EMILY BARKER Shadow Boxing

UK based, Bridgetown raised artist Emily Barker hits Mojos in Fremantle  as part of her 2019-2020 Australia tour this Sunday, December 15. It’s another remarkable homecoming for the singer-songwriter, who since heading abroad in 2002 has forged a stellar career in playing both as a solo artist and in popular bands such as The Red Clay Halo, Vena Portae and Applewood Road. Barker has also made a name for herself as the writer and performer of Nostalgia, the theme song from the BBC’s BAFTA-winning crime drama Wallander, expanding her career into writing and composing soundtracks for film and television. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Barker after she touched down in Western Australia to talk about her new record Shadow Box, how her upbringing in Bridgetown influenced her musical career and what exciting things she planned next.

It’s great to have you back in Western Australia for this tour, what do you look forward to most about coming back?

I was last here just under a year ago, I come home every year to spend time with the family and sometimes do shorter visits for special shows or festivals. The best part about being back is always seeing my family, especially my six nephews and niece. They’re all gorgeous and so much fun to hang out with.

You grew up in Bridgetown which certainly seems to punch above its weight in creating musicians and songwriters. Do you feel your upbringing in Bridgetown influenced your musical career?

Absolutely. When I was a teenager the Bridgetown Blues Festival started up and it really influenced the kids in town. Our high school responded well to our keen interest in learning a band instrument by getting some great local players in to do some workshops and informal tuition. Loads of us started learning our favourite songs and forming bands. When The Waifs came to play in the gazebo at our high school during lunchtime break, that’s when I thought, “wow, I want to do what they’re doing!” I learned all their songs which was how I learned to play guitar.

Other than The Waifs where there any other artists, or even people you knew personally, that inspired you to write songs? And who is it that is keeping you inspired in 2019 and looking forward?

I had piano lessons when I was young which I loved but I felt locked in to that classical way of learning, where a piece was supposed performed perfectly. There wasn’t much freedom for creativity. I’d already been singing in high school bands for a couple of years but wanted to be able to accompany myself. Guitar was great for this and as soon as I started learning chords from books and friends, I began to write songs. Artists that inspired my songs then still inspire me today: Neil Young, Carole King, Joni Mitchell to name a few. I’m really enjoying Michael Kiwanuka’s new record plus Aldous Harding, Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile as contemporaries that inspire me.

Tell us about your new record Shadow Box. What was the inspiration for this and how does it differ from your previous work?

This album is collection of rare recordings I’ve done over the past seven years or so. Four of the songs were recorded direct to vinyl in 2014 as a limited-edition 10″ vinyl release for Record Store Day – so are available for the first time digitally and on CD. There’s also live performances from my headline show at London’s Union Chapel in 2012 plus songs that I wrote for various compilations for labels or friends or specific projects. So it’s quite a patchwork of material over the years which I released for my fanbase direct to Bandcamp, at shows and a few record shops.

How did you get into writing movie soundtracks and has it changed the way you view composing music?

It happened accidentally really. I was playing a house concert in North London and the composer Martin Phipps was there. He loved my song Nostalgia and was working on the score for BBC1’s Wallander starring Kenneth Brannagh. He felt the song would work well as the title track and theme tune so I recorded a new and less-folky version of it which the directors went for. My next break in film came through Martin as well when a song of mine called Pause was used in a BBC2 noir-thriller called The Shadow Line. It again was the title music and end credit. I worked on music for The Keeping Room by Daniel Barber with Martin – composing songs and also performing them and I did my own feature film score for a movie called Hector starring Pete Mullen. It was incredible having Martin as a mentor throughout the process of writing my own score. It did change the way I wrote music because having had all these lucky breaks I kept on thinking, “when is someone going to realise I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!!” So I decided to start studying music and getting back to some of my classical routes – relearning score and learning theory in composition. Some of this theory, particularly modulation, has really expanded my tool kit for writing songs. There’s so much to learn!

With such a long and distinguished catalogue of songs, are there any that feel the most pertinent in a ‘homecoming’ show like this?

I did a whole album dedicated to the concept of “home”. Lots of those songs are about childhood and growing up in Bridgetown by the Blackwood River. Also about displacement of Indigenous people through me finding home. I feel like these songs are important to me to play in the context of Australia.

What kind of 2020 are you visualising at the moment? Is there more music, projects or anything else fans can look forward to in the near future?

I’m very excited about 2020. I’ve just recorded a new album which I’ve been writing for the past couple of years. It’ll be out at some point, probably mid-year, so there’s lots to get together before then – films, photos, artwork, etc. There’ll be lots of shows around that and in between I’ll be working on writing a book of poetry. Plus working out how I can tour in a much less impactful way to the environment and how I can contribute positively to the crisis we face.

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