A Conversation With Emika: A Neo-Classical Creative Force to be Reckoned With

EMIKA © Adam Krena
EMIKA © Adam Krena
“Sleep in the Day” demonstrates Emika’s musical bilingualism and will jump-start her recently-launched indie record label.  

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No project or part of the world seems to be out of bounds for Emika. She’s shifted between England, Germany and the Czech Republic over her life and career, all while experimenting broadly with different musical styles. As an artist formally trained in classical music who’s also absorbed the massive techno scene in her longtime hometown of Berlin, her sharp ears for both of these genres and several others has serviced her well in her musical craft.

Sleep in the Day - Emika
Sleep in the Day – Emika

Her 2011 self-titled debut celebrated electronica, as have many subsequent projects. Meanwhile, the sonic content of her albums Klavirni (2015) and its recent continuation, Klavirni Temna (2020), are reflected by the translations of their titles from Czech: “piano” and “dark piano,” respectively. Another release, 2017’s Melanfonie, further proved her penchant for classical music by means of a full-length collaboration with the Prague Metropolitan Orchestra. Emika’s mystifying new single, Sleep in the Day,” combines both of the genres she know best, with piano keys peppered across an eerie machine-produced instrumental.

In addition, Emika has recently crafted her own planetarium show, which debuted at the Zeiss Planetarium in Berlin. She also headed out to the Brandenburg forest to constructed the “Earth Ship,” an eco-friendly recording studio made out of natural material gathered in the German woods. And now she is also giving entrepreneurship a try with the launching of her record label, IMPROVISATIONS X INSPIRATIONS. “Sleep in the Day” represents this project’s debut single; around the time of its release, Emika put out a new album for 24 hours on her Bandcamp page in celebration of the platform’s artist fee-free day

Atwood spoke with Emika (whose real name is Ema Jolly) about her versatility with genres both modern and traditional, and her innovative means of generating attention for both herself and her label-mates.

Listen: “Sleep in the Day” – Emika

A Conversation with Emika 

Atwood Magazine: You described yourself as an artist who is pursuing “European electronic and modern classical adventures.” How did your passions for each of these genres come about? What magic do you achieve by combining the two of them?

Emika: That’s a really lovely question and a lot of people want to know the answer from me, myself included some days.  I wish I could be like one of these cool tutorial creators and whip out nice simple logical explanations, but it’s just like one long, winding road of discovery and failures and extreme highs of success, followed by deep, dark periods of self-doubt.

What are some major events that have occurred in recent years that have influenced the sounds of your recent release, Klavirni Temna?

Emika: I became a mother and composed / improvised / recorded Klavirni Temna with a huge belly. I could hardly fit at the piano. It was a hot summer in Berlin, and in my studio, and my baby was really wiggly. I remember feeling so scared that my life would be over as an artist once I became a mother, so I was frantically recording and banking as much piano music as I could.

When my daughter was born and about 1.5 years old, she heard the record for the first time and touched my tummy and said, “Mummy.” She could remember the music from inside my belly. It was a freaky moment. And since then, my power as a composer has been growing and my intuition deepening. I credit my daughter with enhancing my creative energy. And really, being an artist is 100% about creation.

So why did I think I would lose it all? It’s gone completely in the other direction, to where I have started a new record label and am developing artists and sharing my business set-up with them.

What inspired you to launch a new record label, IMPROVISATIONS X INSPIRATIONS? What are your hopes for this new project now that it’s finally coming off the ground?

Emika: It’s been a long dream of mine to be able to connect with other artists that love to improvise and compose (thinking beyond being a one-genre artist).  But I first wanted to focus and develop my business and wait until the artists also were drawn to me in someway.

My goals are to develop a “lively,” dreamy collection of beautiful music that sounds like people playing live, and to hold special live events in locations such as planetariums and churches. We are really going into a deep dimension and shifting the focus from albums and promo routines into somewhere undefined. I am working on making it so good for my artists that hopefully we can grow into a bigger collective.

EMIKA © Adam Krena
EMIKA © Adam Krena

How did your latest single, “Sleep in the Day,” come together? It’s quite a departure from your previous classical work. What made you go with this ones as a means of introducing IMPROVISATIONS X INSPIRATIONS to the world?

Emika: I began my own personal quest to find the “essence” of my work a few years ago. I could feel the world shifting and my life sliding about. Although we are in the peak of the crisis now, for me things felt like they were shifting since 2017. This song almost came to me from the clouds, while I was improvising while watching the dramatic sky view from my (then) new studio in the forest.

I then went on my first leg of my world tour in the end of 2019 and re-connected with Jim Barr (Portishead) in Bristol before one of my shows there, and was telling him about my new label concept. He was like.. “yeah sounds great.. when do you wanna come to the studio?” I was a bit taken by surprise, because normally you go to a studio at the end of the album-writing process, once you have finished songs, and bash out as many as you can per day. I didn’t plan to go to a studio with almost no material– just a few sounds, and just to improvise.  But that’s what we ended up doing in January this year, and “Sleep In The Day” became real.

What strategic and artistic value do you see in releasing this new surprise album for just one day? What do you hope will occur within the span of those 24 hours?

Emika: I have no expectations but I am very excited! I have never done it before and I have been struggling to finish all of my chaos inspired music for years now! But since the whole global perspective has shifted, suddenly my weirder work started to feel like a nice, deep hypnotic soundtrack.  It’s almost like normal songs and albums are just too much. Too freaking much forced bullshit and perfectly-edited compress layers of “like-me-love-me” vibes. I just can’t listen to any songs or take any pop artists seriously at the moment. It all seems so vain, shallow, fake and expensive.

This record is something people can come and tune into if they feel like it. I am fully aware this sort of music is probably only for a niche audience. It will be interesting to see the over-all mood people are in. If they appreciate this fast-drop approach over a longer fanfare of storytelling.

The fast-drop is my fast response to Bandcamp doing such a great move for artists.  They sent round an email announcing the May 1 date and to me if felt like a calling to release something fresh.  Not just to tweet and try to sell old merch. I am a small business and moving fast by my own standards. My team is pretty fun and exciting. It’s real-time art.

How’s progress going on your new symphony? In what ways does it channel the works of economist Jeremy Rifkin, as you describe?

Emika: It’s going great, thanks for asking. I recently hired a female assistant composer and I made the effort to interview as many women as men. We connected via a post I made with the platform She Said So. I am hoping to crowd-fund and work with the London Contemporary Orchestra.  This time, I want to make it a live-album recording, instead of taking it into a closed-studio recording environment.

Two of your recent projects are your planetarium show and your “Earth-Ship” eco-recording studio. How do you feel these two projects are intertwined? Especially through your love of nature?

Emika: I am a city girl, really, and I still get anxious when I am completely in the forest on my own for a few minutes.  Nature for me is not like this cute, lovely, peaceful place. It’s more like this dangerous, challenging planet, and cities are where you can go to switch off from the planet and do business and human stuff.

As a British singer of Czech heritage currently living in Germany, how have the cultures and musical scenes of all three countries influenced your output? How as all of this been manifested during your time in your current hometown, Berlin?

Emika: I’d say Prague, London, Bristol and Berlin have been the four pillars of my sound and inspiration over the past 10 years or more.

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📸 © Adam Krena

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