Here’s a clip of Alaskan, and current Portland Oregon singer-songwriter Emma Hill along with band Her Gentlemen Callers with their newest single, “Meet Me At the Moon”. The song is the lead track from her upcoming record Meet Me At the Moon, set for release in 2011. Hill is an example of American roots music flourishing in every corner of the North American continent (and beyond), and at an age that belies her supremely affecting voice – age 22. But is this the debut of an ingenue? No. It will be her third album, after 2009’s Clumsy Seduction.
Hill’s music is rooted in current and established Anglo-Celtic forms that have produced folk, bluegrass, and modern country music. Her focus is on tight ensemble playing based around strong songwriting, with a background in folk music, singing in a duo while in Alaska. Later, she found herself on her own later as a solo artist in Portland, writing songs from a more personal standpoint.
What can be picked up from this song is how closely knit the musicians are, with each instrument in balance, yet with a casual looseness too, and with a hint of humour (note the quotation of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ just as the band is warming up as played on the pedal steel guitar). Of course the most obvious highlight is Emma Hill’s pure, effortless voice.
I talked to Emma via email, and asked her about the video, songwriting, the importance of geography, and how someone’s age doesn’t necessarily determine how self-aware they are when it comes to affairs of the heart.
The Delete Bin: Tell me about the making of the video for ‘Meet Me At The Moon’. It looked like a lot of fun. How did it come together?
Emma Hill: It was a lot of fun! My friend Travis Madden came to me wanting to shoot the video. He had been admiring the recent buzz of “One Take New York” videos and wanted to try a Portland version. It was very casual. We decided on Overlook park because it’s one of my favorite spots in Portland. It was a beautiful evening and we set up and played to some passers-by. He captured the magic. I think he did an excellent job!
DB: You’re originally from small town Alaska, and you’ve moved first to Anchorage, and now to Portland, Oregon. How have these shifts in geography affected you as a songwriter?
EH: Where I come from is a very big part of me. Alaska is in my core and that comes out in my songwriting, even if the lyrics don’t do so directly. I try to visit Alaska at least twice a year and I have written songs recently up there. Portland’s vibes are always giving me great inspiration. There is so much talent in this area that it is easy to feed off the energy around me.
DB: Tell me about ‘The Gentlemen Callers’. How did you assemble the band, and what would you say is the unifying approach to making music between you?
EH: The Gents were formed early 2009. I had finished Clumsy Seduction and was ready to carry some of the full band sound we had on that album over to my live set. Bryan Daste, the lead Gentlemen Caller, and I have been collaborating since 2007. He’s recorded and co-produced both of my albums, and we are currently in the studio finishing up number three. He plays pedal steel, fantastically I might add, and so when he found out I was putting a group together he asked to be a part of it.
We’ve since then gone through a couple of rhythm sections, but are now quite content with the four piece we’ve got together. Andy and John are great guys. I’d say what’s so great about making music together is that we have a lot of fun, on stage and off. That being said, we are all also very serious musicians.
DB: When you write songs, how much arranging goes on in your head with these guys in mind?
EH: A lot. The core of the songs are my doing alone, yes. But I hear parts in my head shortly after writing them, especially working with Bryan as long as I have. When I write a song, I immediately record it and send it to him. Usually within hours I’ve got a demo returned with his backing vocals and steel on it. I almost don’t even accept the song as done until I’ve heard what he’s laid down on it, and then, depending on the song, until the full group has solidified their parts. That’s very different than how I used to write songs as a solo artist.
DB: By now, you’re a recording veteran with this upcoming record Meet Me At the Moon being your third album as a recording artist under your own name. At this point, what are the most striking differences you’ve noticed in the way you made this record in contrast to when you first set foot in a studio?
EH: Recording this album was very different. It’ll be our first album released under the name Emma Hill and Her Gentlemen Callers and it will be accurately named. The gents were in the studio from day one. We laid down drum and bass first, which was different to in the past where we always did keeper takes of my guitar and vocals and then worked guest instrumentation around that. I’m excited for this album because we’ve chosen to stick with a very similar feel to what our live sound is currently. I think that’s important.
DB: With this song, “Meet Me At the Moon” , I hear a bit of uncertainty mixed in there with conviction in the line “I don’t know how in love with you I am – but I am”. It’s a great line, my favourite part of the song, just because I love the contrast. Is there more of a challenge in writing straight-ahead love songs these days, in a more jaded age in which we’re living?
EH: I guess we are living in a jaded age, but when it comes to my songwriting, love songs or not, I tend to be brutally honest. That line is one of my favorites too, because there is something so playful about it. I guess if I were in love in a steady relationship, my songs would be more straight-ahead as you call it, but since I’m young and still finding my way through this crazy life, my love songs tend to be about the ups and downs of thinking you’re in love and finding out you’re not…or some other lesson life forces us to learn the hard, (but fun,) way.
DB: You’re 22, writing songs that draw from styles which has been around in one form or another for centuries. Do you think that the idea of a generation gap where music is concerned is a thing of the past?
EH: You know it’s tough to identify ones genre and style too closely with their generation. I know for a fact that my music is greatly influenced by folk rock, Americana of the 60s and 70s because that’s all that I had to listen to where I grew up. There was no radio and my parents had a tape collection of about 20 albums. Of course as I got older, moved and had access to different styles, I’ve drawn off of all of those as well. My style is always changing, evolving while at the same time seeming to sit down into itself. I don’t know if that answered that question at all..haha. [ed: She sure did!]