Emma King’s lifelong love affair with the great music cities of Tennessee comes full circle later this month with the release of her new EP.
The Sun and The Blues was recorded at Sun Studio, Memphis, and the House of Blues Studio in Nashville. The four songs on the EP were tracked live to analogue tape to create an authentic vintage feel.
Of the experience, King says: “Even though it is only a three-hour drive between Memphis and Nashville, they are worlds apart in atmosphere and approach to music.
“Memphis is raw, real and old school. It wouldn’t be unheard of to go into the studio with a band and just see what happens. Nashville is more pristine. It’s a quick, tight sound.”
The sound of two cities
King’s approach to recording reflected the different personalities of the two cities. In the slicker Nashville, where she recorded the songs Break the Mould and Wild Thing, her prep involved a full 90-minute warm up of vocal exercises and “lots of pilates to make sure the core is really strong”.
In Memphis, where she recorded All The Other Fools and Rollin’ In, things were a little looser – by King’s standards at least. “As I was staying in Nashville, it was a three-hour drive to Sun Studio. So I did a lot of diaphragm exercises, warming up as well as I could. I wanted to prepare but not over prepare, as I still wanted it to be raw and real.”
At both sessions, King had her studio must-haves to hand: her Dr Nelson Steamer, honey straws and hot water.
“I wish I had that character to just go in [to a studio session] and wing it,” she laughs. “But I feel like the more prepared I am, the better it will be. It helps me relax. I’ve been doing this for such a long time, I know what I need to do to get the best performance.”
From Hull to Nashville
King’s professional career started at the age of 12. After a childhood spent dreaming of Nashville and Memphis (“I always used to listen to music from those two cities and read books about them”) she started gigging in her hometown of Hull.
At 17 she won a scholarship to study at Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM). It wasn’t long before she had formed a band and was paying visits to Nashville.
Eventually the band signed a record deal and settled in Nashville in a “band house”. The five-piece toured extensively (“it was nothing to drive for 18 hours to get to a gig”) and learnt how the Nashville scene worked.
“In Nashville there are a lot of writing sessions. As a band, we had to learn to open up to working with other people.”
After five years, during which time she fulfilled her dream of performing at the Bluebird Café, King was ready to come home. She now splits her time between Yorkshire and London, but is still a restless spirit.
“As an artist you don’t want to put roots down too firmly. When you know exactly what each week is going to bring, it loses a little bit of excitement.”
King will spend the next few months touring the UK to promote her EP and performing alongside Soul II Soul and Fleur East for Bravery to the Bell, a series of five stadium gigs to raise money for Children with Cancer UK.
But the love affair with Tennessee is far from over. “I’m really feeling the pull of Memphis. I’d love to spend more time there,” she says. “There’s something so special about the rawness of that sound. I can’t stop thinking about it.”