words: Richard Waller
pics: Phillip Rhodes
July - August 2004
Richard Waller catches up with hull singer / songwriter Emma Rugg via the magic of t’net.
Ah… The wonders of modern technology… You wouldn’t be reading this if it weren’t for SMS, MSN and anything else you’d care to abbreviate. You do miss your mobile phone when you don’t have it – as I discovered drunkenly last Saturday night, when I was given the short-notice mission of interviewing Emma Rugg. Having left it so late to make contact, it was going to be difficult to arrange anyway. And as a recent partial survivor of Glastonbury, I reluctantly understood why Emma didn’t want to venture through the persistent rain to meet up. And as I’ve already praised modern technology, MSN was the latest of last resorts. As great as modern technology is, I’m still waiting for a waterproof mobile phone. So, here lies probably the most unorganised and improvised interview of all time.
When did you first discover your passion for music?
“I was 8 and sang at the Hull City Hall, I realised it was something I liked doing! I discovered my passion for music properly a few years ago fully. All I wanted to do was make music”
You’ve been described as a “revelation” by some reviewers. Do you feel pressurised to live up to that?
“Sometimes. I think that the real big question is are you going to bring out a release that is better or as good as the next one so there is a pressure to maintain or improve my work.”
There’s been a strong emphasis on the “work ethics” behind your music. How exactly have you got where you are now?
“I think it is very fundamental to have a work ethic, because if you want to do something that badly there is always a way! I do a lot of work towards my music. In other words, you don’t really get anywhere by sitting on your ass and doing nothing! Busking is very different to getting up on stage performing, I busked for 6 months and in that time loads of stuff both good and bad happened. People would come up to you in the street and shout at you, the worst time was when someone attempted to throw a drink at me but lucky for me it missed, it can be a very negative experience which in turn can give you experience to expect anything. Good things did happen too though. I used to busk in the same spot all the time and people would come back to see you every week when they were passing by. Once a guy bought me lunch and left it in my guitar case. Someone once gave me Joni Mitchell CDs. A guy gave me a tenner once, which was a really nice thing to do. So positive experiences I think can give you more confidence. It was all good, each day was different, I met many amazing people doing that.”
Listening to your music there’s no obvious influences. Are there any you’d like to share?
“I listen to lots of different types of music, but would say that my main influences are my experiences, other people, life and living. I like to listen to other music and think about metaphors too. When you listen to music and see the reason and meaning behind it, I like to write things that have a meaning or a message.”
You’ve successfully auditioned for the last 20 in Fame Academy Next Generation. Risky business, how do you think it will affect your career?
“I don’t think it was a bad thing, I auditioned because one of my friends said I should. I went down to London but they said I didn’t need the help a bursary could give. I think it was a positive experience because one, I have decided I don’t want to do competitions and things where you have to be up against other people all the time and two, it went on national and digital TV. All in all the experience was strange, it sort of made me realise what I want to do with my music. Fame Academy is almost a reality TV show but it’s not how things really are if you know what I mean? A lot of people have asked about Fame Academy before, I think it was nice to be selected as one from thousands, that was the good part. It was funny too ‘cos all they do is follow you around all day until you go to sleep with cameras, a little bit like Big Brother.”
You’ve played New York, all over Hull, and have a slot at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire coming up. What’s your favourite venue you’ve played?
“James Gandolfini’s (Tony from The Sopranos) restaurant in New York. We all drove through America listening to Neil Young, which was cool, so I came back with an urge to find more of his stuff. The venue was ace, the people were crazy, it was nice to go and be able to play my music to other people in a different country. It was good to find out the reaction or the people. I love America, and would like to play there more often so to go back would be cool. I think there is a general feeling over there that a lot more people are openly diverse about what music they listen to. Not that we’re not, of course. I just think because it’s a bigger country they have more music, so it makes them so. In terms of favourite venues, I also like playing in Hull. I like playing locally. My next gig in Hull is at the Lamp on the 21st of July supported by Steve Reed.”
Are there any plans for an “Isolated Impressions” release over the pond?
“Not as of yet because I want to see what’s going to go on this year. My music is available on the internet so I guess it helps a little. You can buy it on 18 different major pay per download sites so you could say there are long term plans to have physical distribution in the USA.”
The album had its national release recently. How’s it receiving?
“It’s all going well, in terms of national release the label does need more stores to distribute to. Next year this will be another avenue to look into.”
You’re well established locally, have you had any strange encounters with fans?
“Quite a few. Again some good, some bad. Weird things do sometimes happen, once someone made a forum, made everyone join it and then tore the full thing down, so someone built a new forum, which hasn’t been torn down yet. Sometimes it’s pretty hard to tell what’s going on as everyone else seems to be actively out there doing things on your behalf. I’ve had offensive emails and telephone calls, people breathing down the phone at you and all that sort of things. Those are all bad things though, good things have happened too. People on my mailing list have become active members of the new forum and posted. People have shoved flowers through my mail box too. I’ve received nice emails from people, some inspiring, I should put them on my site so people can see them. I did a songwriting class once and one guy went out to buy a guitar, people in general have been really nice. I think it’s cool when you can affect people but at the same time, you always get the odd one or two who want to cause trouble.”
It’s festival season (look at the rain?). Any plans or ambitions?
“Not for this year, I would like to play Glastonbury next year.”
What do you do aside from music?
I draw, I have three guinea pigs that are mostly crazy, music? I do lots of things really apart from music!
What would you say has been the high point of your career so far?
“Recording new material has been immense because I think it is the turning point where songs are beginning to sound and feel completely different. I think I have written a lot of sad or maybe melancholic songs, but the material is changing, and it’s exciting seeing how things culminate in a new direction. This direction is somehow quirkier, more cross genre. In some ways I want my writing to become more concentrated and I’m always trying to find ways to express myself more effectively.”
How do you think you will handle fame?
“I would like to think that I would try and maintain some part of my former self for self-preservation purposes! I will be myself, whatever that entails.”
You’ve been recording for a new single. When’s it out?
“There are plans to make it into an EP, so the release will be later this year”
See Emma Rugg live at The Lamp, Wednesday 21st July while you’ve still got the chance.