Even though 2019 is only three months old, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Emily Blue is already having a banner year.
Earlier this month, to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8), Blue released a dynamic cover of Blondie’s 1980 chart-topping hit “Call Me.” In addition to performances at the Metro, the Hideout, and the Icehouse in Minneapolis, she also recently released her explosive Audiotree session.
In addition to all of the success she’s experienced as a solo artist, the Champaign, Illinois-born vocalist announced earlier this month that she and the indie rock band Tara Terra are not only reuniting, but will be releasing a new EP in April.
Her work with Tara Terra and her debut solo project, 2016’s Another Angry Woman, helped build her not only as a forward-thinking political artist but also one of the Chicago rock scene’s brightest young vocalists.
On her 2018 EP, *69, Blue pulled a complete 180. Sonically, the project is a drastic change in direction from her indie and alternative rock roots, as she and her producer, Max Perenchio, helped develop a synth-pop sound, akin to St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, FKA Twigs, and even some Top 40 influences.
“I love pop music. I’ve always loved pop music, and that was probably my biggest influence, even when I was in Tara Terra,” Blue said. “I also think when you are able to catch people’s ears so quickly, with what pop music offers, you can say something pretty important within that time frame.”
Chicago Creatives spoke with Emily Blue about her *69 EP, how her talents as an art director ties in with her music, and whether or not her on-stage persona is a character.
Like much of your work, I think *69 still touches on and is rooted in feminism and female empowerment, but it certainly feels less fiery than Another Angry Woman. Was this intentional? Was this something that maybe was a result of a more poppy sound?
I think that like, I didn’t go into the record intending it to be a feminist statement, by any means. But I realized after, by just doing what I wanted and being what I wanted. And being as sexual, or weird, or as funny in some of the songs as I wanted, that it is a feminist act to do that. So a lot of people who interview me ask me that question, and I’m like, you know what? I guess it fucking is. I guess it actually is the epitome of feminism, to come out and be exactly what you want to be.
So in that way, yeah it’s similar to my old work, I guess in the way that you can follow the thread of who Emily is becoming up until this point.
Re-listening to all of your previous music, I found that even when feminism or female empowerment wasn’t a direct or explicit theme of a song, it was still present in your writing.
Yeah, definitely. I think my old writing is a lot more vulnerable, and this writing refuses to be vulnerable like this most recent one refuses to be the victim of anything. And then I was talking to Ryan – my best friend, we collaborate on everything – that I was talking to her today and was like, you know what, I think I lost this outlet for being a weaker person – you know having a depressive episode, or feeling sad. I lost that in this record, and my next record I’ve like tapped into maybe some of the struggles again, rather than the victory.
So this record is like the victory, and the next one is going to be like me in a puddle of tears again (laughs). It’s going to be like a wave. Because that’s how people are.
In the press release for your last solo project, *69, it says the EP is more “character-driven.” Can you go into more detail what you mean by that? Is Emily Blue a character?
That’s something I think about a lot. And it’s kind of stressful actually too. Because we have such an online driven music industry right now, it’s a lot about what you put on your profile, what you’re putting on your website, who you’re presenting to your followers. So I kind of took it to the extreme, like, alright you want a brand? You want a character? We’re going to go 180, and we’re going to do that fully. Emily Blue, now, is sort of like a comic book superhero version of me. Usually, when I go out, or like walk around in my life, I wear these same pair of jean shorts or a shitty t-shirt or whatever. But when I perform, I wear latex and wigs, and I do this whole bit because the point of it is, what’s the line between reality and the person.
It’s more of a sexual, neon, cartoony kind of vibe. And then my personality is actually kind of different than that. But it’s this one aspect of me that I’m presenting right now. I think it’s cool, because like at any point I can just choose what I want to show people. But right now I felt that was important for me because I’ve grown up pretty modest. I’ve grown up pretty contained, and I was just like, alright we’re going to have this colorful show of a person right now.
Your aesthetic seems very deliberate and calculated, from your look during shows, photoshoots, music videos, etc. How did you come up with this style, and why is it important to have your look complement your sound?
I think it’s kind of evolved over time. It’s definitely been like a spaghetti at the wall approach, in the sense that I’ve tried a bunch of things and just stuck with what I found fitted best. So I really admire artists like St. Vincent, FKA Twigs, and people that have a very performative aspect to their music. It’s like their visuals and their stage stuff is just as important as the actual sound – sometimes even more. But for me, I need to believe it’s even at least (laughs). So I just wanted to make things look really bold and eye-catching, ear-catching.
Being a director, a visual direction, is also a super interesting art field, everything that’s super new to me. I started with “Rico Acid,” and like art directing that. And then I directed “Microscope” with my friends Ryan and Max, and we had fun picking out all the costumes. It was like a super quick video job, like ‘We need a video! It’s the first thing people are going to see, ahh!’ But yeah, I really enjoy imagining what a song would look like, and then making that happen.
Can you elaborate a little bit more on what you do as an art director?
So art director is like world building. What does this look like? Where are we? What’s the set? What’s the color scheme? What kind of vibe are we going for – are we doing like retro, are we doing like a dollhouse?
So for my stuff, it’s sort of like a cartoon, retro like 1960s through ‘80s meets the future. I don’t know how else to explain it, but that’s exactly what I think it is (laughs).
Yeah like with the retro-looking telephone.
Exactly. My dad actually collects phones; he collects old phones. And I went to my parents’ house recently, and I was like, “Oh my god Dad, you have like 20 old phones.” Maybe that’s why I like phones (laughs).
You mentioned you’re already in the process of starting your next solo project, do you think it may be as intense as Another Angry Woman? Are you going to continue the pop style or you think you might go back to the acoustic or folky stuff?
I have an idea of what I might do. It’s because I’ve gone through a couple changes in my life – I’ve gone through a breakup, you know I’ve fallen in love with someone and gotten rejected, and then I’ve found a partner that I’m really, I feel healthy with, and it’s a new experience for me. So I think I’m going to make it about just the complexity of insecurity within relationships, and how vulnerable you can really feel when you’re falling in love with someone. And maybe getting turned away, or maybe even being accepted for the first time. I think I’m going to make it about that because there’s so much room to talk about yourself… and so much room to discover yourself within those topics.
Do you think you discover yourself through your writing and making music?
I definitely do. I think it’s a healthy avenue for any person to learn about their own feelings and how they connect to others in the world because of those feelings. It’s the most important thing I think that we can do – is just be honest.
Written by: Zach Goose
Header Photo by: Ross Feighery