It's been five and a half years in the making and the detailed dedication that has gone into producing the best follow-up to 2010's The Law Of Large Numbers really shows as In Search Of Harperfield was released to glowing reviews all round.
Beautifully poignant both lyrically and musically the album is a perfected combination of Emma's wide influences.
As an integral part of The Delgados and the whole Glasgow Alt-Rock scene of the 90's as well as co-founder the Chemikal Underground label, Emma Pollock has created a truly unique body of work on her own terms.
Emma joins the ranks of some great solo artists both established and upcoming releasing really strong material in 2016 ... stay tuned for more on what is turning out to be a great year!
We had a chat to Emma to find out more:
Hi Emma, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us!
So In Search Of Harperfield has had a great reception, you were also BBC 6Music's album of the day, what is really striking about your work is the sense of purpose and feeling that you are doing exactly what you want to do, the way you want to do it.
I’m glad it comes across that way! In the background there’s certainly a lot of uncertainty as the songs are coming together. I think with this album though we both (my producer/husband Paul Savage and I), came at it with the attitude that the album should be ambitious, have a real diversity of sound, and generally not subscribe to any rigid presumptions of what I do or don’t normally sound like. My influences are pretty wide reaching, so I wanted to let go a little and invite more experimentation in, exploring ideas old and new all at once but always capturing a solid atmosphere.
It seems like a great deal of effort has gone into the making of In Search Of Harperfield how has the journey been?
It’s been long! The first track recorded was in fact Dark Skies – which was originally commissioned for a Scottish theatre production back in 2012 (I think!) called ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’. It was a multi-media production with music, dance, drama, spoken word pieces all conveying ideas of what we get up to at 4am if still awake. Dark Skies was inspired by Galloway Forest Park – a Dark Skies status park – this status means that there’s little light pollution and so allows for better quality viewing of the night sky. I grew up in Galloway, in Castle Douglas, so know the park a little.
It was great to get that song recorded. The strings were arranged by a wonderful composer called Malcolm Lindsay who worked with Delgados back in the day. He brought the most wonderful atmosphere to the song with what he did.
The rest of the album was written over the past 4 years, with sporadic weekly visits to the studio to develop ideas further. It was really just Paul and I working on it, which gave us space and time to consider each song carefully. We also played the majority of instruments which might sound restrictive, but in fact encouraged us to just try new things all the time. We did have some expert help with some instruments though – I write on piano often but can’t play it that well so would invite Graeme Smillie of my live band in to record keys for me.
There is a strong sense of narrative in your work, is there a general story or message that you want to put out there with this album?
Well I guess the main theme is the past & family etc. – but then most of the songs I’ve written have been inspired by those elements. The main difference here is that with my mum and grandmother dying at the same time (with 5 hours of each other) it brought so many topics into focus and songs like ‘Cannot Keep A Secret’ are about my mother’s adoption back in the 30’s in Glasgow – her mum was from Ireland so it wasn’t cool to be pregnant out of wedlock at that time. They had been estranged for 10 years when they died as their relationship throughout their life was difficult due to the adoption and only meeting up later in life.
There are many other themes though. Identity (Vacant Stare), recollection of mischievous teenage altercations in the local park (Parks & Recreation), navigation of playground warfare (In The Company of The Damned).
The single Parks And Recreation seems more guitar based. How do you go about creating individual songs, do you sound out ideas on different instruments?
Well the original song idea is written on either guitar or piano (I can play the first but not the second!) so the funny thing is that the piano songs are sometimes more ambitious as I’m not stuck in any routine or habits with it due to me having so little experience. The piano songs have more breadth to them in some respects, they sprawl a bit more, are less rigid. The guitar songs have more typical song structures and sometimes more immediate momentum. Whatever the songs suggests though is the most important thing. I wrote ‘Intermission’ on piano, it was recorded as a string arrangement and live I can also play it on guitar. It’s about finding the ideal presentation for the recording, then being flexible enough when it comes to playing live.
How about live performances, do you prefer the stripped back in-store kind of shows, do you think it is important to make time for intimate performances to really engage with the audience?
I really love playing with the full band actually. This year as I have a lot of shows I have many ways of presenting the songs live. It can be me totally solo with guitar, or as a duo which I did in Spain with my piano player, or a 4 piece (May tour coming up) or with added string quartet and backing vocals which I’ll be doing at the Edinburgh Festival this year. I love the big shows – they bring a weight to the songs. The stripped back shows can be just as great though, as it’s easier to create an intimacy with the crowd. I chat a lot more than I did back in Delgados days...!
You seem to have a wide range of musical influences - is there anyone in particular you would say are so influential that if they didn't exist you wouldn't be doing what you are now?
I’m not sure I could give credit to any one artist - music as a general force has had a huge influence on me since childhood. My mum and dad were huge jazz fans. My mum was a great fan of pop music too and so we spent a lot of time listening to music in our house. I think the influences are crucial though – to listen to as much music as you can, to let it seep in and roll around your head for years. All of these things help to understand how to eventually write a song. It’s pretty obvious that I like the left of centre sounds when writing though – even the straightforward songs I like to present with a twist. I think that’s where a songwriter displays their character.
Is there any band or artist at the moment who is really inspiring musically, or that you think will go far this year / would like to see more of?
Glasgow is teeming with new bands & artists (Tuff Love, Teen Canteen, Catholic Action, Martha Ffion) but it’s hard to say how far a lot of new music will go these days. As people don’t really buy records anymore (sometimes it feels like music has fallen out of fashion bizarrely) there isn’t the same investment in promotion in the first instance, unless you’re talking about a major label. So a lot of great local acts make great records that aren’t heard much further afield then their home scene. They haven’t got the money to tour either so the whole thing contracts. It’s really hard out there for young artists just now.
Monster In The Pack also features RM Hubbert, do you have any more collaborations you would love to do?
It’s always fun working with someone else. You end up writing something that neither artist would have come up with, so a unique result. Hard to say who I’d like to work with but I love a lot of soundtrack composers in fact (Clint Mansell, Thomas Newman). That’d be fun!
What’s next for 2016, you have a string of in-store sessions and the album is out now, so will you be touring extensively or will you get a chance to sit back and soak in your achievements?
I go on tour across the UK this May so looking forward to that. I’ve also done quite a few shows in Spain earlier this month, which was great fun. The UK tour is with the full band so can’t wait to get out there and meet people. That’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing – when you finally get out to perform the songs in front of people and understand how they feel live and how they are responded to. I also have a load of festivals in the summer so it’s going to be a great year!
We caught Emma's fantastic set at Rockaway Beach last year and also at an intimate in-store performance at Southsea's Pie & Vinyl earlier this year ... we highly recommend you catch her live on the dates below!