the AU interview: Prudence Rees-Lee (Melbourne)

Prudence Rees-Lee is one artist that you may not have heard of yet, but her name will soon be on everyone's lips. Her recently released single "Emanuelle" is the first single from her forthcoming album Court Music from the Planet Love. The AU review caught up with Prudence and spoke about all things music.

"Emanuelle" was only just released about a week ago, how have you found people's responses?

It's been wonderful! It's the first anyone ever has heard of this music which I've been working away at all year so it's really exciting that people seem to enjoy it, particularly as it's not an especially fashionable genre.

You use some interesting instrument combinations in "Emmanuelle", how did you come up with those ideas for a song?

I found I was increasingly drawn to the harpsichord setting on my keyboard and began writing songs which revolved around that. At the same time a lot of people around me seemed to be getting into electronic music and all those wonderful synth sounds, so being instinctively contrary I decided to take it the other way and make a medieval tinged folk/classic pop album.

So I borrowed a harpsichord from the Early Music Society and began recording that, building up the arrangement as I went. It was important to me to have a song which had a really ripping string arrangement as I spent so many years studying cello and wanted to use those skills, then the rest fell into place.

It's a really unique video clip for "Emmanuelle", was there any sort inspiration for your choreography? And why the colour choice of purple and red?

Well, I'm into colour blocking! Also, I really love ballet design all throughout the 20th century and have a small collection of books which document it. The cover of one book features a still from a production called 'Jazz Calander' which has two dancers dressed in red and purple in a giant red and purple set, as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to be one of those dancers! After we shot the clip I found out Derek Jaman did the production design for Jazz Calander, he also did video work with Marianne Faithful, Throbbing Gristle, Brian Ferry and Patti Smith among others, so it was an accidently appropriate point of reference!

The choreography draws on lots of things, martial arts (I reached my black belt in Shukokai Karate a few years ago), yoga and meditation, ideas of mirrors, doubles and repetition, renaissance and courtly dance, non narrative choreography like that of Merce Cunningham and free movement.

There's a bit of a medieval spring dance feel, in the music and that's reflected in the clip. What music from the past do you draw inspiration from?

Oh boy! I'm not really sure where to start. Before I started writing for the album I was listening a lot to female singers who didn't necessarily have 'strong' voices, like Jane Birkin and Claudine Longet, and the men behind their music (Gainsbourg and Andy Williams respectively, both of whom were really fantastic arrangers).

But I draw influence from music from all over the place, which may not be immediately discernible listening to the song. I've been listening to lots of folk and soft psych artists like Linda Perhacs, Sally Oldfield and Vashti Binyun and I'm interested in epic multi-disciplenary works where music is the catalyst for ushering in a new age, like Scriaban's unfinished Mysterium and Wagner's Ring Cycle.

And of course I love pop music Meatloaf, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and The Carpenters, and more prog music like King Crimson, Moody Blues and Jeff Wayne. On top of that there's always the lingering influence of classical music I listened to and played as a teenager - Vivaldi, Vaughan Williams and Dvorak are the ones which come through most on the album, plus devotional music and religious folk from the late 60s, which is probably where the medieval sound comes from. I could probably answer this question forever!

And it sounds like you've had a bit of drama recently with a trip to the hospital? Are you on the mend?

Yes, that's very sweet of you to ask. I was riding my bike and got knocked by a car and my wrist had to be operated on. I'm spending some time at my parent's house in Port Fairy by the fire and being looked after by my family, watching horror films and eating red lentil soup, it's pretty good.

How do you find working solo, as opposed to as a duo when you're working with Hammocks and Honey?

I find it quicker and tend to be better at making decisions about things when I'm on my own. The processes weren't that different though, with Hammocks I usually write the song and then Alex and I work on the arrangement and production together, which was pretty much what I did with my solo work except I'd do all the arranging as well.

Court Music from the Planet Love is set to be released in April 2013, what's happening for you between then and now?

Hopefully getting some movement back in my wrist once the cast is removed early next year! Then I'm really really looking forward to playing some shows and rehearsing the material with a band, the album is a real studio affair so I've never had the opportunity to hear it all live myself!

You did a bit of work with other musicians for the album, which collaboration experience was most interesting or valuable for you?

They were all interesting and valuable in different ways and I learnt different things with everyone, I couldn't choose one above anyone else! Simon Grounds and I spent the most hours together and his input and creativity really helped shape the overall sound, Lehmann (guitar) was involved very early on and was incredibly patient while I worked everything out and changed the arrangements all the time, and Shags (bass), Cinta (drums) and Helena (flute) all came along for sessions and just laid down their parts with flair like total pros. As each new person came to record it was so exciting, even though a lot of parts were written before hand actually hearing them played was pretty thrilling, and I was touched at how much effort everyone made.

Court Music from the Planet Love is due out April 2013, and is Prudence Rees-Lee's debut album.