An Interview with Emma Dean and Francesca de Valence
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Emma Dean and Francesca de Valence before their show at the Armidale Club for their Songs of Love and War tour. We talked about finding inspiration in unusual places, forgetting to listen to new music, and passionate people. Read the interview with the talented songstresses to find out what new instruments they would learn if they had the chance, and read the review of their show to find out what it sounds like to explore themes of love, heartbreak and what it means to fight for something you believe in.
Alana Young: You’re both part of Emma’s band Emma and the Hungry Truth, but before that you had solo musician careers.
Emma Dean: We still do!
AY: What led to you two deciding to do this Songs of Love and War tour?
EM: We bonded over email while I was living in New York and Fran was in Brisbane.
Francesca de Valence: I was releasing my third EP, you were just doing your EP trilogy, and we both were in the throes of “How f-ing hard is this?!” Because neither of us fit in a particular box, and that can be lonely at times.
ED: Then I moved back to Brisbane and I put out a call on Facebook, about this new project – my band.
FV: And I was feeling particularly lonesome, because I don’t work with other musicians often, so I was already thinking “I need another project where I get to play with others as well as playing my own music”. And then Emma put out the call and I answered.
ED: And then, obviously, that all went very well indeed, and we discovered that we work really well together, and we needed to find a way to tour together. And I guess the common thread in some of our songs were themes of love and themes of …
FV: Fighting for what you want, and what you need, and what you believe in. And the fight – we kind of have this fight for this career where we don’t even know where we fit. Especially in Australia, because we’re such a small market, and especially independent, without financial or industry support. So it’s not just a literal fight, fisticuffs, and not just in a relationship with a partner, but also about our personal personalities.
AY: So how different do you both find it making and playing music as part of a band to as a solo artist? Is there one that you prefer over the other?
FV: We are making music, but the music was already created, so now it’s just more making a different sound with the music. And I love it! I was just saying yesterday after our show in Toowoomba, “I don’t want to play my solo songs by myself ever again!”
ED: Yeah, it’s been really fun! And, just to be clear, this show is Francesca’s songs, and my songs, and we’re performing on each other’s songs. It’s been so fun figuring out little ways, and, you know, thinking about “How are we gonna tour with these instruments?” Finding the smallest drum possible to make the biggest sound.
FV: And put on a plane! And also the songs sound different to the recordings because now we’re adding different parts in and they get a new lease on life.
AY: Do you feel your musical styles have changed since transitioning from solo to band to this project?
FV: I think with my songs, I, last year particularly, felt – before the Hungry Truth project or even working with Emma on tour now – I felt particularly like I needed a change. I’m playing around with the idea of some vocal sounds, as percussive things. But I need to move away from just the voice and piano. Not move away from, sorry – I need to add that, enhance somehow. I just feel one-dimensional. I need to become two-dimensional.
ED: For me, I think, my writing style has definitely involved/improved since last year even. I was very aligned to the cabaret world, which was wonderful and I loved that, but I’m taking a step away from that; and the music is still very theatrical, and being able to work with a band allows me to stand up from behind the piano and think outside of that little comfortable dimension. And that’s changed the way that I write music and the way that I think about live performance as well. You know, you can feel very limited sitting in a corner behind a grand piano or behind a keyboard, but having five other amazing musicians back me allows me to explore further possibilities.
AY: Musical icons! Have they changed? Have you gotten new ones? Have you questioned why you had old ones?
ED: My musical icons – I don’t really have … Well, I mean, yeah, there are maybe three of four artists that I refer to when I’m asked this question, but I’m always finding – to be really honest – the people that inspire me most, musically, and theatrically, are usually my friends, and people in my home community. That’s where I get most of my inspiration from. But, artists like Tori Amos, Queen, Kate Bush … I love their work and it’s influenced what I do on a really fundamental level.
FV: I am a funny musician, that I sometimes forget to listen to new music. But I find musical inspiration not necessarily from music – I mean, I totally do listen to new music, but I sometimes have to consciously go, “I haven’t bought any music for two months, I mean, can I just buy something and force myself to listen to it?” I teach as well, so there’s always new music being made in some capacity in my life. And certainly the artists that I’m totally in love with, like Neil Finn and Stevie Wonder and Carol King, I don’t think I sound anything really like. Maybe I’d like to think I sound like Neil Finn. But it’s the passion and what they sing about that I find the most inspiring, actually. It’s … when you see someone 100% into what they’re doing, and that’s why it’s not just about music. Anybody that’s 100% into what they’re doing is so inspirational.
FV: Does that make sense? You get it?
AY: I get it, definitely. Okay, I’ve got some quick-fire questions for you now.
ED: These scare me a bit.
FV: I like the deep ones.
AY: Hopefully these aren’t scary! If you could learn a new musical instrument, what would it be?
FV: Practically, I want to play the guitar. But passionately, I wanna play the cello.
ED: Oh my god! They were my answers!
FV: Oh my god, are you serious?
ED: Holy shit! I was like: guitar and cello!
FV: ‘Practically’ only for guitar.
ED: I wanna, like, rock out on guitar.
FV: Can we just practise together? Because I’m such a bad practiser.
ED: Yeah, I’m terrible.
FV: We should do training sessions where you can train me, and then we can both muck up the guitar together. And then we’ll do a cooking class afterwards.
ED: Done! And when are we going to do this?
FV: Um, in our spare time!
ED: In our spare time, so, see you in 2015!
FV: What’s that month after December, the one that’s before January? Let’s do it in that one!
AY: The secret month.
ED: That’s right!
AY: Do you prefer big festivals or intimate gigs?
ED: Intimate gigs for something like this. Festivals for Emma and the Hungry Truth.
FV: For me … Intimate. Yep. Answer: yep! Definitely. For something like this. And Emma and the Hungry Truth: festival!
AY: What’s your favourite new band that you’ve found in the last year?
FV: Fiona Apple. I’m really into a band called Emma and the Hungry Truth.
AY: Oh yeah, I love those guys.
FV: I’ve never heard anyone like them. They’re really unusual but interesting and unique.
ED: I thought you meant: “I’ve never heard anybody say they like them”! I was like, jeeze. God, Fran, talk it up!
FV: What d’ya think I’m doing, what d’ya think I’m doing?!
AY: Alright, last question: what’s your favourite film clip that you’ve made, or been a part of?
ED: Ahh, this is plug central!
FV: I just, not even two weeks ago released a music video called ‘The Fighter’.
AY: I watched that this morning!
FV: Yeah, that was definitely my favourite that I’ve made. It made references to musical theatre shows. Did you notice?
AY: I did!
FV: There’s a few little references in there … Funny Girl, Chicago, Cabaret, The Produers, little bit of Sound of Music sing-a-long-ness. It was one of those magical moments where all the stars aligned and I had twenty cast and crew who all volunteered to do this project. And the vibe on the day was fricking unreal! Everyone was loving it! I was just having … it’s like, seriously, on-your-birthday vibe, but it’s like it’s gonna be the last day of your life so everyone’s just loving you! It’s awesome! Beat that story chick-a-dee! No, I’m joking! Sorry, no, no.
ED: I didn’t know it was a competition! Well, one of my favourite recent clips that I’ve discovered is Fiona Apple’s ‘Every Single Night’.
FV: Oh, other people’s music videos?!
ED: No, no, no, it could be either!
FV: Sorry, I was so … talking about my own!
ED: No, it could be either! So that, that is an outstanding, just beautiful music video. I’ve learnt to say “music video” because when I say “film clip” in America that doesn’t translate at all. They don’t know what a film clip is. I just thought I’d say that. But my favourite music video that I’ve been a part of? I think I’ve got two: there was one for ‘Sincerely Fearful’, one of my songs, where there were ninjas. So I was working with, I think it was six stunt men. And also a song called ‘Something They Can Hold’, which was sort of butoh-inspired, with one of my ex-performing troop physical theatre fold, so she was the dancer in that. So that was another beautiful experience. But check out ‘Every Single Night’. It’s so … it’s just really surreal.
AY: Thanks so much!