Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Talking Shop: Emmy The Great

Emmy The Great
Emmy funded the recording of her debut album by herself

With her quirky lyrics about faked pregnancies and surviving car crashes, folk singer Emmy The Great has been a hot tip online for several years.

She established a cult following with a string of self-released EPs and a willingness to talk directly to her fans - both in person and on MySpace.

But the singer, whose real name is Emma Lee Moss, found herself left behind when the new wave of British folk singers - including Laura Marling and Lightspeed Champion - finished their albums first.

At Glastonbury last year, she joked that her record might never come out - likening it to Guns N' Roses 15-years-in-the-making Chinese Democracy.

But, with Axl Rose's much-derided opus now on the shelves, Emmy has finally finished her debut, First Love, which is released on 9 February.


Emmy The Great sings First Love

So was it Axl Rose's emergence from hibernation that prompted you to put the album out?
Yes. I do everything according to what Axl Rose tells me to do. I have braided my hair, and I have changed the colour of it to a light red. I have recorded 17 guitar solos for all my songs, and also there is a dead prostitute in my cupboard at home [a reference to one of Rose's lyrics].

Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, then I came over here when I was 12.

It meant that I went to three really, really different schools. I started in a really strict Chinese state school, so that was daily horror. Then I went to a Steiner school, which was just floating around, colouring things in. Then the third school was mainly about learning how to drink alcohol.

Emmy The Great
The singer-songwriter has toured with Martha Wainwright and Jamie T

At what stage did you start playing music?
Not until after I left school, actually.

Was there a particular song or artist who inspired you?
It wasn't so much that I wanted to be in a band at the beginning, I just wanted to hang out with bands!

And I actually met a band - The Get Up Kids - who, to me, were really, really famous. And they were like: 'If you want to hang out with us, dude, you've got to start a band.'

So I went and did it, and then they split up.

That's probably the best piece of advice you ever got.
Well, no! Because I could be making a reasonable living now doing something worthwhile.

Your lyrics are very literary - First Love is based on a Samuel Beckett story. Were you always interested in words?
Yes, I always wanted to be a writer. That's all I ever wanted to do. I wrote a play when I was 12 - a cross between a fairytale and Clueless. So there were three bears and Cinderella but it was all set in California. It was not great.

In First Love, the couple fall in love listening to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. Is that something that happened to you?
That just happened because I had rhymed the word pet with cassette - so I wondered what they'd be listening to. Well, everybody's got that song in their house, and just imagine being seduced for the first time and hearing the word Hallelujah.

You're releasing the song as a single a month after Alexandra Burke. Do you wish you had put it out earlier?
I bloody wish it! I'm sick of it. I couldn't believe it over Christmas.

The way you interpolate the hook from Hallelujah into your song is a very clever piece of writing. Is that the benefit of playing and writing for years before you go mainstream?
Actually, the songs all come, not by accident, but by extreme interest in crosswords.

When I'm going through a period of a lot of writing, I get a couple of papers a day. Because the way you have to fit everything in within a structure is exactly what you have to do with songs. You get the first few lines, and you know what the last lines are going to be and somehow the song has to make sense in between those two things.

A lot of pop music does not do that - it jut repeats the same idea over and over.
But I didn't know anything about writing music. I didn't even know what a chorus was. I was kind of a book person - so it just made sense to make the story make sense.

Emmy The Great
Her album was recorded in "dilapidated studios" in rural Lancashire

The copy of the album that got sent to journalists last year is different from the record that is being released. Why is that?
I heard the promos and the mastering job kind of smoothed everything over and made it sound a little poppier than I expected. So I got it remastered, so it sounds a little bit more honest.

In one of your songs, you talk about the moments immediately after a car crash, when all you can think of is how to pronounce the name of the singer MIA. How did that come about?
When I was really young, my school bus crashed. I was the only kid who wasn't hurt, and I was near my house so I started running home. And I turned around and the last thing I remember was seeing the driver with glass all over his face and he was holding up a bloodied hand, and my mum told me he'd lost a finger.

So that's always been in my mind and I've always been interested in what people think - the inappropriate things you think when something goes badly.

It is probably a coping mechanism.
I guess so. I'm just very interested in what people do in a catastrophe. I will always read the paper if they've done an interview with someone who survived an earthquake, or even someone who has just lost a parent or a friend. I'm just really interested in people's reactions to it.

As you are called Emmy The Great - do you have a super power?
I'm super annoying!

What's annoying about you?
My boyfriend says I'm facetious. Apparently, I can't talk about things without trying to make it into a joke. Apparently, it's not good to turn every argument into an hysterical sitcom situation.

It is better to come out laughing than crying.
Yeah, my dad always told me you can make a joke out of anything. That's why I didn't tell him I had my period until I was 18. I was like "he is definitely going to laugh at me". But actually he was very sensitive.

Emmy The Great's album, First Love, is out now. She was speaking to BBC Entertainment News reporter Mark Savage.

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