Life changes us slowly and steadily and these changes often remain obscured until they’re examined with hindsight. Memories are laid down like railroads connecting our past to our present, the journey a bright blur, the stations a simple clarity. Emma Davis’ 2010 self-titled debut album is a track stretching into her past, her soundtrack to the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Her music provokes feelings of loss and impersonal sadness. The emotional tones are blue and grey, conveying a reflection on bleakness from the outside, looking in.
“Some of those songs were written when I was 15 or 16,” Davis says. “Some were much later. I think that’s why I like that album. It told my story, showed my progression over quite a few years, so it was an important thing to get out and move on from. I was probably pretty naive when I wrote that album. A lot of those songs were written about my first experiences with things, so I don’t think you can help but change.”
In September, Davis spent a week in Cairns laying down her new single ‘Stand Tall’ with producer Mark Myers. With semi-electronic drums underpinning the plucks of folk, the song is a slight departure from her previous work, showing off Myers’ production skills with a sonic purity resonating in warm space. “I didn’t want any preconceived notions of where I wanted the track to go because I think that defeats the point of working with someone new,” Davis says. This single is less heavy on the heart than her debut; the lighter tones summon more forward-looking hope than resigned acceptance.
“I think I’m growing older,” she laughs, apparently an old woman at 27. “My new single I wrote for friends of mine who are getting married and having a baby. I think just realising I’m getting to that age has affected my view without me even noticing.” But it’s not just the deleterious effects of age changing her; Davis is also strongly affected by her current tour partner, Sydney musical gadabout Brian Campeau.
Campeau and Davis have worked together since their chance backstage meeting in 2008, which led to Campeau co-producing Davis’ debut.Not just a confidante or collaborative partner, Campeau is clearly a source of motivation for Davis. “Brian is really good at pushing me out of my comfort zone. He started this thing where you had to write 20 songs in 20 days. I’ve never been able to write in that way; I’m romantic about the idea that a song should come naturally. As soon as I sit down and I really try, I’m never happy with what comes out.
“Originally Brian forced me to try out ideas that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of and taught me to experiment a bit more with sound. He also taught me the importance of reflection time when recording. It’s so easy to lose perspective when you’re listening so closely to a song over and over and again. He forced me to take a week sometimes between recording where I wasn’t allowed to listen at all.”
It can be hard as a singer-songwriter in Australia given the wealth of talent floating around, and in Sydney in particular. Davis herself floated around in the last year before deciding to move back here. “I came back in February after four months of living in Victoria and three months before that in Europe. I spent most of those four months working out whether to try out Melbourne or not, but in the end just didn’t feel like I was quite finished with Sydney.
“I’m glad I came back,” she adds. “I think it’s a really good time. Since I’ve been back it’s felt like people seem to be hitting the nail on the head. There’s some really exciting projects happening, new creative spaces to be in. I think I’ll stick around for a while now.”
For now, Davis and Campeau will be heading out of our fair city to tour the nation, starting at FBi Social this week before heading to Canberra, Newcastle and beyond. In preparation for the long hours on the road, Davis and Campeau did a practice run, one show in Sydney and one show in Brisbane. “Both of us hadn’t done any of our own shows in a while and we didn’t want this tour to be the first, so we had a little warm-up. I therefore know how he is on a long car journey. He likes to sing very loudly – I will be bringing earplugs this time. He also likes to get a beer wherever we stop, even if it’s 10am. He does a lot of the driving though, so he’s a good tour pal and he’s quite handy – he made us DIY hot water bottles when we were in Bellingen, out of a couple of glass jars!”
Despite making it clear that she much prefers writing and recording, Davis is looking forward to the tour. “I think what’s really important about the tour is that Brian and I are doing it together. We’ve gone through a period where we’ve both been feeling uncertain about our music and our writing. When my album came out I got a bit of momentum, nice reviews, radio play. I felt like I was getting something started. Then I had writer’s block and found it really hard to write the next thing – I dropped the ball a little bit. I just want to get it going again.”
BY JESSE HAYWARD