Following Emma Ruth Rundle’s stunning set at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto, we sat down (in this case, stood under an ATM security light) and discussed her new album, her new home and uh, music.
The review of her show can be found here.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I grew up in L.A. Both my parents are musicians. My mom plays harpsichord. My dad’s a pianist, my stepmom is a bass player. They met in a band. I just grew up around a lot of music.
Did you grow up listening to folk music?
It was all kinds of music. And I think the folk music thing really took hold when I started to hang out at the McCabe’s Guitar Store when I was a little girl, taking Celtic harp lessons. Then went on to work there for 13 years. So I think that’s where the folk influence originated. I think it was just from being so steeped in every element of what that multifaceted establishment was. It was about the concerts, the lessons, the repair and retail.
What was the first album that you bought with your own money?
Probably In Utero, to be honest, it was Nirvana.
About your songwriting process, you start on acoustic guitar. Do you come up with ideas in standard tuning and then work out your chord voicings?
No. I Inherited the open tunings also from the guitar store. If you handed me a guitar in standard tuning, I would have a hard time with it. I mean, at some point, I started tuning the guitar in a way that made more sense to me. I heard somebody else start changing a string and then I thought well if you can do it to one string, why can’t you do all this to all the strings, just rearrange it all. So for me, mostly my voicings , the root is usually on the fifth or sixth string. Using those open strings a lot in the chords, its makes them more of a modal thing.
You give yourself a lot of work.
I actually think it’s so much easier to play guitar like that. What’s hard about what I’m doing now, on this tour. To have a guitar in all the tunings, I’d have to have all of Kevin Shields’ guitars. If I was really wealthy and had a dedicated guitar roadie. That would be amazing. But it’s not the case. What I use is a combination of two guitars, sometimes it’s three and then capoing around. it’s been difficult actually to relearn the patterns of the songs in those different positions on the fretboard, it’s throwing me off a little. Not feeling super comfortable with it yet. I have tried to learn standard. I did take some classical guitar lessons a couple of years ago. It’s like. I do want to learn standard, be more proficient.
The genre that you tend to be put into, seems to be called gothic folk or dark folk
I don’t think this is folk music at all.
And yet in my research, I keep seeing it called folk music.
It’s because somebody said something and then everyone else just repeated it. I think that there are folky moments on the records, especially on Some Heavy Ocean, but I don’t think it’s folk music.
Maybe because it’s hard to pin down, if someone needs to classify your music…
I think Americana would make a little more sense in the mix with some other things. There’s a grunge influence. There’s a shoegaze influence, there’s post rock. There is, maybe, a touch of some country songs. And there’s a lot of 90s music. You know, I’m surprised people aren’t like “this is the drop tune Cranberries”.
That brings me to a point because as I’ve been listening to the new album, On Dark Horses, there are elements in these songs that lead me to think ‘that could be a pop song’. Play it in a standard tuning, throw in a little piano and a soft beat…Let’s get to the new album. I think it’s fantastic.
(Producer) Kevin Ratterman is credited with doing pretty much everything behind the board including engineering, mixing and mastering.
Yeah, he even played some keyboards and some guitar. He’d be like “I’m going to mix the song” and you’d come back and he’d say “I just added this little moment here”. He’s a very colourful creator. He’s got that creative fire. He’s a very special person. He moved to L.A. sadly. Kevin will come back. I was attracted to working with Kevin because of the Young Widows album, In and Out of Youth and Lightness, which is my favourite Young Widows album. That’s another reason why I fell in love with Louisville and Evan. I did a tour with them 10 years ago. I became enamoured with Evan’s guitar playing immediately and then listened to all their albums and that record has this wonderful theme in its sound and that’s Kevin and I think he did that for this record. He captured this sonic palette. It just has a colour and it’s Kevin. Once you know him and you’re around him, you see that he’s so in the records that he’s made.
On Dark Horses seems like the kind of album that you can continually listen to and still pick up new little pieces in the background.
He’s hidden a lot of little things. I love what he did with the bridge in Darkhorse where he did this panning so drums become the horses running around you. It’s very cool.
It’s good to have a producer thinking creatively like that.
Exactly, and Todd (Cook, bassist) and Evan and Dylan. Having them as well really changed it for me too.
Do you have a favourite off the album?
You Don’t Have To Cry is the song that I listened to again and again
I think a lot of people love that song and it’s our encore. I wrote it for my friend, Blake.
You write a lot in what I think of as vignettes or abstractions. There isn’t really a narrative in your songs.
It’s all about my life, my music and my lyrics…
Your lyrics can be interpreted in different ways. I think that’s the kind of music that people grasp onto. They can make it about themselves as well.
I think that that is perfect. And that’s one reason why I don’t want to talk too much about my things, because some of is explicit in nature and I don’t want to really directly divulge those things. But it is meaningful enough and I think that some of it is charged in that way. That’s what music did for me when I was younger. That was the ultimate thing, when music could do that.
Of course. When someone says a song saved their life, it’s never a pop country song about tequila and trucks.
Yeah, It’s hard to find it now.
Which is why people grab on tight when they do find it.
I’m definitely like that. I have certain albums and I just listen to over and over and have for years.
What’s the one that you still gravitate to?
Well, for the last few years,. I would say 40 Watt Sun. The Inside Room. I listen to it almost every day. But that’s not like a nostalgic classic record from my childhood. It’s a discovery in my adult life. It did that cathartic thing for me that’s just so rare. That’s some serious soul music from my perspective
Why did you move from LA to Louisville?
It’s a fantastic place for artists. There’s a tight little scene of people. I think the great thing about it is that it’s very affordable and there’s a good quality of life. People are down to earth and we have a nice little situation there. Sometimes I start to feel like I’m trapped in the Beetlejuice town a little bit. And I do miss LA a lot but we get to tour. (Pause). I couldn’t go back. It’s kind of what Dead Set Eyes is about, leaving LA. Louisville is a great place. These fine people are from there (pointing to Jaye Jayle as they load out). Like my family.
It’s kind of a long story. I was on tour, Jaye Jayle and ERR released the split record (The Time Between Us) last year, those were b-sides from Marked For Death and from their album, House Cricks. And the packaging, we just made it like this weird country romance. So we had this wild idea, since I was got asked to play Roadburn and do a little tour in Europe. Because I had very little funds, the idea was to combine the bands, have them learn my music and they would open for me. Then they would back me up as my band. That was Cathy’s wild idea (Cathy Pellow, founder of Sargent House) and she’s full of wild ideas. And I came off the Deafheaven tour and had split up with a partner. At some point earlier in the year, I was just kind of like gypsying around. I went back to Denver with Dylan (Nadon), that’s my drummer and Jaye Jayle were on tour with Oathbreaker. So the plan was they were going to finish their Oathbreaker tour and we were going to rehearse for four days in Louisville. I would go to Louisville and then we would all together fly to Europe and play Roadburn and do this tour. And I just thought, they were playing in Denver the next day and thought why don’t I just get in the van with you. I’ll sell your merch for the next two weeks and then I don’t have to fly to Louisville. I’ll just get a free ride, we’ll all have a wild time and I’ll help you out.
And I got in that van and I just never got out. And now I’m married to Evan, So it’s a pretty good deal.
Talk about collaborating with Evan (Patterson, husband, Young Widows/Jaye Jayle songwriter and singer) .
Light Song is a love song. And so, he’s the answer, you know. I sang on their album. We did that record right after we came back from Europe. I had to cancel a bunch of shows because I was physically destroyed. I just went to the studio to recover and he had written that song (Marry Us). It was so weird. Like a sort of strange magic. He wrote that song before I got in the van. I sang on it. We had been singing together on tour. We were singing Run Forever when we played that song live. Those two songs, Marry Us and Light Song are like secret partner songs. So, if you’re a fan that’s paying attention, it’s kind of a cute thing. That there’s these matching love songs on the records that we both sing on together. I think it’s cute.
I do too! Thanks for talking to us, congrats on the new album. Have a great tour.
Photo by Geert Braekers