CVLT Nation interviews Emma Ruth Rundle (Marriages)

You released your first solo album, Some Heavy Ocean, last year. What made you want to do this record now? I mean, to put your electric guitar (and more heavy sounds) aside and go do something a little bit more acoustic, yet with a heavy vibe, let’s say?

ERR: To be meticulous – I will point out that I did release another solo album before Some Heavy Ocean called Electric Guitar: One which is an ambient/experimental record that features almost no singing at all. Making a solo album of more “traditional” music is something I have wanted to do for a while. I had been writing and recording similar music under the moniker “The Nocturnes,” though that project did feature other musicians and some of their songs. Having had trouble with this group and with my involvement in Red Sparowes and Marriages, I wanted something that was just mine and a venue for this kind of music I write. If you have listened to Some Heavy Ocean you will understand that the material is simply not appropriate for a band or Marriages at all – it’s intimate and highly personal music.

And do you feel more exposed when you’re playing alone, just with your acoustic guitar, instead of having the amps and the band behind? Some artists that did that, like Mike Scheidt and Wino, told me they thought it was something scary, especially on the first concerts.

I absolutely feel exposed – I always feel naked when performing in any setting, but have found that doing it alone is very different. It’s complicated in that, by performing, I am making public the things that are deep in my heart and sharing my personal life and secrets with people in a way that is much more obvious and direct when I’m alone than it is when I’m playing with Marriages. Being alone is also freeing in a way; I don’t have the constraints of having to keep the songs the same at all – the music is unchained and in a sense unrehearsed. Not playing with other musicians (in a live setting) allows for this and the result can be very moving for me.

How was your writing process for this album? And how long did it take to reunite all these songs?

Writing for Some Heavy Ocean was just like everything – something I just do or did. I will always be writing this kind of music. The time during which these songs were written happened to be fraught with many kinds of personal struggles and drama that would suit any b-rated daytime soap. All of this resulting in a record of songs that I have a hard time with – they are right inside my ribs.

You recently toured with Steven Brodsky, from Cave In/Mutoid Man, who even played with you in a special video (Living With the Black Dog). How did you decide to do the video – did you already know each other? And any chance of recording something together?  

Stephen and I had never met before that tour – Sargent House set it up. I was so happy that we got to play together, as I am a big fan and it turns out he is awesome in every way. We don’t have any plans to record anything together yet, but I would love to do something with him.

You guys are about to release your first proper full length, Salome. For the first song I’ve listened, “Skin,” I got the sense that maybe your sound is more “open” and crystalline, a little bit more in line with what we can hear on your solo record. Was this a conscious move or just a natural result of your solo record  and what you’ve lived and listened to on these last few years?

Thanks for asking and for listening to “Skin.” I don’t think the evolution of Marriages has much to do with my solo work. It’s just been the natural progression of the band and the addition of permanent drummer, Andrew Clinco. The songs on Salome are more structured and vocally focused so I can see why you would ask.

It’s impossible not to note the drums are kind of everywhere on “Skin” (on the best way possible). Is this a new direction for the band (and the record)? Maybe the result of touring with bands/artists like Russian Circles and King Buzzo?

The new drum sound is solely the result of Andrew Clinco’s writing and playing style. He is a very special drummer. He really has his own presence and place in Marriages and has a lot to do with sound now.

Speaking of this, how is your writing process with the band? Do you write the melodies and lyrics alone? If so, do you know right away when you’re going to use the song on Marriages or your solo career?

Marriages is a band. For the most part, we write the music together and I usually add the vocals and lyrics later. There are only two songs on the new record that were not written this way. One of which, “Contender,” was written by Andrew. Greg added his parts and I only contributed some small guitar lines and the lyrics. The other song being “Under Will,” which I had written some time ago for a friend. Greg and Andrew do add their own touch to the song.

A great friend of mine saw you in San Francisco (with Boris) last year and was really impressed with Marriages, and especially you. What’s your state of mind after playing? And do you have some pre-concert rituals?  

Thank you. That was a special tour for me personally – I really felt like the whole band was connected in a special way at that time and that I was able to enter a different space while performing. As a band, we don’t have any rituals, although we have occasionally discussed a group hug before playing. Ha! I can’t speak for Greg or Andrew and how they feel after a show. I always feel differently and it never seems to have much to do with anything specific, other than whether or not I am able to forget myself during the performance. I think I’m often hard on myself, but I’m learning to be better about that.

You were born and raised in LA. Do you think the city has influenced you in a direct way in the music you write? And what bands/artists would you consider to be “kindred spirits” over there?

I was born and raised in LA, but I have traveled and lived elsewhere. I spent a year in New Zealand, for example, but always find myself returning to the city from which I came. It would be nearly impossible to remove myself in a way that would allow me to see how I’ve been affected and shaped by the place I grew up. If anything – I can point to McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, a historically important folk music store; it’s been there for about 55 years now and I started hanging around it when I was 8 years old. I later got my first and only job working on instruments and selling guitars and banjos to all kinds of people. The store is also a school and I was surrounded by the best of the best players – never having real guitar lessons, I gleaned what I could from the greats around me and have cobbled together my own style of playing. The essence of traditional music comes from my time there and will always be at the root of things. That and lots of Smashing Pumpkins, haha. As far as kindred spirits in LA – there are the people I grew up around and played with…especially Troy Zeigler (Field) and Paris Patt (Woolen, The Nocturnes), and of course Greg Burns, who I ended up playing in two bands with. I’ve never been terribly social and met all the aforementioned through my presence at McCabe’s.

Although you’re not a metal singer or guitar player, your bands have a strong connection with this universe, one that’s considered sexist by many. How do you see this? And have you ever had any negative experience?

I love heavy music. The ways bands and scenes connect is something someone could write a paper about, or draw up a big family tree to illustrate the intricacies of connectivity between musicians. I can see how the association works in this case. I have NEVER once felt sexism present in the scene. The world of “heavy music” is one of the friendliest and most loyal I have experienced. The musicians and the listeners are (in my experience) the best people… and I often have the best times when we get paired up with a “heavy” band – Russian Circles for example. The only sexism I tend to experience in my musical life comes unexpectedly, and almost never from a fan or fellow musician. I once feared the “for a girl” mentality I know exists, but I never think of it anymore. I never feel it. There are many incredible women in and out of the heavy music world who can play technical and creative circles around some dudes – not to swoon too much (and I don’t want to play into any sex-based bullshit), but Helms Alee are one of the heaviest and most unique bands I’ve ever heard, two thirds of which are women. Good music is good. Who is playing it doesn’t seem to matter to me or to anyone else watching or listening.

Please tell me three records that changed your life and why they did it.

Siamese Dream – Smashing Pumpkins: why? guitars! Melodies and tones and puberty… It’s influenced my songwriting and guitar playing more than any other single thing. You either get it or you don’t with this band and this record. After that, it becomes hard to prioritize anything else – there is just so much and it’s colored by hormonal changes, heartbreak, discovering sounds– industrial, stoner rock and folk-noise. Is Godflesh or Neil Young more important? I just don’t know. Jeff Buckley or Sleepytime Gorilla Museum? Radiohead or John Cage – can’t make the call.

And when did you start to sing/play guitar? Do you remember who were your main influences back then? Your voice was already compared to  a lot of artists, including since Alanis Morrisette until your labelmate Chelsea Wolfe, among others.

I loved Mazzy Star and Nirvana. The first song I ever learned to play and sing was “Ride It On” by Mazzy Star. Here is a good place to interject a comment on sexism: people seem to know so few female singers, yet feel compelled to draw a comparison to someone, anyone. I’ve been compared to almost anyone white, female and active within alt-rock-shoegaze-goth-folk in the last 30 years. It’s ridiculous. My voice is my own and if anything I sound a lot like my sister and father.

What’s your opinion about file sharing? Do you think this is the main reason for the end of independent labels like Hydra Head?

I can’t really say whether or not it’s contributed to the demise of labels – I don’t know the details of Hydra Head’s situation. I’m not very savvy when it comes to file sharing and downloading shit. With Spotify and YouTube now, I don’t know how big this whole “illegally downloading content” problem really is anymore. I want Sargent House to do well and make enough money to stay open and keep taking care of its artists, but personally, if someone is going to rip my record from a friend or download my catalogue from the internet, I don’t really care. If it spreads the music and some of those people end up at a show or are turned on to new music, they end up supporting in the long run.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Not dying at age 27

This is the last one. How do you want to be remembered?

To be remembered at all is unusual enough for anyone. I hope I get a headstone somewhere… maybe in Lone Fir in Portland.

Photo by Gregory Burns
Photo by Gregory Burns
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Luiz Mazetto

Luiz Mazetto

Directly from Sao Paulo, in Brazil, Luiz is a music journalist since 2010 and writes about everything related to heavy music, from the slowest sludge to the most chaotic grind, including some brazilian bands you've never heard of.

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Jack Thompson
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I used to work with her for years at a guitar shop in LA. She’s an amazing musician and person

Zack McCormick
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She’s an A+ human being

Kevin Hirsch
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Fucking love her!

Henry Joel
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That was a very pleasant and interesting read, thank you.