Emily Frembgen on Lou Reed, Hall & Oates and playing with Ian Cooke

This week's Rough Mixes entry focusing on Emily Frembgen contained excerpts of our recent chat with the singer-songwriter, who's packing up her guitar at the end of June and heading by to New York. Luckily she's not leaving us empty-handed: Her new CD, Always With You, is a gorgeous disc full of plainspoken yet poetically walloping folk songs.

There's more to it than just another pretty voice, though. Veering from hushed, after-hours dreamscapes to gently distorted meltdowns, Always With You is perfectly poised between sonic insurgency and Frembgen's fragile yet fearless voice. We recently spoke with Frembgen about Lou Reed, Hall & Oates and the fine art of abrasion. Read the entire conversation below.

Westword (Jason Heller): What are you earliest memories of singing?

Emily Frembgen: When I was little, I was obsessed with musical theater. I would listen to Cats and Les Mis over and over and sing along. My mom worked at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, so I would go to all the Broadway musicals.

WW: What attracted you to that?

EF: I don't know. I'm just weird [laughs]. And Cats is people dressed up as cats! I used to want to act. I've always wanted to perform.

WW: When did you start writing your own songs?

EF: When I was fifteen, I heard Lou Reed, and that's what made me want to start writing. So I went and got a guitar and started.

WW: Was it a particular Lou Reed album?

EF: I saw him on TV doing a song from [his 2000 album] Ecstasy. And then I got a Velvet Underground album for my 16th birthday. That's what made me realize I was more attracted to music than theater.

WW: Reed isn't the typical inspiration for a high-school kid. How did you connect to it?

EF: His writing is so simple. He uses really plain language, and a lot of times he's abrasive. You can tell it would annoy people [laughs]. He just likes being defiantly simple. I feel like that's my language, too. I like going against the idea that everything in music has to be complicated. He taught me that you can do that.

WW: When did you start performing?

EF: A year ago. I'm from Denver, but I moved to Baltimore when I was twelve and to New York when I was fifteen. Then I moved back to Denver when I was twenty. I'm glad I did. It got me out of my shell to play live, which I never would have done in New York. It's too scary too start there. I'd been writing songs for a long time, but I my first real show was at [the DIY music festival] Titwrench last year. That gave me a little confidence.

WW: But you played before then?

EF: My first actual show was at a middle school. It was this art fair. There were clowns. It was really weird. But it was a good way to get comfortable onstage. I played, like, two songs, and no one was really watching, so I wasn't so scared. The clowns did help [laughs].

WW: Since then you've been pretty busy playing with a lot of different people, though.

EF: Yeah. I've been playing with Ian Cooke a lot. He was one of my earliest supporters. I'm really lucky. He's so great to play with. He's so intuitive. I don't even need to ask him to do anything. He just kind of knows. I've met and collaborated with so many great people out there. It's made me grow a lot.

WW: How did the new CD come about?

EF: I'd felt really unproductive lately, so I just decided I'd make an album, something I could stand behind. If I don't give myself a goal with a time limit, I never get anything done. I have a short attention span, and I'm pretty lazy, so usually all I can accomplish is a short song.

WW: There's a lot of ambient noise that pops up on the album. Did you record it all in one place?

EF: Most of it was recorded in my apartment, in the living room. There's a lot room noise in the background. I like having that, that lo-fi quality.

WW: It seems like you went out of your way to make the songs a little abrasive and unexpected.

EF: Yeah, I love that.

WW: Why do you think you're attracted to that kind of sound?

EF: When I go to shows, I just don't hear enough of that. I wish people were doing stuff that was more abrasive. I feel that quality is really lacking in most of what I hear. Not to be critical, but I want to make music that would be refreshing to me if I heard it at a show or picked up a CD. I don't feel like I need to make anything perfect or pretty or anything. That's all been made.

WW: And yet there are a lot of pretty moments on your CD.

EF: I like the pretty moments, but that's not what I really want to work on.

WW: The first song on the disc is a cover of Hall & Oates' "Every Time You Go Away," but it's hard to recognize until you hit the chorus.

EF: That's good. I like that effect. I just realized I sing the first verse wrong. I hope Daryl Hall never hears it. He'll be mad [laughs].

WW: With this CD being your farewell to Denver, did you cover the song with that in mind?

EF: I wouldn't have thought of that, but I guess that does make sense. That's a bit much, though.

WW: What made you decide to move back to New York?

EF: I don't like being in any one place for too long. I've kind of been wanting to move for a while. I just want adventures.

WW: Earlier you said you were too intimidated to perform in New York when you were younger. How about now?

EF: I don't know. I'll see what happens. I'm still kind of scared, but I've gained a lot of confidence here.

WW: Lou Reed lives in New York. You could always ask him for a show.

EF: Yeah, maybe I'll hit him up [laughs].

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller