“You need to change the mindset from ‘I can’t do it’ to ‘how can I learn how to do it’. Every large goal is just a series of steps“
Miss Emilia is the kind of musician who makes big music that makes you feel things deep in your soul. I really enjoyed sitting down with her on zoom and talked about why the voices of women leading the charge in the music industry should be the voices we listen to the most, and why the feminist conversation is still relevant in 2020. We chatted all about badass women, big hair, and humanity’s greatest divas
How has another morning in lockdown been?
It’s been pretty average so far, but I put on a bit of make up which has been something that’s made a really big difference some days!
It’s so weird, I put on some big earrings when I went grocery shopping the other day and I literally felt like a new person! I haven’t really made a lot of personal effort in months, and this tiny gesture really elevated my mood!
Sometimes, you just have to get a little bit dressed up
I really loved the music video for ‘Woman With Needs’, the set design was so great, did you hire an Airbnb or something?
It’s my family home actually!
It looked so gorgeous
I did a little set design the night before, so that’s not what it usually looks like, but I really enjoyed setting it all up
What was it like to organise this kind of music video when you were limited to just the household?
It was interesting because when I first envisioned the music video, my initial idea for it was to film different women in their respective industries; a mechanic, a teacher, or a young mother, and give a realistic perspective to what it means to be a woman- which is really just being a person and living your life! Because I couldn’t do that, I really did have to work within these new limitations. There was one night where I had a lightbulb moment and I knew what I wanted to do. I did a story board that had the idea of starting with a traditional housewife, and then stripping that identity towards the end of the video. The end of the video shows what it is to be a normal person doing normal people things, and no women should be glorified sexually or have these expectations to be a certain thing; I wanted to create a storyline that showcased that. I had my family home, and I could work with a couple of the rooms. There’s this dining walk-way area that I set up to be like a dinner party, the bathroom was for cleaning and laundry, and the bedroom was about the sexual expectations of women. I’m not a film maker-
Could have fooled me! It looked awesome!
I guess I have made a film now! Luckily, I’ve been on so many shoots in my career, and I was thinking back to the directors I’ve worked with and what their process was. I remembered that the first stages are storyboarding, a shot list, locations and time frames. I tried to be as organised as I could, and follow what I’ve seen other people do. I made a storyboard, I conceptualised the way the video would pan out, I did a shot list for the locations, and the day before I put together the outfits for the scenes, and I staged the locations. I blocked out all the light because I knew I needed my own lighting for consistency for the camera – these are all things I learnt just from watching other people do it! It was a day of lip-syncing and shot lists, and I eventually got to the point where I was editing 3 hours of footage to get the 5 minute music video. Luckily it all worked out and it looked semi-professional
There are so many practical steps that you don’t even think about if it’s not in your world. For me, I’ve never done a music video or anything, and the whole thing seems so daunting and intimidating! I would have no idea where to start, and I guess a lot of people view music as this strange process with all these elements that need to come together. There are always practical steps you can take to achieve a product. A tangible piece of creativity- a song or a film or an artwork- is seen as this elusive, eclectic thing that comes together naturally, but it’s never like that in reality. It takes practice, trial and error, and so much organisation; it takes time! It can be hard to communicate that to people who might not understand that balance of identity and creativity going into the work, while at the same time being something that is organised and planned
It’s not this floaty airy fairy thing that comes together easily, and I think that can sometimes set apart people who are doing really well in this industry because you need to be organised and good at conceptualising things and putting it into practice. You need to be someone who isn’t afraid to try, which is something that can hold a lot of younger and less established musicians back sometimes because so many aspects of the music industry are overwhelming. I want to make a band but how do I meet people? I want to make music but I don’t know how to produce? You need to change the mindset from ‘I can’t do it’ to ‘how can I learn how to do it’. Every large goal is just a series of steps. It’s good if you can get into habits you can commit to every day, rather than just looking at the end goal. Having a huge goal like wanting to make a music video- when I was first starting out that probably would have been overwhelming. It’s more about that first step, and the first thing I did for this project was just writing down every aspect that needed to be thought about: costumes, set locations, lighting, cameras. You need to consider everything involved in creating this big thing, and then you slowly tick them off. You can have that mindset about anything in life, particularly in the arts because you can be the best songwriter, musician, singer, whatever, but if no one hears it then it’s such a shame! As an artist you need to learn how to run as a business, and learn to separate yourself from the creativity. Doing everything by yourself is daunting, but it’s also invaluable because you can inspire the people around you to try things too
I liked what you were saying about emerging artists having all these mountains ahead of them when starting their music career, because the more that you get involved in the industry the more that those ‘steps’ you need to take feel part of a staircase that never really ends. It’s hard for things to not feel overwhelming because there is always another mountain ahead of you, and it actually takes a lot of effort to look back and realise how far you’ve come. It can be hard to really enjoy and appreciate each release and goal that’s achieved before moving straight onto the next thing. Let’s talk a little about ‘Woman With Needs’ which is a song that has a really strong message about empowerment for women, and the need to understand that women are diverse and the ideas we are presented about womanhood are not always accurate to what human women are. Why do you think this is still something we are needing to talk about in 2020?
It’s still such a societal issue and it’s still very present in the world that gender equality is not reached. Just think about the release of ‘WAP’- the idea that male rappers have been talking about their hard dicks and having sex with women and whatever, an no one bats an eye, yet any female artists releasing music about their sexuality causes an uproar. It goes to show that we’ve come far in that women are legally allowed to release something like that, but until people stop completely freaking out about music like that, we still probably have a lot to talk about and work through as a society. We’re very lucky in Australia that women have legal rights, and that its legal for women to be educated- it’s expected for us to be educated. In some countries that’s just not the case, and there are plenty of young girls who are never going to get an education, girls who are married at 13. Yes, it’s 2020, but there are girls all over the world who are still supressed and owned, and will never flourish into the people that they have the potential to be, simply because of their gender. I’m lucky because funnily enough I haven’t had any negative comments towards my music, which is surprising when the opening card of the music video could possibly offend certain kinds of people, and I’m lucky my audience agrees with the messages I’m putting out. It’s an important thing to talk about- the fact that we aren’t equal just yet, but the conversation and the ability to talk about these things is a great way to educate people. Sometimes all we can really do is listen to people’s experiences, and being open and empathetic to people is how we avoid outrage. There are things in this music video that point to a lot of these expectations; the expectation of shaving, needing to be a certain weight or size- there’s imagery of fruit at one point which alludes to all these fruit shapes women get categorised into in order to look good in certain clothes- are you pear shaped? Wear stripes! Are you apple shaped? Don’t wear these pants!
Who decided we were all fruit?
Stuff that! Wear what you want to wear! Do what you want to do and what makes you happy! Get cosmetic surgery or don’t, shave or don’t, wear your natural hair or don’t- it’s the ability to do what you want to do that’s important. When I was young I was bullied for being short- I’m 5’1’’, I’m not this tall Australian woman, but as I grew up I asked myself ‘what is an Australian woman?’ unless you’re indigenous to this land, you’ve migrated from somewhere. People think I look different because of my curly hair, that I was wearing a wig or getting a perm or appropriating other cultures, but it’s just my natural hair and features. I’ve been told so many times, straighten your hair, lose some weight, you’re too curvy, guys won’t like you– women are only acceptable in society if we appeal to the male gaze. You know I haven’t shaved in probably 5 years
Wow you’ve saved so much money!
Yeah! And I like wearing makeup for myself, and I see my hair as a representation of my heritage- I’m Jewish, and I’ve had family members die because they had the same features I have today. Rather than wearing my hair differently because people tell me to, I’m going to wear it exactly the way that I was given it! Now that I’m an adult people love that my hair is so big and bright, but when I was growing up I was told I looked weird. The moment that I decided that I liked that part of myself, I started to attract people who agreed with me. When you shift your gaze, and you choose to look away from that negativity, you’ll find people who support you. As women, there are a lot of people who tell us that we can’t do things and that we have to conform, and until that outlook changes in the general public, there’s still such a long way to go
Do you feel like the energy you have to spend on justifying your existence is something that enhances your music making, or is something that is just draining and inconvenient?
Speaking from experience, there are multiple things that people question about me often, for example my appearance appropriating other cultures, but I can’t appropriate other people if this is just the way that I was born! I’m also always explaining that being Jewish is a culture and not just a religion, and that my features are part of my heritage. People have been historically discriminated against for being Jewish and having Jewish features, and my family has experienced genocide because of the way that they look. It can be tiring to explain to people why the way that I look is important to me and something I’m proud of. I also experience an invisible disability, and the fact that people can’t see what is physically ‘wrong’ with me, it’s become a part of my normal experience to constantly explain why I cant do certain things, or take part in certain activities; I have limitations! It is tiring, and I think any person who is apart of a marginalized community feels that drain on their energy. It’s important for people to research and understand others, because it can’t always be the marginalised groups doing all of the education. I’ve definitely experienced this kind of drain by just being a woman in this industry, and at the start of my career I felt very much like I was in this nasty boys club. The fact that some people had this hesitation towards me made me want to prove people wrong, succeed, and work hard despite what they might have been saying
Deciding to work hard in that way is probably the road least taken, but it’s the road that will reap the most reward. It enhances your own skills and helps to develop you into a person that can assist people around you too! Plenty of people can get away with having no talent, skill, or education, and it might be the straight, white, cis, male body they’ve been born into that has gotten them as far as they are. For a woman, for a person of colour, for minority person to get to the same level of success as their counterpart who maybe didn’t experience external levels of hardship, it requires so much more effort and strength and perseverance. We need to look up to these kinds of people in the industry, because in many ways, they are the people who have worked the hardest to get where they are; they experienced the hardest route to success!
The female leaders in the music industry are total badasses, they have to be! You need this big-dick-energy, assertive, I-know-what’s-up attitude to make it. They are the ones who had to go through all the bullshit to get to where they are. I hope I have this assertive energy come across, but I also want to always be able to be there for people who are asking questions and needing help. The last thing I would ever want is to have a baby bird wanting to fly, and them getting the courage to reach out to someone they look up to, only to have their spirit crushed. Us girls already start with such a low self-esteem bar in what we think we’re capable of, so it’s important for those of us who have been in the industry for a while to be open and welcoming. I want to see people succeed, and I don’t wont other women and girls to have to go through as much of the same bullshit that I’ve been through!
I love that, and I think that sentiment really aligns with this new release ‘Woman With Needs’. The lyrics,
Yes I’m powerful
And I’m vulnerable
Oh, after all
You need this powerful big-dick-energy in the music industry, but you don’t want to compromise your ability to be vulnerable and sensitive, because that’s where we really draw our creativity and humanity from. It’s tough to feasibly balance both of those things, and not everyone is encouraged or built to balance those two things; there’s the expectation that you can be this powerful strong confident person, while also being this sensitive vulnerable creative self. Being a human being is so much more about balancing those two things than we think
It can be intimidating when the message you hear is all about hustling, but if I can be honest our industry is made up of other people, and behind everything is a person doing their best and doing a job. Working hard is really important, and working on your craft and making those small steps towards your goals is what it’s all about, but if you view everyone you interact with as just a ‘connection’, you’re setting yourself up for a disingenuous career. People don’t like to feel used! Genuine human connection is so important in this industry, and that’s a big part of how I’ve navigated the industry. Do what is genuine to you, and ultimately you’ll find those connections for yourself. If you aren’t nice to people, they probably won’t want to work with you.
That human connection is what can drive longevity in your career as well, there are plenty of people who can gain big success, but it can be fleeting and shallow. They might not have roots because they haven’t cultivated this strong relationship with people. If you want to be in this industry, taking the road that prioritises kindness and authenticity might require more patience, but it will pay off in the long run. Is the music all about streams and popularity? Connection doesn’t always inherently come with being successful
As an independent artist, you probably won’t be making much money through your artistry and you’ll need a secondary means of financial support, and to view your music career as a monetary value can make the root of your career shallow. Someone like Lizzo hustled for so many years before getting her ‘big-break’, and now she has this big following but she is still really real; her ‘brand’ is just herself. People can relate to your music, but can they relate to you as a person? If you go about your career in a genuine way, that’s how you’ll get that longevity. It might not get to a world fame level, but it will be meaningful to the people who actually care about what you’re doing; which to me is more important than certain amounts of streams on Spotify, because the people who are listening are people I’ve connected with. I don’t view the industry by worrying too much about making money and wanting fame, for me it’s about the messages I want to share with people. When I decided to release under Miss Emilia, I spent time thinking about what I want to talk about and what I want to communicate. There doesn’t always have to be substance behind what you’re doing, but I’ve chosen my music to have that because it’s what I believe in
How did you arrive at the sound you have in your music?
I did a jazz degree in jazz vocals, and before Covid I was doing a lot of jazz festivals and filling out jazz venues. I’ve always been into jazz, and when I was in year 7 I heard ‘Think’ by Aretha Franklin, and I was in total awe! I need to sound like that one day! In my heart I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The music that you’re drawn to listening to is the music that can come out when you write. I’ve got a soulful voice and I think I always did, and the more that I learnt that repertoire, the more I fell in love with it. I think the term of what I do is ‘Retro-Soul’, and it’s all about crazy big voices that sound like they can reach the sky, which is something I always wanted to be like. I did a lot of vocal training that focused on technique, and it really became the kind of music that I love to sing and write. I want to make music that makes me feel good and that I feel good singing, and this direction felt quite natural for me. I’m always drawn to a good groove or tasty chord progressions because it’s so much of what I love! Jazz and soul is filled with such strong messages in the music, and it’s so deep rooted in the style; songs like ‘Think’ and ‘Strange Fruit’ for example. I’m very vocal about what I believe in, and this style really combines that too. This kind of music is fundamentally rooted in Black history, and in no way am I trying to claim that, but I do love the sentiment of speaking from the soul.
What do you think it is about this sound that draws people in decades after it’s been popularised? Why is it so timeless?
Regardless of the era you’re in, these musicians are still talking about something of substance, and the lyrics are such poetry. I don’t know why this music feels so timeless, but maybe it has to do with how engrained the stories are in the music. What’s timeless is releasing music that is completely crafted and created to be true to the artist making it. You hear the emotion, the story, the love put into the music. It doesn’t matter if it’s made in your bedroom or recorded at Abbey Road, if it’s made to the perfection of the way the artist wants it to be, if you can feel their story in the music, that’s what makes it timeless.
It’s interesting to think about what timeless music might mean in the future, will it just come down to what was streamed the most? A Dua Lipa song might be the biggest song of the year, but that might not be what feels timeless to me down the line. The internet has provided us with niche community and these curated small worlds that we can latch onto.
What would be your advice to an emerging artist?
I’m very lucky to be releasing music and having people listen and connect with it, and when I was younger that wasn’t really happening for me. Being an artist is a long haul, and instead of viewing things as the ‘end-goal’, know that every experience you have, and every connection that you make is a special thing; that’s what makes up the lifetime of music creation. You need to appreciate the journey and value where you’re at as you’re creating music, take all the lessons you can from the process. I released an EP when I was about 19, no one knows the name of it now!
Lost on the internet, I get that!
And I could beat myself up and complain about spending so much money and effort on it, but I got these experiences out of it that has really helped me going forward. Just because it wasn’t the project that I’m still doing today, doesn’t mean it wasn’t part of my life and part of my learning experiences; every experience has something you can grow from. Instead of focusing on what you were unsatisfied with, think about how you can do things better next time; maybe don’t release on a Tuesday? Maybe that venue was too big? Any success that I’ve had has come from what I’ve learnt from all the times I’ve failed; it’s all trial and error. If it takes 10 years, then it takes 10 years, but rather than thinking oh my god that’s so long, you have to recognise the individual steps you took, and what you learnt from them. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people too! What small steps can you do this week that might get you a little bit closer to the thing you want to do in two years? Celebrate the wins, and don’t beat yourself up, and surround yourself with people who are in genuine support of you
You can check out Miss Emilia by following the links below