Sincerely Yours: An interview with Emika
Ninja Tune’s dark dubstepper shows a more human side on her new album DVA, exploring the poetry of her European roots.
By whatever definition you care to define it, dubstep has had a massive impact on the world of music. By 2011, the plucky little sub-bass-that-could had shed it’s UK chrysalis and become almost a household term, its influence spreading into genres, nations and the minds of producers—including that of Czech transplant Ema Jolly, who discovered the sound during her time growing up in London. After some time spent attending Tectonic Recordings founder Pinch‘s earliest parties and working as an intern for Ninja Tune, she eventually found herself in another city known for its love of electronics: Berlin, her current base of operations. Using her classical training, experience as a sound designer for Native Instruments, and taking equal inspiration from the haunting lows of her old haunts and the club-friendly techno of her new home, she adopted the moniker Emika, under which she released her first self-titled (and rather well-received) album in 2011. Her second, the recently-released DVA, finds her exploring similar realms less cold—with more than a touch of the rebellious.
The first thing I noticed about your new album is the title. “Dva” is Czech for “two”. The second thing I noticed was that your vocals sounded far more natural, less processed than your previous album. Was the title meant to be a statement about exploring a second side of yourself, or did you choose the name simply because it’s your second album?
Emika: The title actually came after I’d finished the album. The first album really created the second, because there was a lot of demand for me to perform and release more. There wasn’t really a period where I had a break in-between. I have a very strong fan base in Eastern Europe, and traveling there so much really opened up it’s history to me, as well as helped me explore my own Czech roots. After growing up in England, this all felt so new to me. So all these stories of my experiences performing as well as the experiences of my audiences helped form the narrative of DVA, and I felt that was the perfect title for this learning journey I’d been on. When it came out, though, everyone thought it meant “Diva”, which hadn’t even occurred to me!
I read an interview with you recently where you stated that DVA was a “rebel diva album.”
[laughs] I’m not sure I actually did say that, but now that statement is everywhere. I guess it’s rebellious in the sense that I don’t want to be told what to do. I manage my career myself now, I make all my own beats, and I feel like that’s rare for a woman to do all her own production, music, and management herself.
Many people tend to assume there’s a man behind the scenes, or at least a manager.
Exactly, and when I put out my first record it was that assumption that made me so crazy. It’s like… fuck you, world. I was meeting all these young girls after my shows telling me they wanted to be producers and asking me about the technology I used, and I’d always say just do it, just make music. But then I thought, “Well, can I actually do it all on my own?” So I made a promise to myself that I would, although actually I’m not sure it’s entirely me because I did steal quite a few amazing ideas from my fans [laughs].
But would you say it defines you as an artist more than your first record, or more as Emika the person?
My first record was a very selfish one; I mean it’s even named after me. With Emika, I was trying to establish myself as a producer, get myself out there and introduce myself to other artists and producers. I wanted to be part of the club scene, to have a place within dubstep. I don’t really care so much about that now. DVA is more about just expressing myself.
It does feel more humanistic than Emika; more natural-sounding even though the medium remains similar. The videos you and Matt Lambert have made work perfectly in that context, because they feel very humanized.
It’s something we’ve always been able to produce as a team. I feel like I could work with Matt for the next ten years. He’s able to coax things out of me so that the videos are directed rather than staged, and that’s such a difference. The things we make spring entirely from us; it’s not about money, fashion or other sort of cultural props. So it will always feel sincere.
I thought the way the videos were released was a bit brilliant, because the first one released was “Searching”, and it was so stark, just you lost in the snow and quite drunk. Then as the others were released it became an evolution, showing more of yourself in different ways and following a progression in the same way an album would, exploring fragility and sexuality at the same time.
Women are usually so two-dimensional in film narratives—this one is the Happy Girl, this one’s the Bitch, and so on. And in music videos, women are often there just to promote the idea of ‘happiness’, or as a prop to ignite jealousy, or in an overly glamorized way so that you associate buying the music with buying the woman; it turns both ideas into objects. With Matt I never felt like that. I never felt that there was ‘A Man’ watching me through the lens. He was happy to let me do what I pleased; he never said, “Oh don’t do that because it isn’t sexy, or it makes you look ugly,” or whatever. That felt so liberating, to have the freedom to just be myself.
What has the response toward the more ‘natural’ shift in your sound been like?
They’ve been really varied; there’s been a lot of dissing going on, which I’m actually quite excited about! The big German paper Die Zeit referred to it as “chart-worthy music” while Pitchfork slammed it and said I was showing all my flaws. People either seem to really love it or think it’s total rubbish compared to the first record.
Extreme responses are always better than middle-of-the-road ones.
Definitely, and I do understand some of the reactions. None of my vocals are edited; I was using a live mic and most of the vocals were done while I was actually performing rather than in a studio. I kept all the imperfections in this time. What you’re hearing is purely me.
Electronic producers seem to often disdain or even fear humanizing themselves or their voices, which is what I found so refreshing about DVA. The imperfections make it truer, more vulnerable and open.
That’s something I want to see more of. Whether they actually enjoy it or not, people are hearing my choices. I feel like I’ve made myself clear; anything beyond that is out of my control. ˜
DVA is out now on Ninja Tune. Emika plays the Berlin Festival’s Foreign Affairs on July 5th.
Published June 26, 2013. Words by Daniel Jones.