Noise Annoys: Emily Breeze talks Rituals and famous family connections

Bristol-based noir pop chanteuse and songwriter Emily Breeze gets quizzed on her compellingly lush/louche new album Rituals and famous Irish literary relatives...

Emily Breeze and band's debut album Rituals is out now

HI EMILY, congratulations on Rituals – how does it feel to have the album out?
Thank-you, it feels glorious to invite people to walk in the weird world me and the band have lovingly created, and for listeners to have a more intimate relationship with the songs.

It was a joy to see the crowd at our album launch in Bristol last Friday singing along to the songs as opposed to that first date "impress me" experience when the audience is hearing unrecorded material for the first time. I am still buzzing from the generous spirit and support of the sold-out crowd who gave me everything I need to keep going.

The feedback so far has been great and I am gratified that people seem to understand where I am coming from as a songwriter.

Did you enjoy making this record?
It was enjoyable and also challenging. If it had been a purely enjoyable experience, I don't think the stakes would have been high enough. Anything worth doing always involves an element of pain and fear otherwise there would not be a transformative aspect to push us into the unknown.

The highlights were the location. Rockfield [in Wales] is a legendary studio throbbing with the ghosts of a thousand hit records and all the blood, sweat and tears it took to make them. I cleverly scheduled the three songs I do not play guitar on to be recorded late at night so I could sway in a haze of whiskey and wine and lay down the vocals while the band had to keep their s*** together to lay down the instrumental tracks (sorry guys, sneaky!).

Also, the company; stellar producer Stew Jackson [Massive Attack] and the band, who I love dearly, and partners and children dropping by for communal meals. By the end, I was sure we had started a cult and would never have to deal with reality again. Unfortunately, reality hit me like a Russian tank the first day back at work.

There's a definite 'world-weary romantic' vibe to the album, and some great tongue-in-cheek black humour. Is that an accurate reflection of your own personality?
Yeah, you can't fake that kind of stuff and the breakthrough for me as a songwriter was to write the lyrics channeling an amplified version of my authentic world view as opposed to using a "songwriterly tone".

Tragedy and humour are bedfellows because we all have to wake up everyday with the absurd knowledge that no matter what we do, how hard we try or what we achieve, that everyone still dies at the end of the story. That's pretty f***ing funny, if you're wired that way.

I am also such a hopeless romantic and a lover of people that I have to couch my relentless optimism in a cynicism as a form of armour, otherwise I would get eaten alive. Besides there is beauty in the bleakest and darkest corners because they contain the comfort of truth.

It also features a great cover of Buddy Holly's Raining In My Heart.
It was Rob's [lead guitarist] idea to cover that song and the minute he started playing the intro with the most deliberately pathetic and hopeless guitar sound, I was hooked. The original song is so innocent and romantic: raw hope and naive optimism which we corrupted with understated horror.

There is an incredible release in performing covers as your ego is out of the room and you can simply channel and deliver the music. I also like the idea of Buddy Holly spinning like a helicopter blade in his grave due to our desecration of his stunning song.

You've been based in Bristol for almost 20 years. Has it been good to/for you in terms of your musical evolution up to this point?
Yes, I can feel a tangible sense of hometown goodwill and support towards me and the band and I have been consistently helped and facilitated by generous and talented people who certainly were not doing it for the money, because there wasn't any money. I am deeply indebted to everyone who lent me gear and rehearsal spaces, bought tickets to shows, played in my bands and recorded my music.

Bristol is a double-edged sword though: it loves outsiders and weirdos and when I started playing live here at the age of 23, I was very weird. I used to play atonal spidery guitar lines in difficult time signatures and I could not sing at all, which is basically the criteria to be welcomed on to the scene (ie, not a commercial hope in hell).

My first recording was produced by Nick Talbot from Gravenhurst, my first band featured John Garden, now the Scissor Sisters' musical director, and I have since worked with many notable local musicians and gone onto to complete Bristol's 'end of level boss' by working with Massive Attack writer/producer Stew Jackson.

You have a famous Irish family connection: any plans to play here?
Yes, I am hellbent on doing some dates in Ireland and establishing an audience in the homeland of my grandfather Brian Behan and my great uncles, Dominic and Brendan Behan.

Brendan has an unusual type of celebrity: he was very much a product of his time to people in the UK. They either draw a total blank or think I am the descendant of a hedonistic literary legend.

I have certainly inherited his appetite for destruction and I hope a little of his gift for storytelling. The Behan women are now holding the torch; my mother Ruth Behan has just had her first short story published in a book called Common People and was also featured in The Irish Times recently, my Auntie Janet Behan has written a play called Brendan at The Chelsea which starred Adrian Dunbar and she is about to launch her new one-woman play called Why Shouldn't I Go?

I am really looking forward to connecting with my roots and infecting Ireland with my songs. Tour dates imminent.

Finally, if you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Work harder. I didn't really understand that positive outcomes and success (whatever that means) are mostly down to simple hard graft. I did not realise it was that f***ing simple – I thought you were either touched by God or a puny mortal in terms of art, so I could not see the point in organising my time and effort more effectively because I did not think that it was possible for me.

Since then, I have learnt that everything you do or don't do, everything you consume or avoid, everything you fall wildly in love with or hate with a passion/violence informs your narrative as an artist – and the rest is just work.

Although, I would like to add, as I mentioned previously: nothing matters, we all die at the end of the story and the best investment you can make with your time should be surrounding yourself with good people, good food and good music.

:: Rituals is out now, see for more info

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