EMILY BARKER You want it darker

After releasing her new album A Dark Murmuration of Words back in September last year, UK-based, Bridgetown-raised singer-songwriter Emily Barker is finally returning to WA to celebrate the launch at Lyric’s Underground on Sunday, November 28. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Emily Barker to find out how it felt to release the record during the pandemic and why she can’t wait to perform on Australian soil again.

It must feel good to be back! How have the past few years been for you as a musician living internationally and how does it feel to be back on home soil?

It feels so good to be home! I’ve lived in the UK for 20 years now and it was incredibly unsettling to know that I didn’t have the option to return home the past couple of years. I’ve missed my family hugely, more than usual, as I wasn’t able to fill my life with gigs, travel and community in the same way. My husband, Lukas Drinkwater, and I had to jump through so many hoops to make the journey back – it’s a really tricky process at the moment as I’m sure loads of people are aware. It’s surreal and brilliant to be somewhere where COVID currently doesn’t exist. A couple of weeks in and we’re still patting our pockets for our masks before entering shops.

It’s the first time we’ve spoken to you since you released your latest album A Dark Murmuration of Words  last year. How do you feel the record was different from your previous releases?

I would say there’s quite a few things that set this record apart from previous ones. The lyrical theme of the record is connection between environment, and the impacts of its destruction, society and individualism vs community. It explores the guilt, grief, fury and hope associated with reckoning with the climate crisis. It is probably the most political album I’ve made but the messaging is conveyed through storytelling.

Sonically it’s more contemporary than my past few records which were made on tape. My UK band and I recorded the songs live in a converted chapel in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Then added overdubs in Lukas’ studio in Stroud where we live.

It was also different to previous releases as when it came out, we weren’t able to tour. It was really strange – it sort of feels like it didn’t happen! But this year we were able to get out there and do a few festivals and shows which made it feel more real. I’m looking forward to performing them on home turf for the first time!

What was the inspiration for your latest single Bound for Home? Does it reflect what you were experiencing at the time particularly living abroad? 

I wrote this pre-pandemic but by the time it was released, it took on a whole new meaning. It was written with my friend, Frank Turner, at his house in London in early 2019. I was feeling homesick that day, and by way of commiseration I suppose, he talked to me about one of his heroes, Clive James.

Despite being Australian, I wasn’t actually familiar with Clive James’s work! Frank read me a poem of his called Leçons de ténèbres which we wove subtly into the lyrics of the song. In the end, it became my story of longing for home, as well as James’ story of not being able to return home due to illness.

How did you come to know Frank Turner, and outside of this song, how has his influence shaped your music more generally?

Frank and I met around 2006 at an awesome dive venue in Brixton, London. I was performing with my band at the time, The Red Clay Halo, as part of a weekend festival. He came along as a punter and really loved our set. The following year he messaged me (on Myspace!) and asked if I’d be up for opening shows for him and his band on their UK tour.

We hit it off and I’ve been doing supports for him ever since. We’ve been all over Europe, UK, Australia and NZ together. He’s incredibly generous and a very good friend. We hadn’t tried writing together until Bound for Home. We’re both keen to do it again in the near future.

It will have been some time since a lot of fans have seen you play live. How might it be different from the last time you were here?

I’m going to perform the songs from A Dark Murmuration of Words which haven’t yet been performed in WA! I’ll be with some exceptional Perth musos including Luke Dux on electric guitar and Caleb Quartermaine on drums. Lukas plays double and electric bass.

What’s next for you for the coming summer and beyond? Any big plans or are you content to just enjoy the Aussie summer for now?

I’ve got so many beautiful nephews and nieces so I’m keen to make up for lost time and hang with them as much as possible. Lukas and I hope to head over east for a national tour starting 9th of January in Brissie. Fingers crossed.

We’ve also got an album of Australian cover songs that Lukas and I recorded during our two-week hotel quarantine. We’ll be releasing that during our time here. It includes some covers by some brilliant WA artists.

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