There are far fewer strings of words equating to the highest praise, you can give to describe a record than “this is what has touched me the absolute most” in the entire year of listening to record upon record…upon record…upon record. Emily Mure has devoid my legs of movement and my voice and mind from spouting much more than this. Her songs on her latest record “Worth” have (in the best way possible) left me absolutely speechless, empty in description but full of questions.
I was recently listening to Joe Pug’s ‘The Working Songwriter’ in which it was mentioned one of the highest compliments you can give another songwriter is when you see them play live or hear a new song it immediately forces a shockwave of emotion and creativity into your body. You feel the need to create and write and through some form of innovative osmosis, their art is transferred into you. That is how this record makes me feel. My heart is broken and completely full at the same time. These songs devastate me with their beauty but give me an overwhelming sense of hope with their light and lift.
To say it was an honor to talk with Emily about these songs is an understatement beyond description. So, just get on into it below and get this record today…or pick up a hard copy at a release celebration show. Emily will be with the full band on Wednesday (9/20) at Club Passim and then at Rockwood in NYC the following evening (9/21).
RLR: Let’s talk about the record title. ‘Worth’ can take on a lot of meanings. Self reflecting or imparting of those word upon others. The song itself proclaims, “you don’t know your worth, your own worth / you don’t know”. But it isn’t necessarily a “YOU!”, I feel like its a more of an “us”, perhaps we all have something to learn from looking introspectively about what we really are worth, and what we can be. Why choose this song as the title track? How do you feel it summates the whole of the project?
EM: YES. You nailed this perfectly. This song is for everyone. I initially wrote it for someone specific in mind, but when I started to sing it more, I realized I needed to hear it as well. Ultimately, it became an offering to others who might need a reminder of their own self worth. After writing and recording these songs, it became apparent that Worth was the obvious title for the record. It’s what’s at the center of these songs, seeking out a sense of self worth by looking inward.
RLR: “Worth” is also probably the most uptempo of the tracks. I wouldn’t say downtrodden, but there is certainly a blue feeling to the record as a complete work…and I guess to be honest, we have a lot to be blue about these days. They are equally heartbreaking and heartwarming, if that makes any sense. Where were you at when you were writing these songs?
EM: This is definitely a bit of a dark album. Believe it or not, I was a in a pretty good place when I wrote most of these songs. Though, I was dealing with some difficult things, I was also in a sort of recovery process from an emotionally darker time in my life. I was also really getting into meditation. The thing I find most fascinating and helpful about mindfulness meditation is the practice of being with whatever is at the moment, and not trying to push away difficult emotions.
I think these songs came from years of building up the courage and ability to be able to look back and within and process things honestly. Acknowledging things like fear, regret and anxiety and write about them without abstraction and with an intention of healing.
RLR: In that same vein, I found it interesting to see that this was recorded over the winter at Dimension Sounds. Did you find that the timing of when you recorded seeped its way into the sound at all?
EM: Probably. The first thing Zachariah said in the studio after listening to the recorded versions of these songs for the first time was “well, these aren’t your summertime hits..” and he’s totally right. It made sense to record them when it was just approaching the time of year that you want to be holed up in your house with a blazing fire going. Or for us, holed up in the studio for 12 hours a day for a week. Actually, many of these songs were written in previous winters while living in Boston (including THAT winter). We lived in a small one room cottage with a terrible heating system. We tried not to turn the heat on at night if it was more than 30 degrees outside because it got so expensive. I imagine this influenced my writing.
RLR: “the day after tomorrow you will know the truth of it all / this is no kind of loving, and I am not covering anything up”, thats a pretty direct and open line. These songs feel incredibly personal but at the same time, you have managed to share a little bit of yourself while allowing folks listening to impart their own selves into these songs. Thats a hard thing to really nail down and excel at…but damn, I feel you in these songs, but I also feel myself in a lot of ways. Its magic. How much of that is purposeful? When you are writing is that a big part of your process?
EM: This is a very personal song. My fear was that it was too personal, that others might not be able to relate because it is so specific. When writing it, I gave myself the permission to say whatever I needed to say because I never intended to record it. If I really think about it, that’s actually a big part of my process.. giving myself the permission to write whatever I need to write, without the pressure of having to share it. It’s a hard thing to do, but I think that’s why I tend to write when I’m overcome with emotion and not thinking about the end result.
I am always amazed at how much people relate to these songs. And that’s actually the true joy of songwriting for me, and the magic of music in general, maybe. These things that might be so personal to the writer are actually felt pretty universally. In the song “What Light”, Wilco says “and if the whole world’s singing your songs / and all your paintings have been hung / just remember what was yours is everyone’s from now on”. That wasn’t why I started writing songs, but it’s why I continue to share them.
EM: Thank you Brian. I actually had about a year of vocal training before making this record. I took voice lessons with the intention of attaining a more healthy approach to singing and to strengthening my voice.
Yes, I do think that writing, singing and performing is a way of coping with things. This is not to say it’s easy. I find performing very difficult and I really have to work at it, even though I’ve been performing since I was a kid. My song “Cope and Thread” is about exactly that. I have been dealing with different forms of anxiety for a long time, and it used to be pretty debilitating, to the point of Agoraphobia. In fact, the original title for ‘Cope and Thread’ was ‘An Agoraphobic Ballad”, but I thought this would give the song too much of a narrow focus and I think the song can speak to many things. But for me, writing and performing has been a sort of antidote to the fear of public humiliation (hah!). It gives me confidence, teaches me how to forgive myself and reminds me that I belong.
Speaking to the balance of beauty and pain, ever since I was little, I was drawn to the words of poets who spoke about their pain in beautiful ways (Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, e. e cummings). So to cope, I tend to search for the beauty in pain. And music is the best way I know to further illustrate that connection.
RLR: Aside from your voice, what I find to be the most striking part of these songs is the exceptional work done with intricately woven layers of quivering bows and gentle plucked notes. It really surrounds your head and creates a kind of pillowy envelope you can kind of lose yourself in. ‘Welfare Island’ is especially good at this. I find myself completely awash in the song and drifting weightless in it. Did you come up with a lot of these arrangements ahead of time on your own? Did they kind of play out in studio as the songs developed? What was the process of building these up from the bones of the songs as they started in your head?
EM: I can’t tell you how much time went into the precision of detail in arranging, but I can tell it, it was A LOT.
My cellist (Audrey Q. Snyder) wrote most of the cello arrangement for “Welfare Island” and I tweaked it. In the studio, Zachariah added these spooky sounds on bass and electric guitar swells in the background that gave it that added texture. I wrote most of the violin and cello parts for the rest of the songs ahead of time. Where the other musicians added their own personal touches, Dan Cardinal (co-producer) and I were very precise and methodical about what moments to keep and where to place things in the mix. What was most fun about making this record, was working with Dan to incorporate my arrangements and the voices of others to enhance the narrative. I wish I could do that every damn day.
RLR: Zach plays like 18 instruments on this. I think that should happen on every record. How much were the other artists you tapped to be involved in recording these songs influential in the end product?
EM: I think this should happen on every record too. Working with him is a dream. The artists we worked with on this project were very influential on the end result. Once we had my pre-written arrangements in place, Zachariah came in for a day and a half (with a million instruments in tow) and just tried things out. We let Isa Burke (fiddle) do her thing on “Roommate’s Predicament” and “Worth”. Audrey Q. Snyder (cello), who I’ve been working with for years, was a big help with arranging cello parts and workshopping them with me before recording. “Cope and Thread” and “Come Clean” were kind of blank slates, and Zachariah came in and did his magic and we just helped produce. Elise Leavy, who sings on a lot of the songs, has an incredible ear for interesting harmonies, much of which we worked out together before going into the studio. And then of course, Dan, who was sort of the magician who helped bring all of these beautiful influences together.
RLR: As we have highlighted before on the site, you are the queen of covers…and I mean that is a really good way. You have found a way to take a song and really make it your own. Including “As the World Falls” on this record, I mean, it dovetails perfectly with the other songs, it feels like “an Emily Mure song” in the treatment you have given it, but its a kind of easter egg for fans of Bowie (or Labyrinth…seriously, that movie is pure nostalgia gold for me). Why this song?
EM: This song was my own little thank you to Bowie. Labyrinth was my favorite movie growing up and the night that Bowie passed, my husband and I watched it for the first time in years. This song was one of my favorites and that night, it just struck me. I needed to sing it. I wanted to take that incredible 80’s pop arrangement and give it a modern feel. That bass line is just so perfect and I knew it would sound magical on cello. I think the best way I know how to honor an artist is to directly show their influence with a new spin, it’s one of my favorite things to do. And Dan got to geek out and do fun things on the production side, like using a similar reverb and effect system on my voice that Bowie would have used on his in the 80’s.
RLR: A couple tunes on the album have kind a waltzy vibe. Songs like “Come Clean” , “Roomate’s Predicament” , “Almost Everything”, “David” all share that dance, the 3/4 feel. It’s not necessarily an obscure time signature or sound, but perhaps not something that inhabits much of modern folk or indie stuff. When I think of a waltz, I mean it elicits a smokey, dim lit barroom or speakeasy with red curtains and a piano in the middle of the room, a different time, but certainly captures a specific emotion and feeling. These songs work brilliantly in that way. Why do you think those songs fell into that time signature for you?
EM: At a songwriting class at Miles of Music Camp, Eric Frey of The Revelers talked about how he had trouble writing anything other than waltzes. To the point where he’d wake every morning, look in the mirror, and say to himself something like “I will not write a waltz today!” That’s how I felt for the two years I was writing these songs. I don’t know how it started but once it did, I couldn’t stop. It must have been for that same dim lit room feel you’re speaking of. I also love the dancy motion it puts into your body, no matter how somber the song.
It was really tough trying to decide on song order for this record with so many waltzes and so many songs in B major. I actually had an impromptu song order party, where some of my friends and I wrote the titles of the songs on single pieces of paper, rearranged the sequence of them, and listened to the album in different orders. I have some very good, patient friends.
RLR: Just want to say, the way that Roommate’s ends on the hanging organ and goes directly into Cope and Thread…so cool. Any reason behind that, or did it just shake out that way?
EM: When I was a kid I used to seek out albums that had this kind of transition because I loved it. It’s been a goal to do that on one of my records. Dan and I realized this would be totally possible, especially since there were so many songs in the same key. When we decided to put organ on “Cope and Thread”, it seemed to be the perfect way to link it to another song. It was either going to be from “Waiting For Change” or “Roommate’s Predicament”, but with “Waiting For Change” being a natural opener and “Cope and Thread” being a better later-in-the-record song, these two seemed to fit together better.
Emily Mure’s “Worth” is out this week (9/22). You can pre-order it HERE and be sure to check Emily out on tour in support of the album.