INTERVIEW: Emily Barker | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Emily Barker plays Sage Gateshead on Friday 1st December, touring her latest release Sweet Kind Of Blue. She has penned and performed theme songs for BAFTA and Ivor Novello winning television dramas Wallander (starring Kenneth Branagh) and The Shadow Line and for the movie The Keeping Room, as well as an entire musical score for the poignant and well-received 2015 road movie, Hector, starring Peter Mullan. We caught up with her for a chat with her before her show in December.

How did Sweet Kind Of Blue come together creatively?
Quite a few of the songs are co-writes, something I hadn’t done much of prior to this album, so that was cool to experiment with writing with other people and it definitely shaped the sound of some of the tracks. The production of the album came about through me meeting Matt Ross-Spang, a Memphian, who invited me to his city to do a couple of days of pre-production at an incredible, vintage studio called Sam Phillips Recording Service (not to be confused with Sun Studios). It was built in 1960 and it breathed atmosphere with all those stories in the walls told by artists like Dan Penn, Alex Chilton, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Cramps, John Prine, etc. We recorded live to tape and my band consisted of an all-star cast of Memphis musicians the likes who have played with Al Green, Booker T, Isaac Hayes, Ann Peebles, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Cat Power, the list goes on. Because of the musicians I worked with and making the album in Memphis, it has a very distinct Southern groove sound which I believe could only be captured there in Memphis or perhaps at Fame in Muscle Shoals. 

How will you translate the songs from your Memphis-made new album, Sweet Kind of Blue, for UK crowds and with a UK band?
I’ve got a great UK band featuring Lukas Drinkwater on bass, Pete Roe on keys and Rob Pemberton on drums. It was an interesting process trying to work out how to perform the songs live with this line-up given the album was made with older musicians who are rooted in the groove-based Memphis sound, plus for the recording we had brass, strings and female backing vocalists. But Lukas, Pete and Rob are all fantastic musicians and have performed southern groove-based music previously. They’re also all great singers, so we’ve worked up 4-part harmonies for a lot of the songs. I would say there’s a more British slant on our live interpretations of the songs.

When you tour, do you have any rituals you like to uphold? 
One of the only daily rituals I have is coffee. It’s perhaps my favourite thing of the day and I only have one cup (sometimes two) so it’s a pretty important decision to make and I enjoy pondering it. My friend, Ben Lloyd from Frank Turner’s band The Sleeping Souls, shares my coffee obsession and we’ve made this world-wide coffee map. So wherever we are in the world, we can open the map and see where the nearest and best coffee place is. It really shapes a day when you’re travelling and don’t know a place. It’s an anchor. For me this coffee obsession partly comes from growing up in Australia where the coffee is exceptional and very much a cultural practise. People go out every day to their favourite, local café to meet a friend, have a meeting, read the paper, etc. Thanks to the coffee map, I have a different local café every day and get to have a bit of insight into the community, architecture, and general vibe of the city/town.
On this tour I’m going to be selling my own bags of coffee! “Sweet Kind of Brew” coffee beans will be available from the merch desk thanks to the delicious Monsoon Estate Coffee. 

You’re currently on the road – how has the new material been going down live?
I’m currently on tour in the USA opening shows for Mary Chapin Carpenter and I also did a big album launch in Memphis with all the studio band plus string quartet, horns and backing singers – that was so much fun! The new material has been going down really well, whether its performed solo or with a full band, I’ve reworked some of the songs so they work with whichever line up I’m with at the time. 

Are you looking forward to playing the Sage Gateshead?
I am indeed! I had the pleasure of playing there with my harmony trio, Applewood Road in November last year. I’m looking forward to being back in that lovely-sounding room with this configuration of musicians. 

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