On her brand new LP “Marked For Death”, Emma Ruth Rundle reveals her innermost obscurities to the listener. We met the musician on the first tour stop in Cologne and learned about the importance of a solo identity – and why “Marked For Death” is likely to be her last dark album.
Let’s start with Alicia Keys: She recently had to deal with massive shitstorms for not wearing any make-up in public. How much sense can you make of that?
Ugh. It’s sad that it’s even a conversation, really. I can’t make any sense of that. I don’t know why anyone would care.
I wouldn’t even have asked this question if your press texts hadn’t referred to the deliberately unglamorous picture of you on the cover of “Marked For Death”. Your sound appears natural and naked, too, and the LP version of your new record comes on transparent vinyl. Is that part of a bigger concept?
The artwork – yes! The images included are self-portraits. Photography has been a hobby of mine and I was doing a lot of photography and self-portraits while writing and recording the record when I was living in the desert in that bleak, empty house. The photos are captures from that time. The music is very raw and personal and there is an element of defeat in it, so there is no point to dress it up.
Talking about defeat: What was the most helpless situation that could inspire you?
My physical health wasn’t really so good. I think I had gotten myself into a place of being sort of sick from touring with Marriages and touring solo. I didn’t know too much about what exactly was going on until after I finished recording. I really wasn’t doing well, but I’m fine now. There’s some personal things, I don’t know, it’s in the music.
In spite of all dark terms used to promote your new record, I could feel some uplifting impact. Was it the same for you when finalizing those eight new songs? Or is rather hard to go on stage and face all that emotional turmoil again?
Yes and no. This record is the last time I want to make music that is dark and sad. I want music to be uplifting. I want music to take me to another more elevated place. I’m not dwelling in or revisiting the things that the songs are about. They’re all very autobiographical. And there is an intense element in playing live, which I have not done for a long time – this is my first show in almost a year. There are some songs on this record which I was playing on the tour’s last year that are intense emotionally and so I plan to start making more uplifting music that maybe brings me to a better place playing it over and over again. I’m glad you find it uplifting already!
The record’s title is “Marked For Death”, which sounds pretty harsh and fatal. What’s the idea behind it?
It’s a dramatic title. It comes from the lead song, which is the song I wrote first, and it’s about a very specific time and place and people … – without giving away too much about anybody’s personal lives: There were some dire situations and some dramatic things transpired and that is what the song deals with.
Have there been older songs as well that you chose to include on this album?
A year and a half or maybe even two years ago I wrote what became the title track. A few of the songs were written in between tours, and then, at the end of last year when I went to record this album I went out into the desert, like I was telling you, and I stayed there and wrote a handful of songs. There are a couple of pieces that had already been written between my tours with Marriages, and then I finished the collection there in the Californian desert.
Do you know from the beginning of the composition of a song if it’s going to be a Marriages or a solo song?
Mostly it’s very clear. I don’t go very far into writing anything for Marriages without Greg, he is very much part of that band. And Andrew. So if there is an idea that maybe is going to move towards marriages, we all work on it together.
Melody and lyrics is always me. When I start to write music it normally starts from a guitar part, so there’ll be a little guitar piece and very quickly it will be clear if there’s room for Greg and if it makes sense to play together and work on it as Marriages. Sometimes, when it’s more simple, simple to play or simple-sounding, which makes room for the vocal to be the main focus, it’s likelier to become a solo song.
When you started your solo career, you stated that you did not want to “hide behind a band name” any longer. What did you mean with the term “hide”?
The things that weren’t rewarding about it were quite a couple, but pretty vague ideas as well. In my mind it meant having to play with other people. See, I can go on tour, and I can write a record that has drums and bass and extra guitar parts that I play in the studio. And I’m here on tour alone. I couldn’t afford to have a band with me, even if I wanted to. Using my name, I feel justified in doing that. When I was releasing records that I had written under the name The Nocturnes, for instance, I got invested in keeping members of that involved and it became a lot more constraining and involved. I also wanted to be able to release whatever kind of music I want under my name without having to create more projects. I want to put out another ambient guitar record, for example. I want it to be okay and that it’s all my work. I don’t wanna have to do just one thing. Not just folk music or rock music, I want to be able to do whatever I’m feeling.
In what way could your new record bring you further as a musician, then?
I finished recording this record in December last year, so for me it’s already so old, you know. I think for me it’s really made very clear that I don’t want to spend too much of my life focusing on negative things, because it’s not healthy. I think there is an important place for catharsis, and it’s important to honour what happens in your life and find a way to find peace with yourself and with the shit. I mean, people are dying … poisoning themselves with drugs. Whatever it is that you’re dealing with in your life – it’s important to find a place to put those things instead of sitting there and think about them all the time.
So there are more colourful things coming up …
I guess so. Or have come up, like: Okay, this is done, and now it’s time to move on – into music that is even more intellectually stimulating or that is healing.
There is a video coming up as well, we could see some picture hints on your social media channels …
Oh yes. There is a video for the song called “Real Big Sky”, it’s the last song on the record. And this young man, Brandon Kapelow, he was coming and filming me as a passion project for him, doing interviews and doing little stints of filming things in different locations and a live performance. So it’s kind of a music video, but there’s a documentary aspect to it. It’s nine minutes long. He’s just sent it to me and it’s very cool, I’m very honoured. And then there’s Mark Pellington who really did a lot. I went to his house with the whole crew one day and there was quite a bit of filming. He took pictures in the idea that they were going to go to four songs, so we’ll see how that goes, I haven’t seen any results yet. Whatever he is working on – I’m not entirely sure –, he’s a man of his own vision and I want to let him go do his art. And when it comes back I’m sure it’ll be amazing.
What would you be doing now if you hadn’t chosen the musical part?
I’d probably be doing visual art. I’m doing it anyway now, but I’d be more focused on that. Apart from that, I have no idea. I’ve no fall-back career, I’m not secretly a veterinarian or anything.
Then let’s just turn to music again. One can make sense of many of your songs, but there is one in particular which is hard to get through to: “Medusa”. What can you tell us about this song?
It’s about a mother-daughter relationship and the expectation that other people have on you as a woman, as an artist. It’s about manipulation and the negative aspect to that relationship, in which … well I never know how much to reveal about what the songs mean. Let’s just say: It’s about a mother and a daughter. One of the things that I love about the music I listened to as a young person is that I would sometimes read the lyrics and then come up with what I thought it meant, and it meant a lot to me, and occasionally I read or hear that the song was actually about something completely different and I’d get super sad and bummed because of losing the connection to this song in my very small experience. It’s always a letdown, taking that away from the listener is a bit of an excuse. It’s best not to be too explicit.
Final question: It’s midnight and you’re leaving the supermarket. What’s in your bag?
Definitely chocolate. Definitely! Which means like a jar of Nutella and cookies, probably some milk and Sleepytime tea.
– “Marked For Death” is out today via Sargent House.