Emma Volard’s sound melds rhythm ‘n’ blues, neo-soul and electro in a contemporary, Australian ode to classic soul/hip hop artists like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Her 2020 single “Femininity” epitomises the brave, take-me-as-I-am-or-don’t attitude Volard espouses in both her music and her life. The artwork for the single depicts a voluptuous, nude Volard sitting cross-legged amidst a collection of fellow naked bodies lying prone on the floor about her. She looks, unapologetically, at the viewer, as if to say, “What?”
The artwork for the single was an idea that came up during a band trip in Byron Bay, a celebrity-favored beach town in New South Wales. “We came to the idea that it would be beautiful to get a bunch of friends – men, women and non-binary – together to show we’re all just bodies, skin and bone,” Volard explains. “The photographer turned out to be a sexual harasser, so we don’t like to name him. He had over 100 accusations of sexual harassment within Victoria. I continue to put it out there because I want to claim that space back – the art was my own idea, and I was reclaiming my art as a woman.”
Volard believes that femininity is not about a specific aesthetic, or ideals that have ultimately been imposed by white men, but that it is about being authentic, being empowered. The claims of harassment that emerged after the single was released were a blow to her, but she refuses to let that be the storyline.
Rather, her personal challenges and convictions are what deserve attention. Volard’s confidence in her own body, her sexuality, her music and her femininity come from perspective, hard-earned. The power of expression is one that Volard knows is not to be taken for granted, nor used carelessly, a lesson she learned from her sister, Adelaide, who is non-verbal, severely autistic and epileptic.
“Adelaide is two years younger than me and was born fully cognitive. When she hit six months old, she started to regress. She was beginning to walk but then soon after, she couldn’t do anything, even eat,” Volard relays. “She was able to make noises, and she’s very good at expressing emotions, especially when she’s being cheeky. I learnt a lot at a very early age; I matured very fast, because we’d go to hospital at all hours of the night. It wasn’t your regular lifestyle.”
Volard says her sister provides a daily reminder to use her voice for those who cannot, to challenge listeners to consider the impact we have environmentally, politically and personally on each other and the land. “She’s been my biggest inspiration,” Volard says. “She really, really goes through hard times but always has such a positive outlook.”
Volard grew up Southeast of Victoria on Phillip Island, known for its penguins (“country by the sea, an incredible place!”) for four years of her life, so a lot of imagery in her music is inspired by the ocean, the tides coming in and out, and the ideas of change and moving on, especially on luscious, indulgent 2019 single “Peanut Butter,” which oozes with style and soul. It’s jazzy, it’s slinky, it’s unashamedly sexy.
“That track was originally a demo I was sent by a dear friend, [Melbourne artist] Moses Carr, who said I should put some vocals on it. It was called ‘Peanut Butter’ when he sent me the beat, so we stuck with it. The song is nothing to do with that at all!”
But it’s so smooth, with just a little bit of crunch to the beats, I protest.
Volard indulges me.
“Maybe it has peanut butter undertones?” she says with an easy laugh.
Volard believes that expression is dependent on having a comfortable, supported space, something her relationship with her band provides. Despite a band full of boys, Volard has never felt her femininity sets her apart and perhaps it even enables her to feel more confident in the fact she identifies with being a tomboy at heart.
“Femininity is the most socio-political song I’ve written, inspired by being a tomboy,” says Volard. “Why am I less feminine than anyone else because I have some masculine traits? It was surreal to see how many people who got behind that song. It’s so important to me as a woman in the music industry to have that level of support. People from the industry got behind it, it got on the top 5 songs on both Triple J Unearthed and PBS radio. I got messages from people I’ve never met before saying it touched them, which was really great.”
Volard will be playing a few festivals, doing an International Women’s Day event at a local brewery, and, later this year, releasing her debut album – or, to give her band credit where it’s due, “their” album.
“A lot of the songs I write with the boys in the band. We’ve known each other for over five years now and we’re a really close team. We have Jake Amy on keyboards, Harry Leggett on guitar, Hugh Heller on bass, and Jordan Pereira on drums,” she says. “We’re hoping to get it out by September, but we’re still in the early stages of production. I’m recording vocals at Sunderland Studios in Phillip Island. We wrote the songs in two months around November/December last year, under this huge time pressure we put on ourselves. Boundaries are a fun thing to work with, they make you push yourself out of the box. It was really hard to create during lockdown, because I wasn’t able to go out and be inspired by others. All I had was a daily trip to the supermarket, a one hour walk and four walls.”
Volard’s working title for the album is, of course, Femininity.
“I want to show the day to day life, our existence, and gratitude for being a woman,” she says. “I’m finally at a point where I’ve found a sound that really signifies my own musical identity, and me as a person.”
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