There was always a little bit of baroque folk lurking in Emma Anderson’s songs with Lush, and for her long-overdue solo debut, Pearlies, she worked with Maps’ James Chapman as producer and collaborator to help bring those elements to the fore. “I didn’t want to form a traditional four piece band to record these songs, so I needed a producer who was a whizz-kid programmer and arranger and James is just that,” Anderson says. Chapman adds synthesizers, but never makes these songs sound anything like Maps; they add background shading and atmosphere, an ethereal cloud of autumn foliage swirling around Anderson. Also helping out was Suede guitarist Richard Oakes who plays on many of the songs. It’s a terrific record and you can listen to the whole thing below.
For more on Pearlies, Emma has given us the lowdown on every song on the album, with stories of working with Chapman and Oaks, writing and recording during lockdown, how some elements were originally intended for Lush tracks, her post-Lush band Sing Sing, the influence of movie soundtracks, Spiritualized, Serge Gainsbourg, Johnny Marr, and more. It’s a deep dive into the album and a great read. Check it out below.
EMMA ANDERSON’S ‘PEARLIES’ TRACK-BY-TRACK BREAKDOWN
I Was Miles Away
“I Was Miles Away” is the longest track on Pearlies and when Nat from Sonic Cathedral compiled the tracklisting for the album and he chose to put it as the first track, I thought it was at best curious, at worst, madness but it totally works. It is a great introduction, and it includes the lyric “See if I can make it on my own” which, when I wrote it didn’t mean an awful lot but now, you could say it refers to me branching out as a solo artist. In fact, the imaginary journey though time and space could be seen as me exploring my new (non-imaginary) solo adventure?!
This one I played around with the cellist Audrey Riley although that version was very different to this. The end part or coda is a piece of music that was originally an ending to a Lush song back in 2016. I discarded the first part of that but kept this bit as I liked it so much and it works well here.
I have read the album being described as ‘psych’ which is the first time any music of mine has been described as that genre. This track especially has been singled out as being in that vein and I guess I can see why – the vintage keyboard sounds, the layers of backing vocals maybe even the length of the track (though it’s not as long as some other songs I have written for previous bands).
This is the first song on the album that Richard Oakes very generously played on. Most of the album was recorded and ultimately mixed at Maps HQ (James Chapman’s studio in Northamptonshire) but we recorded Richard in London at the 4AD studio which was kindly lent to us for a day. Richard contributed little guitar lines on this, some of which he described a ‘Marr-ism’ (I know which parts he means) but I also love the build-up of his overdriven guitars which mesh with the keyboards toward the end.
I look forward to playing this one live.
Bend The Round
“Bend the Round,” is one I started during lockdown. I came up with the melody which I had the idea for a certain type of beat underneath it. It was further developed when I was driving up to James’ house in Northamptonshire and had a couple of Serge Gainsbourg CDs in the car and I thought that the kind of languorous groove that underpins a lot of his work would possible fit with the feel of it. This was further developed when I thought a Serge Gainsbourg type guitar part would fit on it too, so I asked Richard to have a go and what he did was perfect.
What I tend to do when writing lyrics is I just put words down onto a page to see what comes out and, like some other songs on this album, they did end up having some resonance. ‘Children playing with fire and ice, not aware that they’re fed with lies.’
The middle-eight part has more of a ’60s feel, musically. I do like the lyrics here, especially the ‘Turning up too late to the party, leaving without saying a word’.
BAFTA award-winning film and video director, Kieran Evans, did all three promo videos for the singles off this album. This was the first and was filmed entirely on an iPhone, partly in my living room and partly on the beach in Hastings (where I live).
He then overlaid some lovely geometrical designs on top. It was great to work with Kieran again as the last time had been 1998 when he did the video for Sing-Sing’s Feels Like Summer, funnily enough partly filmed very near to Hastings. We’ve come full circle!
Again, a little melody for the verse came into my head one day and I liked it a lot and recorded it into my portable voice recorder. Some months later, I put it together with an instrumental part that I had had hanging around on a tape with no home – that being a very 1960s kind of John Barry-esque, Portishead type affair… lots of minor chords in succession which was then further enhanced in the album sessions with James adding certain vintage keyboard sounds and a Theremin sound (not a real one, I should add!).
It’s a very atmospheric track and it’s gone down well with a lot of people. Lyrically, it’s about something that happened on tour once in a foreign land.
Taste the Air
This is the newest song on the album. I had had nine songs, but I wanted 10 so I wrote this one not long before I started with James. It was originally called “Look Away” but I already had a song with “Away” in the title and I didn’t want another. It wouldn’t have looked good on the sleeve design!
It’s in a 6/4-time signature and I love the suggested ‘beat’ even though there are no drums, if you see what I mean.
Lyrically it’s about the sad but very necessary ending of a relationship.
Conversely, this is one of the oldest whole songs. It’s been documented, and it is true, that it was inspired by the Krystof Komeda’s Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack which I had always loved since watching the film years and years ago. Again, like “Inter Light,” lots of minor chords are welded together but this time it’s more in the style of Eastern European or Greek traditional music – hence the title Xanthe.
This one once had lyrics but I think it works better with just the la la las. Less is more.
It could be described as a lullaby, or a soundtrack to a horror movie. It’s funny how it could actually be both.
Richard played all the guitars on this one. In fact all I did was the vocal. It’s quite haunting and I love the space in it.
This, weirdly enough, is the oldest song on the album, only in the fact that I started writing it in about 2014. For years it was called “Fast E Minor” even though it hardly has a tempo of an early Hüsker Dü track.
It probably is the one that sounds most like a band might play it though, but I do think it has the most ‘classic’ elements of a pop song structure ie intro, verse, chorus, post chorus, breakdown then outro/coda. I like the fact it builds as the fade happens – it leaves you thinking ‘What happened after that?!’
Even though I had the beginnings of the song even before the Lush reunion was mooted, it is not, on the whole, one that was ever played to the other band members.
The ending part though was originally the ending of a Lush song, but I mostly discarded that. I liked this coda so kept it and added it to the rest of the original problematic song I had been working on for so long.
James wrote the keyboard melody for the middle instrumental section. I had one but it wasn’t particularly good, so we replaced it with his. I saw one review which described this song as ‘ye-ye’ which I thought was really interesting – I can see what they meant.
The lyrics are about anxiety which is something that I have to deal with from time to time and have to overcome.
Kieran says his wonderful lyric video was inspired by 1950s/60s British TV graphics and fonts and the visual work of Len Lye. I think it is my favourite video of the three (and not because I am not in it!). It’s just brilliant.
Willow and Mallow
I never said it myself (I don’t think I did anyway) but people seem to say that this song is inspired by Willow’s Song from the cult British Horror film The Wicker Man. Maybe subconsciously it is and it’s funny as Sing-Sing actually did a cover of that for a B-side (of ‘Tegan’).
But – let’s get out the adjectives – this is the ‘pastoral’ and ‘bucolic’ one on the album and I consider it to be very ‘English’ sounding in that vein, if I may say that. I particularly like the bassline on this. I do pay a lot of attention to basslines; I try and vary them as they go along which in effect changes the chords and this one, I think works especially well.
The oboe isn’t real, but you wouldn’t know it, would you (or would you?) and the xylophone at the end was a very late addition – a little melody that come into my head which we added when I went back to James for a couple of days before Xmas 2022.
Richard played beautiful arpeggio acoustic guitar in this, something I could never do myself. I also love his guitar solo… in fact, he kind of made this track what it is.
Again, wordplay is at work in the lyrics. I wanted to write a song which mentioned nature but also the big expanse of space and stars out there. I’m not sure what it all means but ‘patterns in the sand are fading fast’ could mean something… who knows?
Tonight Is Mine
This is another song I played around with on a version with Audrey Riley, but this is a very different take. The melody and 3/4 time signature give the song a folk bent but James added a strong electronic element which, at first, I wasn’t sure about at all but now I totally love. It’s actually turned into one of my favourite tracks on the album. I was also very proud of this one as I recorded the arpeggio guitar on my own at home.
Lyrically, again I set out to just play around with words. As I said before, I write and see what comes out and sometimes stand back and think, ‘Wow, well that’s relevant!’
For A Moment
This is the shortest song on the album, but I love it. It’s actually quite simple and I think has a late 60s feel to it with the vintage keyboard sounds and chord progression. I wanted it to sound quite ‘full’ so I said the word ‘Spiritualized’ to James and he got it immediately.
Lyrically it’s about telling someone that I have changed, become stronger, learned some lessons and that I am never going back to my old self.
This is one was written in the kind of, for want of a better expression, “Lit Up,” “Far Away From Love,” “Burnham Beeches” type style. Not ‘jazzy’ as such, but ‘breezy’ and upbeat.
It’s the first one James and I worked on, so it’s the one we found our feet with. It starts off quite empty but builds into a full, danceable little tune.
I love the little keyboard melody James wrote for the middle section – I was at a loss for something there, so he kindly stepped in and provided it!
Again, I just wrote some words to see what came out and what did was imagery about the end of a party where something not quite right has transpired but it’s not clear what. When I was younger, I used to have a recurring dream about running through lots of different dark rooms and being chased but not knowing by what and for some reason this makes me think of that. It might be subconsciously referring to something that happened a few years ago in a situation where things should have been fun and positive, but they sadly ended up not being….
Kieran Evans did a wonderful promo video for this song, the footage of me was filmed in my dilapidated summer house in my garden. You wouldn’t know though! I was then intercut with some sparkly jellyfish… the sea theme again!
Pearlies is out now via Sonic Cathedral