"The album is very extreme" - Emma Blackery talks hmv.com through debut LP Villains
You hear more and more about artists leveraging the power of social media to build their own followings, no longer reliant on major labels and billboard campaigns to do all the heavy liftings for them. There's no better example of that than Essex singer-songwriter Emma Blackery.
Blackery began vlogging in 2012, eventually building a YouTube base which has over 1.4 million subscribers and over 131 million video views. For the last three years, it has served as a launch pad for her songs, in which she channels the big pop production of Ellie Goulding with a raw, unfiltered lyrical bite.
As her debut album comes to shelves, we spoke to Blackery about deciding the time was right to make a full-length effort and why it is an album inspired by hurt and paranoia...
You’ve released quite a few EPs in your career so far, did you decide that you wanted to write an album or did you just realise you had enough songs to make one?
“I definitely set out with the vision of writing an album, I wanted every song to follow the theme of what I was going through. I lost a few friends last summer and I’d had a relationship break down and I wanted to document how I was feeling. I’d done five EPs and I was constantly being asked if I would do an album and last summer felt like the right time.”
Can you talk us through your collaborators on the album?
“Toby Scott produced the vast majority of the tracks. He completed understood me, understood the songs and how to get the huge pop sound that I wanted to go for. I also worked with a guy called Pete Hutchings, he did three or four songs, the darker, deeper and more storytelling songs. Those songs are less bubblegum and I wanted the contrast.”
How did you find the experience of getting an album together? Building these songs up?
“What I’ve done in the past is write on acoustic guitar, take the songs to a producer and then be open about how they are fleshed out. This time I really took control of the musical direction, I wanted to work with people who understood me, I never felt like I was fighting to keep anything or change anything.”
Was it easy to pick which songs would make the album? Did you end up dropping many?
“A couple of songs got replaced and a few changed directions, a year ago the tracklisting would have been quite different. When we started recording I wrote down a track order and it mostly stayed the same. A couple of songs ended up going by the wayside, but I had a very strong idea of what I wanted.”
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
“I would say ‘Villains Part One’, the opening track. I wrote that, first on a beatmaking app on my phone, two years ago. It’s gone through so many changes, me and Pete Hutchings were incredibly frustrated with it. We came close to scrapping it. In the end, I left the studio after another frustrating day and sat in the car and just put the instrumental on, and then the chorus just came to me and I started singing it. I showed it to Pete the next day and he said ‘Yes! We’ve got it!’. That was a long one.”
You said the album has a theme, can you talk us through that?
“I wanted to tell a story. I wanted to channel all my emotions into it. I don’t know if I’d call it a concept album, but every song handles the idea of friends dropping you or twisting things that you’ve said, especially in the public eye. I was feeling very hurt last summer, very paranoid, I didn’t know who I can trust. I was becoming very quick to judge people. The album is very extreme, it goes from extreme anger to extreme introspection and in the end, not liking the person you’re becoming. Realising that we’re all people, all trying to get through things together.”
When do your lyrics come from? Are you always writing things down?
“I get asked a lot who I wrote songs and it’s all different ways. I have a notepad on my phone that’s full of notes that I think would make good lyrics. Often I get the chords and beat of a song and then the lyrics come around the same time. It usually comes together naturally, I don’t like writing an instrumental and then trying to fit lyrics to it.”
When did you settle on the album title? Were there any other in contention?
“I can’t remember any others. Villains was the only one I had. It’s supposed to be overdramatic as a title that sums up how extreme my feelings were. It’s meant to be over the top, the people I’d fallen out with, they were villains, they were enemies now. It represents all that.”
How are your live plans coming together?
“I’ve got my first ever European tour coming up and I’m rehearsing all these songs. I want to be out on tour next year, I want to be at the festivals, but I need to see how the album does first. I’m ready though, I’ve got an amazing band and I can’t wait to see everyone.”
Finally, you’ve got quite a few hmv signings booked in, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever signed?
“A few weeks ago I signed a girl’s socks, that was one of the more unique ones, her friends had to lift her up so she could put up her sock for me to sign. I’ve signed a few arms, I don’t mind that, but I make people promise not to get it tattooed on them. Being on someone’s body for life is such an extreme thing, I’m always wary of that.”