This year supposed to be really important in Emma Ruth Rundle’s career. She became the curator of the Roadburn Festival, where she was also to play the first concert in 9 years with the Red Sparowes band. Later she had planned tour in Australia with Chelsea Wolfe. Instead, she devotes her free time to recovering at her home in Kentucky. We were supposed to talk in Tilburg, but we talked in the only way possible at the moment. Emma from her porch, me – from my small apartment in Warsaw.
This year’s Roadburn was supposed to be a really important event for you. Can you tell how the process of choosing bands looked like?
When Walter and Becky approached me about doing this, there were few things right away I knew I was going to ask for. I ended up coming with a dream list of 20 bands and performances. We spend most of a year working on it back and forth. Discussing what would make sense for a festival.
Some things just weren’t going to be possible. For instance, I had asked for the band Bohren & der Club of Gore. I really was hoping that they could come and play the album “Dolores”, but something like that wasn’t going to be possible, because this artists required for a seated show. It was very much a collaborative process with Walter coming to which things made sense.
The first thing that I wanted to ask was for David Eugene Edwards from Wovenhand to play a solo set. Things that we agreed on early was Patrick Walker to play his solo set, but also performing 40 Watt Sun’s album “The Inside Room” in full. Also, I knew I wanted Mizmor to come and play their record “Cairn”.
It was an interesting process. A lot of fun, but also stressful at times. I was so glad that I was able to do that. Just as crashed, when Roadburn had to be postponed. But hopefully we can have the same line up next year.
Do you think keeping the lineup from 2020 is possible?
We’re trying to keep it as much the same as possible. There’ll be inevitably bands that won’t be able to come, because we don’t know how the landscape of touring going to look like next year. I don’t know about there [EU], but here we’re already starting to lose some smaller venues. Especially this year we were having and showcasing a lot of smaller acts from States. If they are not able to put a tour around the festival it makes it very difficult for them to financially find resources to come and play. So as much we’re hoping it will remain the same, I’m sure that there’ll be some people that won’t make it.
Besides to being a curator, you were supposed to play an important concert there. The first Red Sparowes performance in 9 years… Was this performance supposed to be something more or just a one-time gig?
We’ve been working on a new record very slowly for the last two years and this was supposed to be a way of come back and debut some new songs at the festival. There was no tour that we supposed to announce, just one warm up show in LA and then flying to Roadburn and play the set there. We are still planning to come next year and play that set. Because we have this time who know what will happen… In a perfect world we could get the record done and maybe we would be able to do some touring around Roadburn next year, but right now we can’t even practice together.
How about your other band, Marriages?
Nothing been happening with Marriages. The drummer is the front person of the band called Drab Majesty, so he is really busy with his career. I focus also on my solo career in a last few years, and Marriages is kind of falling a little to the side. We don’t have anything planned. Every now and then we see each other and say “Oh it would be cool to do this again” but the reality of this is that everyone’s been so busy on their separate projects, that there’s been no writing and no progress.
Maybe in next ten years you guys will play a reunion show at Roadburn.
Yeah, that’d be fun!
You have a very strong relationship with Cathy, the owner of Sargent House. I get the impression that this woman is more than just a manager for her artists…
I love to talk about it. Cathy is really a remarkable person in so many ways. And you are absolutely right, it’s not just a management company or label. There’s so much more to it. First of all, there is really strong community with all the artists in Sargent House. A lot of us has toured together, and we are all friends, everyone supports each other.
Cathy is a backbone of fostering that sort of mentality. She’s very generous. In this pandemic time the label has been donating all the money during the Bandcamp day for us. Sargent House encouraged us and the people to go and buy the music from the bands, and she gave away all the fees, when the label got the money for us. It was incredibly helpful and generous.
I worked with Cathy for 10 years. I met her when I joined Red Sparowes and she’s become such a big part of my life. She is really like a family to me. My relationship with my mother is not very good, it never has been, and Cathy sort of filled that space in my life. She’s taking care of me and looked out for me in so many ways through my 20’s. I lived in her house many times. Something happens – she’s always there. Her work goes beyond business thing. I would never want to work with another label… we are family.
I have to give her credit for so much that I have in my life. I don’t think I would have a career without her. I certainly wouldn’t be as stable as I am now. She’s like my mom, best friend and she means everything to me.
Do you remember when she offered you to join Sargent House?
When I joined Red Sparowes, they were already at the Sargent House. Then we started Marriages and she immediately signed that band. During that time, I started making solo records, and actually I was living in her house at the time. I recorded “Some Heavy Ocean” in her basement. One day she was like “Oh, are you making me a record?” [laugh] [I was] So excited and blown away. Because I really didn’t know if she would want to work with the solo stuff. And now it’s become the focus of it’s all. It’s a cute story.
I came across an entry on your Instagram in which you talk about the fact that since the pandemic started you have a problem with creativity. Has anything changed in this topic?
I came home from touring with Cult Of Luna about 8 weeks ago and the good news is I picked up my guitar this week. I think I finally got over this. Every time I come back from tour I get a little depressed. A lot of musicians call it “post tour depression”. When you are playing live, you get super nervous and you get all of this crazy adrenaline rushing through your body every night. And when you come back home… it’s almost like a drug you get off. That creates a little bit of low in your brain chemically.
I had a big year planned with Roadburn, and then I was going to Australia for the first time with Chelsea Wolfe… watching that one thing after another get cancelled… I think I just felt a little defeated. I don’t want to sound like complaining, but it made me very sad and depressed. I lost my motivation. For a while. I really wanted to change the narrative for the couple of last weeks. Instead of losing all these opportunities to tour and work I have this opportunity to be in one place and to be focusing on writing. So I’m trying to get to that headspace. Work on that positive outlook a little more. But I think I had to take some time to just grief.
Did you learn something new about yourself during quarantine?
I’ll just be honest. I took a heavy dose of psychedelic mushrooms the other day and I went into the super intense trip. I think I’ve been shut down since I’ve been here in home. Home is a complicated place for me to be. My life has been very transient, always moving around, never being in the same place for too long. Moving here and being married has been difficult adjustment for me, and so being here in quarantine. I had to face some of that. When I took those mushrooms, it was really intense stuff about my childhood. I realized that I was actually not been dealing with a lot of the things that really need to be addressed. There are so deep and suppressed that it’s been kind of hard to actually face them. It made me think about some things that I need to deal with.
Are you working on your next album?
I started working on a record in January. Went to Whales all by myself. I really crave solitude and another thing that’s a little hard to me in being home is that you know… if you are with the partner it’s harder to find that. Before all that happened I saved some money and time to make that trip so that I could be by myself in the surrounding that is a place that i really love – being by the ocean in the winter time
I started writing there and a lot of material is coming from that writing session. So the skeletons of the songs for the new record are largely replaced and it’s up to me now to flesh them out here. I’m glad I took that trip ‘cause I’m able to draw on that mental space that I’ve carved out while I was there.
Recording and releasing records drastically changed. I don’t know when I’ll record it. I’m working on demos here, at my house. I’m not home a lot, even when I’m not on tour I’m always going to California or to Orlando to see my sister. That is why I’ve never set up any good home recording equipment. A lot of musicians have things to help them make a demos at home and I always just use my phone. So now I have a microphone, microphone stand, things that are pretty simple, but I just didn’t have them. I’m equairing some gear to be able to write and record here a little better because now, officially, I’ll be home for the rest of the year.
I feel a fairly strong sense of independence from you and rather a someone who crave, as you said, solitude. Being married must be a challenge.
It’s helpful to be with also creative person, who also needs to take his own time to do what they need to do. I love my husband very much, he’s also a musician. He plays guitar in my band when I play as a full band, he has his own project Jay Jayle, and he was in a band called the Young Widows. Which is exactly how I met him – on a tour with Red Sparowes 10 years ago.
He also needs this time to do his thing. I really value our friendship and our companionship. We’re able to help each other with our music and our art. I find it to be invaluable.
How do you deal with quarantine?
For like a month after coming home I did almost nothing. Well that’s not true! I got into gardening, strangelly. I took a break from art and music. At night my husband and I sit outside if the weather is nice and we listen to records. He has a huge record collection.
During the day I’ve been doing some sort of domestic things, I’ve been cooking, planting a garden, taking a break. It was too much for me. It was nice to step away from that. Now I’m getting back into playing guitar.
When I showed your music to my friend, I said to her that your femininity really captivates me. Independent, strong. Not sweet and childish.
It’s the biggest compliment you could say to me. The way women are represented is something I struggle with. There is a lot of pressure to be physically beautiful and all these other things that doesn’t really have to do with art or music for me. That’s been something important to me, how I want to represent myself in the way which is just to be who you are. I agree that music business has done its service to women in history by objectifying them in a ways it’s unnecessary, you know. I see things changing more and more and I feel lucky to live in that time but I always idolise someone like Patti Smith. She has this great quote “if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency”. So, you know, being the strength of what you truly are is where the value lies.
Sometimes when I think about this topic I think about myself as a young women. Young girl who was getting into playing guitar and learning about music, trying to play with other people. And at the time there was like guitar magazines and you’d have a whole spread of women just in bikinis with guitars. That kind of thing is just so shitty, and not healthy for women. That was not what I wanted to do for the next generation. I want to be there for my younger self in a strong way, someone that I would have looked up to. Have the example set that you can just be strong woman and you don’t have to comply with this bizzare ideas that society puts on to female artists. It’s not true that it is how you have to be presented, to be successful. For some artists it may be very true. It just doesn’t have to be who I am. I’m not a super feminine woman.
Have you ever felt that you have to put more effort to make someone see you first as an artist and only later as a woman?
That used to cross my mind. Even when I joined Red Sparowes, at the beginning it occurred to me that they choose me because I’m a girl. But the older I get I know that this is not true. Right now it’s really easy for me to dismiss that, it doesn’t really get to me anymore. Just be strong. Make choices and battle this thoughts.