriting style?
I’ve always been drawn to artists who are unafraid to shine a light to themes and truths that are sometimes uncomfortable to hear. I think Art should document history and inspire change, no matter how small and also make you really feel something. There’s a real bravery in being honest, and when I listen to Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen, I can almost feel their heartache or joy when their songs explore it. I think Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Amy Winehouse were the first artists who made me want to write songs, before I discovered their work I was always drawn to voices that expressed emotion like Etta James, Eva Cassidy, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding- so many. I could list my favourite artists for hours!
What would you say is the silver thread that runs throughout the Wolves EP and ties all the songs together so beautifully?
I wrote most of these songs through a significant life moment; I lost my grandmother who was a huge part of my life and the ending of a relationship. It was a time of change and sadness but channelling it into my songwriting became quite liberating and helped me process it all in a healthy way. I don’t really feel like you can be a whole person without moments that really shake your soul and show you who you are. Often beautiful moments of light, freedom and joy can come from these times and make you stronger. I think that idea runs through this EP.
What was it like working alongside producers Eliot Henrich and Matt O’Connor on this release? The sound is so well defined, it sounds as though you’ve all been collaborating together for years!
I’ve been working with Matt for a few years now so we know each other well. He knows my limits and also my potential. He set me up with Elliot and we recorded it all in a week. There was a lot of pre-production work prior to hitting the studio which made the process quite smooth.
If you could write a song with anybody, dead or alive, who’d you choose and what would it be about?
Ermagerd! Such a great question and so hard! My first pick would be Leonard Cohen. I love the way his focus is the lyrics with the music operating as a means to carry and express the words. Words and the way they sound together, what they can express and articulate is my main drive in songwriting, so Leonard Cohen is just a huge inspiration. I’d love to work with Joni Mitchell too, I find her braveness and courage in being vulnerable with her perspectives and feelings so incredible. I’d also have picked Amy Winehouse who I think completely changed the landscape of songwriting.
Your three top album recommendations – go!
Blue – Joni Mitchell. The most incredible album. It deals with her being forced to put her child up for adoption, being in love, depression, loneliness. It is completely raw and brave – and while that can be quite self-indulgent to listen to, the grace and strength in her songwriting and expression removes all that and just creates a masterpiece of real life.
Back to Black – Amy Winehouse. I was sort of an odd kid. I was obsessed with old Hollywood films like The Thin Man, anything with Marilyn Monroe, Billy Wilder films, Alfred Hitchcock. Writers like Arthur Miller, Truman Capote, The Bronte Sisters, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg. And singers like Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Piaf. I wasn’t quite sure how to channel it all into a contemporary space and within my work. Then this album came along which constantly referenced the past in its sounds, lyrics and style yet everything Amy was saying and singing was contemporary and real. She made me feel normal and cool. I am still obsessed with this album. Her first one Frank is amazing too!
Tapestry- Carole King. I’d never really heard or thought about songwriting until I heard this album. I discovered it when I was about fourteen and it changed how I thought about music. The entire thing from start to finish is perfect.
Finally, we adore the Wolves EP and we want some more! Any exciting news we should keep an eye out for?
Ah thank you so much! This EP means so much to me and to hear people love it, makes me so happy! I’ve written a lot of new material during lockdown and about to head into the studio soon to really get them going! Watch this space.