British songwriter Emma King takes us through her new mini-album which was inspired by her surroundings in Memphis and Nashville
This week is the release of my mini-album The Sun And The Blues. It’s a four-track 10-inch vinyl, recorded live at Sun Studio in Memphis and The House Of Blues in Nashville. After living in Tennessee for over six years I noticed some striking differences between Memphis and Nashville, despite only a few hours connecting them both via the I-40 motorway.
My idea was to inject these findings into a record and draw upon the musical history, the people, the studios, the overall vibe of each city whilst comfortably conforming to the way each studio prefers to produce their music. We decided to record the tracks live so you can really hear the differences in studio set-ups, taking away any musical luxuries.
It was important that the audience really felt part of what we were trying to achieve – so we chose four ‘fan favourites’ and re-recorded them live to tape. It felt crucial to keep it as real and raw as possible to be able to hear those differences in sound. These songs were written with the very talented Ritch Spence whilst travelling across the USA. The Americana-roots/blues-tinged sound grew the more miles we racked up.
It’s impossible not to digest a little flavour when it’s a constant outpour in these cities. It wasn’t only the music we drew from, it was the people, it was the history surrounding the studios, it was the night-time illumination and the energy that would burst onto the scene after 8pm on Broadway. Each side of the vinyl record represents the city, the studio and their unique sound. It was also a chance to hear other musicians interpret our songs and see how the surroundings affected the vibe and creativity.
Side A: The Sun
At Sun Studio we recorded with Matt Ross-Spang and what I loved about this studio session is that you can hear the delightful overspill and vocal distortion. That’s because we all recorded in the same room and I had the drums closely to my left. It was a different approach to music creation; it was raw and the studio oozed authenticity. The magic that was created in this studio from the likes of Elvis and Cash is evident still and the freeze-frame, un-touched recording studio from the 50s is better left unspoilt. It’s proof that vibe over perfection will always be my personal preference.
Here’s a little info about the songs on side A…
All The Other Fools
This is a song from my debut album and it’s about not falling into that safety net of knowing what comes next, especially at the hands of someone else’s decision making. It’s acknowledging that slippery slope and instead, making that conscious effort to live life on your own terms. This song started with the chord progression from Ritch and then the ‘baby’ lyrics and melody from me (shortly after returning from Memphis).
I think we can all probably relate to this, whether it’s skiving from school… not turning up for work or an engagement in the diary. Sometimes we need a break away from the norm and want to play rebel for the day and go on a spontaneous adventure. So we did for six years and then wrote a song about it. Towards the end of my time in America I started to fall more and more in love with Memphis, I felt musically at home and it became my escape city.
Side B: The Blues
The House Of Blues saw us joined by our good friend Jake Nicely who worked and ran one of the most prestigious recording studios on music row, with the likes of Allison Krauss, Dixie Chicks and Dolly flying through the door. His detailed ear and understanding of the Nashville ‘sound’ was a no-brainer when thinking of the right engineer. This studio was everything you imagine from a Nashville studio… it was grand, provided perfect isolation, the ability to track to tape with high-end microphones, converters and sweet tea on tap. It’s a little more slick, confined, high to ‘high mids’ are often present giving each instrument that stream-lined sound. There’s always space for each individual musical contribution to breathe.
Here’s a little info about the songs on side B…
Break The Mould
This is a tip of the hat to all the musicians/creators who came before our generation, it’s something we can only touch the edges of but the legacy, sounds and history will be around forever. You can’t break that or take it away. It’s also about cementing your passion/sound and sticking to your guns, which is not always so easy to do in a business that changes so much. I started this track on guitar, then did a rough guide in GarageBand before Ritch came in and really elevated it with a ‘call and answer’ section.
This is about preserving the precious things we really feel a connection to and that, often, the coolest things are deep, deep underground. Sometimes we’re lucky to find them and often they don’t rise to the top and it’s about acknowledging all those things/beings we never got to see, meet or hear. The greatest things are often hard to find, but that doesn’t mean we should stop searching. I had this chorus when I was wailing in the bathroom (who doesn’t love the acoustics in there!) My verse I didn’t love and Ritch came up with a lower melody which I preferred. We both worked on the lyrics it was very easy to write (which is not often the case). I connected to this song because it took me back to being 12 and singing along to my favourite artists. It had an air of 90s country.
You only get one chance to experience something like this and I’m so glad we were able to complete this musical journey, especially on vinyl. Who knows how long physical products will continue or how long the studios will stand… will we eventually have to make the decision between ‘preserved or precision’!? What started as an idea turned into an experiment, which then morphed into a life-changing musical experience and now, for me, a certainty of musical style, production and even life decisions I will continue to make. Well worth the six-year adventure to find out.
Well, it’s over to you, what will it be… side A or B?
The Sun And The Blues is out now. For all the latest info, head to emmakingmusic.com