Interview: Who Is Emzae?

Emzae is a recording artist from Derby, England currently coasting off the release of her Lucid Dreaming single. I got a chance to have a conversation with her about music, her own work, and what’s next for her. Keep up with her on Twitter.
What is your earliest memory of music?

I’ve never really thought about that before. I guess it was just always on the radio and on Top of The Pops. I got told off for going round the house singing Right Said Fred when I was about 3. I remember when I first fell in love with music, though. I’ve always been a strange combination of flamboyant and anxious, and i’ve always been afraid of the dark. One winter afternoon me and my mum were walking from the shopping centre in Derby to the bus station, and it was cold and dark and I was scared. Then I saw the pink neon lights of the HMV sign, and my mum asked me if I wanted to see if there were any cassettes I wanted before we went home. I remember the feeling of warmth and safety when we went inside and I saw the rows of cassette singles in the order of the charts. I fell in love with it then, and that feeling has never changed. Music has always been the same to me – the place where I feel I can belong. The one thing that makes me feel safe and normal and that everything might just be ok.

How musical was your family growing up?

Not very at all. My oldest brother is a huge oasis fan and he plays the guitar, but it’s for his own enjoyment and he’s never played live or anything. I think the fact that my parents weren’t into anything like that has made it all a bit more of an uphill battle, because I started out with zero contacts and zero knowledge of how to do anything. Everything is a learning curve!
Did you ever consider going by your real name instead of Emzae?
No, because my name is the most average name ever and there are thousands of me, even if I went by my middle name. Having a stage name also gives me the ability to separate being a musician from being my everyday self, although my on stage wardrobe is starting to merge with my everyday wardrobe and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

How did you get the stage name Emzae?

I came up with it when I was around 15. Everyone has always called me things like Em, Ems, Emz, Emsy and other variations of my name, and I’ve always had a strange obsession with the letter Z. At that time, most of my favourite artists ended in ‘e’ or ‘y’ too. I thought Emzy or Emzie sounded a bit too playful next to my more melancholic tracks and wasn’t available anyway, so I put an A in there. The username was always available, so I stuck with it!

What have you learned from other artists you apply to your own career?

I come from an area of the UK (the East Midlands) where there is a really awesome local music scene. Everyone is really friendly, welcoming and supportive and there are so many talented artists that I’m constantly inspired by them in different ways. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is just to keep going and never give up. To push through any challenges, to believe in myself and to always be kind and encouraging. I post a lot on social media about music and live gigs from other local artists that I love, and I genuinely enjoy watching good people achieve success. I’ve learnt that anything is possible if you have the work ethic and the enthusiasm.

How did you craft your Lucid Dreaming single?

I’m big into meditation and I sometimes meditate to binaural beats. I wanted to create my own binaural beat and use it as the bass in a track, and that’s how Lucid Dreaming started. The rest of the song was basically built around that, and it only has two chords throughout. Sometimes I like to play with that repetition and progress the track in other more subtle ways. The album version is over six minutes long, so I had to cut quite a bit out for the radio edit, which is still over four minutes long. It’s one of the longest tracks i’ve ever made.

Inspiration behind it?

During the making of my upcoming album, i’ve been listening to a lot of assorted Trip Hop in my spare time, so some of my music is loosely inspired by the type of beats and the atmosphere of those songs. Lucid Dreaming is also about how I’ve been working towards making music my full time job for so long that I’ve almost forgotten why I work so hard. It’s about reflecting on burning out, and at the same time reminding myself why I love what I do. If that makes sense.

How different is your earlier stuff compared to what you make now?

Some of it might initially seem quite different, but i’ve always basically been the same artist. I just sing about myself, my weird thoughts and the world around me, the melodies and lyrics are often melancholic but usually always with a light at the end of the tunnel. Even when two tracks sound different, I think that they both contain the essence of who I am as an artist. I guess the only thing that has changed is the quality of my productions, as I am always learning new skills and techniques.

What helped make that transition smoother?

Definitely the older I get and the more I learn, the better I feel I get at songwriting. And the more I study production, the more creative I can be with the instrumentals.
How long have you spent in the studio at once?
Many, many, many hours late at night after work with tired eyes, a tension headache and a packet of biscuits. Lucid Dreaming took 8 months to mix. There are so many layers on it. The vocals are what takes the longest. I actually write the songs themselves in a really short space of time.

Who are your favorite producers of all time?

I’m a fan of so many people. My favourites have to be Timbaland and Danja, then I obviously love Pharrell, Mark Ronson, Bloodshy and Avant, Mike WiLL Made-It, there are too many to mention.

Top 5 rappers of all time?

I like a lot of different songs from different rappers and don’t necessarily have an overall favourite. I listen to British grime more than I listen to American stuff, and mainly I enjoy the legends of the scene like Chip, Kano, JME, Skepta etc. but I will sometimes watch things like SBTV, GRM Daily and Fire In The Booth to check out newer artists. I find grime so powerful, raw and honest as a genre. Plus, it has a unique sense of humour that isn’t found anywhere else.

What is your opinion on the state of the music industry today?

There are some truly beautiful, moving tracks being made and I think they have more of an impact on me and I appreciate them more because of the hard times we are currently experiencing in the world. The music is better than ever. It’s a little more challenging as an artist to get streams than it was say, four years ago, when places like SoundCloud hadn’t been infiltrated with major labels, but there are always opportunities and you just have to come up with new ideas and keep moving along. From a live perspective, one of the things I dream of is a minimum rate that artists must me paid for gigs that aren’t open mics.

What is your writing process like?

One of two things usually happens. I’ll either be feeling a certain way and need to express it in a song, in which case i’ll get it all out pretty quickly. Usually at least one verse and chorus will be written in a day, and fleshed out later. The other thing is that I will get an idea for a concept or melody whilst i’m out and about and i’ll quietly record it into my phone to re-visit at a later date. Those songs usually take longer to write, but all in all I write pretty quickly.

Who or what are you inspired by the most in the studio when crafting these songs?

I just take myself to another world. I switch off from everything and all that matters is the music. I try not to listen to too much music when writing, in case I accidentally rip something off. Usually i’ll be inspired by whatever the theme of my album is. At the moment my album is set in the city I live and grew up in, Derby. So I imagine that whilst I am working on music.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about making music in 2018?

It takes a while, sometimes you think you might never finish it or get it out there, you question whether anyone actually cares and what you’re doing with your life at times, but overall it’s totally worth it.

Would you change anything about your career?

No. Like everything in my life, it’s all basically me stumbling along through trial and error, but I look back and I can see a clear progression there. I’ve improved so much as an artist and a person since I first started uploading demos in 2014, and i’m looking forward to the future.

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