Multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer, and all-around wonderful human being Emily Wells has emerged in recent years as a fascinating new talent whose work is a varied array of musical wonder. Mixing everything from classical instrumentation with synth beats to hip-hop loops and acoustic folk songs, Wells not only produces her own music, but has been in high demand from artists and filmmakers around the world. Most recently, she collaborated with the iconic and brilliant Clint Mansell, for the soundtrack to Park Chan-wook’s Stoker.
But Wells’ latest effort is the stripped-down and bare acoustic re-imagining of Mama, her 2012 record release. This time around, Mama Acoustic Recordings takes the original tracks and revisions the structure of the album, breathing a raw and honest new life into the album in a way that’s as fragile as it is powerful. Today, we’re pleased to premiere a stunning new video for the acoustic re-visioning of her song "Darlin."
The delicate and lovely track soars with her ethereal voice and sparse guitar, creating a melancholic moment shown through the black-and-white video work of Ruben Woodin Dechamps and Bat On Ball Creations. In addition to premiering the new video, I also had the chance to chat with Wells about her affinity for the inspiration of strangers, the freedom of her new album, and our mutual literary hero, Richard Brautigan.
Did you grow up playing music as a kid?
I played violin, started when I was four—one of those kids—and learned pretty much by ear for the first few years. Then I began to pick up other instruments along the way and started writing my own music, but I was very much a classically-trained little guy.
How did you transition into the kind of music you’re playing now?
I went far away from the violin. As you’re growing you’re figuring your sound out and learning, so it became a lot more experimental and kind of electronic. I tried a lot of different stuff and then I came back around to the violin and I was like gosh, I really know how to play that thing better than anything else. And with the advent of looping medals and all that it really made a difference. I was never going to be an orchestra member, that didn’t really appeal to me, but I love the sound of ensemble strings and string arrangements in general. My mind writes and works in that way naturally. So yeah, then I was just building on that and utilizing the violin more as a writing tool and a performance tool. So that’s how it evolved.
What are you drawn to for inspiration when making music?
I’m a voracious music listener and collector. African music has influenced me—there’s no direct sonic correlation obviously but it’s something I care a lot about. I’ve been collecting records over the years but I also love the blues and I love rap. I kind of go through my stages of what I’m into. And also, my environment and the city I’m in has a huge impact on the music that I make. I think that’s one of the reasons why I keep returning to New York, it’s such an inspiring city, mostly because of the people. And it’s even the people you’re not having direct interaction with, but rather the people you are existing in the city with—whether it be walking on the street or riding on the train or whatever. I can’t deny that as being a huge, huge influence on me as well. I was hanging out in Portland when I wasn’t on tour last year and I wasn’t experiencing that same energy, so I think that’s part of what made me come back here.
Do you see a lot of live music while you’re here?
I really love watching live jazz but I’ll go to a show at Glasslands or Knitting Factory or whatever too.
So why did you choose to do an acoustic re-working of Mama?
It really wasn’t an intentional thing, and I certainly wasn’t planning on releasing it or recording all the songs. The original album got a little delayed in release and by the time the record came out, a few months later when I started recording the acoustic. So there was kind of a large gap in the experiences discussed on that record and the present. The record is about an incredibly rough time and an incredibly harsh breakup, but that’s what the root of it is so when you have some time yo can process it and you know, time heels all wounds or something. I enjoyed approaching these songs a little more gently and a little more honestly.
Was it different playing the album this time around?
I wasn’t getting wrapped up in the production, this was like deeply honest, and perhaps the fact that I thought I would never release it helped me to be that way. It wasn’t for anybody else. And I’m not a guitar player or anything but it was so simple—just voice and guitar. I’m kind of like that too, I’ll get on something and then have to see it through.So by the time I got to the end of recording the songs, I thought maybe I’d print up a small pressing of it, but I sent it to my label to get their blessing and they really loved it and wanted to release it. So I was like well, okay why not. But it certainly was no grand plan, it was just something I did.
And you’re currently working on a film about Richard Brautigan? I love him. He’s quite possilbly one of my favorite humans who has ever existed.
Me too! That’s amazing. It’s either people are like, "who is that?" or say, "I’m obsessed!" I like that. People who know him really know him. While working on the film I voraciously read everything Brautigan’s written and was interacting with that work as a musician. So I was just responding to the experience of being baptized in Richard Brautigan.