Sometimes an artist defies all categorization and must simply be thought of as a writer of ‘great music’. Emma Ruth Rundle, despite her own struggles with feelings of inadequacy, is unquestionably such an artist. Her latest album Marked For Death is indubitably one of the year’s most rewarding of listens, even if it can leave you feeling emotionally drained – but hey, shouldn’t all great music do that? I caught up with Emma after her tour with Wovenhand during which she reveals that she fulfilled a dream. Read on for her thoughts on art, emotions, restlessness, travel and religion and do yourself a favour and seek out Marked For Death. It’s on Sargent House and is out now.
GB: Please tell me about the origin of the title of your new album – Marked For Death. I suppose in the end this appraisal applies to us all, but as in the title song you ask…
‘Who else is going to love someone like you who’s marked for death?’
…Perhaps there is a more specific meaning behind the statement?
ERR: The song tells tale of an unravelling relationship between alcoholics with a downward trajectory or death wish.
GB: For something of a dark title and sound Marked For Death still manages to feel like a sort of love album – is that a fair perception and how important in your eyes is your portrayal the fine line between darkness and light, love and hate, joy and sorrow?
ERR: You are not wrong to feel that the album is about Love. With some of the songs, particularly Real Big Sky, the line is fine and the duality painted clearly. A hopefulness in demise or perhaps just transformation.
GB: I can’t help but feel an immense outpouring of emotion when listening to your music. I think that to illicit such strong response, of course, there must have been a great deal of emotional release on your part when writing and recording the songs. Is there a great deal of catharsis involved when you write/record/perform?
ERR: There is, and to be honest, it’s made it hard for me to complete this interview in a timely manner. The process of writing this record, living in isolation in the desert last winter- all the experiences the songs describe are fraught with unrest and have weighed on me. I came off of tour a few weeks ago. I was in Europe for a few months some of which was touring with Wovenhand. Anyway- I received this request mid tour and found it very difficult to confront anything on top of playing the shows. I find it all to be extremely draining and I have wondered whether or not it is in my best interest to be playing this record live at all, to be honest.
GB: How would you compare and contrast the feelings you experience from your work with Marriages and your solo material?
ERR: Marriages is a band – a collaboration between myself and Greg or at least that’s how it started. My solo material is written and mostly performed alone. The solo work is much more personal and direct.
GB: Talking about your tour with Wovenhand, do you get nervous about touring and playing live and has the attraction to touring yet been overshadowed by the inconveniences and discomforts, or are you still enjoying it fully? How did the opportunity with Wovenhand arise?
ERR: Touring is hard. It’s hard physically and emotionally. I can’t imagine doing this for another 10 years. I get very nervous that I will spin out as I have in the past with drinking or drugs and that my body is just going to break.
This last tour was really the best one I’ve done as far as maintaining health as sanity is concerned. I get very nervous before I play and that really doesn’t seem to go away with the years. Marriages toured with Wovenhand last year- we have the same management really- we got along last tour and they were kind enough to have me as a solo artist this round.
GB: Alongside your album I’ve become equally emotionally attached (and drained) by 40 Watt Sun’s latest album. As with your own, there is something about Patrick Walker’s voice that just kills me. Do you know the band (and Warning before them)? I think that the gig with the two of you would have been just be almost too much to handle.
ERR: Same here- I’m so moved by and slightly obsessed with The Inside Room. I have not listened to Warning – slightly embarrassed to admit. We did in fact play a show in London on the 19th of October together at the end of the Wovenhand run. It was a dream come true- I definitely cried.
GB: I know that Patrick is greatly influenced by some amazing singer songwriters like June Tabor and Kris Kristofferson among others. Is there any similarity in your main influences? I only ask as I look for a common link between both yours and his amazing capacity to make my heart ache!
ERR: I can’t say that either of those artists have impacted my writing but there are dozens who have. I’m a child of the ‘90s, really. Artists like PJ Harvey and Tori Amos were huge for me growing up but really there’s so much. Both my parents were musicians and exposed me to a very broad spectrum of sound, not that it really translates. It’s sort of become a joke for people but I’m a huge fan of Smashing Pumpkins, particularly Siamese Dream. The guitar playing of Chris Whitely has some sway on my soul for sure, too- and the list goes on.
GB: You seem like a very restless individual, with all your projects and work. Is there a part of you that fears relaxing and doing absolutely nothing, or is it more a case of ‘you can rest when you’re dead?’
ERR: I feel worthless almost all the time and struggle to fill the void. Some governing part of me has held that the more work I make or art I create will help to define me and validate my existence. I feel a constant need to contain experience in an effort to view it, separate from me. I want to see the material and know something more about myself. At least this is how I’ve worked until now. I would like to move on into something healthier but I need therapy or something. I am afraid of sitting still but feel paralyzed most of the time. It’s very problematic for me in that I find myself living like a gypsy, moving from one person’s house to another when I’m not hyper focused on a project. It’s not a sustainable way of living.
GB: I’ve read that you also paint. I wonder if it would be possible for you to send an image of something you’ve done recently so that I can include it in the interview. What part of yourself is satisfied by painting in a way that music can’t touch?
ERR: I will certainly send you some photos of what I’m working on. It’s a series that deals with children’s fantasy and mentally tilted imaginations. The pieces are multimedia and set to include childlike materials i.e. construction paper, watercolour, glitter etc. I would like to bust out the oil paints again someday and do bigger work but that involves committing to one place for a few months, ha. There are somethings words just can’t describe, which makes instrumental music and visual art a necessity for me and my need to constantly be making something. The word making part of the brain gets exhausted, does that make sense?
Indeed it does and for those of you who are as excited as I am to see some of Emma’s paintings, keep your eye out here for an update!
GB: How much have you traveled and how have your experiences shaped your approach to music? How important do you think it is to experience a broad range of cultures when it comes to creating meaningful art of any medium?
ERR: Well, I feel like this is really a conversation to be had. I don’t think that there is any ultimate answer or truth without exception here BUT I do believe that, for the most part, or at least FOR ME, that growing up in the diversity of LA on top of travelling both on tours and otherwise has shaped me as a person in ways I cannot FULLY understand. I do not, however, believe it has really affected my art… the act of travel, being IN MOTION is in itself an important part of the music, particular Electric Guitar One which was written and recorded in a sprinter while on tour with Red Sparowes in Europe. I’ve travelled. I lived in New Zealand for a year when I was in my early 20’s. I’ve never been to Asia or Africa but would really love to go in any capacity. I have a lot of ideas of about making art and music and how it relates to one’s own culture that we could really sit down and talk about. Of course, that would be lovely and it seems that we would have an awful lot to talk about. Hopefully one day you will see a part two to this interview that has manifested after a longer conversation, fully exploring these questions and more besides.
GB: There are a couple of references in the song titles that could be seen as religious (‘Hand Of God’ and ‘Heaven’). I wonder what your own beliefs are and your feelings on the state of the world at the moment and whether you think religion is at the heart of many of the problems? Do you think part of the problem arises when beliefs and spirituality are commodified and labelled, creating divides and tensions?
ERR: Division is at the root of the problems, from my perspective. The idea of the other or them/us etc. All these mechanisms we use to define ourselves end up defining what is NOT us and so on. Religion in an obvious target- capitalism is another. Class-ism, race – the list goes on. We are hard wired for self-preservation and I don’t believe we have reached an evolutionary place as a species to fully recognize ourselves as one massive entity. I don’t believe peaceful coexistence is part of our inherent nature. I think religion gives some people hope and purpose. I believe that almost anything can be used as a divisive tool or be perverted in some way. I am not a religious person so cannot fully speak to that but I was dragged through several cults as a child. I think people are looking for a way to sustain themselves and that perhaps the turmoil we are witnessing and experiences is part process of becoming something greater or just an overpopulated planet succumbing to the selfish nature of its predominate inhabitants.
Interview by Geoff Birchenall
Thank you for reading. Thanks to Stephanie Marlow for help in arranging the interview.
Listen to tracks from Marked For Death below.