Emma Dilemma on her new pop-rock album, Spit

Image: Aaron Lee

Image: Aaron Lee

Emma Dilemma on her new pop-rock album, Spit

Emma Dilemma talks to What's Hot New Zealand about her new solo career, the significance of vinyl, and filming nude on trampolines.

We’re looking forward to your full-length album. How does Spit Side B follow on from Spit Side A released last year? It was originally gonna come out as Spit, as one whole album. But due to Covid ruining touring opportunities and the supply chain for getting vinyl records made, we decided to do it in two parts. But finally, this second half, I started releasing it at the start of this year and it will all come out as one big beautiful record on July 1st.

Is making it a vinyl important to you? I haven’t done it before… I grew up with my dad putting on vinyl records. I’ve recently acquired this pair of speakers that used to be in the family home that my Dad’s brother made, like way back in the ‘70s he hand-made these big beautiful proper speakers. So I want to get my record on vinyl, because it would be really cool to listen to the record through these speakers I grew up listening to records on.

Is it a rite of passage for musicians to make a vinyl? Totally. In this era when vinyl’s made a massive comeback, I think most artists would want their record on vinyl. And if they don’t I don’t know what’s going on in their head! CDs are so ‘our generation’ and boring. I did briefly consider cassette tapes, because you know, 90’s kid, but I figured they’re more like a fully collector’s item that not many people would be able to actually play.

What story are you telling with this album? It’s the story of my thoughts on how absurd the world is. I’m just spitting out ideas, that’s the idea behind the album name. In the past I’ve played in a rock band called Decades and we kind of co-wrote a lot. Liam, he was the main songwriter, so a lot of the stuff I was singing as the front-person of the band were his experiences and his thoughts and feelings. So this is kind of a really eclectic record about my opinions about a whole bunch of situations in my life and on the planet right now.

What’s prompted you to go on this solo path? We started working on our second record and a couple of those songs that me and Liam were writing together have ended up on my album. Basically, a couple of the guys had kids and it was getting to be an overwhelming commitment for them to be travelling, touring and recording an album, because we go to Melbourne to do that. We kind of just came to this conclusion, that because I’d been taking a more active role in songwriting that it kind of just made sense that I went out and did this by myself for a bit while they could raise their families. We’re kind of on a hiatus, but I’m like uh-oh, I love being a solo artist so much!

A tale as old as time… I’m sure they’re OK with it. We’re best friends so we keep in touch all the time.

Tell us about your new single ‘Vulnerability’ and the Napoleon Dynamite throwback video? I’m glad you realised it was Napoleon Dynamite, because when I released it I thought it could go either way… The video does tie into the meaning of the song. When I was trying to come up with a video idea for that song, I was a little intoxicated and for some reason just thinking about situations where you force yourself to be vulnerable in front of people that maybe you’re a bit scared of, or haven’t been vulnerable in front of before. Immediately Napoleon Dynamite, dancing in front of a school of people who make fun of him or don’t really like him, came to mind. And it was so triumphant at the end because people respected him after that because he was himself. He just went out there and did his thing. And that’s kind of what the song’s about. It’s me talking to myself about you will grow and be stronger if you can have the strength to be vulnerable in front of people. Baby, I’ve had enough, I’m just gonna go out there and f*cking be myself.

Speaking of vulnerability, how did you feel shooting the video for ‘Bounce’? The song is so fun and it’s about sexual themes, but about the wholesome side of sex and being committed to one person for the rest of your life. It’s not a Christian record, I’m not religious in any way. I do have a partner that I love very much, so it’s about our relationship and how much I love him. And because the song’s so much fun and a bit cheeky, I wanted a music video that reflects that. I thought ‘Bounce’, jumping around on trampolines, even though bounce in the song refers to bedroom activities. So I thought, how can we tie that together? I know, I’ll just be naked. I remember when I was telling this video idea to the team at Warner, the head of Warner was a guy at the time, and he was just like “I love the idea, but let’s just make it very clear that the label didn’t ask you to do this.” And I was like no, I will proudly tell people that for some reason I chose to be naked in this video. I’m very lucky that my director is one of my best friends, so it was a safe space. The MoveX trampoline arena in Christchurch, they were really cool, they just gave us the keys and we were in there from like 4am, and they were like, “As long as you’re wrapped by the time we open at 9:30 so no children are exposed to this, you’re good to go.”

What’s your songwriting process? It’s definitely very chaotic and random. I don’t usually try and force myself to write or sit down and write. If the song starts as a melody or a little lyric or a combination, it’s usually just something that’s just popped into my head as I go about my day, so I’ll just grab my phone and sing that into the phone and kind of come back to it later. I also like working with other people if they’ve got pre-made music. So a lot of the songs on Spit came from collaborating with Liam from Decades. He would send me instrumentals, so I would sit down and play through like four or five that he might have sent through that week, and if anything came out right away then I’d know that was probably something that was going to become a song. But at the moment I’m building a studio, with the intention that I’m going to sit down and force myself to come up with ideas once a day, even for an hour a day, because I like the idea of having a dedicated space and seeing what that might do for my songwriting brain. Your first album is always a combination of songs that they say you’ve had your whole life to write. Well, I had the time from Decades’ previous album to now to write, which was two or three years. But after releasing this album in July, I’ve got to get onto the next thing right away. I’ve probably only got like four songs that I really like, that I will record, but if I’m going to do another album I need to up my production.

What can we expect to see at your show? My music is rock music, but with a pop edge. If you don’t see yourself as a rock fan or a loud music fan, it’s kind of like, if you would go to The Killers, then you would probably enjoy my show. It’s rock music, it’s got guitars, but it’s poppy, it’s dancey and it’s fun and it’s inspiring. As a live act I’m a three-piece. So it’s me, Moses Robbins on guitar, and Matt Andrews on drums. It’s just a bunch of fun, It’s really loud but you can dance to it. I tell a lot of shitty jokes and it’s just a good fun live rock show.

Do you have a pre-show ritual of doing 17 tequila shots or anything wild like that? Depends who’s buying! No, not really, especially in a venue as small as Darkroom there’s not really a green room or anything like that, so we just like to socialise and mill around. It’s a Christchurch show, a lot of the people that are going to be there are friends and family. It’s going to be a special one that one, because that’s the day the album comes out as well.

Who is Emma Dilemma? I am just a born and bred Christchurch girl who has loved music all her life, loved performing, and love absurd crazy shit. And I just love to write fun pop-rock songs. I’ve played in bands most of my life, I started performing in rock bands in pubs when I was 15. I own a creative agency here in Christchurch as well, G&A, The Giveback Agency.

What pubs did you haunt? The Dux de Lux was the classic, I loved performing there. But when I was 15 and 16 I had a residency at the Jetset Lounge on Wednesday nights, which was pretty cool. That’s when I was in an emo covers band, Taking Back Thursday. And then obviously because I was underage I liked to perform at a lot of the underage venues at the time, so there was Zebedees, White Elephant. I played at The Civic a couple of times, I was lucky enough to open for a couple of bigger bands there. Oh man, I wish all these venues still existed.

Do you have a favourite venue on tour? One I played at recently at the start of this year. It’s not really suitable for full rock acts, but the Playhouse Theatre in Mapua just outside of Nelson. It’s a cave, you go in there and it’s literally this beautiful cave with a theatre set into it. You go in and it’s got all of its PA and its lighting all rigged up and it’s absolutely stunning in there. In terms of playing a full, noisy, rock band show, I would say San Fran in Wellington.

Is there anyone in the Kiwi music scene you want to shout out to? Oh my god, all of them. Everyone. This is political! But you can’t go wrong with Jed Parsons.

Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, Tauranga
Friday 1 - Saturday 9 July

What's Hot New Zealand Newsletter

Stay in the loop with all the latest food, fashion, trends, events and more. Delivered hot to your inbox every month.