1983 (age 38)
“… it’s like pop music but it’s also music theatre. But it’s elastic; Emma’s songs bend and stretch like elastic - they're infectious but dip and soar and evolve like a stage musical. If the Phantom Of The Opera threw on trackies and tried to sing a Joni Mitchell tune he might come close to something like it” – Ben Stewart (producer – Real Life Computer Game)
Most artists are content to stick with the formula they’re known for, changing as much or as little as they think they can get away with. But Emma Dean isn’t most artists. In fact, on her debut album – Real Life Computer Game – the Brisbane-based performer has headed into new sonic territory and created a new genre – ‘Elastic Pop Theatre’. It’s bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything she’s ever done, showing her growth as a person and evolution as a musician and songwriter, while also staying true to her innovative take on modern music.
The sultry album opener ‘Waiting Room’ immediately heralds something that is not only new for Emma Dean herself, but also for popular music in general. “I’ve always been drawn to darker more epic songs,” explains Emma. “But until now I haven’t explored this in full for various reasons. Aside from a previous lack of budget, one of these reasons could simply be that I have grown up emotionally and musically since my last recording and have learnt to listen to my instincts much more than ever before. I’m writing for myself and for the sake of creating music that encapsulates moments, thoughts and feelings that are real to me.” Amidst all these changes, one element that remains firmly intact on the album is Emma’s fierce commitment to independence, evidenced in her decision to once again work alongside producer and long term collaborator Ben Stewart. Sure, Emma writes the songs but it’s her connection and combined vision with Stewart that is something that proves to be truly fruitful.
“Having worked with Ben on two recordings I can honestly say that he may in fact be half man half musical super hero,” laughs Emma. “The more we work together, the stronger our vision. I guess the thing that makes working with Ben different to other producers is the fact that he is a singer/songwriter too. He and I are the same species of songwriter - open to suggestion, but have most of our colours already picked out. We speak the same language.”
Recorded over three months in Byron Bay and Brisbane, Real Life Computer Game features a dozen snapshots of life that sees Emma’s personal but poetic pen fusing bittersweet lyrics with floating melodies and stunning musicianship. “Real Life Computer Game comes from the idea that sometimes it feels like we are living in a computer game – playing each other for the next level,” she explains of the concept. “I think we have all experienced this from time to time no matter what line of work we are in. I wrote this after watching a woman on TV who was dying of cancer. When reflecting on her life she found that none of the things that mattered to her were superficial. What mattered most were the people that she loved. Not “things” at all. I like to remind myself of this often.”
Music was really the only option for a young Emma Dean who, at the age of three, was told her backside was too big to be a ballerina. Instead she embraced a natural flair for writing songs while studying classical and jazz music in singing, violin and piano. After a three year stint with acclaimed Brisbane duo Bittersuite, Emma decided her own solo path was the only path to take and quickly delivered two solo EPs – Hanging Out The Washing and Face Painter.
Emma and her band entered the Byron Bay studio and recorded over twenty songs before choosing the twelve that would not only comprise Real Life Computer Game but also see that it runs as much as an entire piece as it does track by track. One shining example of how symphonic sensibility collided with Emma’s blend of inventive pop music can be heard on the epic title track.
“When first describing this album to producer Ben Stewart, I started off by saying that I wanted it to be the last two years of my life in a musical,” she reveals. “This was a very bold starting point! Both being lovers of stringed instruments, Ben and I composed arrangements for most of the songs, along with male vocals which are present in all of the tracks. Along with my band, I feel that most of these songs are pop versions of pieces that could be found in a modern day musical.”
While Real Life Computer Game prompted Emma Dean to dig deep and create a record that’s both honest and ambitious, her desire to grow artistically is still as strong as ever.
“Instead of fighting the fact that my music is a little bit different, I have decided to embrace it with loving arms,” she enthuses. “I’ve accepted the fate that I will probably never be a typical “pop star” but instead, will continue to create music that I feel passionate about playing.”
Real Life Computer Game is her statement. It’s both ambitious and honest and upon hearing it, the world will quickly come to realise that they’ve found a major all round musical talent in Emma Dean.
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