INTERVIEW WITH EMME PHYZEMA
©Interview by Lee Henderson May - 2020
In the month if May, 2020, I did this interview with (real name removed due to artist privacy being abused) . , who is using the moniker Emme Phyzema She now has four releases on Bandcamp (see link below) with a fifth on the way at this writing. She has only played in one band called Pseudo/Sentai (on the album “Enter the Sentai.” - 2016) under the name Pink, as each member was titled a color. She learned bass for the sole purpose of playing with them. Fans of Emme may want to check that band out as it has a bit of the same atmosphere as her solos. Her music is at once complex, swirling, sometimes hyper, with a mixture of styles that include doom metal, avant-garde, folk, and other tid-bits. I heard a big gothic influence as well. She is a multi-instrumentalist who has achieved the luxury of being able to play or program all the instruments herself, although she has used the talents of friends and other artists to help in some areas such as mixing and mastering.
Since I have positioned the interview to reveal much of what could be said in an introduction, I will just add that I found her to be open, honest, and surprisingly down to earth about her life, music, and pursuits. She also told me she was a self taught musician and have played off and on since the age of 11 in between sporadically deciding to dismantle her life and reconstruct it entirely too many times before accepting her hermit fate. "I don’t understand sheet music or music theory, nor do I have a desire to learn, but I compose on the midi grid/piano roll a lot", were her words about how she composed. More is explored below so enjoy the read to take a look inside Emme Phyzema's world. .
LH - Lee Henderson
EP- Emme Phyzema
LH: First off, welcome to Big Beautiful Noise.
EP: Thank you Lee! This is my first interview of all time. ’Tis a nerve wracking and monumental event for me.
LH: Do you recall how you first got interested in making music?
EP: My father was always trying to get me to learn how to play guitar as a kid and being naturally rebellious I instead decided to play snare drum in 5th grade band. I was god-awful at it and eventually caved in later that year and started playing the guitar. It was a much more satisfying endeavor as I seemed to have a natural understanding of it and practiced for several years, mostly noodling around or learning half-assed Dick Dale songs. I stopped playing almost entirely during my teenage years as I was busy with typical rambunctious teenage shenanigans, until I met my friend Nicholas.
I remember I was 17 and playing Nicholas’ Telecaster, he goes, ‘Dude, you’re really good at that. You need to quit school and buy a guitar” (I was in first semester of college at the time, I was an early high school graduate). So I did just that. The next day I went out in the snow clad in a white rabbit fur coat, Alaskan seal-fur boots, and gorgeous blue-eyed Lebanese lover on my arm, waltzed into that little room where they keep the good guitars in Guitar Center (Guitar Center, I know, ew), pointed at a seafoam-green with white trim American-made Telecaster and told the salesman “I want THAT one.” He asks, “Don’t you wanna try it?” I scoffed and told him to ring me up. As I counted out the cash for the clerk I realized the irony of that moment: I was the most mature, self-assured and confident I had ever been in my life. To anyone else it would come off as pompous recklessness but buying that damn guitar was the best thing I ever did for myself. That’s when I REALLY started making music.
LH: Who are some of your biggest influences?
EP: This one always throws me for a loop for some reason, because the kind of stuff that influenced me initially isn’t really audible in the music I make today, stuff like old blues, Leadbelly, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Blind Blake, to Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Doors, Patti Smith. I remember as a kid owning records of King Crimson, Moody Blues, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and Gentle Giant, but the idea of “prog” didn’t really hit me until later in life, like early twenties. My friend Greg Murphy introduced me to 70’s Italian prog like Le Orme, PFM, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, as well as the music he (Greg) was making and that’s when it really clicked, “Fuck the blues,” I thought. “I wanna be weird.” I was already on a path were I had been playing folk music with my…how do I say, ex best friend that I still think of fondly and appreciate, rock n’ roll folk I guess. But I was getting bored of that. I learned how to record on a Tascam 388 tape machine and had started multi-tracking some strange melodies which quickly escalated into the baby steps of real composition.
But, that still doesn’t answer the question of what my influences are. Everything from System of a Down, to the Mars Volta, to Limp Bizkit, to Jefferson Airplane, to handmade Happy Hardcore mixtape CD’s, to Beethoven, to my musical friends, some of which who live in obscurity.
LH: Can you tell us a few of your favorite musical artists right now?
EP: I sit in silence most of the time, I’m not actually a music nerd or anything. I listen to the classical station in the car and don’t own a CD or record player. I have an endless cue of suggestions from friends on my phone as that’s my only source of internet and listen to the Progressive Alternative radio show on Mixcloud when I work. Can I just answer this with every artist who played at last year’s RIO festival? Hah!
LH: I noticed you have Columbus OHIO as your location. Were you born there (if not where)?
EP: Yup, born and raised. I spent some time in Brooklyn, NYC and tried living in LA for a hot second only to decide that the life I want to live is the most easily attainable here. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a decent amount but I don’t picture myself living anywhere else at the moment. I’m happy here.
LH: You've published such a massive amount of material in 4 full length recordings so far (and a new one coming out to make 5). I understand all these are songs scattered over years. What was your method (s) for bringing together certain tunes for each album? Did you find certain songs with particular themes that fit a concept you were going for? I do hear a familiar atmosphere with each album so I see a good cohesion.
EP: Man, it was seemingly impossible to jump the hurdle of completing a first album. I’ve always had trouble completing things as I’m consumed with the idea that the act of being creative is more important than refining/editing. Once I came up with the concept for the first album (that it was to be a representation of those around me rather than myself which somehow made it less embarrassing to release) it then became a determination to finish and get it out there as kind of an ode to those who’ve inspired me in one way or another. After that was finished the other albums just kinda fell into place thematically and I had a clearer vision of how to group songs.
LH: How many more songs would you say that are still in your archives, and do you plan to release more of them? Maybe a 6th album?
EP: Oh man, too many. After the midi only album which will be released soon I’ve compiled an album of “shorts” that still needs to be tracked that’ll be album 6. There’s at least 3-5 more albums worth of material on my computer but after “shorts” I’m going to stop looking back for a while. This also answers your next question, being focused on looking back has taken up too much time, I’m tired of living in moments past.
LH: Have you been writing any brand new material or has the publishing of all your already written stuff taken all your time and focus?
EP: I’ve been writing still, yes, but cleaning up the mess of old material has taken up a LOT of time. I haven’t written anything serious in a while because of it. I’m at this point where I don’t want to take any music seriously and try to have as much fun as possible with it. I think I’m ready to start hoarding ideas again to later drive myself crazy sorting them all out.
LH: I have to ask what the name Emme Phyzema is all about. I can see the play on words but why the choice?
EP: I remember my friend Greg Murphy was talking about how a lot diseases could sound like girls names, I believe the example used was Jen Givitis, and I immediately thought of Emme Phyzema. It was at the time going to be used as a Pseudo/Sentai (Greg’s band who I played bass for at the time) villain name, and after I left the band thought it would be hilarious to keep it and continue making music as the villain because Greg and I are in a lifelong musical competition to be the most creative. Not to mention I smoke a lot of cigarettes.entirely too many cigarettes.
LH: You were a self taught musician. I assume guitar was the first instrument you learned? Then what came next?
EP: Yes, besides failing at the snare drum guitar was my first instrument. I messed around with banjos, mandolins, mountain dulcimers. My old friend Zach Goetz was playing piano a lot so I decided to pick one up at a garage sale for $50. I’d watch him with envy and eventually figured the thing out a little but never became as proficient as him. However, noodling around on the piano was around the same time I ventured into the world of prog, and shortly thereafter learned the bass. Lately I’m hung up on the “celloblaster,” a 5-string baritone guitar tuned in 5ths. I’m really digging that thing, it forces a weird kind of simultaneous spontaneity and logical thought because I’m not used to the tuning yet.
LH: Let me say that you've reached a high level of accomplishment on guitar. Did you have particular guitarists that you really were knocked out by and influenced by?
EP: Thank you, but I feel I have such a long way to go and would even say I’m more proficient at bass at this point in life. Dick Dale was a huge inspiration to me, for sure. That dude turned his guitar into such a weapon. I never really focused too much on specific guitarists though, songwriting and composing knocks me out more than anything else.
LH: I know your first release 'Dispelling Differences' was made up of songs with the initials of who inspired you. Who are those people? Like GEM, TMR, BAC. CAB, ZMG, MJS, STS, NJD, AMG, HCH, ARW?
EP: GEM is my rival, TMR is a demon from another dimension, BAC is my hetero-life mate, CAB is a forgettable ex-boyfriend, ZMG is who inspired me to write songs, MJS is the best pianist & songwriters I’ve ever known, STS is an old bluesman trapped in the body of an attractive young man, NJD is the person who inspired me to start actually playing guitar, AMG is the kindest soul I’ve ever known, HLH is the strongest woman who exists, and ARW is just kind of an obtuse weirdo. Most of these people are still close friends.
LH: Was the decision to use a real drummer decided by circumstances or a matter of choice on 4th album?
EP: CHOICE!!! If I could redo the first two albums with live drums I would in a heartbeat. Although I love what Paul Hundeby and Chris Windle did with programming and am not undermining their work by any means, those albums NEED live drums. I couldn’t find anyone at the time who was up for doing them nor could I afford a session musician, but after hearing what Sam Ruff’s live drums did for A Series of Related Dreams, there’s no going back (except for the next album which is midi-only).
LH: I hear many genres (or styles) mixed in your music. I have saved most of them for my review but a good deal of gothic, various metal, and folk play a large part in your sound. If your stood away as a fan only. how would you describe your music?
EP: I think and tell people it’s “trippy” but that usually gives off the wrong impression. Untraditionally trippy, not heavy enough to be considered metal, not repetitive enough to be rock n’ roll, not technical enough to be prog, not refined enough to be classical. I wouldn’t call it experimental because everything I’ve released was so obsessed over and carefully thought out. It’s not actually uninhibited but I strive to one day make music that is. So what does that make it? Listening back to A Series of Related Dreams it felt somewhat like a fluctuating theme park ride feeling very anxious as to where it’s going to take me next. It’s ironically anxiety inducing background music.
LH: Is that a picture of you as a child with guitar on cover of 'Dispelling Difference"? It fits so masterfully to the music inside. And the tint and age process of the photo is impressive.
EP: Haha, no, that’s an antique photo I found at an estate sale. The guitar she’s holding was at the sale too and now resides with my friend Nicholas. I feel like that photo encapsulates the way I feel better than any actual photograph of myself: A determined, competitive, pissed off, fussy little girl.
LH: I am sure anyone with good taste has noticed the pedigree of names you have brought in to mix and/or master your output. Where did you make contact with Bob Drake?
EP: I had only discovered Bob Drake’s music after his release of 'Isabel de Lupi' last year and was totally blown away, it was the first thing that had brought me to tears in a long time. Maybe 8 months later Bob’s Facebook page was suggested to me so I liked it; The first thing I saw was a post he had made earlier that day about “Looking for mixing & mastering projects in the upcoming months.” I enquired and we exchanged emails. It was very business like and I haven’t spoken to him since the completion of “Chronic Bronchitis,” hell, I’m not even really sure if he liked the album or not, but he seems like a cool guy and has an insane body of work chocked full of variety.
LH: And how did you run across Ben Spees? The man behind The Mercury Tree).
EP: Nick Prol (of Nick Prol and the Proletarians) suggested that Ben might be interested in working on my album so long as life stuff wasn’t consuming him, so I reached out. I hadn’t heard of the Mercury Tree and I decided not to give it a full listen until Ben was done with my album because I didn’t want to feel bad about making him work on my crap. But, wow. That guy is a freakin’ wizard and is making music that doesn’t quite sound like anything else. Not to mention he somehow polished the turd that was A Series of Related Dreams into a strangely un-turd-like gold nugget.
LH: I am curious. Do you feel the world has helped or hindered you in making your music?
EP: I feel like…by default, I exist in the world, therefore it has helped me in inspiring me to create. I work very hard to fight the thought that the world is out to get me and instead grasp the idea that the world is what I make of it. So, the world is my ally.
LH: By the way, your 3rd release "Chronic Bronchitis" is a perfect relief of sorts (meaning a more relaxed music) from 1, 2, and 4. This is the one mixed by Bob Drake. It was a real surprise but shows more dimensions from you. Do you like folk music or was that a phase you went through?
EP: I LOVE folk music and make it often but I don’t think it’s anything to brag about. I love the idea that it’s just some folk making it, and that the best things happen as a moment elapses and often escape the pressure of the record button. Those unrecorded moments are more important than any serious piece of music or album, I cherish them more than anything I’ve released publicly. Folk music is kind of embarrassing, man. It’s incredibly personal, it’s not and shouldn’t be refined, it can be the truest form of human expression because it lives outside the realm of should’s and shouldn’ts.
LH: Your 4th title "A Series of Related Dreams" brings all the best elements together for your most accomplished yet, using Sam Ruff on real drums, and Ben Spees mixing. What can you tell us about the music on this one?
EP: Ironically, a lot of “A Series of Related Dreams” were songs from the self-titled album that initially “weren’t interesting enough.” They’re self-titled album rejects that all shared a sort of drifting off into escapism theme, they all lacked that punchy “Fuck the world” feeling so I cast them aside for a while until I was ready for them. I struggle with the idea of the things I write being not complicated, impressive, hyper or fast enough. A Series of Related Dreams was a great exercise in combating those thoughts, as I allowed tempos to be slower, more repetition, less manic parts, more parts inside the range of my playing ability. Although the music was less challenging to play it was MORE of a challenge to say to myself, “This part sounds better slower, and it’s ALLOWED to be slower,” or, “The simplicity of this bass line allows the other parts to shine though,” instead of being complicated out of a fear of being uninteresting. It’s my natural state of music-making to say, “There’s not five independent melodies happening, BOOO-RING! This part is too slow, therefore it’s BORING! Not enough going on, I’m bored! Too many vocals, BORING!” A Series of Related Dreams was me combating my natural, manic state of waking life and forcing myself to be more boring because it’s essential to challenge habitual ways of thinking to grow as a person. And I think it turned out alright. The album sounds the most like me even though it doesn’t FEEL the most like me, if that makes sense.
LH: You posted a cool video on You Tube about 'privileged white women', in a silent film mode. How many short films have you made? You appear to be an excellent film maker as well as musician.
EP: Thank you! I’ve made a few movies, less than ten. Some of them are out there in the world for people to run across but I don’t care to share them here. They’re dark yet campy shorts that have to do with alter egos, being blonde, and mustard.
LH: Probably a tough question but what is your opinion of the world and the people in it?
EP: I force myself to be an optimist and I think this attribute shows through my music. Is the world shit? Yes. Do people suck? Hell yeah they fuckin’ suck. But! Am I going to dwell on this and live miserably? No way, dude. The world is an insane, awe-inspiring, beautiful place and I’m grateful to be alive every day. I’m grateful for the handful of amazing people in my life, and I have to believe that people are mostly good creatures. Otherwise I’d just be depressed. I was a very troubled kid growing up but later realized I was simply obsessive, I’d latch onto negativity and feed it. I learned to fill that spiraling obsessive loop with productive, positive things and have lived a much better life since.
LH: Is it possible you could take us through what your writing process is on any given song? Does it vary a lot?
EP: It’s really one of two methods: 1, They start written as midi songs, each note tediously clicked on the piano roll, all on one instrument line of midi because that just makes the most sense to me. Then I divide them up into separate fake instruments and proceed to struggle to learn them on real instruments, which feels like a desperate game of catch-up. 2, I write a song on guitar or bass then transpose it to piano roll, write more parts on fake instruments for it, maybe learn those parts on other instruments, maybe not. I love it when I can sit down and write an entire song in one session, this happens often, but just as often I write thirty second or minute ideas that sit in my cache until there’s enough of them that are relevant to one another to piece together. Vocals, lyrics and drums are always afterthoughts. I get stuck on stacking melodies in a way that’s balanced & “correct,” that’s the desire with music for me.
LH: Do you like being mostly self sufficient on all your instruments and composing? I know I always toiled to be a self contained musician mostly due to how hard it was/is to bring more than 2 people together for practice, agreement, and follow thru with a 'band'.
EP: Yes, I enjoy it thoroughly! I’m an only child and work best alone. I’m great at expounding upon the ideas of others but find it impossible to come up with new things when with people. It’s a mix between stage fright and not being able to hear myself think. I HAVE to live alone to be able to fall into the madness of creating, just knowing that someone is on the other side of the wall makes me tick into lapsing concentration and rage. Which, going back to your question about being from Ohio, this is the place where I happen to have a job that affords me to be able to live the most musically productive life living alone without distractions.
LH: I know you were in one band in which you were asked to learn bass specifically for. Did you enjoy that experience and would ever consider putting together a band to perform live again or are you happy doing studio recording only?
EP: Oh yeah, that was a great learning experience for me, it most importantly taught me how to complete a project. I don’t have a desire to put a band together to play my songs live, for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t enjoy performing; I’m simply not a performer. I don’t enjoy the whole “dance, monkey, DANCE!” aspect of it. My mother always recounts the story of my kindergarten ballet recital where I stood with my arms crossed on stage, she was encouraging me to dance and I yelled at her telling her that “I don’t FEEL like it!” Performing is not a thrilling experience for me, it’s degrading. I don’t want to be seen, unless I want to be seen, in which case that will be on my own terms and not held to any concert date or time.
Two, again with the “feeling” like it thing, I don’t think I could ever be enthusiastic about playing the same songs night after night in front of maybe two people who actually give a shit. MAYBE one day it would be fun to do a completely improvised set, this is assuming I met and jammed with like-minded musicians for an extended period of time and became confident enough in my improvisational abilities. That’s the only experience I would want to provide to an audience of people, that which is truly a representation of the moment passing. Otherwise, nope. Not doing it, can’t make me. Arms crossed.
LH: I see Bridgette Clifton did the cover art for all (or most) of your releases so far. How did you come to know her?
EP: Awe, Bridgette. She’s my hetero-life-mate. The story of our meeting is somewhat uninteresting although a lot of interesting things were happening in each of our lives at the time. I met her when I was living in New York through Greg, he introduced us and we didn’t immediately hit it off due to circumstances but years later bonded through a cross-country road trip. She’s a Long Island native who moved to Ohio after a visit with me where she met her soulmate, now we live down the street from each other in the hood of Linden.
LH: I wish the world had more artists such as yourself. Let me say thank you for exposing your music and allowing seekers like me to enjoy it. Thank you for spending this time with BBN.
EP: Thank you, Lee!
©Interview by Lee Henderson May - 2020