It’s always a beautiful experience to watch the evolution of an artist firsthand. Emma Louise is one such artist, one who in the space of a year has evolved into a charismatic and well-known Australian performer.
I first came across Emma in 2012, at Splendour in the Grass. Her single Boy had just been released, a song which had really resonated with me, and I was interested to discover more about her. I recall being particularly touched by her honesty, the vulnerability exposed through the stories she shared. I was captivated by this petite young woman whose guitar seemed to almost swamp her delicate frame, yet whose strength was evident in the way she expressed herself musically.
The Emma Louise that I encountered last week however, was a stark comparison. Not only has she evolved musically, but her confidence and sense of place before an audience has magnified tenfold. Dressed in an oversized beige jacket, a sheer black dress and Black Milk jellyfish leggings, she shuddered and jolted before us, twisting from side to side in a landscape of beautiful blue and orange hues as the current of the music flowed through her entire body.
Emma’s music has a heartfelt consistency, in that every song is a very raw and honest story which she unfolds before us. Emma isn’t afraid to share her aching, her loneliness, her struggles, the sacrifices she’s had to make to fulfil her primary passion…music.
“This song is about being away from someone very important to me…” she says before introducing one particular song.
Her hands and the violent sway of her head tell a story of torment, drawing me in closer until my heart bleeds with hers. I feel as though I am watching her tumbling through a dream. It is a landscape of memories in which she is lost, fighting with pieces of herself that cannot be seen, yet are felt so deeply. And while I can’t know what it is she is seeing in those memories, I feel the pain and the longing wrapped in her voice.
Clutching her hands by her chest, she sings about the loss of being away from those she loves most, including her bird Henry who she had to give away once she began touring. She sings of the pain of sleeping alone and feeling so far from everything. She pours her heart out before us.
The entire set was a standout, from well-known hits such as Boy, Jungle and Freedom, to newer material such as Pontoon, Cages, Mirrors and Tesselate (her Triple J cover of Alt J’s original). Although I really connect with the Emma’s new direction on Vs Head Vs Heart, I have to admit it was her performance of an older song, 1000 Sundowns, that really touched my heart. Written as an ode to her uncle who passed away from cancer, 1000 Sundowns tells the love story shared between her uncle and aunt, who met and fell in love as teenagers.
“Oh the boy who surely taught me how to love
Showed me how to trust
And I gave in…
And oh our love it was so strong
It was so deep
And we were young
And I was a little bit naive
But still how I was in his arms for one thousand sundowns
It was a love worth remembering.”
Standing before us with just her guitar I imagine Emma to be at her most vulnerable during this song, yet the simplicity of her voice coupled only with the gentle rhythm of guitar, conveys the feeling of loss so perfectly. I also noticed that the crowd around me were surprisingly quiet during this part of the show, and we stood silently, caught in the soft and thoughtful waves of Emma’s voice.
“And on these summer nights
When the weather’s right
I miss him by my side…
And I know I’ll see your face at the gates of heaven
When it’s my turn to go
But oh Lord please do not pass judgment on us
We were but young and full of love
And oh please let me cry in his arms
Just once more
For one thousand sundowns”
Emma’s phrasing, along with the thoughtful pauses between sentencing, creates an overwhelmingly beautiful story, told through the eyes of someone who has lost someone very dear to them. At the time I wasn’t aware of the story behind the song, yet still I found myself lost in her words, the tears in my eyes telling me that Emma has that rare ability to move a listener to such a place without them playing any part in it.
As Emma and her band brought the set to a close with Freedom, we saw her step forward to speak, presumably to say her goodbyes. However, she surprised us by revealing that the band had another song to play.
“I think the whole idea of an encore is a bit weird, so instead of going away and coming back I’m just going to play the encore now.”
I have to admit I was really impressed by Emma’s choice to launch straight into the encore, as I’ve never really been a fan of the ‘will they/won’t they?’ rhetoric of an encore. I also loved her song choice, the beautifully dramatic Pontoon which she brings to life using a combination of fast and slow vocal runs, and effortless variations in pitch.
It is a beautiful and simple song, yet it works so well. I can hear the pleading in her voice, the scrambling of her head versus her heart, and in a sea of lights held up by the crowd comes her spellbinding vocals…
“And I never meant to be the girl who broke your heart
I know I’ve been bad and did you wrong
And now I’m all alone
Never meant to be your stepping stone
So lay with me now I’ll tell you how it went
All the thoughts that were running through my head
I’m a little bit overwhelmed
Forgive me if I try to ask you for help
And my body feels your anger…”
It’s a story which we can all relate to in one way or another, and the whole song so perfectly synthesizes the desperate longing of love and nostalgia.
As Emma farewelled us, I noticed her bring her fingers to her lips, almost as if to try and contain her happiness. It was subtle, but I had a real sense that it was a humble smile of accomplishment she wore; the satisfaction of fulfilling her passions. Having seen two very different performances from such an amazing young artist in the space of a year was extremely special, and it’s exciting to see the transformation that has taken place. I can only hope that Emma’s music will continue to take hold of people’s hearts around Australia and the world, and that we will experience the beauty of her stories for years to come. She is a rare and charismatic musician, one who deserves a place in everyone’s music collection. Let Emma into your head; I guarantee she will run away with your heart.
To view more photos from Emma’s set please go to Jasmine Swilks Photography