As musicians, we yearn to create, whether it’s through composing, crafting an individual sound or flipping a beloved piece on its head to make something that’s never been heard before. We long to breathe life into new ideas and to share stories that have not yet been told. In doing so, we create something that speaks to our shared experience, something that helps make sense of our world. But sometimes our educational institutions can muddle the realm of creation and recreation, preparing students to replicate that which already exists rather than foster personal creativity.
re/CREATE, an interview series from 21CM, provides a glimpse into the minds of musicians who create sounds unique to their own voice while celebrating the artists and traditions that have most influenced them. Join 21CM and host Joe Brent as we celebrate some of the most innovative musicians of our day, who pay homage to the traditions they love while creating music from the heart.
In this episode, we feature cellist, singer and composer (not to mention illustrator and video artist) Emily Hope Price. A member of the erstwhile Brooklyn-based trio Pearl and the Beard, Price has now applied her talents to numerous solo projects, including two web series and a book of illustrations. Here, Price reinterprets the Thompson Twins’ ‘80s new wave classic “If You Were Here” as a brooding singer-and-looped-cello composition.
Can you talk about your process? How do you usually incorporate technology into your performances and how much is improvised?
I’ve realized over the years that I respond better to happy accidents and making accidents work. I use a Boss RC pedal. … Rather than move into something else a little more intricate or go into Ableton Live — any new technology I think kind of keeps the mistakes less happy, friendly. It helps you not make mistakes.
I’m starting to go back to tape recorders. I used tape recorders years and years ago in grad school. I used them similarly to a loop pedal where I’d have 10 recorders record the same thing — I did a sound art installation with it. I did a Bach cello suite, recorded it on these tape recorders and then surrounded a group of people with them. But then I timed them so the time it took me to walk to each one to push play — it was really thought out and perfected. No one knew I had gone to all this math. But it did a similar thing [to] an echo pedal or a delay pedal. I really love that analog texture. You can feel it. You can touch it — literally. You can have an understanding of how things work.
It’s kind of why I haven’t gotten into any super-toys. … And [mistakes] create a really amazing jumping-off point. For example, I had no intention of using any ponticello today. In that moment I thought, you know, let’s take it there.
The ponticello created the feedback effect. It’s an extraordinarily visceral thing.
Yes, which I did all acoustic. And that’s the other thing I love about using what you have. … If I want distortion, how can I do that myself? How can I show, particularly an audience member, how it’s working? Because there’s something really beautiful about seeing a performer and being with them and understanding how it’s working.
Tell us about this song, “If You Were Here.”
Well, you and I have talked a lot about movies and we love movie music. I remembered this scene in this movie “Sixteen Candles.” [Molly Ringwald’s character] has spent the whole movie pining over [the character] Jake Ryan. … [In] this iconic scene, it’s her 16th birthday, her entire family has forgotten; he remembered. He has a cake. She’s in a cheesy bridesmaid’s dress, and they kiss each other over this cake. And over this scene plays this song.
What’s funny, though, is I had never read the lyrics. I thought it was a love song. But it [goes], “If you were here, I could deceive you / If you were here, you would believe / but would you suspect my emotion wandering? / I don’t want a part of this anymore.”
So why do you think they chose that song? It’s an opposite message.
Right? But that’s what’s really interesting about music. When I do covers I think, “What’s the best part about this song? Can I take that best part out? Could it still work? Is the tempo the best part? Or this hook?”
So, I thought about this, going, “God, these are such sad lyrics.” In my interpretation, it’s a façade of adoration. … I like [this song] in general, but I had no idea it was so troubling. So when I went to do it, I wanted to capture that [frustration] — like, “I’ll just keep doing this again and again.” The satisfaction of being with someone. “If you were here I could deceive you.” There’s something really sensual about that. You want to be deceived – and will you even know that I don’t want to be a part of this? And how long can I carry on this deception?
Emily, as always, it’s been amazing spending time with you. Thank you so much.
Thank you for asking me!
The above interview has been edited for clarity and length.