Critically acclaimed vocalist, songwriter, musician, arranger and producer Emily Saunders returns with a new single, Rugged Waves, from her forthcoming album, ‘Moon Shifts Oceans’, and an album exclusive preview concert at the Forge in Camden on Saturday 16 September.
Dubbed “The UK’s queen of jazz fusion,” Saunders has attained Top 10 status in international iTunes and Amazon charts in the UK, USA, Germany, France and Indonesia. Her music has also been played on BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 and Jazz FM, as well as national stations around the world. Rugged Waves has already been placed on Apple Music’s official jazz playlist. Interview by Rob Adams:
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LondonJazz News: What was the inspiration behind Rugged Waves and how did you go about writing and recording it?
Emily Saunders: Visiting a great friend in Greece, I was sitting on rocks on my own at the edge of a gorgeous cove, while it was beautifully sunny and the sea was rugged in the fresh wind. The words of the verse of Rugged Waves just came to me on a tune, then the groove and bassline immediately came to me too, so I quickly recorded everything on my phone. When back in London I got stuck into expanding the musical ideas, composing and arranging into the whole structured piece.
I booked State of the Ark studio (sadly now closed) to record the initial core rhythm section, trumpet, and voice parts for Rugged Waves and the whole album, planning as I always do to then work on the material later into the produced work. But out of the blue, a total spanner hit the works… on the third day I woke up in the morning with my knee severely swollen, bent, and barely able to walk. Having no choice but to continue my booked studio day, everything went ahead, and I led the band, recording, as well as singing, standing on one leg!
A handful of years then followed as I had varying levels of capacity to walk, and my right hand also became impacted, so playing live was totally limited, but somehow the glass is alway half-full – I’m left-handed, and I had time to focus in on the production.
LJN: You’re a songwriter, singer, musician, arranger and producer; what are the advantages or even the disadvantages in filling all these roles?
ES: It’s funny, I can’t separate producing and composing from my singing, it’s all the same vehicle of musical communication for me, creating a ‘sound’.
Having written a tune, its chordal structure, basslines, keys groove, instrumental layers, its form, I instinctively want to dig into the sounds and intricately explore and sculpt everything into a final produced work, and see where and how I can take the soundworld of a tune. I totally get some people’s love (and I also love) listening to someone’s one-take ‘live’ recording, and of not wanting to change anything – ‘it is as it is’, a captured moment in time. But for me creatively, my greatest love is totally different, it’s not about that single recording, there’s a whole lot of creative work I love to explore through production. Rather than a single recorded moment in time, I love to sculpt tunes, as fundamentally for me with my music, the studio process is integrally part of the compositional process.
The advantage I find in producing is freedom to create how I love to create, the only negative is time, as it’s time-consuming doing it yourself, but I just love to expand, re-work; it’s just how my mind ticks.
Being a vocalist and exploring sound is a way of life to me, it sits equally with composing and producing, alongside being an incredible vehicle to say things I need to say in poems and lyrics. To be able to communicate things on my mind with my voice and keys, or guitar late at night after a long day is everything to me, just those personal things of digging into a tune.
LJN: What music were you listening to in the run-up to writing Rugged Waves and are there any musicians especially who have had an impact on your current writing?
ES: I’m not sure exactly what I was listening to at the time, but big accumulative influences from when I really started out exploring sounds in jazz when studying a masters degree were Chick Corea, Hermeto Pascoal, Airto Moreira, Frank Zappa, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis. Before that when I was growing up, and throughout my life, Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder have always been two of my greatest musical loves, then there’s Santana, Mongo Santamaria, Herbie Hancock, and loads more, including folk too.
There are countless other musical influences and sounds too. Literally countless. I see writing music in the same way as I see our speaking accents – we absorb countless influences from family, friends, TV, school growing up, then out comes our own accent when we speak. With music, I see it as the same, we absorb countless sounds over years, and then out of us comes our own ‘sound’. For me creating music is moulding a pot and seeing how or where each tune naturally needs to go.
LJN: Who are the musicians involved in the recording and what qualities do they bring to your work that you particularly value?
ES: My initial recording was focusing on the core rhythm section plus horn, and obviously voice too, to capture the composed work. So I recorded keys (Chris Jerome), bass (Paul Michael), drums (George Hart), with trumpet (Byron Wallen), plus my voice as both lyrical voice and instrumental voice.
I love the trumpet in a band sound, for its bite and attack in tone, which sits well within the fusion of music influences in my sound. Byron only has a short solo space in the work I compose, but his usual super-skilled flair, and individual sound strides forward. Chris works with many people on the London scene, always gigging somewhere, a lovely person and great player. Paul and I met at Trinity Laban over 10 years ago when both studying jazz there and he’s been in my live band ever since. George has an incredible, massive drum kit, he’s super skilled, always plays in socks, and has done many of my live gigs too.
Later in my writing and producing this work, I brought in more great musicians; Billy Adamson on guitar (also at Trinity), Carl Hudson on synths, his name goes before him, and Cosimo Keita on percussion.
LJN: What is it about the Forge that attracts you to it as a venue?
ES: The Forge is a fantastic space, it’s got a vibe, as it’s made up of different areas which all connect into one. It was closed for a bit, just re-opening around spring this year, and now run by a renowned live event promoter. It’s thriving with great acts – definitely a place to visit, support, hang! It’s snuck into Camden as well – a place which is renowned for music and a strong scene of great things happening!
LJN: What feelings would you like the audience to take away from the launch gig?
ES: Happiness and connection – it’s a kind of feeling that we need loads of at the moment. Plus musical inspiration I hope in some way, and hopefully to love the sounds they’re hearing or buy some music. Every gig I’ve gone to has always inspired me in some way so I hope people take something away from this too.
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LINKS: Listen to Rugged Waves