Although she’s been perfecting her craft for the last five years or more, her star only began to rise rapidly this autumn when it was revealed she’s the voice behind the track Blind Pig in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film.
Written by Rowling, but delivered with aplomb by Emmi, the track serves as a perfect introduction to her inimitable voice.
With a new album and tour on the cards, plus a winter sprinkled with red carpet opening ceremonies and media attention, we get the lowdown from a girl on the up…
When did you first start making music?
I started composing instrumentals at 10 and have always written poetry from an incredibly young age, but the two didn’t come together for me until much later. I was working as an actress on tour in the UK. I bought a guitar to keep my mind active and learn something new… and music just started pouring out of me daily. It had taken me five years to write one rubbish song previously, so this came as quite the shock. I eventually realised I had the bug and there was no turning back.
How has your sound changed since then?
I’ve been through numerous reincarnations. When I left acting I moved to a narrowboat some place and untrained my voice and tried to find out what I sounded like, raw. I listened to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald and Tracy Chapman and anything I could get my hands on and inspired myself with voices that spoke to me and I tried to allow myself to be vulnerable, explode the weaknesses in my voice and do the same.
I started out pretty folky (doesn’t everyone?) and then I got on the piano and soul entered the mix and I gravitated towards pop structured songs. I then worked as a songwriter for other artists for many years in rap, pop, EDM, you name it, and I think steadily, as I travelled the world I collected sounds and nuances from each genre that resonated with me and held onto them as my own.
The resulting sound is this crazy bag of my favourite things. It’s hard to pigeonhole it, but if Amy Winehouse, Sia and Kate Bush were to be thrown in a test tube and stuck on a Bunsen burner you might end up with something like me. I’ve stopped really thinking about it. I just write.
What or who has been the biggest influence on your music?
That’s a tough question. I love all the jazz greats, as well as power houses like Tina Turner and James Brown. When you can see the music bursting out of someone’s body and soul and eyes… these are the artists I am drawn to and am inspired by. But my purpose for doing music is my biggest driving force. That’s what keeps me up at night, and gets me out of bed in the morning. You gotta know your ‘why’, you know?
How did you come to sing Blind Pig for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?
Quite by accident! I was on holiday with my family in Oz when I was contacted out of the blue by someone at Abbey Road asking if I could demo a song for them. I wasn’t allowed to know what it was for or who it was written by, but a quick peek at the lyrics gave me a good inkling and I was quietly excited. You don’t sing a jazzy tune about hippogriffs and billywigs every day! I recorded the tune in my bedroom myself, sent off a few takes and the rest is history.
What has the experience been like?
There are no words. I feel like the luckiest lady on the planet. You can work hard all your life and live in hope that wonderful things can happen. That’s what keeps us creatives going! But no one could dream up something like this. I am so privileged to have been welcomed into a world so magnificent.
Leading up to the film’s release I was invited into scoring sessions at Abbey Road by the Warner team so I could see some of the process and I just sat and cried. You get this incredible sense of how much mastery and brilliance goes into a project like this. Every second of it. And to be a part of it in any way really is a fantastic feeling.
As a novelist she is such a visceral writer; you can see and touch the words she writes, and her songwriting is no exception. The lady can do no wrong!
What do you think of the film?
I loved it! The special effects are incredible… Eddie Redmayne is, of course, superb as are all the leads. And the creatures are brilliant creations. There’s one called the niffler which is the cutest damn thing. He’s much like a magpie in that he loves shiny things, but he looks like some sort of marsupial. You really get the sense from this film that Rowling is setting up something very special for the series. It’s darker and potentially a little more adult than the Potter films, but with enough heart and innocence it’s still very much catered for a child’s imagination. She’s pulled off the impossible.
Are you a Harry Potter fan?
Like most people in my generation… yes! We all grew up with Potter and JK Rowling’s mind was like this wonderful portal we could all escape to. If you had no imagination yourself, she would do the imagining for you. If you had one already, she defied you to think bigger. And now I’m a little older I have an even bigger appreciation for the world she has created.
Unlike other fantastical cults, Rowling has created a world within our world so there is something even more real about it. It feels completely plausible. And if you look for it, the issues she deals with in terms of ‘otherness’ are so relevant to our times. It’s incredibly powerful.
How has the experience informed your own music, if at all?
It hasn’t changed my music or how I create it necessarily as I have a sound that has become intrinsically a part of me for many years now. But the film has certainly reignited my love of jazz (my first love) and given me a new sense of how truly anything is possible which is spurring me on harder than ever before. It’s inspired a new bravery in me.
What’s on the horizon for 2017?
An album! I have an album of stories just aching to be heard and I can’t wait to set it free, however that transpires. A tour is also on the cards. Watch this space...