THE LIVING SLEEP-THE INTERVIEW!
In the years following, Emerson has worked toward a more diverse sound featuring piano and orchestral strings, and began working with a variety of musical collaborators including members of the neighboring Tufts Symphony Orchestra. This new sound is prominently featured in the The Living Sleep’s debut full-length album Remnants, which was released in March of 2015.
My inspiration comes mostly from my own life experiences, relationships, hardships, etc. I've always been fascinated with the concept of time and our relationship to it, so a lot of my work so far has been heavily inspired by that. The tension that exists between our desire to hold on to the people and things in our lives, our inevitable inability to do so as time marches forward, and their shadows that continue to live on within us. For me these issues are very compelling and bring about very complex emotions which I try to express through my music.
I'm also constantly reading and consuming art of other forms, particularly literature and film, and I tend to get a lot of inspiration from there as well.
What are the differences between Losing Today and Remnants?
I think the biggest differences are the choice of instrumentation and the overall approach to songwriting and recording. The songs on Losing Today were composed almost entirely with electric guitar. I wrote and recorded those songs while I was still studying at university and all I had was my guitar and a few effects pedals. The songs came about mostly as a result of experimenting for many months in my dorm room with a loop pedal, just trying out different melodies and chord progressions, and layering them together.
The recording/production process was also very primitive and entirely D.I.Y. At the time, I decided I would put the tracks up on MySpace, but I truly didn't expect anyone other than my immediate family and friends to ever hear them. It was a nice surprise when I eventually saw people starting to share my tracks on the web and sending me positive feedback, which gave me the courage to continue writing music.
After I finished Losing Today, I began a long process of changing my entire songwriting approach. The biggest change was that I started playing piano again, which I hadn't done for some time, but it felt right to me and eventually I realized that I'm much more comfortable on the piano than on guitar. So as a result, when I began writing the material for Remnants I decided that piano would be the primary instrument for that album. There is still some guitar, but it is very subtle and used mostly as background texture. The introduction of string instruments (cello and viola) was also very new. I had never written string arrangements or worked with orchestral musicians before, and that was a really fun and educational experience.
What are the emblematic songs from your EP and LP?
It's hard to pick favorites because I usually feel that each track brings its own unique qualities to the overall album. But from Losing Today I would say "A Million Roads to Nowhere" is probably the most representative of my intended sound and aesthetic at that time. It's certainly my most well-known song to date, which is a bit funny because I was so inexperienced at the time I wrote it, I feel like the song came about almost by accident. But listening to it 6 years later I do feel that the song very accurately captures the many complicated feelings I was experiencing at that point in my life, and it seems to have resonated strongly with a lot of other people as well.
I'm not sure if Remnants really has a stand-out track in my opinion; there is a lot of variety in the compositions and I like many of them for very different reasons. If I had to choose I would probably say "Always", because I think writing that song helped me to define the overall concept for the album.
I think I generally approach composing in a more circular or cyclical way, rather than in terms of linear compositions that move from point A to B. I see many of my songs as a meditation on a certain theme or feeling, which I try to gradually develop and bring into greater focus, through repetition, as the song progresses. I think that approach is partly what helps to create compelling atmospheres.
In reality, I think instrumental music is actually in many ways better suited for creating atmosphere than music with prominent vocals. I was initially drawn to instrumental genres likes ambient and post-rock precisely because of their atmospheric quality. Vocal-driven music tends to be more about entertainment, in my view. There's someone in the spotlight, and you're there as a spectator observing them and listening to their story.
With this type of instrumental music, though, there is no one or thing taking the center stage. You're not being told a story so much as you're being given a backdrop or general setting from which to create your own story. That's what atmosphere is all about, I think, and it's exactly what I try to do in my own songwriting.
How do you write a song?
In recent years I have been using the piano as my primary tool for composing, so I generally start there. I pick a particular chord progression or pattern and then experiment with different melodies until something sticks. I generally will only continue developing an idea if I come up with something that strongly affects me at an emotional level. Once that happens, a narrative will naturally begin to take place around which I can build a more complete piece.
I do listen to my work occasionally, sometimes as a learning exercise to try to improve my songwriting. I'll try to notice what I like about a particular track, what qualities make it effective, and what things maybe didn't work so well. While it might sound egocentric, occasionally I also just listen for enjoyment. I've heard some musicians claim that they never listen to their own work, which I think is a bit weird personally. For me one of the greatest joys of making music is being able to translate my own vision into something tangible and real that can be experienced. So I generally try to write music that I also would want to listen to.
While I'm writing and producing a song, it can admittedly get really tiring listening to the same melody over and over, and I'll feel like, "I never want to listen to this song again!" But a few months down the line after I've forgotten about it, it can be nice to revisit that song and experience it with fresh ears. When the sound is pouring out of the speakers, filling the room and making me feel exactly the way I felt when I wrote it, evoking the same images and transporting me to another time, that's a really magical experience.
How would you describe your band? And Why?
This is always a hard question for me to answer, as I think it is for most people that create music. I like to think of the music I make as "ambient" or "atmospheric instrumental" music. There are many different labels you can assign but few feel really representative to me of what my music is about. In the end it's not really up to me to decide what people call it, nor do I care too much. If someone listens to my music and it connects with them in a positive way, that's more than enough for me, regardless of what category they choose to put it under.
Anything you would like share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums?
There's not much to report at the moment, but I am working on new material. It's too early to speculate about the next release and what it will sound like exactly, but I do plan to try to incorporate a bit more of my original guitar-driven sound into some new pieces, which I'm excited about.