PHOTO by LAUREN STANTON
‘Vertigo At History’s Edge‘, the debut solo album from singer-songwriter Mitchel Emms, finally came out last month, and has so far had an overwhelmingly positive response from critics and fans alike.
In this feature, Mitchel looks back on the process of writing, recording, and mixing the recent release, and what each of the 10 tracks that make up the album mean to him personally.
I put the album together with the idea of having the album be a holistic musical journey from start to finish (so I assume that makes it a kind of concept album!)
Although there are many autobiographical elements involved, the overall themes are of awakening, dealing with loss, and confronting the future in an age of anxiety, and because it’s such a personal record, it’d take me forever to explain every single meaning and detail behind why everything is the way it is, so I’ll take influence here from ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away‘ from David Bowie‘s album ‘Blackstar‘, and I often write in a way of letting ideas flow in a stream-of-consciousness way that I make sense of afterwards, but I’ll give an overall summary of what I was going for with each song.
However, I like the idea that art and music can mean different things to everyone. Although it might have meaning for me in my own way, it’s open to interpretation from the listener through the lens of their own life experiences and perspective, or to just enjoy for music’s sake.
I left the title of this as just ‘Intro‘, as I think it’s something that I can’t really put a definition on. I had this melody in my mind for a long time whenever I was feeling mixed emotions, and when I recorded it, I thought it was a perfect fit to open the album.
For me, it starts the record off from a place of nostalgia, familiar yet otherworldly, soothing but poignant, kind of like a lament.
‘A TRUTH INSIDE THE LIE’
This was the song that really helped the direction of the album take shape, as I knew from the get-go that this would be the opening track.
The lyrics are kind of cryptic on this one, but it mainly deals with being at a crossroads in life, going through an awakening of sorts, and wanting to know a deeper meaning to it all.
Musically, I was super happy with how it all came together, especially how the first section of the song expresses a rise from a distant foreboding into a moment of euphoria, and it was fun to get a bit experimental and add mellotrons (essentially sampled lo-fi reels of tape of real string recordings) and synths into the sonic pallette of the album to give it the cinematic vibe I was going for.
‘THAT SINKING FEELING’
I wrote this song when I was 19 for a band I was in (MisterNothing), and it never got used. However, I always loved the song, and in 2018, I found it related to it more than ever.
Re-recording it and adding new parts and dimensions to it really helped the song take on a new life and identity as part of this album, making this the definitive version of it.
The track deals with the way I think a lot of my generation feel at the moment: the anxiety, and the constant struggle to find motivation to keep going when everything seems stacked against them.
Also, from a mixing standpoint, I absolutely loved using phase modulation effects in part of the song that helped add emphasis to the metaphor of sinking into water.
This one also took the longest to finish mix-wise as there was so much going on in it instrumentally that it was an exercise in carving out places for everything compositionally and sonically to fit in, however, I was very happy with the result of it.
‘RIVERS OF ICE’
I released this back in 2018, and at the time, it was a turning point for me with my songwriting, as a lot of the demos I’d been making that year felt like it was lacking something, but when I recorded this, I felt like I had found a new musical direction and approach, and it was a cool experience making a song that slowly developed from a quiet moment into a huge wall of sound, with plenty of space to breathe in between.
The feedback from that kick-started me into making this album, and the meaning of it for me is kind of a summary of a lot of songs I was writing at the time, so to be able to sum them all up in one track was a bit of a “aha!” moment.
This song, especially, comes from my own reflection of everything I was up until that point in my life, and some of the archetypal things that people go through that can end up with us feeling depressed and not fully appreciating ourselves and our individuality.
‘NO MORE PAIN’
This one is kind of hard to explain, but it deals with growing up, realising the tragedy of life, and how people can fall victim to isolating themselves, living lives of meaninglessness and empty comfort, and not fully realising their own potential, but coming from a place without judgement.
This song came about from me noodling an early Genesis-type thing on guitar at around 2am, during which I ended up making this really interesting chord progression that I recorded right on the spot, and that take is the same one as on the finished track.
The mellotron strings make a return here, as well as the lo-fi bells at the beginning of ‘Rivers Of Ice‘ at the end, to tie the two songs together.
‘MESSAGE FROM THE WATER’
There’s been times where I haven’t felt my best, and I’ve gone into full “hermit mode”, shutting myself off from everything, not out of spite to anybody, but just purely because I felt I wasn’t worth having around, and being a bit burned out. This song comes from my own experience of it, and it’s a track for anybody who has ever felt the same.
Musically, I was drawing a bit of inspiration from shoegaze and post-rock with this track, and I feel that, for me, when it fully kicks in during the latter half of the song, it encapsulates the melancholic juxtaposition of being filled with passion despite being withdrawn.
Also, as a guitarist, there’s barely a guitar solo on the album, as I wanted to just stick with great guitar melodies over self-indulgent soloing, but I felt this was crying out for a passionate one towards the end of this track.
This one is a response to the previous song, in that it’s about trying to encourage someone to not isolate themselves and reach out. It was actually one of the last tracks I wrote for this album that ended up replacing a song that I felt didn’t really fit in, and this felt like it wrote itself, as it was finished within a day, and I was really happy with how it turned out.
The track also references the sort of disconnection we have at the moment, what with the influence of social media and the internet, with an example being the line “…with black mirrors in hand, distracted from this broken land”.
I messed around a lot layering distorted guitar feedback over the last third of the song, multi-tracking it, reversing it, and generally manipulating it in interesting ways, which was a lot of fun to do.
The title of the album, ‘Vertigo At History’s Edge‘ is based on a talk by Terence McKenna, and ‘History’s Edge’ is a song that addresses one of the meanings behind why I chose it. I recorded the acoustic guitar and vocals on my phone one evening, which I then used in the actual track.
It’s really hard to put into words what this song is personally about for me, but overall, I think I can sum it up as being about finding out a seemingly unspeakable truth that almost everyone is blind to, and you’re left wondering what the hell you’re going to do with that information, and how to move forward in the face of it all. It’s a musical moment of introspection, alienation, and loneliness.
‘SEASON OF REGRET’
This song is difficult to explain, because it comes from a place of so many complicated emotions and thoughts, all at the same time.
When I was making the album, there was a lot going on in my personal life, and I finished writing this track shortly after a friend of mine had passed away, which ended up having a huge impact on the meaning of the entire project,
The lyrics are what came out of me in a moment during that time, and I can say overall that this is a song about realising that nothing lasts, regretting the moments you took for granted, and being at a loss with all of that.
Musically speaking of where this track comes in on the album, I like to think of it as the moment of opening the door to the outside after a solitary dark night of the soul.
This started life as an instrumental piece, inspired by JRPG game soundtracks I loved as a kind such as ‘Chrono Trigger‘ and ‘Final Fantasy VI‘.
However, the more I worked on it, the more I realised that I was actually making the outro to this album, which I wanted to end on a positive, upbeat, and reflective note after some of the more melancholy and dark moments on the record, and I wanted to let loose a little bit musically and creatively with it, and do something different than the other songs on the album.
Lyrically, it’s the shortest, but it’s about continuing to tackle life head-on in the name of something or someone that once was, as an act of acceptance or dedication, and choosing to carry a memory of something you loved as inspiration to carry on rather than as just a reminder of better times that are now long gone.
Having the intro used here as the outro completes the journey of the album, bringing you back to the music you heard when you came in.
‘VERTIGO AT HISTORY’S EDGE’ – THE DEBUT SOLO ALBUM FROM MITCHEL EMMS – IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND ALSO DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT OUR INTERVIEW WITH MITCHEL HERE AND HERE, AS WELL AS OUR FEATURE ON HIM HERE.