|Emily Saunders. Photo credit: Matt Crossick|
Emily Saunders’s second album “Outsiders Insiders” will have its launch gig at St James Studio on Tuesday March 17th. Sebastian interviewed her by email:
LondonJazz News: The difficult second album… you had quite some success with the debut, and maybe learnt lessons from that. What’s different this time?
Emily Saunders: Yes thank you the 1st album was pretty successful which was a lovely surprise for a debut.
Cotton Skies came about naturally, as leading up to the album I was performing Brazilian repertoire with my band, which I love. I also had lots of my own compositions collected over years which I decided to try in the band. They went down really well, the audiences loved them. The Brazilian music, and my tunes were a great musical balance so I discovered I had an album to record.
With Outsiders Insiders, my second album, I decided to do all originals. I also aimed to continue with the sound that I’d created in my first album, but to extend it further in performance, my writing, and my production. Some people see jazz recordings as a capture of performance, whereas I see the production as part of the compositional process, which can lead to a different sound from the original performance.
LJN: What is the title song “Outsiders Insiders” about?
ES: I write about the world I see around me. Outsiders Insiders was originally written as a poem observing categories within society. When you have a group of people who see themselves as insiders that leaves others as outsiders, then by turn those outsiders can be come a group in themselves reversing the situation. It’s a reflection of what happens within society all over the place, that society can become very divided. Therefore it’s kind of a ‘call to action’ for us to connect more ‘outside’ of our ‘inside’ circles. Personally I believe we need more social connectedness.
This theme re-appears on the album in the tune Reflections. The phrase in the chorus ‘all by yourself’ refers to self-responsibility for change. I aimed for both Reflections and Outsiders Insiders to be about instigating positive change and connection. I’ve always loved the phrase that Gandhi is reputed to have said “be the change you want to see in the world” … apparently he may not have said these exact words, but the sentiment is still there.
LJN: “You Caught Me” is quite a “constructed” song?
ES: That’s very complimentary that it comes over that way, in fact it’s also a very ethereal song which is quite simplistic in its contents. I aimed for it to appear almost timeless via its construction. I think all art is constructed in some way or another. Throughout the album I’ve thought deeply as to how to construct the tunes both in themselves and in relation to each other.
LJN: And the idea of making / constructing feeds into how you put together a live programme and indeed the album?
ES: Yes that’s right there are parallels between how I construct a live programme and an album. Everything that I’m reaching for is about balance – balancing opposites, balancing connections, balancing content. When I’m constructing, in doing this I’m aiming to give the audience an enjoyable experience.
LJN: Is there an overall shape or narrative to the album?
ES: There is no narrative as such, no simple story arc, but what there is, is the concept Outsiders Insiders which focuses on the categories that people find themselves in and the need for some sort of reconciliation. This also refers to my compositional approach as I look at categories in an artistic representational way throughout the album, via tune balance, reflection and connection.
LJN: You have a way to make tunes “meander” through moods, is that something you’ve learnt from other composers
ES: I’ve been inspired by so many great composers and sounds it’s impossible to quote them all, but everything goes through my own personal filters and out of that comes something original.
LJN: And you’ve always written poetry? Stories?
ES: Yes I’ve loved to write poems and stories since I was young kid. I now focus on poems as I find the reduction of language really powerful. I also love my poetry in a musical context hence they often become lyrics. It’s one of the ways in which I make sense of the world. I write about what I see around me, either what I experience directly, or observe indirectly which is either sadly or happily universal. My approach to composing varies: sometimes I write words then add music, sometimes I write music then add words, and sometimes I write in conjunction. Some of my compositions don’t have any words.
LJN: Is there catharsis involved?
ES: If people respond to my work then there should always be some cathartic element to it. I write about things I see around me, both in a personal reactive way, as well as purely observational. I aimed for this album to cover a wide spectrum of human emotions, as though the different tunes are moments in time in themselves capturing both personal or universal experiences.
LJN: How has Taoism influenced you?
ES: I read Tao Te Ching a while back and found it to be a beautiful book full of poems some of which portrayed balance in opposites. One element of Taoism is to reconcile opposites and to be able to tolerate ambiguity. That is an important part of what I’m doing in my writing. For example the words in Residing portray beauty in opposites: ‘sunshines on cloudy days, snowdrops bloom in months of May’ and ‘sunrise dawns as night draws in, butterflies appear to swim’.
LJN: But “Summer Days” shows you as quite a cheerful person?
ES: Yes thank you that’s lovely thing to say, and yes artistic balance is fundamental to my work. The words to Summer Days are about people chilling out in a park or at a carnival having fun. I love singing it, it is a very happy song and the audience always smile.