Emma Ruth Rundle's Folk-Inspired Music Is as Heavy as Metal

Emma Ruth Rundle may play folk-inspired music, but it’s as heavy as metal.
Emma Ruth Rundle may play folk-inspired music, but it’s as heavy as metal.
Courtesy of the artist
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Emma Ruth Rundle’s solo music may be inspired by folk, but that hasn’t stopped her from touring the country with black-metal act Deafheaven and post-rock band This Will Destroy You. The three bands hit the stage at the Summit Music Hall this week.

Folk and metal have rarely traveled side by side, but putting music into stylistic silos is rightfully falling out of fashion. Rundle is part of a new movement of artists like Chelsea Wolfe, Helen Money and the band Miserable, who are proving that folk can be as dark and intense as metal, and that the imagined divide between acoustic music and heavy, noisier styles need no longer exist.

Rundle, who has lived in Los Angeles much of her life, says she has been influenced by many styles of music. “I think my listening tastes have been pretty out there and varied,” she says. “There’s a sense in the community I’m in that some of what I’m doing doesn’t sound as heavy as the [musical] world I’m in.”

That assessment, she believes, reflects an inadequate understanding of her work. “There are so many places that music comes from,” Rundle notes. “I didn’t grow up in a time when it was just radio. There was the Internet when I was a kid, so you could really hear anything.” And in the digital era, there’s no reason that music aficionados should be schooled in only one sound or musicians limited to one genre or set of influences.

Part of how music has always spread has been through word of mouth, she adds. “You have a friend who really loves Naked City, and that’s how you find out about John Zorn, and that takes you down a rabbit hole in that direction.”

Rundle chalks up her folk tendencies to her Los Angeles childhood and years spent hanging around McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, a store that she describes as the center of the Los Angeles folk-music scene for sixty years.

There, at age eight, she studied Celtic harp and started hanging out with musicians. Eventually, she took a job at the store and stayed there for a decade.

“There are concerts there three days of the week,” she says. “I would work a lot of those concerts and saw hundreds of shows.”

She also sold guitars and worked in the repair shop, where she learned to fix and play a wide range of instruments. Most of that knowledge she has not tapped into directly for her various experimental rock bands.
The most important lessons she learned at McCabe’s were to listen closely and to be patient with new music.
But she also says her own tastes were shaped in part by the influence of radio stations. That’s where she first heard Smashing Pumpkins as a child, a band that shaped the trajectory of her career.

Rundle, who is well known for her membership in the post-rock band Red Sparowes, has demonstrated her versatile talent as a guitarist with her bands Nocturnes and Marriages. In those projects, she’s displayed a keen ear for atmosphere, texture and subtle inflections that turn a pretty, luminous melody into something powerful and moving.

Rundle released her first solo album, Electric Guitar One, in 2011. Despite its name, the record highlighted her folk background and a willingness to push the genre’s boundaries with the noisy soundscaping that she leans on in her better-known musical projects. She layered noise and introspective melodies, then refined the gesture on her next two solo efforts, 2014’s Some Heavy Ocean and 2016’s Marked for Death. On the latter, a more overt folk element emerged and enriched her songwriting.

In 2017, Rundle released The Time Between Us, a split album with Jaye Jayle of the Young Widows that comprised leftover songs from the musicians’ recording sessions for their most recent solo works.

“You can see from the photos and the title that there’s this kind of imagined love story going on,” Rundle says.
The Time Between Us is a highly stylized product from two artists known for imaginative, heavy music, operating outside their usual parameters and creating a self-contained world and musical vibe inspired by their mutual love for David Lynch movies. The two musicians plan to tour Europe together in April and May.

The music on The Time Between Us stands in sharp contrast to Marked for Death, which Rundle describes as rife with “confrontational” imagery and music.

“This was a very feminine, soft and dreamy thing to do,” she says, precisely unlike what audiences will probably hear at Thursday’s show at the Summit, when her brand of noisy folk will compete in heaviness with the sounds of Deafheaven and This Will Destroy You.

Emma Ruth Rundle
7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street, 303-487-0111, $18-$20, all ages.

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