From The Horse’s Mouth: Emma Ruth Rundle on Some Heavy Ocean

Emma Ruth Rundle

Emma Ruth Rundle

Known for her work in Red Sparowes, Marriages, and The Nocturnes, Emma Ruth Rundle’s first official solo album Some Heavy Ocean presents a collection of impassioned, cathartic songs exorcising the ghosts of one of life’s dark detours.  Melancholic, but equally hopeful and accessible, the album wears its emotions on its sleeve.  One critic described Rundle’s voice as “bone-chilling texture filled to the brim with intent”, and a better description is difficult to imagine; when paired with her compelling guitar playing, and enduring spirit takes root.

 Some Heavy Ocean will be available everywhere on CD, LP and digital formats on May 20 from Sargent House and Ghettoblaster caught up with her to discuss it.  This is what she told us about the undertaking.

When did you begin writing the material for your debut solo record, Some Heavy Ocean?  

I’m always writing this kind of music in my quieter moments and probably starting doing so when I first picked up the guitar. The Nocturnes was my band and conduit for the folkier stuff- I decided after “Aokigahara” that I would start putting this music out under my name, which I had initially avoided because in doing so many different kinds of music alone and in various bands, etc., I didn’t want to get pigeon holed as a singer-songwriter. Once I put that idea aside, I began writing a lot more. All of the songs on Some Heavy Ocean were written between the summer of 2012 and 2013. Many lyrics and arrangements did not come together until I started the long process of recording the album.

What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing?  Why was it so troublesome?

Well, I can tell you the story of the title song, “Some Heavy Ocean.”  So before it became a swirly sound piece, “Some Heavy Ocean” was a song called “The Riches of Summer’s Death.” It was a dark wave song by The Headless Prince of Zolpidem – my somewhat anonymous (until this interview) downtempo, somewhat creepy electronic dark wave project. I guess the best way to describe it would be like putting on a Kate Bush record, taking some sleeping pills (hence the name) and holding your finger on the vinyl until the world slurs. SO this THPOZ song of mine that I loved so much- I tried to turn it into a folk song by simply switching all the lush synth chords and changes over to very basic acoustic guitar- it was an experiment. I was hoping to find out if a song with somewhat of a pop sensibility, obscured as it was behind THPOZ, could be successfully translated to another genre, maintaining its integrity, in other words… to see if it was still pleasant to hear. The song became “City of Light” and Chris Common and I recorded it in the studio.

We went to great lengths to “fix” that song- the experiment was a total failure- no amount of pedal steel, bass or spacing the song out into infinity could save it. “City of Light” was just terrible- a bad song- nothing at like its darker twin who I had loved so much! So I asked Chris to bounce what we had and I brought it into Logic and dismantled all the parts- did away with much of the song- and reconstructed what is now “Some Heavy Ocean” and is one of my favorite songs now, ha. I’ll never be able to really play it live but it is a small nod to other, more ambient music I make… I like that about it.

Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?

Yes, indeed! The most impactful of which is the unparalleled violinist, Andrea Calderon, of Corima. Her playing and singing really changed the record. I should also mention that she wrote all her own parts and vocal harmonies. I feel so lucky to have captured that beautiful lady! Henry Kohen (Mylets) played some guitar on a song. Greg Burns played some very tasteful pedal steel on a few songs as well. Chris Common also contributed so much to the record in the way of playing bass quite a bit and doing some singing. He is responsible for all the drumming and percussion too.

Who engineered, produced and mastered the record?  What input did they have that changed the face of the record?

Chris Common engineered the record and both he and I produced it together. Chris and I spent so much time locked away working on this project together- I really can’t imagine how else it could have happened. I know he put his heart into it as much as I did- it was a long process and took a lot out of both of us. We collaborated on much of what you hear but Chris is the one who was able to get all the sounds- He records things so beautifully. He took his time in trying many different ways for us to capture things and each song reflects that. He also knew what was lacking, where songs needed help and was able to invent a fix or play something himself or make suggestions here and there. He’s in this record, a master of his craft and a brilliant musician. Very grateful to have had that time with him. He also mixed about 80 percent of it. The rest was mixed and mastered by Marty Rifkin, who I had worked with before on “Aokigahara.” Also a master but different and I can hear the distance between his mixes and Chris’. Both are good but different.

Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?

No, there really isn’t. It’s just a series of expressions realized by the simplicity of guitar and voice. I imagine that much of the music I make in this way will maintain its tone or mood- I will say that the year in which the songs were written and even through recording and mixing was one of the hardest times for me… maybe that translates into a theme but not a concept.

Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?

While I have played them at a few very small private engagements, I cannot really claim to have “played them live” in the way that one does on a tour. I look forward to doing so and finding out, although feedback can be a dangerous thing for some of us. Ha!

(Listen to the first track premiere from Emma Ruth Rundle’s debut solo album for the song “Arms I Know So Well” here on Pitchfork.  Pre-order the record here.)