This songstress does no harm and takes no shit.
Allow me to set the scene. Picture yourself in a packed venue: expansive white walls, high ceilings, dimmed lights, drumming so strong it makes your heartbeat sync with the rhythm. The seats are more than full and you’re sure it’s a fire hazard. Some attendees have to stand at the back of the room near the bar. Some dance. Some start recording videos for Facebook and Instagram Live to give their friends a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
At the front stands Emma Citrine, guitar sturdy and strong across her midriff. Her eyes are closed, peaceful, as she sways to the music in her flowing black ensemble. Something about this performance feels incredibly intimate, despite the aforementioned crowd.
Behind her is the band. Two guitarists to her left, one in a powder blue suit, the other in a grey hoodie reminiscent of something Ed Sheeran might wear. To her right, the bassist; long-haired in a cardigan and jeans. Behind her, the drummer wears a dress shirt and slacks. They all look like they belong in different bands, yet this motley crew fits in perfectly with the tone of the evening. Anyone can be themselves here, and the crowd is loving it.
A few days after this shindig I catch up with Emma via Rabb.it to see how she’s feeling about her new album, and music in general. She sits in the middle of a cafe, phone in hand, enjoying a muffin and coffee as we talk over webcam.
Robin Crowe: The album is officially being heard by people now. How do you feel?
Emma Citrine: It still hasn’t fully hit me, I feel like. Because I’ve been working on this record for like two and a half years! I started writing it two years ago, so the fact that it’s getting such a good response is honestly so surreal. I’ve listened to the tracks so many times, myself, so it feels like it’s been out for a lot longer than it has. But it’s just come out and it’s getting reviewed and people are listening and sharing and it’s such an honour.
RC: What I heard at the launch was great! You’ve listed a few influences for this album such as Bob Dylan and the White Stripes. How do you maintain a unique sound while still acknowledging your influences?
EC: That’s a really good question. I feel like, because I have such a huge range of influences, spanning so many genres, I try to take a little piece from each of them. I haven’t been listening to just one or two people, I’ve been listening to so many different things. I feel like that’s reflected in this record; it’s not just defined by one genre. There’s so many different flavours in there, which I think is really cool, and it almost makes it impossible to plagiarize anybody.
RC: The album is called Sad Surprise, but you are one of the most positive people I know, so I figured I’d ask: what’s something that makes you laugh? Or smile?
EC: I don’t know if it’s one specific thing, it’s mainly that the people in my life are just the funniest people ever. My mother is the funniest person- nobody can make me laugh like she does. And just in general, I’m one of those people that laughs at everything. Just being around friends and people that I love… just watching them makes me laugh. I’m so lucky to have those people in my life, it’s so awesome.
RC: That’s so great! What would you say is your favourite song on this album? Or the one that you think says “you” the most?
EC: There’s two answers to this question. I’d probably say my favourite is the single, A Screaming Comes Across the Sky. Each track is about one specific time in my life (or event, or person), but A Screaming is about the past two years of my life mashed into one song. Just stuff with my mental illness, and relationships that I’ve been in, and how I keep going, and I feel like that kind of represents this album.
But at the same time, I feel like Make War represents what I’m feeling now, since I’ve developed this sense of… power, almost? With everything I’ve been through in the past two years, I haven’t quite found the courage to be able to speak out about it and even accept it within myself. And when I wrote that song, it was kind of my way of doing that.
That particular song is about the music industry, and a really abusive producer that I worked with in the past, an experience I’ve been wanting to write about for years, but never did. I’ve just been so terrified, because I know a lot of people that know him and it’s a really controversial thing. But it was a really cathartic process, and playing that song live is just an overwhelmingly powerful feeling. I feel like there’s this new chapter of my life that I’m moving towards. Like the angry, powerful, speaking-out, not-giving-two-fucks chapter of my life.
RC: I’m actually glad you said that. Make War is my personal favourite from that album!
EC: Really? That’s awesome! I love when people tell me their favourite song on the album, ‘cause it’s always different and I think that’s so cool. Everyone has a different reason for liking it or resonating with a certain track and I just think that’s awesome. Super cool.
RC: I’m curious, do you have any fun stories from the recording studio?
EC: Have you ever been in the recording studio with Liam Sturgess? There’s nothing but fun stories! God, every day recording vocals with Liam. He channels these like weird personas, I don’t know if you know that.
RC: I’m familiar.
EC: And there’s this one, Franz, this German guy? Do you know him?
RC: I’ve met Franz.
EC: You’ve met Franz! So Franz came to visit, and I was recording vocals in the studio. I have my eyes closed most of the time when I’m singing, that’s just the way I do it, so I wasn’t really paying attention to what Liam was doing in the sound booth.
And then I come in to listen to the track we’ve just recorded, and the entire window is plastered in sticky notes with different sayings and notes and advice from Franz. Like all of these different things, like “Franz was here!”, “Franz says hi”. The entire wall was covered, and I just thought “Oh my goodness. I’m recording a record with a psychopath.”
It was lovely, though, because he made me laugh so much. A lot of these songs are about really dark times for me, and recording them can be cathartic but also makes me relive those times, so I think Liam was probably the best person to have in the studio with me. I feel like we bonded a lot during the creation of this record, and he’s the funniest person in the entire world. He makes it really hard to get too into your own head about little things like “Oh, this doesn’t sound the way I want it to”. He’s just like “It’ll all work out”. I love that. I love that energy. It’s great energy.
Also, this isn’t so much like a funny story, but I’d never played with a drummer before. I mean, I’d played with a drummer in high school band, but but I’d never played my own stuff with a drummer. And when Kristian went into that studio and hit the cymbal for the first time on the first track, I literally burst into tears.
He’s just incredible, and the tracks evolved so much from what he did because we laid down the drums first and then I kind of worked around them. I tell Kristian all the time how great he is, but I don’t think he ever fully gets it. He’s amazing. So that was the coolest moment for me, just getting to watch him do his thing on something that I’ve written, writing his own part and feeling it and putting his energy into it.
RC: Your music has always felt really cinematic to me. I’d love to see it used in a soundtrack one day. So I’m wondering if you have any favourite scores or soundtracks from movies or TV shows?
EC: This might sound a little cliché, because I know this is everybody’s favourite soundtrack right now, but I just saw La La Land for like the fourth time, and that soundtrack is unbelievably beautiful.
I think I’m really drawn to it because I’m rekindling my love for the piano right now. There’s no keyboards on my record or anything, that just wasn’t really the vibe for this particular album. So I was focusing on guitar, but now that it’s done I’m back at my piano and writing pieces on that, and the La La Land soundtrack is just incredible. I also love jazz, and it’s got a lot of jazz. That’s probably my favourite at the moment.
There’s also this movie, I don’t know how many people know about it, called Artificial Intelligence. I think it came out in the early 2000s…?
RC: With Hayley Joel Osment?
EC: Yeah! I love the score for it, it always makes me cry. If I were to be featured in a film, I’d wanna make people cry. Like, in a good way, know what I mean? Music in movies is so important. With movies, it’s often the score that makes me get really emotional or relate to the characters more. The focus is never on the scene, it’s always the music, which is funny.
RC: That’s so interesting!
I end the interview by asking her if there was anything she’d like to add, anything she hadn’t covered in other interviews. She smirks.
“Um, how great you are?”
“Oh my god, you are so sweet!” I reply.
“It’s true! I always feel like that when people are asking me questions, like ‘Can we just talk about you for a second? Like damn girl.’”
She laughs, then composes herself.
“No but seriously, after playing that release show I just feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude to everybody in my life. It’s just unbelievable, the amount of support that people have shown me over the course of my life, and especially over the past few months. I’ve wanted to release a solo record for so long, but it’s so different from releasing something as a band or whatever because you’re the only one that you can fall back on. It’s actually terrifying.
“So I’m just so thankful that it’s gotten as good a response as it has, and that people are listening, because that’s all a musician can really ask for at the end of the day. I just want everybody to take from my music what they need. I think it’s really cool that everybody’s got a different take on it, and can relate to some of the things that I’ve gone through that I’m speaking about.”
Emma nods resolutely. “That’s what I wanna say: everyone’s great. I love everybody.”
She laughs. “Except for the assholes.”