Emily Isherwood: Fantasy Worlds and The Art of Character

Isherwood Profile 2

Not too long ago, a photo surfaced upon one of Emily Isherwood’s social media accounts, chronicling a very pertinent moment in her journey as a creative. In it, a modest and innocent looking Emily sits perched upon a chair amid a humble, but somewhat discomposed room, crowded by guitar amps and recording equipment. “Flashback to when I was 21”, starts the description, “all I wanted to do was record music.

For those with their ears firmly planted to the ground when it comes to the ever vacillating Bristol music scene, it would have been hard not to have stumbled across releases which were graced by Emily Isherwood’s ethereal presence in recent years. The yearning and ambition chronicled by that social media post has gone onto be a very real journey for the Bristol songwriter, with each project she’s graced embodying her otherworldly voice and stark, grounded lyricism. 

July hailed a new chapter in Isherwood’s story. The release of Distant Television Studios, her first release under her own name, stripped away pseudonyms and presented us with an artist we knew but one emboldened by her own identity. Illustrative, melodious and constantly refining, Emily Isherwood’s music converses with you like a warm and knowing embrace. Balanced in its effortless ability to remain grounded while naturally dreaming – Isherwood is an instinctive voice of poetic escapism and pertinent reality.

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Wax: What was your introduction to music and what are your formative memories?

Emily Isherwood: As I was growing up, we listened to a lot of music at home. My Dad often played Tom Waits, Bjork, PJ Harvey and also folk like Kate Rusby, Laura Cantrell, Mary Black and Iris DeMent. I have a memory of seeing Kate Rusby play at The Lowry in Salford when I was about 9, and my brass band conductor was playing cornet for her. I played brass when I was little. My dad used to put on songs and I would guess who the vocalist was. There was always an attraction to voices and that was what I found particularly interesting about music; less bothered by what genre it was, but more the delivery of the voice and words. Also, my sister sang American country songs around the house a lot, so that kind of music pulls up great memories too.

W: So with that inquisitiveness for music being stirred inside of you at an early age, when did you start exploring it and making your own?

E: I began writing songs when I was about 14 on my dad’s acoustic. I was inspired by artists like Gregory and the Hawk, Lights, Aqualung, William Fitzsimmons. Often my favourite bands were found through watching other people’s YouTube covers. My friends got me into bands like Alexisonfire, Billy Talent, Reuben, so an element of hardcore may have crept through in the way I wrote.

W: Moving on to the here and now, many people have watched you grow through the wealth of projects you’ve personally developed. What made you decide to step out of using pseudonyms and aliases for your compositions and release under your own name?

It’s been quite a natural progression into releasing under my own name. The projects I’ve previously worked with have each had albums worth of tracks, despite very little actually being released. It’s allowed me to learn a lot about writing in different settings and circumstances and also about performance. It seemed to be time to start sharing music properly, and I wanted to make sure it was a project I could continue to work on for the rest of my life, without breaking apart. Producing and recording music is just as important to me as writing, and this way it allows me to make the decision to capture the songs too. You can hear the location a track was recorded in and it was important to me that this location was familiar.

W: So as a songwriter and composer, do you feel that Distant Television Studios is embodying who you truly are as a creative, that you feel this debut is you fully developed artistically and occurring just at the right time?

E: I don’t feel that Distant Television Studios represents me fully developed as an artist at all, as there’s no finish line with creation. But I do feel that it captures those songs in a raw moment, and it was a peaceful and happy thing to make. I never understand the idea of slaving away at songs and having it cause stress and unhappiness. DTS was made out of joy and comfort, and that’s the first time I’ve had this experience whilst making a record. So for that, I feel it is a great development for me.

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W: The bio for the record reads: “Distant Television Studios, is more than just a record, it’s an understated elegy to lost Hollywood…” Could you expand more on that definition?

E: The idea behind the title comes from my love of fantasy worlds and old cinema. I’ve always loved excessive glamour and artists who create characters for themselves – Marilyn Monroe is an obvious example. And more recently, Dita Von Tease. I think this idea comes from old Hollywood celebrity-ism. But in modern times, I love that the average person can choose to create an outlandish version of themselves and become who they feel they are. I’ve always wanted to be on screen, whether as an actor, performer or artist, but it’s a far away world from where I came from in Rochdale. So it’s a sort of joke that these television studios are always in the distance, but maybe one day.

W: So did this desire or fascination with fantasy worlds bleed in from the title to the record or were other themes explored upon the EP?

E: The title came after the EP was finished, and the lyrics generally are different in terms of themes in each of the tracks. Silver Lake has a very locational feel, as does Posing For Playboy, but in a more casual, domestic setting, whereas a track like Conversations holds a more social type of imagery. I think narrative is important to me because I can’t produce wild, dense soundscapes with loads of description, that’s not a skill I have, so I use words to create interest. I couldn’t read until late on in my childhood, so literature is so exciting to be in control of now.

W: There seems to be a few features on DTS from known faces within the Bristol music scene, Lexi from Pet Shimmers and Mouse for example. It always heartens me to see artists embrace and include other creative’s in their output as it promotes a sense of community. How important was it to have others contribute to this project?

E: Ah so glad you loved the collabs too! Yes it was very important to me, as I love building relationships with people and I find that, through music, it’s the best place to do that. I also wasn’t sure I’d ever have the time and facilities to record something like this again, so I wanted it to include a chunk of Bristol’s great artists, so I could always be reminded of this sense of community. When I hear the tracks now, it reminds me that love exists, and that I am not alone.

W: The new record is obviously a big achievement for you, what would you like people to take away from their first experience listening to Distant Television Studios?

E: I suppose just some kind of feeling, whether good or bad. The songs were written to provoke thought and to share my stories, so I hope that they can be of entertainment to someone out there. I like the thought of someone putting it on, on a dreary winter’s Sunday, and listening to it as though it were an episode of Countdown, or in the time slot were they’d normally read a few chapter’s of Rankin. It exists to be used as entertainment for anyone that finds something in it for them.

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Today, we have the pleasure of sharing ‘In Floral‘ – Emily Isherwood’s new video. It’s a visually striking comparison between light and dark – the soft, natural beauty juxtaposed by each member, an unusual entity amongst the fresh verdure. 

Emily Isherwood’s ‘Distant Television Studios’ is out now via Breakfast Records. 

Featured in Photos: Emily Isherwood, Kieran Herbert, Emmy Lila, Mouse.

Video created by: Reuben Gaines

Words & Photos by Dan E Brown (@dan_e_brown)

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