Emily Reo photo by Daniel Dorsa
Emily Reo‘s swirling brand of bedroom pop is the kind that makes you feel like you are sinking and floating all at once. Recording almost every sound herself, from watery beats to hazy synths to manipulated vocal loops, Reo has produced two albums in the last five years: 2009’s Minha Gatinha and last year’s Olive Juice. The first, for all its lo-fi dreaminess, had a certain sense of mystery that made it irresistible, particularly in a moment where home recording was having a hey day. Looking back, the record feels more like a raw collection of experiments than the fully-realized aesthetic Reo achieved with Olive Juice, which saw the artist revamp some of that early material while adding a batch of exciting new tracks and a stirring cover of Built to Spill’s “Car.”
To compare the songs side-by-side is to see how much Reo has grown in five years, and is an indicator of how far she can and will go as she continues to tour, produce tracks, and write new material. It’s with this in mind that the curators of BasilicaSoundScape, now in its third year, included Reo in this year’s lineup alongside acts like Julia Holter, Tim Hecker, Swans, White Lung, and Deafheaven. Taking place two hours north of NYC at Basilica Hudson in a reclaimed 19th-century factory, the festival features readings, art installations, and a host of sister events and afterparties that, when taken together, fly in the face of the huge, corporate-sponsored festivals that have cropped up all over the US these past few summers. AudioFemme will be on-hand for the event next weekend (September 12-14th), and though weekend passes are sold out, single day tickets are still available. We chatted with Reo about her involvement with the festival, her DIY approach to touring and making music, and the frustrations she faces as a woman in the industry.
AudioFemme: I’ve been a fan since Minha Gatinha. What propelled your decision to re-work some of those songs for Olive Juice?
Emily Reo: That rules, thanks for listening to the early stuff! Over the course of developing some of the songs from Minha Gatinha for my live set I started to prefer the newer versions, and really wanted to share what they had grown into. Minha Gatinha to me feels more like a collection of rough demos than a proper release and I wanted to give some of those songs a better chance.
AF: How did your ideas about production and your recording process change between the two projects?
ER: Between Minha Gatinha (2009) and Olive Juice (2013) I spent the better part of four years teaching myself more about recording and production while also honing in on a more specific sound that I identified with. Where Minha Gatinha was the process of figuring out how to write songs, Olive Juice was the process of taking songs and turning them into a cohesive package with an intentional aesthetic. More specifically, I started using more advanced recording programs, learned the basics of mixing and EQ-ing, and realized my personal limitations and the benefits of working in a studio with other people.
AF: Now you’re branching into producing other artists’ songs, like Yohuna’s excellent “Para True”. How did that collaboration come about, and is that a role you’d like to take on more in the future?
ER: After I finished recording Olive Juice, I started using midi to create sketches for future songs. In the process, I got really interested in making beats and learned more about production. When my good friend Johanne (Yohuna) asked me last year if I would add a beat to her song “Badges” I was so excited. Next I added a beat for “Para True” as well as mixing the track, which was a first for me and a great learning experience. I definitely see us working together more in the future, it’s something we’ve talked about for a really long time and we’ve sent things back and forth to each other for a few years now without much follow through. Her songs are indescribably gorgeous and it’s so rewarding to contribute something that can take them to the next level.
In general, production is something I would love to get better with and continue working on. Besides being a great skill to have for personal use, music production is generally a male dominated field which frustrates me a lot and just makes me want to learn how to do it myself even more. I know of so many incredible female producers that should be getting a lot more attention than they are, and I hope one day all pop songs aren’t still made by the same ~10 men. It would be really cool to have the skill and know-how to produce hits somewhere far very down the line if I don’t feel like DIY touring when I’m 50!
AF: So you’ve spent the last few years moving around a bunch, from Florida to NYC to Boston to Los Angeles. Has that affected your songwriting process? Do you feel at home in L.A. or are you contemplating another relocation?
ER: I actually just moved back to NYC in July. I loved my time in Los Angeles but haven’t been inspired to stay in one place for very long. And as much as I’d love to feel settled and stable, the process of moving around feels pretty liberating. For the past two years or so I’ve been living in short sublets, which allows me to experience a lot of different living situations between tours.
As far as moving affecting my songwriting process, it can be hard to get into a groove and really concentrate while I’m re-settling into each new place, but it keeps me from falling too deep into a routine. As long as I have somewhere comfortable to sleep and concentrate I can get things done. Until I find a place that really feels like home I’m enjoying spending time and working on projects with friends in different places, and might move again in the spring depending on how things are going.
AF: As much as you’ve remained nomadic, you’ve put down roots in that you’ve affiliated yourself with collectives like FMLY – how did your connection to FMLY come about? How does your affiliation with them help you further your goals as a musician?
ER: Honestly, FMLY is something that introduced me to a lot of guiding principles that I take with me everywhere I go, but it’s not something that I currently feel rooted with. The nature of a large and amorphous community/collective is that it’s ever changing, and because of this it isn’t always something that everyone will align with all the time. At one point it was exactly what I needed – I had just finished college and moved to NYC, and it introduced me to communal values and some really incredible people. But now my interests fall with taking a lot of the things I learned through my experiences with FMLY in a different direction than some other folks aligned with the collective might be interested in. Which is totally fine and great and the point of something like this – it should inspire creative and independent thought, not conformity. Sorry if this is vague or not the answer you were looking for, but I’m asked about FMLY a lot and although I’m super appreciative to have met many great people and been introduced to tons of rad communities through these ties, it’s just not something that has a direct daily impact on me or my music at this point in time.
AF: You just finished a bunch of dates with Cuddle Formation, playing mainly house shows, arts collectives, and other progressive spaces, called Utourpia. Can you talk a little about what organizing that tour was like?
ER: I love to travel and try to go on a long tour at least once a year, and since my partner Noah (Cuddle Formation) and I were planning on moving back to New York for a little while we figured the best way to drive across the country is on a tour. Tours give us the opportunity to visit as many places and friends as possible, while playing fun shows and making some gas money to keep us going. We basically made a list of all of the places we wanted to go, reached out to friends (or friends of friends) who live nearby and managed to book all of our shows. We’re really lucky to know such an incredible network of musicians across America who could help and/or point us in the right direction.
We were actually really surprised and honored that folks took interest in our method of “DIY touring,” which to us as musicians sans booking agents is just the only way we know how to tour and visit friends. The Fader even published a piece about Utourpia, DIY touring and communities in their print issue that just came out which was not something we would have expected going into this humble process!
AF: What were some of your favorite moments from the tour?
ER: Some highlights of the tour were in Vancouver at a space called Fingers Crossed, and a house show in Eau Claire, WI. We’ve always had incredible experiences in Canada between our first show in Montreal (in 2013) and Vancouver this year on Utourpia, and unlike shows we would play in New York or Los Angeles where a handful of people would come out and seem mildly interested these communities in Canada are incredibly supportive and enthused. Fingers Crossed is a gorgeous art space with every wall covered in murals and a bunch of risers built together by the collective. The environment was beautiful, the people that came out to the show were so fucking nice and the entire night was responsibly planned and purposeful. In Eau Claire we had the perfect house show situation, so many friends of the folks that lived at the house as well as parents came out (all-ages at it’s finest). I love when everyone can feel comfortable walking into a room whether they’re watching their friends or their kids play. That’s what it’s all about. The show was over right by 11 because it’s important to show your neighbors that you respect them and appreciate their willingness to have 5 loud bands play next to their windows, haha. And I honestly think Sayth (our friend Eric who also ran sound all night) played my favorite set I’ve seen so far on tour. There was a ton of talent as well as collaboration to make the show happen. I also really appreciated a space we played in Eugene, OR called The Boreal, which kept their safer space show policy on the front door. It’s important for both show-goers and artists to feel comfortable to create the best possible environment for a show.
AF: So what are your feelings, then, going into playing something like Basilica SoundScape? Because it’s oriented around the idea of an arts collective, it’s similar in some ways, but the scale is much different.
ER: I’ve admired Basilica SoundScape ever since it began and I feel so incredibly honored to have been invited to be a part of this. It’s definitely the largest scale festival I’ve been asked to play, and unlike festivals with corporate sponsorships or questionable intentions I don’t feel like I have to compromise anything. I’m also a huge fan of so many of the artists playing, it’s curated beautifully and everyone putting this together has been an absolute dream to work with. I realize that compared to everyone else on the schedule I’m like a kid walking into the first day of kindergarten, but the Basilica crew has treated me with so much respect and kindness I feel completely welcomed entering this prolific community.
AF: On Twitter, you voice a lot of frustrations with regards to sexism in the music industry. What do you feel are some of the biggest hurdles facing female musicians, and what can we all do, regardless of gender, to alleviate some of that tension?
ER: I wish I had a magical solution, but it’s a huge struggle not only for women but queer, POC and other artists of marginalized groups to get half as far doing double the work, and it doesn’t help that we’re constantly being treated in ways that make us feel completely deflated. I voice my frustrations (which are usually induced by sexist statements or actions I encounter both at shows and on the internet in regards to my music) in an attempt raise awareness of the very real experiences we have, and hope by doing so maybe someone out there will think before saying something offensive, or at least not deny that these oppressive acts take place with alarming frequency. I’m not trying to be the PC police, but the only thing I can suggest is for everyone to be extremely conscious of what you say and how you act towards the people around you.
AF: What’s your next undertaking? Can we expect another album soon-ish? More touring?
ER: I’m currently on tour with my good friend Warren playing in his band Foxes in Fiction, opening for Owen Pallett. With some other tour plans in the works. I also have some solo tour plans that I’m working on for early 2015 and am planning on spending the majority of winter writing and recording my next album. I have a smaller release that should be out before January as well, with more details to come next month!
Foxes In Fiction Tour Dates w/ Owen Pallett
09-08 Seattle, WA – Neumos
09-09 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Imperial Theatre
09-10 Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
09-12 San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
09-13 Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre
09-14 San Diego, CA – Casbah
09-15 Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom
09-18 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
09-19 Dallas, TX – The Loft