Originally published in MACs Magazine – 4th September 2013
After discovering jazz during a trip to New York, the Birmingham born songstress’ musical journey began at the age of 18 when she wrote her first song before completing a Singing Musicianship course at Goldsmiths University of London to further perfect her craft. She continued to strive and released her first EP ‘Love Came Knocking’ in April 2011. Her success did not stop there. Last year, Emily was nominated for ‘Best Female Act’ at the 2012 BEFFTA Awards and triumphed when she won UK Unsigned Hype’s ‘Best Female Acoustic’. The London based star’s muses include Billie Holiday, Kirk Franklin, Angie Stone and Erykah Badu, all successful African-American artists who have paved the way for other musicians within the neo-soul, gospel and jazz genres. As someone who grew up with the smooth, sultry sounds of jazz as my late grandfather was a saxophone player, I was keen to learn more about this up and coming starlet who shared my innate adoration for jazz. Following the release of her latest single ‘Soldier’, I had the opportunity to find out about how her Christian upbringing has influenced her music career, the trip to New York that changed everything and why she intends on keeping her relationship status under wraps..
So you recently released your single ‘Soldier’, what’s the story behind the lyrics?
I think my lyrics to Soldier have stirred up a bit of curiosity as to who I’m referring to in the lyrics, but Soldier is a combination of my thoughts and feelings after having been in a bad relationship…and then meeting someone new and whilst you’re thinking of starting a fresh relationship all I could think of is what I want in my new love and how he has to be ‘right’ and if he is ‘right’, then he fits my title for him.. ‘My Soldier’.
What was the thought process behind the video, did you sit down with director Jay Cass and discuss the concept?
Jay Cass is such a talented director to work with. He is so laid back and so creative but always executes a video exactly how I envisioned and sometimes more than what I’d imagined. This is the second music video directed by Jay and he is very easy to work with. He allows me to explain the song first, the reason behind the lyrics, then we discuss video ideas and it evolves from there really.
Garage is a stark contrast to jazz, what influenced your decision to work with Garage producer Wookie?
I’ve been a fan of Wookie from ‘battle’ days partying in Birmingham. My manager Andrew is the one I have to thank for this hook-up. I actually thought A
ndrew was joking at first when he told me that Wookie agreed to remix Soldier. It is a complete honor to work with someone like Wookie, firstly to know that he liked my voice and secondly as a new artist this gave my music and me such great exposure. When I heard the final cut ‘Soldier – Wookie Remix’ I was screaming like a crazy lady haha. When you hear a Wookie beat, it just hits you..your head starts going and you’re smiling with this huge grin!Wookie just seems to understand my music and me. I love jazz and I think I have those influences in my music. Only a talented producer like Wookie would know what to do with my vocals to make it be the successful track it is today.
Are there any other genre collaborations you
would like to do?
If I were to step out my comfort zone, I would like to collaborate with Rudimental, I really like their music, along with Labrinth. I also love John Legend so to work with him would be a dream.
All your songs have quite a loving, affectionate undertone, is this because of a special someone?
Haha…oh here goes this question again. Of course I write about “someone special”. My music is about my experiences of either a past love or someone who is in my life now. I have to write from my heart because I’ve been through so much stuff, I feel I have materials for years to come haha..but its important to me that the listener has real connection and feels the affection through my music. I think I’m going to be one of those artists that will try not to discuss my current relationship status too much ;-). I think it keeps the curiosity and also keeps a bit of my privacy.
Your biography states that you were influenced by gospel music, where is this derived from?
I was raised in a strict Christian home with both parents, so yes I was in the routine of going to church every single Sunday without fail. I was involved in the church choir and I grew up watching my dad in the choir for the older folk. My dad had a very loud singing voice, boarder-line shouting. So my influence of having a strong voice definitely comes from him. Gospel music is powerful music! I loved listening to choirs, the harmonies and singing lead was always something I’d take note of. Gospel music is my source of where I felt and understand soul music.
What happened on your trip to New York during your adolescence in which you discovered jazz that triggered your pursuit of music?
My older sister and I are really close. She lives in New York and at the time, I went to stay with her for about 3 months. Her then husband owns hundreds of Jazz CDs in the basement of the house, so I used to go down there and literally go through every single one. From Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan to Ella Fitzgerald etc..there were loads and loads of artists I just became obsessed. America is different to the UK too. There were channels strictly showing the history of jazz and the blues like 24-7 on TV, so I would watch documentaries about jazz musicians and I was fixated. I don’t know what it was but I loved the musical history.When you see documentaries set in the 60s, where men dressed so smartly in their suits and women in dresses, it just made me want to experience those days for 24hours or something. Ladies were ladies and men were gentlemen.The jazz musicians and jazz artists sang differently because they had been through tough times whether it be as Black African Americans or a budding singer/entertainer looking for work or their love-life, so when jazz artists sang, they sang with meaning, feeling and passion especially about love. Only now do I realize how much I was soaking all these things in.
I strongly believe the genres of jazz, soul and gospel don’t get as much coverage as they deserve, specifically in this country as it is more popular in America. Do you agree, if so, why do you think that is?
I completely agree! As I said before, about the Americans having channels about jazz history, well basically there is a channel for everything and anything in the USA! America is more diverse when it comes to culture and the awareness of different cultures. They have radio stations that strictly play soul and R’n’B or strictly jazz, gospel or Latin/salsa. Here in the UK, I think our radio stations tend to play the same selection of commercial top records, over and over again. We don’t have designated radio stations that will strict to a particular genre of music which (in my opinion) is why the UK does not give Jazz, Soul and Gospel the coverage it deserves. There are no stations that play just that! So, I personally believe this is the reason why internet radio is now more popular than ever before. Internet radio gives the listener a chance to choose a radio station that will play their choice of music from a particular genre.
Do you believe gospel’s associated with religion plays a part in this lack of popularity within the UK and America is much more religious with 77% of Americans being Christian?
Yes this is something I can’t quite work out myself because the UK is supposed to be a Christian country but yet like you say the popularity of gospel music in the UK nowhere near America’s popularity. I think it comes down to the two different cultures. Americans are known for doing things bigger (and sometimes better), whereas the British tend to be a bit more reserved, so you may find the UK’s approach to gospel isn’t on the same scale as America.
If you could collaborate with five jazz, soul or gospel artist, past or present, who would they be?
Ooohh..they would be Miles Davis (Jazz), John Legend (Soul), Mary JBlige (Soul/R’n’B), Kim Burrell (Gospel) and Etta James (Jazz/Soul)
What can we expect from you in the coming months?
It’s been non-stop progress the past couple of years and I’m really excited about what’s to come as I grow as an artist. I’m currently preparing songs for release on my forthcoming EP, which will be out soon. I will also be gigging at specific venues so you can see me perform live..now that I love! So yes, I’m just trying to ensure I progress and step it up to a next level each release.
Where do you see yourself and your music in the next couple of years?
In the next couple of years my dream is to be travelling to different countries performing my music. To have my music accepted not just in the UK, but also internationally would be crazy but I’d absolutely love that. The sky’s the limit for me and beyond and anything’s possible and so as long as I’m making true soulful music and I have people out there loving and supporting my music, I will continue to follow my heart and make music from my heart. Thank you so much for this interview. Emily Kay x
With a distinct singing voice that has been compared to Nina Simone, singer, songwriter and guitarist Emily Kay is set to propel a unique fusion of acoustic jazz, gospel and soul into the UK’s mainstream music industry. She’s performed at the legendary jazz club Ronnie Scotts, Mayfair’s Dover St Restaurant & Jazz Bar and The Cornershop Bar and it appears that this is just the beginning. Make sure you check out her latest single ‘Soldier’ and the remixed version with Wookie.