INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
In the second part of my interview with singer-songwriter Mitchel Emms, he opens up about such things as leaving The Treatment, his battles with mental health, and his debut solo album, due out later this year.
In the autumn of 2017, you decided to leave The Treatment. What were your reasons for doing that?
Their official word on it in recent interviews is that simply I “wasn’t built for touring“, which is extremely untrue, as I’ve been a performer my entire life, and I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t address that.
Unfortunately for me, a combination of factors led to me going through depression and anxiety at a time when everyone back home was thinking I was living out some kind of dream, and the band didn’t really understand what I was going through due to the stigma surrounding mental health, which became very isolating for me.
Touring in and of itself wasn’t a problem, as I absolutely love going out on the road and travelling, but a lot of personal stress during that time often made me ill, which took away a lot of the joy of performing live with them, which was the first time in my life I’d really experienced this as a musician.
When I spoke up about it, I was left with the idea that my depression was some kind of character flaw rather than existential sadness which fuelled many feelings of being misunderstood and alienated, the worst is when you’re away from family and close friends for long periods of time.
Despite that, I did my best to put on a good face for everyone, have a laugh, and put on some great shows, but it was never really appreciated or understood how difficult it was at times for me to do that.
Over time, it became clear that a huge factor was that despite the opportunities to perform live, I wasn’t really compatible with the style of management at play and their value systems, as well as there being no foreseeable creative future for me in the band, and I realised that after 15 years of chasing success in music, I’d neglected my own mental health and creative ambitions through trying to please others, and to live up to expectations of me that were the opposite of everything I ever wanted to be.
I had burned myself out, but couldn’t fully process what I was going through at the time, so I decided to leave on the best terms I could, fulfilling my last gig obligations, and took a break from music for the first time.
It was an incredibly profound part of my journey as a musician that led me to many important realisations about myself, other people, the music industry, and life, and it redefined my ideas of what success is, and what personal pitfalls to avoid.
I realised the lesson that sacrificing your personal truth to try and please other people out of fear is the worst, even if it is in the pursuit of success or maintaining the status quo, and having taken a break to do some soul searching, and fully process everything that’s happened, has done my health the world of good, and subsequently lead me to find my passion for making music again, with a brand new sense of authenticity, creativity, and appreciation for myself as this strange, imperfect human being named Mitch.
Currently, you’re putting the finishing touches to your first solo album. How has the recording process for that been?
It’s been a journey of rediscovering myself. I’ve had a bunch of experiences which opened my mind and broadened my horizons into myself, both personally and musically, that helped me begin to overcome a lot of experiences I’ve had.
I’ve not lived a very normal life, so I was carrying around a lot of baggage that I had to work through before I could even think about writing anything. Writing lyrics and music had always been my outlet for all of that stuff, so taking a break and reconnecting with the reasons why I started doing it in the first place has been absolutely revitalising.
I wanted to find my own sound that wasn’t just an emulation of an era gone by or another artist so following that, a lot of the process was spent discovering new music, experimenting in my Ableton DAW, and recording demos that were picking up where I left off creatively with MisterNothing.
Aside from being a singer and guitarist, my skills and passion for recording, mixing and producing, and the creative possibilities that it allows, have blossomed in recent years to the point where I can produce something that not only I feel confident in self-releasing, but that I would personally enjoy listening to and be proud of.
Last year, I decided to take a leap of faith and start putting songs online again, starting with ‘Jupiter‘, and eventually ‘Rivers Of Ice‘, and took to producing my own artwork and lyric videos.
It was pretty scary putting new things out again, especially for the first time under my own name, but the amazing feedback from that gave me enough confidence to consider writing more, which has now ended up in an album currently titled ‘Vertigo At History’s Edge‘ that I’m currently finishing up.
What can be expected from the album?
I’ve been a guitarist all my life, and have spent many years recording music, so I’ve wanted this album to be a new chapter for me as an artist, and to showcase to people that there’s more to me than just being a singer.
I also didn’t want this to just be a random collection of songs, but to have a musical narrative that flows throughout, something that was reflective and honest on an emotional level. It’s probably the weirdest collection of songs I’ve made so far, hopefully in a good way.
It’s a summation of a lot of my feelings and thoughts, along with musical ideas, themes, and aesthetics that I’ve wanted to combine for a long time, and on a musical level, it’s been inspired by the atmospheres and synth textures of shoegaze, indie, art rock, and progressive rock bands, combined with my love of vocal melody, overdriven guitars, and punchy drums, and I’ve wanted to keep it all as dynamic as possible, so there are moments of explosive guitar work, to reverb-laden mellotrons, and lo-fi acoustic interludes.
Solo/project artists such as Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) have been big creative influences, especially as I’ve written and recorded every part of it, and because of that, my approach to this as a singer comes from a place of wanting to benefit the music, emotion, melody, context of the song, and lyrics.
When I write lyrics, it’s usually a stream-of-consciousness style of whatever comes to mind, which usually comes out as a reflection of what I’m thinking/feeling/going through at the time, as I can only write honestly about what I know first-hand, and with this, I’ve ended up writing something that’s a bit of a loose social commentary about being a millennial from my own life experiences.
I know that a lot of 90’s kids like myself have felt on the tail-end of a lot of things, experiencing the rise of the internet, and becoming adults in a digital world where opportunities of the past are drying up and our futures are more uncertain than ever, along with the entire fabric of everything we believe in being put into question.
Depression and anxiety is a big problem for most young people, and based on my own experiences with it, I wanted to confront the emotions of that, along with a healthy dose of hope in the form of songs like ‘Rivers Of Ice‘.
At the start of this year, I lost a mate to suicide, which has made every aspect of this more poignant for me to make. He had a massive influence on me as a teenager growing up in the small Midlands town of Burntwood, and it’s had a huge impact on the meaning of the whole album.
The album’s title, ‘Vertigo At History’s Edge‘, is very fitting to the whole vibe of it, and is also a little nod to our shared appreciation for the philosopher, Terence McKenna.
However, despite all that, I hope the album is something that people can relate to and can take away their own meanings from, which is what all my favourite bands, artists, and albums have done for me.
And when you are aiming to get it out by?
Currently, I’m in the process of final mixdowns and putting it all together. It’s taken me quite a while to do it, as I’ve been producing it all myself whilst getting on with my personal life, and I haven’t wanted to rush it.
I haven’t currently made any big official announcements on social media yet, but I’m aiming for it to be out later this year, with some singles coming out soon, so watch this space.
How different is it – for you personally – making music solo rather than as part of an ensemble?
I’ve been in a lot of different bands, and every situation is different, but the common situation I’ve not enjoyed is where there is a hierarchy in place that inhibits creativity and new ideas.
Otherwise, I absolutely love collaborating with other musicians on projects, especially if the vibe is right, and recently I’ve done producing and recording for local bands and mates of mine, which is fun to do and gets me out of my own musical headspace.
I also do a lot of session work now, performing with really great musicians, which keeps me in good shape as a performer, and on my new stuff, I’ve had a wonderful friend and singer named Bethany Miles do some ace backing vocals on a few tracks.
Working solo, I do miss bouncing ideas off people, but it means there aren’t any politics or bureaucracy to fight against in order to achieve a creative vision. Having a little home studio set-up allows me to really get myself into the zone of working intensely on a new song, record in the moment of inspiration, and experiment to my heart’s content, without worrying about expensive studio hours, which means I can do all my own mixing as well.
Also, in the modern era of social media and the internet, there are no longer any barriers when it comes to releasing music and reaching people other than your own creativity, so releasing something solo is more achievable than ever.
Are you planning any live dates to support the album at all?
I would absolutely love to perform these songs live at some point in the near future.
Currently, I’m just going to release music, and see if there is enough interest in what I do to make it worthwhile by putting on a few live shows, and finding great like-minded musicians to perform these songs with.
I’m going with the flow on that front at the moment, but if it does end up happening, I’d love it to be a real treat and experience rather than just another gig.
And finally, what is your long-term aim?
It would absolutely be wonderful to have what I’m doing now to become something bigger, as I want to continue to explore and grow as an artist, and hopefully find an audience that wants to go with me on that journey.
The ultimate goal is to be a musician and person that I’m proud of being, and hopefully through the process of that, enrich the lives of the people around me and those who connect with my work, and if anything I do sticks, or has an impact on someone in a positive way, then I think I’ve achieved what I originally set out to do, but right now, I’m just going with the flow of what I’m doing, and seeing where my strange life in music takes me next.
‘VERTIGO AT HISTORY’S EDGE’ – THE DEBUT SOLO ALBUM FROM MITCHEL EMMS – WILL BE RELEASED LATER THIS YEAR, AND FURTHER INFO CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: