Emma Blue Jeans is a singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn who released their debut EP, TV People, on August 19th. Taking its name from The Poltergeist, the EP consists of four lo-fi acoustic songs that reflect on the “hauntings of the past plaguing the present.” Each track chronicles Em’s experiences coming of age in a dysfunctional family while critically examining the guiltless purity of childhood and how it warps our minds well into adulthood.
Their lyrics are highly critical of the suffocating environment they experienced growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, but they also hold space for the positive memories they associate with their hometown, mainly attached to their mother. Their charming, unpolished vocal delivery on each song, especially the strained cracks on the lead single “Ghost,” evokes the likes of Cat Power and Daniel Johnston–both of whom Em cites as influences. The layers of white noise whirring in the background were an intentional creative choice they made. “I love when songs sound like they’ve been recorded in one take,” they tell me. “It’s so pure, and you’re never going to get that same experience the second, third, or fourth time. Why would I mess with that?”
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Emma Blue Jeans to discuss the emotional trajectory of making this EP, the performance of identity and purity through a queer lens, our shared obsession with Ewan McGregor, and more!
Thank you for making the time to sit down with me today. Would you tell me a bit about yourself and how you started creating music?
I’ve always wanted to do music. That was the first goal I had as a kid, to be a musician. But I had a really bad voice, so I did acting instead. Once I turned 20, I got a Yamaha starter guitar for my birthday. It’s held together with duct tape, my mom’s boyfriend’s daughter’s strap, and shoelaces. And I wrote my first song ever that same night. That was when I realized I could make my own way as a musician and do it myself. It’s also a very cathartic and personal way to release emotions.
Who are the main influences that shape your sound?
I would say my #1 is Cat Power. A few years ago I listened to Moon Pix, and I loved how DIY it sounded. It took me back to Daniel Johnston and hearing very lo-fi tape recordings of similar people in his camp. I think it’s called “outsider music?” I only first heard that term when I saw the Daniel Johnston documentary. I was also listening to a lot of Sonic Youth at the time.
I love Sonic Youth as well. Have you seen Velvet Goldmine?
No! What is that?
It’s a glam rock film. Basically unauthorized David Bowie/Iggy Pop fanfiction. Ewan McGregor’s in it and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth makes a cameo as Ewan McGregor’s drummer!
Oh, I LOVE Ewan McGregor! I’ll have to check it out.
What are some of the most personal themes in your single “Ghost?”
“Ghost” is objectively one of my most angsty and sad songs. There are many sad songs where I know what’s going on behind the curtain, but with “Ghost” it feels like somebody telling a story without providing a trigger warning, and that’s kind of why I wanted to use it as the single. I wrote it one night in summer 2019 while I was living with my mom, and I cried my way through the entire process.
It just poured out of me, and it’s super simple. The chords are essentially “Zombie” by the Cranberries. It’s also the song that makes people stop and really pay attention whenever I play live. That was one of the first songs I had produced in a studio.
What are your proudest accomplishments on this EP?
Oh gosh. I’m still kind of shocked that it’s coming out because it feels like releasing my diary. It’s so personal, but it’s also really special. The name “TV People” comes from The Poltergeist. I was really fascinated with the phenomenon of cursed films, being a child of divorce and feeling like a cursed child. It’s also a reflection on the way I view my experiences with men through a very queer lens of “performing” for the sake of other people. It’s a very Girl Interrupted type of angst. “Ghost” is also a reflection on my family life and where I grew up.
Your songs remind me of a famous Damien Echols quote: “It’s not the ghost that haunts the house; it’s the house that haunts the ghost.” Would you say that location and your place of origin are a major influence on your art?
Absolutely. Where you come from never goes away. No matter how much time goes by, it haunts you. It’s kind of like looking at a picture. You have to accept that you can’t change the past, and that’s what helps ground you.
I wrote the song “Suburbia,” after my mom and I learned that my neighbor had stuck his head in the oven, like Sylvia Plath. I remember saying, “It smells like something’s burning outside,” which is the first lyric of the song. It tells the tale of being the neighbor who always gets stared at and is never invited to the barbecue. I grew up in the suburbs and it always felt suffocating. I feel like my family was guilty of that too; being extremely judgemental towards people without even realizing people were doing the same thing to them.
How do you feel about the state of live music today?
Before the pandemic, I was just going to open mic nights in New Jersey, which is where I’m from. And I will say, the vibes are not incredible. So every performance I get to do now feels like a step up. And I’m so excited for everything. It kind of feels like because of the pause of live music, there’s like a show every night. And because everybody had so much time during the pandemic, and now people are trying to make up for it, so sometimes I’ll feel pressure to be in five places at once.
Honestly, my favorite part of making music is performing live, because I don’t think I’m a great singer, but I’m very confident as a performer.
Well, this idea isn’t necessarily new, but for me, the best singers are not the technically trained ones. The best kinds of singers are the ones who you hear and instantly know who they are.
I love that. That’s a great way of putting it.
We’re all about discovering new music here. Who are some great artists you’d like to recommend to everybody?
Indigo de Souza, Indigo de Souza, Indigo de Souza. I saw her open for Samia, who’s a great artist I also recommend, but Indigo’s album I Love My Mom changed my life when I first heard it. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by like-minded people I get to make music with in the city. Nara’s Room is incredible instrumentally and vocally and I really like Sofia Zarzuela as well.
What does the rest of the year have in store for Emma Blue Jeans?
I would like to plug the music video for my song “Smother,” which I am really excited about. I collabed with somebody that messaged me on TikTok. They’re based in Dallas and they created puppets out of clay while I filmed myself in front of a green screen.
I’m going to be performing a super immersive show in the fall. One of the last performances I did was at an art gallery where I tried to turn it into my childhood bedroom. For this one I want it to be a little unsettling and incorporate play-acting and film into it as well.
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