Five years on from second album Virtue, which widened the introspective indie-folk palette of her début to take in chiming pop, otherworldly orchestration and disco, Emma Lee Moss, aka London-based singer-songwriter Emmy The Great, is back with third album Second Love.
Emmy has spent a lot of the time between releases travelling, piecing the new album together in friends’ bedrooms and hotel rooms, as well as writing about music and culture.
Both her music and her writing demonstrate an eager, eclectic ear and a restless willingness to tackle multiple genres, making her an ideal subject for musicOMH’s ongoing series of explorations into the records that keep our favourite artists’ creative clocks ticking over. Ahead of the release of Second Love, and on the eve of her UK tour, this is Emmy The Great’s This Music Made Me.
My teenage music tastes began with an older family friend, who hung out with me out of pure kindness when I was an awkward bookish kid in Hong Kong.
She used to make me mixtapes, and around the year I turned 11, one of them contained No One Else by Weezer. Rivers Cuomo was the first icon who ever got into my heart without having been in my parents’ record collection, so he was my own.
To me, Rivers is somewhere between a comedian and a heartthrob – he planted the seed in my head that lyrics can be humorous. Pinkerton is my dearest Weezer album, and its themes of the longing across East and West are still giving me things to think about.
Chinese culture is a popular theme in music these days, but I rarely feel a connection when I come across it.
There’s something about Asiatisch that instantly pulled me in. It felt authentic, like she understood what she was working with. When I was starting my album, I was going through a bit of musical fatigue, I didn’t really know what I was into.
I listened to this record as a kind of spa/ reset button. The tones and sounds are evocative and soothing, and the Chinese vocals took me somewhere. I’d never heard Chinese sung over something so contemporary before.
I think this album is the one I’ve listened to most in my life. No matter what phase I’m going through musically, if I decide to put this on, it’s exactly what I wanted to hear, and it always sounds brand new.
It introduced me to the idea of pop minimalism, and established the branch of my music taste which will always snap back to ’00s R&B. When I first got into the record as a teenager, I didn’t think too much about the production – I loved the soft power of Aaliyah’s vocals, the combination of boldness and femininity the layered backing vocals.
Now, I realise that the programming on the record was visionary. I can hear the ghosts of this album in a lot of the new records I like these days.
When I listen to this with a new person, I always tell them the myth of how it was made – how Mary Margaret O’Hara took years to complete it, how she never made another record but inspired those who knew about it.
The story of the ‘difficult woman artist’ is insidious and pervasive in the music industry, and I’ve heard her characterised as crazy, or impossible to work with, where I believe a male counterpart might be called genius.
When I think about this album I usually remember the Douglas Adams quote about deadlines – “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. Whatever sacrifices she made for this album – upsetting people, wasting money or missing label targets – were worth it. It’s one of the great classics of recorded music.
This album genuinely saved my sanity. I went through a very strange period of heartbreak in my mid-20s, when I was more worried about losing my brain than my heart, around the same time that this record came out.
I listened to Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart every night on repeat so I could sleep, and had this record on my headphones everywhere I went. It pulled me back from the brink more than anything else I turned to at that time.
I have that type of relationship with Alicia Keys where I think she gets me, and we would probably be friends.
When I moved to England, I found quite quickly that I had to make a decision about which Britpop band tribe I belonged to. It was so obviously Blur.
The amount of storytelling that they pack into a perfect pop song reminds me of Mary Poppins’ bag, and I love every project that Damon Albarn takes on. I think Graham Coxon is one of the best, most expressive guitar players ever. He inspires me because he’s unashamedly unique.
I was obsessed with their last album, The Magic Whip, as well. It thrilled me that they worked on it in Hong Kong. On a recent trip there, I walked around the city listening to it, and looked at the buildings with new eyes.
Wong Kar Wai’s soundtracks help me dig deeper into Chinese and Asian music culture. Though I love his films very much, I love the soundtracks as separate bodies of work.
This contains two tracks by Faye Wong, one of my biggest life heroes, who had the guts to make strange and uncommercial music whilst being in the centre of one of the biggest and most tightly controlled music industries in the world.
It also contains one of her Cocteau Twins covers – cult classics for those who wonder at a Chinese pop superstar collaborating with British indie icons.
When I was a young teenager, I used to manipulate my dad into buying me CDs by saying that they would ‘inspire me’ to write songs. I ended up with a lot of albums by ’90s singer songwriters, and one song.
Out of that era of my life, this is the record that I still listen to, through the MP3s I imported onto an old computer from that first CD my dad bought. I recently got into a night time Internet loop of watching her break rank at the VMA’s in 1997.
Like Faye Wong, she kicked against a creaking, profit-driven industry that was trying to control and use her, and emerged with her identity intact.
Growing up, my home was filled with music from the ’60s and ’70s. When my parents’ friends came round, they would sing Beatles and Neil Young songs around the dinner table, and make us kids do harmonies, first gladly, then while squirming with teenage reluctance.
All those classic artists, from Joni Mitchell to Neil Young to James Taylor to David Bowie, are deeply embedded in my musical DNA, but I think the one who has meant the most to me is Leonard Cohen.
It’s hard to choose one album of his, but I’m Your Man is my favourite I think, because it’s so funny. His third life as a Zen Monk makes sense to me – there’s something in the combination of spirituality and humour in his music that seems to work with that.
Paul Simon’s lyrics are perfect – detailed, refined, poetic, rhyme-y.
They remind me of dinner parties and New York, and in my head, the songs of Graceland are accompanied by a film that looks like Love Story or Annie Hall.
There is no better song about the end of a relationship than the title track.
Emmy The Great’s album Second Love is out now through Bella Union. Her UK tour begins on 11 March at Oxford’s Academy 2.
Full tour dates and further information can be found here.