An Interview With EMERGER
EMERGER talks about debut album
Soundscapes of dreamy, synth-driven melodies, cinematic progressions, powerhouse pop vocals, and punchy hip-hop inspired beats – this is the sonic palate of alt-pop duo EMERGER.
Emma de Goede (vocals/piano) and Gerrit Matthee (producer/multi-instrumentalist) formed EMERGER while studying music at the University of Cape Town. Since the release of their debut mini-album ‘Bloom’ in May 2018, EMERGER has been making waves both nationally and internationally.
I caught up with the duo to talk about the new album and their future plans:
Congrats on your debut album. After the whole process of putting it together, how does it feel to finally have this project out there, and how has it been received so far?
It feels extremely exhilarating to finally be able to share our songs with the world after working on them for so long. The creative journey with this album lasted for more than a year. A lot of love went into the writing, recording and producing of ‘Bloom’, and for people to finally enjoy the album and get to know us as musicians, is so exciting. It’s really humbling and encouraging to get such positive feedback from fans and from reviewers all round.
I can imagine! So, does the album have a specific theme and what do you hope people will take from this project?
We decided to name the album ‘Bloom’ for a couple of reasons that would tie in with our “coming of age” theme. In a sense, at this stage of our careers, EMERGER is like a young flower, on the verge of fully “blooming”. While we were writing and producing the album we were really inspired by nature (Urban Wilderness, Prelude for You, Nomadic Love, Bloom). We were also really intrigued with symbols of duality. The fact that the word “bloom” can be used not only as a noun, but also as a verb, tied into our duality theme. We also put a lot of thought into how we could portray the word ‘bloom’ musically on the album, so we wrote elements into the songs that has that blooming/growing effect.
We hope that when people listen to ‘Bloom’ the songs will evoke a range of emotions and take them on a journey. Hopefully after they’ve finished listening, they’ll have the same feeling one has after watching a powerful movie – you sit and watch the credits roll, but don’t want to leave the cinema and return to the mundane.
In July, you were chosen as Apple Music South Africa’s New Artist Spotlight. Tell me what that means for a new band.
We were thrilled to be featured as Apple Music’s New Artist Spotlight. There are so many great new artists out there and to get this feature so soon after the release of our album and launch of our band, was a true honour. As an independent artist, it is fantastic to be able to share our music with more people on such a great platform. It’s really tricky for new artists to get their music to people’s ears who aren’t in their close vicinity. The New Artist Spotlight feature really propelled our exposure into parts of the world where we never thought people would necessarily listen, e.g. UK, America, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
So, tell me about your song writing process. Who’s responsible for what, or is it just about figuring it out together?
It’s very collaborative. The two of us know each other well and enjoy similar music, so we’re usually confident that either one will come up with something that we both like. There isn’t really a fix method. What usually works for us is, Gerrit will come up with a melody, hook, riff, theme and then start producing a skeleton arrangement. Thereafter, Emma comes in and top lines the melody and lyrics. When a song has progressed a lot, we usually sit together to talk about lyrics, overall production tweaks, soundscapes, and mixing. Thereafter, we take our demo recordings and play to its strengths – we re-record and tweak elements if necessary. When we’re finally finished with this process, we take our productions to a mixing engineer to have the sounds balanced, so that everything sits nicely together in the mix. Once we’ve gone through all the necessary tweaks with the mixing engineer, and all the songs are finished mixing, we send the songs off to mastering.
You both have BMus degrees. Tell me how this influences the way you guys write, but also perform music? Is there a certain element of “getting it exactly right” present? Especially because you understand music so well.
Yes, there definitely is an element of “getting it right.” Studying music teaches you to listen with a critical ear, which we think is a good thing. But there also comes a point, especially during the writing and producing stages, where one has to learn when things are good enough. Nothing can be 100% perfect. Music, like most art is very subjective. Not everyone will like what you’ve created and that’s okay too. All you can do is love what you do and trust that what you’ve created is good enough for yourself. Chances are if you love it, others will love it too. The two of us studied different fields of music – Emma studied Jazz Vocals and Gerrit studied Classical Composition, so this helped us to fuse elements of both streams and then combine it with our mutual love for Pop music. While we studied music formally we sometimes were uninspired by the academic focus of the technicalities and the neglect of “feel” and “emotion” of music – which is what it’s all about in the end – to tell stories with feeling.
And between the two of you, how many instruments do you play? And how did you settle on a sound for EMERGER?
Emma sings and plays piano. Gerrit is a producer and plays guitar, bass, piano, synths and sings backing vocals from time to time. We never really “settled” on a sound for EMERGER – it just happened organically while we were writing and producing the songs. As mentioned earlier, the two of us really enjoy the same types of music and are influenced by the same artists most of the time. Because we know each other so well, we naturally gravitated towards a mutually satisfied sound, blending organic and electronic sounds in a way that complemented our songwriting. Usually that includes reverb soaked synths, punchy drums, modal melodies and harmonies, and song structures that aren’t too conventional. As for the vocals – Emma has such a beautifully unique voice and vocal style. It can be powerful at times, and also very nuanced. She brings so much character to EMERGER’s defining sound.
Indeed! So, besides other artists and music, what inspires you to make music?
Our inspiration really comes from all sorts of different places – from art and film to nature and travel. We feel pretty lucky to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so a lot of our inspiration naturally comes from home and our scenic surroundings. We write about experiences that make us feel nostalgic, our fears and uncertainties about the future and we also draw inspiration from past and personal stories.
And where can we see you perform live next?
We are very excited to be hosting our Live Launch on 18 January 2019 at The Raptor Room in Cape Town. We also have an upcoming show on 26 January at The Brass Bell and 30 January at Café Roux in Shortmarket Street.
Finally, what’s in store for you in 2019? Any big plans?
We have many plans for 2019. Releasing new music and playing shows and festivals are at the top of the list. We’ve been having a lot of fun in studio working on a few new releases (one that may or may not involve an 80’s inspired remix). We’ll soon be releasing a Break & Fall (Versions) EP with a couple of different reimaginations of the song. We’d also like to release a full length album in 2020, so we’ll be working towards that throughout 2019.
Get EMERGER’s music
Images by Alecia van Aarde – Studio A.