Emma Russack’s track by track guide to her new album ‘In a New State’
Emma Russack started recording her third album early last year with housemate Joe Walker from King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard intending to just tinker away at it between classes for a law degree and her waitressing job. But then one frosty morning, Creative Victoria emailed her to announce that she’d won a grant that she’d forgotten applying for after the release of 2014’s You Changed Me.
With surprise grant money, Russack made a significant change in her approach to the record and bunkered down in a proper studio with producer John Lee (Mountains In The Sky, Beaches, The Ocean Party). The results can be heard on the new album, In a New State, which will be released on Friday, June 10 via Spunk Records.
Read Emma’s track by track guide to the album below for stories about Bloody Marys, sex, old boyfriends, Shirley Maclaine, Sgt. Pepper style backing vocals and Springsteen vibes.
This song was written almost two years after I played in Perth mid-2013. Before our show at Mojo’s, we were swimming at Cottesloe beach. A bunch of us caught the train out there and made a day of it. I think we even had Bloody Marys afterwards. It was just heavenly, and I remember feeling really, really zen. I didn’t care about the poor ticket sales for the show that night, or the fact that we hadn’t organised a drum kit, or guitar amps – it was that kind of a day. Anyway, that’s what the song is about: Cottesloe beach, sunshine, and feelin’ fine. I recorded a rough demo of it last year at home, and it kind of set the tone for the whole album. Even the album’s title In A New State comes from a lyric in this song – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of wordplay!
‘If You Could See Me Now’
I used to think that I could only be happy if I had a boyfriend. I also used to think that sex was everything. How wrong I was! Those ideas were only holding me back, and I wrote this song to remind myself of that. The initial idea was inspired by the song, ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ from Sweet Charity (Shirley Maclaine’s performance of it specifically). While there’s something very grand and fabulous about that statement, I also feel there’s an element of deep sadness and regret attached to it (I think the word is bittersweet). That’s what I’m trying to communicate in the song. The song was written on a nylon strong guitar, and was originally quite depressing, then we jazzed it up in the studio and it became sort of upbeat – unplanned pop.
I’d been playing this song live with a band for a while before I recorded it in the studio. It had a real Crazy Horse vibe, which I was really digging until I heard a live recording of us playing it – and it wasn’t so hot. I sent John Lee a demo version that I had recorded, just guitar and vocals – really stripped back – and he was like, “Forget Crazy Horse, this is how you should record it!”. So while the studio version still features the whole band, it’s quite minimal. Lyrically, it’s basically about me driving my parents’ car around my home town, reflecting on my teenage years, listening to the CDs I used to listen to when I was 17. Fairly simple, but I’m a simple gal.
This song is about unrequited love, and pretending you don’t care when you do. Things got pretty wild on this track, and the drums sound slightly evil – which is cool. John Lee drops a fat (phat) beat towards the end, and although that may sound lame, it works exceptionally well. For some reason, when I listen to this song it reminds me of ‘Maps’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I loved that song as a kid, and I still do.
When I was 16 I dated a guy twice my age. I was really, really, really obsessed with him and he introduced me to all these amazing artists and ideas. As much as it was a bad time for my parents, I can’t say I regret it because I learnt so much from him. Production wise, the obvious way to go with this song was to have a string section in the chorus, and I think that is why I didn’t end up doing that. John got the ol’ Kawai organ out and played some really interesting “textual” type things to fatten it up. This song tells a real story and I hope the listener is taken on a bit of a journey.
‘My Own Friend’
I wrote this song the night before the last studio session, so when I presented it to the band the next morning we kind of just had to get a feel for it immediately. I played all of the guitar on this track (and actually on the whole record) which I’m very proud of. Lyrically, it’s probably the most upbeat song I’ve ever written in that it’s basically expressing how much I love life. I had been meaning to write a song about the beautiful crisp summer mornings in Melbourne riding from Brunswick to Docklands. Just feeling completely free, content and in awe of the city.
‘Without Holding On’
This song originally featured on an album that I recorded for a side project of mine called Amber Eastaway. From the ages of 17 – 25 I was in a relationship with someone I don’t think I was particularly kind to and I probably didn’t give that person the love they deserved. I wasn’t capable of it. Anyway, I never want to be in that situation again and this song serves as a reminder of that. This is my favourite song on the album, mainly because of John’s piano playing. He has this really, really ancient piano in his studio which is so out of tune but has this really cool sound. I also sing in falsetto which I never do and I actually think it sounds nice.
We were originally going for a bit of a Springsteen vibe with this track but we didn’t quite pull it off, which is probably a really good thing. I wrote this song a long time ago, so it’s a bit more sad-sack than the rest of the tracks on the album. Cameron Potts and Liam Halliwell really steal the show here, and I take a backseat. It’s funny listening to it now, because when I wrote it I really wanted this person to give me “another chance” romantically. Now I couldn’t think of anything worse. It’s interesting how much time can change things.
‘You Gave Me’
This song is probably more similar to songs on my previous album You Changed Me in that it has this alt. country vibe. It’s essentially a band track and it sounds pretty “live”. My vocals were recorded in one take and it was just an easy song to nail in the studio. Lyrically it’s about deciding to respect myself, and that’s gotta be a good thing.
‘Not The Friend’
I always like to end my albums with an “epic”, or so to speak. What started as quite a simple, folky arrangement, became something very, very different in the studio. I’ve always wanted to record Sgt. Pepper style backing vocals and it finally happened on this track. Cameron’s drum solo is definitely a highlight, and it’s generally a pretty whacky sounding song. Lyrically it’s fairly self-deprecating which, love it or loathe it, is starting to become my shtick. It’s about wanting to be a great friend, and how it’s just not always possible. Generally though, this song is just fun and silly.
Emma Russack’s In a New State will be released on Friday, June 10 via Spunk Records. You can also catch Russack on tour this month playing dates supporting Dan Kelly and Alex Gow – check out the dates here.