Forget The Metaphors, Emma Russack Is Just Talking About What She Knows

4 July 2019 | 9:04 am | Steve Bell

Ahead of the release of her fifth album 'Winter Blues', Emma Russack tells Steve Bell that the only way she knows how to write songs is from a position of vulnerability.

More Emma Russack More Emma Russack

Singer-songwriter Emma Russack is in the process of wrapping up her law degree at a high-profile Melbourne university – she’s got just one exam left and is on track to graduate with Distinction, all the while pitching for graduate jobs – but at the same time she’s juggling the myriad obligations surrounding the release of her beautiful fifth album, Winter Blues.

Unsurprisingly she’s strong at multitasking – Russack also released two strong albums in 2018 with The Ocean Party frontman Lachlan Denton – which perhaps explains her newest batch of affecting folk-pop’s rather left-of-centre genesis.

The songs were recorded to tape over the course of a year in the studio of producer John Lee and captured in single live takes. Not even Russack’s band were shown the songs until the day of each session, the singer firm in her belief that the resulting immediacy atoned for any little imperfections that filtered through as a result of this unorthodoxy.

“I find from past experience that the more takes I do, the more detached I become from the actual song. I become really conscious of tiny mistakes and continually start over again,” she reflects. “So if I’m feeling it and the band are feeling it – even if it’s a little bit crap – we’ll keep that take. On the Winter Blues album there are heaps of little mistakes throughout, but I’m willing to overlook them because it felt right and I know I won’t feel better with any other take. 

“It’s kind of a risk that I’m willing to take. I don’t know if it comes down to being a bit lazy and not very dedicated, but I’m not aiming, I suppose, [for] technical perfection – I’m not going for an overproduced sound, so I’m not aiming for perfection in that sense – I just want to feel good about how I felt in that take. I’m all about the feeling, because you gotta be real.”

"I’m all about the feeling, because you gotta be real.”

Be Real is appropriately a track on Winter Blues – an entrancingly catchy slice of agit-pop that encapsulates the mood of the album perfectly with its analytical lyrics and assured delivery.

“I guess I’m fairly confused at the moment about a lot of things going on in the world, I find a lot of the songs tap into that,” Russack muses. “Especially, for some reason, social media is really getting to me – and it always has, I’ve always written about it – but I guess a lot of the songs come from a place of distress actually, but I’m trying not to be too emo about it.

“I’m just putting it out there and saying, ‘I feel a bit strange about this but maybe that’s ok?’ The hope being that maybe a few people will listen to it and go, ‘Yeah, I feel a bit strange about that happening too and that’s ok.’ I’m not saying that I’m just providing some form of community service, but I’m really just trying to work out why I’m feeling the way that I feel about society and where we’re going.”

Unsurprisingly Russack admits an element of catharsis creeps into the process when analysing her own and society’s foibles so bluntly.

“Yeah, particularly with a song like Be Real, which is really just about how vacuous a scene can be,” she continues. “I find that the music scene involves a lot of trend and hype and for better or for worse I’ve never been cool: I’ve been at it for a while and I’ve never been considered cool in the industry, and that’s ok. 

“If I was worried about it I maybe would have tried to do something about it, but I suppose a song like Be Real was kind of cathartic in that I was saying to myself, ‘No, I’m ok. Emma, it’s ok to feel like this, I’m doing what I can to be real and to make every interaction with people around me meaningful, and if that’s what works for me, that’s ok and I don’t have to try to be any other way.’ 

“The hope is that that translates to others and others can appreciate that, but if they don’t then I don’t care. I suppose it has been self-serving and it has been cathartic because it’s more about coming to terms with things myself.”

As with Be Real, songs like the title track and album closer Never Before are rife with heart-on-sleeve vulnerability. “Every album cycle I get asked the question, ‘Do you find it hard to be vulnerable?’ and maybe I do, maybe that’s why I’m such a fucking mess, I don’t know,” she sighs. “It’s the only way I know how to write songs, that’s my style. I didn’t study poetry when I was growing up and I read my first novel when I was 21 so I’m not using metaphors and I’m not talking about pigeons, I’m just really saying all I know – I’m just talking about what I know and that’s all I can do. 

“Maybe my decision to go into law and get some more stability and security in my life is a result of me being a little spent – I’ve kind of given it my all, and the fact that I am so vulnerable in my music means that it kind of matters so much to me because I do put so much of myself into it. 

“So I’ve gotten to a point where I do feel pretty worn out by the whole thing, but that’s not enough for me to go, ‘I’m going to start writing top lines and work with big producers.’ I don’t want to do that. I know that everything I do is my own decision and that comes with consequences I have to live with, and that’s fine.”