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Since her debut with “Dark Undercoat” in 2007, Oakland based artist Emily Jane White has been crafting beautiful songs blending acoustic and electric guitars, strings, and vocals into dark, neo-folk, gothic soundscapes.  Her music conveys a sense of tragically tinged whimsy and sublime structure. When I first heard “Wild Tigers I Have Known” in 2008, I was hooked.

I’ve had the opportunity to see her play twice before in the Bay and got a third opportunity at the end of last month at an eccentric venue in San Francisco called The Lost Church. The Lost Church is an intimate 50 person capacity venue behind a non-descript street front door that betrays nothing of its interior. Inside we found odd lighting fixtures, a small retro-turn of the 19th Century style stage, and a winding stairway that led across a swirly walkway to a balcony nestled amongst rooftops. This was a perfect staging area for Emily’s music. I caught up with her on the outdoor rooftop area before the show. In describing her music to friends, I’ve always had a hard time classifying it into a specific genre or category. It’s one of those things that you really have to hear for yourself. When I ask her to describe herself as a musician she tells me:

I would say that I’m primarily a songwriter; I wouldn’t say singer/songwriter, I would say songwriter. I’ve sort of experimented in different genres, like Americana, and just more folk, and some rock, and some blending all that. (In my last record, I did some more choral stuff. My new record has a lot more vocals on it. I’m a songwriter, but I’d say that my music is melancholy and that I write in a minor key.”

Emily’s last record “Blood/Lines” came out in 2013 and marked a new stylistic development in her repertoire. Embracing more electric guitars, synths, and layers of haunting choral and orchestral sounds, “Blood/Lines” has a very neo-gothic feel to it, a pattern that can be traced in its development through her last two albums “Ode to Sentience” and “Victorian America.” Often an artist choosing to branch out in new stylistic directions can be a risky maneuver, but Emily’s work on “Blood/Lines” navigates these potentially treacherous waters effortlessly, showing the wide capabilities she has in her musical arsenal. “Faster Than The Devil” is one of my favorite tracks and features the talented voice of Marissa Nadler, making a wonderfully haunting complement to Emily’s own voice.

This music is deeply invested in sorrow, even tragedy. But when you give it a listen, even if it takes you through some dark places, it doesn’t evoke depression. Similar to artists like William Fitzsimmons and Cat Power in emotional depth and depth and range in songwriting, her music becomes a cathartic experience where you can explore those darker emotions that you may not have known how to embrace. In regards to this markedly melancholic nature of her music, Emily tells me:

I have a strong interest in writing music about more of the shadow side of life. You know, more of the things that people don’t want to talk about. I think the purpose of art is to say something without saying it directly, otherwise… there’s no way we can sort of alter and color things and have nuance. I think that’s where songwriting in particular, and music in (general) can say things without saying anything in a literal…or in a direct way. That’s what I’m interested in, and I think you can unveil and sort of reveal…subtleties and nuances and undercurrents of things that are existing but no one wants to talk about. Through poetics and through lyrics, I continually try to challenge myself with that.“

Being just a few jumps away from our city, she hasn’t played in Sacramento for several years, but she doesn’t rule it out in the future. Emily tells me some of her favorite artists from Sacramento include King Woman, the now defunct Agent Ribbons, and Chelsea Wolfe who relocated to Los Angeles. Emily is currently on tour in France, but she tells me, though there is no set release date, a new album is on the way.

I’m working on a new album, and it’s been kind of in the works for over a year, but (I) sort of go into the studio and record a couple songs and then a couple months pass and I go into the studio and record a couple more songs. I’ve been recording at Tiny Telephone Recording studio in The Mission. So I have something that’s on its way!”

Personally, I can’t wait to hear it. Here’s hoping for an early release date and a Sacramento appearance!

You can buy Emily’s music and find out more here.

 

Photos | Stacy Antonopoulos

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