Emma Louise is relaxing by the fireplace at her home when she answers her phone. Her voice is a friendly murmur; a contrast to the smoky baritone she uses across her latest album Lilac Everything. “Yeah, it definitely sounds like I’ve been chainsmoking some serious ciggies,” she laughs. That voice is actually the result of studio trickery dating back to 2010 when she recorded her debut single “Jungle”. “When I was 19 I heard my voice slowed down on tape and I fell in love with it. I was like, I’m going to do a whole album like this one day.”
Lilac Everything is Emma’s third album, after 2013’s Vs Head Vs Heart and 2016’s Supercry. While that voice – she’s named it Joseph – has been around since before her career took off, the journey to creating her new album really began when she made the impulsive decision to travel to Mexico.
“I just wanted to be somewhere completely different,” she says. “There was something about going to Mexico that was a novelty to me. [The idea came] while I was writing the song “Mexico”. I was at home on the piano and I had a few wines, and I wrote the first few lines which said, “I’m gonna catch a flight to Mexico”. I wrote the next few verses and then was like, yeah, I’m gonna book a flight to Mexico.”
Emma had three days to prepare for her trip. It was through a friend she was introduced to Joe and Manny Hadlock, an American couple who offered to accommodate her. This chance meeting with The Hadlock’s would have a much bigger impact on Emma’s album than expected. Their record collection, featuring Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Drake, helped influence the stripped-back sound on the album, which combined with the distance from home helped her give herself “permission to write whatever was coming out”. In addition to owning a fine record collection, the Hadlock’s also own Bear Creek Studio in Seattle, where the likes of Soundgarden, Modest Mouse and Foo Fighers have all recorded. Leaving things to chance once again, Emma decided to record the album there, too.
That same impulse that led Emma to book a flight to Mexico returned when she contacted Canadian musician Tobias Jesso Jr. “I sent one of the songs, “Wish You Well”, to him,” she says. “I wasn’t really expecting a reply, but he said he really liked it. I then went to L.A., we met and I showed him the songs. I played him the songs because originally we were maybe going to write songs together, but I kind of already wrote a whole album. He didn’t think there was much he could do. I asked him if he would produce it, and he said, ‘I’ve never really done it before’. But I knew that he would do a really good job.”
As the sessions on the album wound up, Joseph’s deep baritone voice tickled Emma’s impulsive streak. “It was during the session when we were adding harmonies and stuff,” she says. “We did this album not at all expecting it to sound the way it did vocally. When I heard the vocals pitched down on all of these songs I just felt that it was definitely absolutely the right thing for the album, like it was meant to be like that. It was more so like a feeling rather than thinking about it too hard. Everyone was like, ‘I don’t think that’s a very good idea’. But me and Tobias were like, This is definitely where it’s at.”
Emma Louise is currently planning on taking Lilac Everything on tour, and bringing Joseph with her. The way she talks about Joseph is like he’s a real person – a little devil on her shoulder giving her ideas – but for her he’s just a part of her. “For me, to pitch down my vocals like that doesn’t seem crazy because it’s still me but it’s just a different expression of myself. It’s just a different part of me.”
Lilac Everything: A Project By Emma Louise is out now through Liberation Records.