Emily Jane White Prepares for her Third Album Release This Spring
Reprinted with permission from “The Deli Magazine”
“That’s the cool thing about art, it can transcend things,” mused San Francisco based singer-songwriter Emily Jane White, when I sat down with her in the recording studio to discuss her music. “Everything I write is from my perspective, so it’s filtered through my body, my lens,” White explained. She went on to say that although her viewpoint is one of the white middle class, political statements expressed through music can go beyond the original meaning they had to the writer, and reach out to other people while still giving voice to the songwriter’s experience. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately—what makes music political, how is it political. It is automatically, music has to be political, because the personal has a political nature to it. When it’s a big issue, then you are one amongst many expressing yourself. But when it’s something specific, like a catastrophe, then I try to be more subtle and suggestive about it.”
On her second solo release, Victorian America, White sings on the title track “She lost her home in Victorian America; it was the biggest things she’d ever known. A giant flood overtook Louisiana, but it took more than just the city of New Orleans.” In this smart and poetic form, White is able to make a fascinating and reflective statement, which is delivered beautifully, but with no less sting.
White’s first CD, Dark Undercoat, was released in 2007 to critical acclaim in Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, and since then she has continued to receive rave reviews from Spin, Paste, Fader and others. Her latest album was released in the U.S. in April, although the songs on it had actually been around for many years. It came out earlier last year in Europe, so by the time it came out here she was already eager to come up with new material.
“The music community here is very supportive and welcoming,” White smiled. “There are a lot of medium sized clubs, which are really accessible. It is a convenient urban place. It is great for local smaller shows, although there aren’t house shows or any abandoned houses,” White laughed. She first broke into performing by constantly doing house shows while living in Santa Cruz.
The musicians that provide her band are all incredibly talented and provide an amazing orchestral sound, perfect for her dark, romantic storytelling and melodic voice. “Working with a band, I wanted to make my second album more epic and dramatic. The reason my first album sounded more punk, with surf sounds, is probably due to the electric guitar compression I was working with.”
Her band came together for the most part through mutual friends, although cellist and violinist Jen Grady and Carey Lamprecht approached White to play with her. Grady is quite the collaborator, and is now a member of Adam H. Stephens’ (Two Gallants) band, for his solo album that comes out in September. The string arrangements perfectly suit the songs on “Victorian America”, and give them both a classic beauty and an exciting urgency. White’s band is a fantastic fit for listeners who appreciate musical complexity.
Taking piano lessons from an expressive arts therapist helped White learn improvisation techniques. “I started writing songs on the piano at 15,” White explains. She grew up in Fort Bragg, an isolated community which helped form her musical and poetical sensibilities. At UC Santa Cruz, White majored in American Studies with a focus on gender studies. In college, she was able to break into the music world and played in a couple of different bands. Spending a year in France after college was what steered her towards being a musician, after so much encouragement by enthralled French audiences.
Her attachment to France, and European audiences, has enabled her to keep a lower profile in her home state. “In France, they are receptive and rewarding, it’s such an appropriate, idyllic and supportive environment,” White raved. But she does feel very indebted to her musical compatriots in the Bay Area, “I am grateful to have people working with me to explore the thing in life that I’ve decided to pursue. Connecting with people is great, and the community of it. It’s like a whole different world, I get to examine this other part of myself all the time, that otherwise might not be examined. Getting to explore one part of myself deeply is interesting.”
It is no wonder that White has such a perceptive and sensitive eye towards herself and others—she was working at an organization that dealt with cases of domestic violence before she became a musician full time. “I am very interested in psychotherapy. So I might still end up doing that someday.”
Her studies at Santa Cruz still influence her songwriting, particularly her focus on mythology, “I am very into literary gothic imagery, and exploring facets of suffering. Folk music is a great medium to explore mythology.”
To enhance White’s already amazing songs, check out a few of the beautifully shot music videos, for the song “A Shot Rang Out”, from her newest CD, or “Wild Tigers I Have Known”, the title track for the film of the same name. All videos are directed by fellow Santa Cruz alumni Cam Archer. “His videos are really sweet. He comes up with ideas randomly. He’s very spontaneous. We used props from the movie, and Aaron Platt, the cinematographer from the movie, filmed the video. Cam takes all the official photos of me as well, and produces the videos.”
Another interesting video by Archer is for the song “Dagger” off her first record, which she explains, “Was made using footage he already had of an actress. He edited it well to suit the song. I do have certain images in my head whenever I play a song, and it’s nice to know that the songs have an essence that is associated with them.”
The great thing about White’s raw songwriting style is that she certainly maintains that matter-of-fact attitude in her offstage persona as well. While she is completely sweet and approachable, she still plainly admits, “There are drawbacks to being a musician, I mean I think that people underestimate how hard you do work, even though you get to do something you love. There is the time, and the traveling and exhaustion.”
White is certainly engaged with the creative minds surrounding her, with her current band, “They are very tasteful. We come together and do free form. We’re all in a similar range, with how we’ll imagine a song would sound. They have a good grasp of what works for me in songwriting.”
After listening to her music on repeat for the past couple weeks, the line that always resonates with me is from the song “Dark Undercoat”: “And if I was a deep bathtub, would you sink down, to the bottom of my love?” Yes Emily, yes we certainly would.
Emily Jane White’s new album Ode To Sentience will be released in Europe on November 8th on Talitres Records and in the US early next year.