An interview with
Emily Bezar (1999)

By Beppe Colli
Nov. 24, 2004

Conducted not too long after the release of her first solo record, Grandmother's Tea Leaves ('93), my first interview with Emily Bezar mostly dealt with her background, her formative influences, and that album. Conducted by snail mail in March 1995, the interview - her first printed interview ever! - ran in (UK) Rubberneck # 18, June 1995.

At the time of the release of her third album, Four Walls Bending, I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions for an interview which appeared - in Italian language - in Blow Up magazine # 19, December 1999. Due to space constraints (plus the fact that the interview ran alongside my conversation with Amy X Neuburg about the recently released Sports! Chips! Booty! CD) the interview was definitely more on the brief side than I would have preferred.

Conducted by e-mail during December 1999, the interview appears here in English for the first time.

The new album sounds massive but warm - when I push the volume up it never seems to be "too loud" (hope my neighbours agree): does analog make such a huge difference?

To me "warm" means: does this sound seduce you forward? Do you want to dive into the sound? I think that a soundworld with a balanced frequency spectrum will always seem inviting, even at high volume. Yes, some artifacts of digital recording do cause ear fatigue, but I think it's always so much more about the instruments, the mix, the relative levels. Cellos or piccolos at midnight, analog OR digital... you tell me which your neighbors will scream about!?! Yes, Four Walls was recorded and mixed to tape, so maybe the analog tape compression "warmed" it up, but I started out with some pretty dark colors. Much of the electronic sound on this album was created with an old Sequential analog synth and the guitars were recorded with very little digital processing. One earthy metaphor that I keep coming back to when I hear the sonic contrast between this album and my last: Somehow the analog recording process made my textures seem more "stewed", more cooked. Like all the elements got bound and coated with this nice juice in the pot. Oh now I'm hungry...

After Grandmother's Tea Leaves it seems to me that your albums have progressively become more "rhythmically grounded". How do you consider rhythm when it comes to your current concept of music?

Well, GTL was really just about me and the little world in my head at the time. I could exist in a constantly shifting time grid because I was conductor, accompanist and soloist all at once. Power! But with Moon... I began to work other players into the fabric, and because I wanted us all to have some fun, I didn't compose every note for them. The rhapsodic feel that GTL swims around in was just not possible for me to achieve on a multitrack band recording with that depth of complexity in arrangement and form. I never wanted the band to just paddle in my wake and try to play catch-up. And in writing the new album I found myself moving even more toward arrangements where the piano was just an ornamental color, not the main rhythmic engine as it had been in the past. So, the groove responsibilities fell to Andrew and Steve and they put down more solid roots that I ever could have as pianist alone.

I've read that on the new album some of your past musical influences, such as Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell, are revisited. True? If so, I think by now they've been incorporated into your own style: I don't hear Pink Floyd - maybe a bit of Mitchell, especially in the mood of Black Sand, which reminded me a bit of the B section of Banquet, off For The Roses...

I only know what music I listened to a lot early on... I never know what really stuck with me. I do think my connection to Joni is a very deep one. I always respond to her on every possible level. Hejira is my pure sonic drug, Hissing: I'm in intellectual awe... and then there are the emotional killers for me: Blue, Court and Spark. My rock influences? With Pink Floyd I think I absorbed their grandeur and electronic sweep in a kind of general way - their unselfconscious "majesty" maybe. One thing I know for sure: on Four Walls Bending this band, these players bring another 3 very distinct musical histories to the music. I really said to them: "Here are the songs, here is what I want to do with the keyboards, here is my state of mind when I sing them... now make them your own, help me build a cathedral."

Music or lyrics? This time, which came first?

Most definitely the music. In fact, I was still working on lyrics after many of the bands' parts had been recorded. Which is NOT to say that my vocal melodies came last. They almost always come at the same time as the basic harmonic/rhythmic outlines. They often have some crucial small phrases attached to them that will become the genesis for the mood, the tone etc. But I feel so much more "fluid" as a composer than as a lyricist (in the sense that the music pours out where my words are more crafted) that I've always thought I should be writing more instrumental stuff. In fact, there was to be an electronic instrumental suite on this record but we ran out of space on the disc and time in the studio to mix it. And I felt that the album was becoming so cohesive as a sung 10-song cycle that I decided to wait and group the instrumentals on a future release.

You've told me that you consider this album to be your "most 'likeable' yet". But it's a million miles away from what's on the charts! Who do you consider, today, to be doing valuable work when it comes to the song form?

Maybe the new album is easier to finish at one meal? There seems to be some magical balance of the familiar and the new for a "first listen" to take hold in most people's hearing. Did I hit that ratio? I don't know. What I write always seems perfectly likeable, congruent and consonant to my own ears, but that's the composer's biggest challenge, isn't it? To convince everyone that your own wacked-out internal logic is the only possible path the music could take. As for the charts, I don't know what's on them these days but I'd be pretty sure they all look and twist like Ricky Martin! Song form today? I wish I had more time to listen to everything. Radiohead's OK Computer stunned me back into listening to modern rock. I think it is the best and the only true rock Opera. I love Bjork's albums in their "sound as song-form" ambitions. Homogenic is a brilliant blueprint for the pop music of 2005.

© Beppe Colli 1999 - 2004 | Nov. 24, 2004