Musician and producer Emmy Wildwood dropped her new release Heavy Petals in late March, and the title aptly summarizes the delicate-yet-weighty nine-song offering.
In prior releases like singles “Scream” and “Everything Hurts,” the comparisons to singers like Kate Bush were undeniable. Wildwood’s rich vocals and embrace of the evocative dance-goth sounds of decades past oozed from her mouth like a gooey black lipstick, too sticky to easily wipe away.
This time, the ferocity in the artist’s electronic pop-rock is different. It seems less concerned with haunting you ethereally and more like shedding the cloak and getting down to some temporal business.
Right off the bat, the beats themselves are punchier. The lead-in to the opening track, “Boy! I Am Alive!” makes you think you might “Walk This Way” the way Run-DMC did when they collaborated with Aerosmith. The lyrics defend the down-to-business sensibility she’s slinging, “You think that I am thirsty / But that’s hunger.” And when she blasts out the chorus, she drives it home.
A native Tucsonan, Wildwood is back in Arizona after spending many years on the East Coast. We got a chance to talk about this new record, being back in the desert, and what drives her creative train.
Phoenix New Times: Along with the production duties, what were your goals with this one?
This was the first record I produced all by myself. I did everything but mix it by myself. It was laborious and the best and only kind of work I ever want to do again. I think it’s the most fun for me to listen to this one and probably will be forever because a lot of the songs were written as I was making it. And I will have a clear sonic sketch of those six months for the rest of my life.
The mixing happened at Hi-Dez in Joshua Tree? Why did you pick that spot?
Nathan (Sabatino) has been my friend for 20 years. He’s famous for his special vintage quality, and he has an extensive collection of curated gear in his studio that’s truly formed his sound.
No matter your locale, your hard work has seen exciting results, from being on TV show soundtracks to earning great reviews in mags like Nylon and Billboard. I'm guessing none of that came from resting on your laurels.
I did it the old-fashioned way for 15 years. I played every three weeks in New York City, booked three cross-country tours, and paid for them all by myself, and I got on damn good bills.
In my life, I have never been scared of hard work; I just want more opportunity, and hard work is the only way to get it. I had a mind shift because physically, I knew I was doing my body in, and so I started to get really deep into strategizing ways to work smarter instead of harder.
I found a community that was building exponentially at a very good time for Instagram, and I loved it. It was like getting to talk to all of the people you loved without losing your voice, which I did often. I just got the hang of it quickly. It’s as simple as interacting with people. I also got really smart from it. I never read so many articles in my life or gone down so many electronic rabbit holes. It’s such a tool for me.
What influences you the most?
A good song. If I’m skimming New Music Friday and something I hear disrupts me, it’s usually a voice quality I’ve never heard before or a specific kind of sound, but usually, what knocks me on my behind is people who are making super-brave choices. I’ve noticed that I’ll be in a room with a group of musicians recording a record, and someone will be noodling around on a pass, and a real quirky sound will come out, but it just happens to fit.
It’s nothing we would have ever looked for, but something about it tickles you, and there should be some word for it in the English language because everybody just kind of looks at each other and laughs. That’s what inspires me, those moments — when I hear something new and it’s so brave I just giggle because it’s fun and I want to say, "Who do you think you are?" Those are my favorite moments.
Was it hard to leave New York?
I’m a fourth-generation Tucsonan. I moved to New York for 10 years, and I really didn’t think I’d ever leave, but as things changed there, it was more and more difficult for me to sustain my art. Essentially, we were being priced into working too much to create, and then that makes you horribly depressed, so there’s no point in being there if that’s how you feel. So we took a big leap of faith and came back to Tucson. I’m so glad we did.
Heavy Petals smacks of a modern electro-pop record, but it's soaked in history. You can hear touches of sounds from early punk to '80s underground and alternative. Do you think that's what distinguishes you from today’s mainstream artists doing beat-driven work?
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I had a realization a while back when it came to decision-making, that I would always just follow my gut. I am drawn to classic things — Coca Cola Classic, Joan Jett, fucking Otis Redding, Nina Simone. I love classic things that are forever. It looks best on me, and it sounds best on me, and it’s really worked against me during different trending periods of music. I always say I have no genre because I like everything.
What do you hope Heavy Petals gives listeners?
I think the thing that’s always been the most important to me is that people are moved by my work. Like, what is the point of a song if it doesn’t rev somebody up or help them identify their feelings when they’re sad?
People aren’t stupid, and I really don’t want to waste anybody’s time, so I leave things in there for them, special moments I think people might be lifted by or I’ll specifically double certain lines because I know it would be really good for people to sing them, to remind them of certain things in a mantra kind of way. If you have the opportunity to heal somebody or help them identify their feelings, that’s a huge service you can offer to the world that comes from something you love doing and is rewarding.