2013 saw the release of the sixth studio album from Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini. Tookah was a darker and slower record than anything she’d done before, a bit more electronic and a whole lot more personal than we’d maybe heard Torrini be in the past.
A year on from that record, Torrini continues to tour the album – albeit more sporadically since the birth of her son – and is all set for another tour, the highlight of which will be her headlining appearance at our Ja Ja Ja Festival! She’s already helped plan out the menu for the weekend with former HIM member and now professional chef Antto Melasniemi, so while you chow down on those delights she’ll be serenading you with that beautiful voice of hers… what a treat on so many levels.
Ahead of that appearance, we spoke to Emiliana at home in Iceland – trapped indoors by a storm – to talk about Ja Ja Ja, take a look back at Tookah and find out more about her new song – a collaboration with Canadian musician Kid Koala.
Hello Emiliana, are you back in Iceland at the moment?
“Yes, just getting ready for the tour!”
How is touring for you these days, now that you’re a mother?
“It’s definitely more difficult; I try to do less of it so it’s choosing well and compromising… and I’m testing out trying to do more work in shorter spaces of time. I’m going to see if that is possible. I’m doing seven shows in a week, it’s probably too much! But I’m gonna check if I can do it, otherwise it’ll be too crazy.”
So it’s packing a month’s work into seven days?
“I can’t go away for a month, but maybe next year it’ll be easier to take my son with me. One thing about being a stubborn musician and compromising little with the music, not making music one record straight after another is kind of the price you pay… you have to start all over, every time. So there’s no luxury ever in the way I tour now – I don’t have tour buses and if you don’t have that there’s no point taking your child on tour!”
And of course you’ll be headlining the Ja Ja Ja Festival as part of that tour; are you looking forward to it?
“Really looking forward to it! I spent a week with the cook, Antto Melasniemi, finding produce and eating amazing food and drinking amazing drinks, and going on a real treasure hunt! So seeing him again will be amazing, and to play, of course.”
Is there anyone you’re keen to catch while you’re there?
“I am gonna try and watch quite a lot of them but I haven’t had time to check them out… but I will! It’s all really good though, we did a big playlist for a party evening we had with all the food and drink – some of it was amazing, so now it’s just knowing who’s who!”
It’s been nearly a year since the release of Tookah, so with that distance how do you feel about the record now?
“This is definitely my best record, I’m so, so, so proud of it. But it was also the worst record to work on….”
In what sense?
“Just chain of events failures! Definitely the hardest one to have full support with; I think everything fell apart on this record: management, every chain that could break… but everywhere else it was going well – with people [buying the record], listening, radio… but everything my side failed miserably! It was a little heart breaking, but also luckily people are with it and that was amazing… because you’re never sure if that will happen or not. But we definitely had the best run we’ve ever had in England, all the concerts we had there were unbelievable. London is always a hard place – and an amazing place – to play, but it was just sparkling!”
Tookah, to me, had a different feel to your other records: quieter, a bit darker… where did that come from?
“I think it’s just a different kind of light and dark, I guess. There was a huge shift in the unconscious landscape, I felt with this record. The sea has been very prominent in my life and how I live and write, but with this record it was completely earthy, ground… it was all in my head, less water and more raggedy mountain. There was a huge imagery shift.”
Does place have an impact on that?
“No, it’s much more just what’s happening in life, in growing, where you’re heading… and I really believe that with every kind of experienc,e you’re adding on to your unconscious landscape. There was just a real shift with so many things. Like being a mum and not knowing at all what I was doing! [laughs] Kind of getting used to that identity, and loving it… but also trying to do what I do and be who I am. How to be better, and not worse, do you know what I mean? How to make it all work with as little damage as possible.”
Do you feel like you’ve become a less selfish person since becoming a parent?
“Yes, definitely! Before I was a bit of a drama queen and I could write much more from that perspective, and you lose a lot of that when you have a kid… you just get over yourself a lot! You get over a lot of things and they become a non-issue, a non-thing to be writing about. It makes things a little more complicated because it’s a nice place to write from, the me me me!”
Not quite so self-indulgent then?
“Yes, definitely; but now all I want to understand and have time for and see is what’s in front of me. So, I’ve been less curious about the other stuff.”
You’ve worked with Kid Koala on a new song ‘Nightfall (Pale Blue)’, for the new Jason Reitman film Men, Women and Children; have you known him for a long time?
“Yes, kind of. He used to come to my shows and he was constantly wanting to work with me – and he never gave up, which was really nice. Every time [we tried to work] there was something drastic going on so we couldn’t do it. But he’s taught me new ways of writing; he’s never written songs before so that was really interesting….”
He’s better known for his beats, really…
“Yes, rather than lyrics. For this song, he sent me some tracks and I knew Jason Reitman wanted that track in the movie…. and I did something for the first time in my life. I call it ‘HDHD’… because I have the focus of a four-year-old! I wrote it in snippets of ten minutes each week, writing over this beat and making harmonies, things like that. It was the first time I ever did that; it was a huge step for me because I knew I couldn’t keep travelling all the time to write, and I just do it on my iPhone now… “
Is that how you recorded it?
“No; I was playing in London and got my friend to record me. And because that went really well we decided to meet, and I went to Canada and we wrote another eight songs.”
Who was the driving force behind that?
“It was mainly because he got really into it; he got his own space writing lyrics and I kept to the melody – but wrote lyrics and melody to two songs… we have to decide what we’re gonna do with it now!”
So are the lyrics on ‘Nightfall (Pale Blue)’ yours?
“Yes. I rarely sing other people’s lyrics, so I had to overstep that mark when I went to Canada!”
So is this collaboration going to be released in some form? A joint record? A solo album?
“It is a collaboration, and it’s going to be a record to draw to. There’s going to be events that Kid Koala is going to set up… doodlers and artists can come and listen to music and be inspired by it and draw to it.”
Going back to Men, Women and Children, have you seen the film yet?
“Not yet… what I like about him [Jason Reitman] is that he’s brave enough to do the opposite of what is expected of him. I really like that; he can’t make another Juno, that’s impossible, and people would have been very disappointed if he’d made another one….”
I enjoyed the end of Up In The Air, how that conflated everyone’s Hollywood ending expectations…
“I like that, I find it quite fun. I’ve only read the script for this though, and that was great.”
Did you take from the script for the song writing?
“I take points out of things… like I knew one of the characters was reading or hiding the fact they were reading an Anais Nin book, so I thought of something in the lyric which connected it to that… little pieces throughout the movie that connected with the lyric.”
And so what’s next for you once the tour is over…back to writing?
“No, I’m gonna be doing Christmas! It takes me months to do Christmas, I’m a Christmas child from hell [laughs]. I have loads of people staying in my house, so I’m going to enjoy planning it and creating silly stuff for it. And then I’m going to start writing completely differently; I’ll start with lyrics, spend the next three or four months just writing a lot of gobbledegook! I have to have something different to learn every record so I’m trying to find myself something! Every record has to have a big challenge….”