Interview: Emma Pollock

Emma Pollock, photographed by Jenny Lewis, 2007

They say ‘You should never meet your idols.’ What if they don’t live up to your expectations? What if someone you have admired for donkey’s years turns out not to be so admirable? What if you’ve put your trust in, erm, false idols?

Well, 17 seconds got to meet the high priestess of the Scottish indie scene, Emma Pollock. And it turns out that she’s utterly down to earth, prepared to meet for not one but two chats with this humble Scottish blog to chat about her solo debut, Watch The Fireworks, the break-up of the Delgados, and much more besides…

We first meet in Edinburgh one hot late afternoon, where she’s driven (herself) over to appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She picks me up from my flat and we head to a café with her young son in tow (sensibly named).

Once coffee has been ordered, I begin by asking her about the Ballads Of the Book album, the collaboration of Scottish acts who have set music to new poems by Scottish writers, curated by Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. It’s not the first time that she has collaborated with Poets, last year she toured as part of an English Arts Council group called Phrased and Confused. ‘That was a very interesting thing to do. I’m not sure how well it worked,’ she says, a little uncertainly, ‘but one of the things that came out of it for me was the song ‘A Glorious Day.’ ‘ This song, bizarrely relegated to the b-side of her first debut single ‘Adrenaline’ had been one of the highlights of her solo show at Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire a few days previously. ‘ When you’ve got the lyrics already there…you’ve got the parameters already fixed. The melody can come across a lot more conversationally if there’s a lot of words to try and get in. Whereas normally I would try and write the music first.’

This leads me onto what is already apparent from the few tracks that have been heard before the album comes out: the tracks are a lot more piano driven than the work she did with The Delgados. Was this a conscious decision? Amazingly, it seems she barely played the piano before this album.
‘If you don’t know how to play an instrument, you end up playing chords that you don’t know what they’re called, and you tend to keep them.’ There’s now a different approach generally as a solo artist. ‘With The Delgados, there were songs I tended to take a back seat on, and songs that I didn’t.’ Now although she’s assembled a live band, there’s a definite feeling that she’s a solo artist, which she says she finds both terrifying and liberating.

The Delgados started up their own label, Chemikal Underground, in 1994, to release their debut single ’Monica Webster.’ The roster over the years has included some of the best music from Scotland, but most definitely further afield as well, from then on. She’s still continues to run the label but admits that she hasn’t been into the office for a while. Yet as a solo artist, she’s signed to the legendary indie 4AD. ’ She’d been a big fan of the label since her school days. ‘I was a really big fan of The Breeders and The Pixies. They were hugely influential of my decision to start playing. I was also really influenced by Pavement, the American scene. Ironically, although 4AD is a label which originated in Britain, it soon became synonymous with the American scene.’ Though doubly ironically, many of the acts, most notably The Pixies, made a bigger impact more quickly in the UK than their homeland.

I ask her if she’s prepared to discuss The Delgados, mindful of the fact that songs like ‘Acid Test’ and ‘Fortune’ deal with her frustration and unsettlement after the split of the band. She’s quite comfortable to talk about this. I ask her if there’s likely to be a farewell tour, as she has said that she doesn’t think they really said goodbye. ‘No,’ she‘s quietly. ‘It took me a long time to get over the idea that so much of life is chance. You can work hard and get a reward, and then realise it’s all gone. I do believe there’s a fair element of chance involved as well as the necessity to work hard.’

Her solo debut, when I hear it, is a stunning piece of work that deserves to be up there with the likes of Malcolm Middleton and Penny Century. It’s sufficiently still a showcase for her work that should keep Delgados fans happy and also win her fans in her own right. There’s sufficiently enough of both quiet and load moments, as with her old band. ‘For all our loud moments, we [The Delgados] certainly knew when to keep quiet.’

Having chatted for twenty minutes, we have to break off, as she has to appear at the Book Festival to promote Ballads Of The Book and then head off to appear at both legs of the V festival in Staffordshire. Over the next two weeks, we try to arrange a time to catch up. To her eternal credit, it is she who rings me to try and confirm times, rescheduling once when she is offered a last minute slot at Connect. When I’d told her that I hadn’t been sent a promo copy of the album, she’d actually taken my address and got her PR company to send it out to me.

We catch up again at the beginning of September in Glasgow, near to where she and her family live on the south side of the city. By this time I’ve heard the album, and been enjoying digesting it.

‘[Connect] was very last minute.’ She was actually the first act on, on the second stage. It’s the first year that Connect has run, and she says she found it a lovely site. It sounds like the set went down well. ‘There was a crowd for the soundtrack, which was funny. Then I played to people, it went down well, it was good fun.’ Much better than V07, which she found a very mainstream festival. Appearing on a small stage, she only got a small crowd. ‘You get generous audiences earlier on, but it kind of thins out towards the evening. Amy MacDonald] apparently had a small audience -and you can buy her CD in the supermarket!’ she says, amused at the thought. At least it wasn’t violent like The Delgados’ experience of the first T in the Park, when it was held in Strathclyde Park. ‘That’s a park you don’t want to be in after dark.’ It transpires that her bandmate Alun Woodward got punched after providing the wrong answer to someone who asked him which football team he supported. ‘How do you answer that on the west coast of Scotland?’ she asks, incredulous at the narrow mindedness and ugliness that can spoil life in Scotland.

Although she was born in Perth, she was raised in Castle Douglas, before coming to study at University in Glasgow. Chemikal Underground was run from her and Paul Savage’s kitchen table, including when Bis famously got on Top of the Pops with ‘Kandy pop.’ They’ve subsequently relocated, and she’s proud that they’ve been there the longest of any company in the block they are now based in. They’ve certainly had a major impact on the landscape of the independent scene, being responsible for signing Mogwai and Arab Strap, amongst many others. She agrees that there is perhaps a perception of them as being a Scottish label – but is quick to point out that bands like Magoo and the Radar Brothers weren’t Scottish. The Delgados reached the hallowed portals of the number one spot in John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 1998, with ‘Pull The Wires From The Wall.’ The memory of this is still special to her, if a little bizarre: she was in the supermarket when she got the call.
I ask her about what the rest of the year involves, and it sounds pretty busy. She’s going to be supporting King Creosote in the UK and then the New Pornographers in the US, and ‘Paper and Glue’ will likely be the third single off the album.

We head off from the café together, and she’s good enough to accompany me back to me car to sign my copy of The Great Eastern, the album for which The Delgados were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000. Ultimately they were beaten to it by Badly Drawn Boy’s debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast. For the last thirteen years, this friendly and important singer and musician has made staggeringly great music. It would be nice to think that the commercial recognition will follow with this album.

Emma Pollock’s official website is here and her MySpace is here

Emma Pollock -‘Adrenaline.’ mp3

Emma Pollock -‘Limbs.’ mp3

Watch The Fireworks will be released by 4AD on September 17.

Album Review: Emma Pollock

Album Review: Emma Pollock – Watch The Fireworks (4AD)

( There was, as you may imagine, much joy when an advance copy of Emma Pollock’s solo debut album arrived on the mat at 17 Seconds towers. Three listens later, I have this to say:)

Emma Pollock’s debut builds upon the excitement and sheer joy of her solo gigs and first two singles to arrive and confirm that they were no fluke. As first single ‘Adrenaline’ ably demonstrated, the keyboards take much more of a role here than they did on the five albums she made leading The Delgados, and the rush of erm, Adrenaline that the opening arpegios of that song triggers is replicated across this eleven track album.

The Delgados were much loved by those who heard them, and second single (and indeed second track) deals with her feelings of dealing with the break-up of that band (the other three members of which she still runs seminal Glasgow record label Chemikla Underground with). ‘Acid Test’ with its’ edgy, nervous guitar lines is perhaps the most reminiscent of that band, in a good way, but she has surely moved on and produced a record that must surely win her new fans in her own right. Likely next single ‘Paper and Glue’ and the gorgeous ‘Limbs’ are amongst other highlights on this record, which is a truely addictive listen. Stunning live track ‘The Optimist’ closes Fireworks. Her skill remains that she can convey emotions without ever descending to cliche or schmaltz. In this world, that’s a bloody miracle.

Memorably described by Song, By Toad as ‘The High Priestess of the scottish indie scene’ Emma Pollock shows here that she can certainly cut it on her own, and this record has been worth the wait.


Watch The Fireworks will be released by 4AD on September 17. In the meantime, these two mp3s must be heard.

Emma Pollock -‘Adrenaline.’ mp3

Emma Pollock -‘Limbs.’ mp3

Single Review: Emma Pollock

Emma Pollock: ‘Acid Test’ (4AD)

‘This house does not feel like a home.’ So begins Emma Pollock’s second single of the forthcoming Watch The Fireworks. more guitar-driven than previous single ‘Adrenaline’, the edgy guitar and bass play off against each other and the heartbreaking lyrics tell of her feelings as she tries to take control her her emotions. An excellent single, that deserved your attention. B-side ‘A Temporary Fix’ is another excellent track.

‘Acid Test’ is available now from iTunes and will be released on September 3rd on Physical formats.

Emma Pollock’s official site is here and her MySpace, where you can stream the single is here

Gig review: Emma Pollock/Broken Records

Gig Review: Emma Pollock/Broken Records

Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, August 10, 2007

This was Emma Pollock’s second visit to Cabaret Voltaire in three months (read my review of the previous gig here. This time the venue seemed a little fuller and she seemed just as relaxed and assured as before.

Last time, she had been supported by the wonderful Katie Sutherland and Popup; this time she was supported by Edinburgh seven-piece Broken Records (OK, the cellist is from Germany). Broken Records could be described as being folk-rock, in the sense of folk meaning ‘music of the people’ and involving instruments like the violin and mandolin, rather than any ‘hey nonny nonny no!’ with people sticking fingers in their ears. They recently appeared at T in the Park on the T-Break stage, and look set to build upon this. Despite their singer’s nerves (he really doesn’t have to worry), they sound accomplished, which gigging is clearly adding to. They are unsigned and as yet, unmanaged, but if there is any justice in the world, this shouldn’t remain the case for long. They remind me of the Waterboys circa ‘A Pagan Place’ and my mate Mark reckons the singer reminds him of Lloyd Cole. The potential to be another Jeff Buckley is clearly there too. ‘If the news makes you sad, don’t watch it’ should be a single.

The last time I saw Emma Pollock, she seemed to have thrown off any ghosts that might have lingered from her previous band. She is even more confident than before, but doesn’t take herself too seriously. She has a great sense of banter with the audience, able to laugh and enjoy herself. As I mentioed last time, she deserves to be seen as being up there with not just the other famous front women of new label 4AD (Kim, Tanya and Kirstin), but also British mould breakers like PJ Harvey. ‘Adrenaline’ produces just that, the keyboard riff that should be as familiar as anything else you’ll hear on the radio by the end of the year. B-side ‘A Glorious Day’ delights live as well. ‘Limbs’ the free mp3 that has been doing the rounds for several months remains just her and her guitar, with the keyboard player, and gets lovelier with each listen. New single ‘Acid Test’ is more guitar driven than ‘Adrenaline,’ and also deserves to be high up there on end of year lists.

She encores with ‘The Optimist’ and once again, I go out into the night, my heart warmed, friends beside me converted, and waiting for her debut, Watch the Fireworks. The queen of the Scottish indie scene, who acts like one of the people.

Emma’s myspace site is here and here website is here.

Broken Records’ Myspace site is here, including 4 mp3s that can be downloaded. Go along and say hi to them all.

Emma Pollock -‘Limbs.’ mp3

Gig review: Emma Pollock/Popup/Katie Sutherland

Gig Review: Emma Pollock/Popup/Katie Sutherland

Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh

May 14, 2007

It had been a somewhat trying day at school (I teach some of my most, uh, ‘challenging’ classes on a Monday) and one of the things that was getting me through was the thought of going to see Ms. Pollock. I was certainly not disappointed.

The first act of the evening was 19 year old Katie Sutherland. I’ve commented before on this, but sometimes you see Singer-Songwriters appearing solo as the support act to a crowd who ignore them. Ms. Sutherland managed to shush everyone very quickly. Perfectly content to sing in her natural accent, the warmth won us all over so quickly with her own songs like ‘Lower Ground’ and ‘Because I Do.’ There’s an endearing honesty but without the painful over-earnestness that renders so many singer-songwriters of both sexes as just one of the crowd. Katie Sutherland is an original. Her voice blew me, and indeed the soon-to-be Mrs. 17 Seconds away. She’s just about to take a break from university for a few years to try and make a career in music, which she plays a snog ‘Mr. Lecturer’ about. I catch a brief word with her afterwards, and she’s a lovely person who should be giving Isobel Campbell and KT Tunstall a run for their money very, very soon, if there’s any justice. She’s currently unsigned but please, please, PLEASE go to her MySpace, hear her songs, make friends with her -and if you live in Scotland, go and see her.

Blown away as I am by Katie Sutherland, Popup were going to have a lot to live up to. Singer Michale Cross has got a wonderfully thick scottish accent (put it this way – and this is meant as a compliment – he makes Aidan Moffat sound like he speaks with a ‘received pronounciation’ accent). Musically, it’s harder to place them – at first, I think they’re going to be like Arab Strap…then discover I’ve been led astray by his vocals, and they are nothing like that. They go down a rocky avenue that I find hard to get into, but towards the end of their set, when I’m finding i could grow to love thme after all, the reference that springs to mind is the wedding Present.

[Please note, in an attempt to allow her to move on, I will not mention Emma Pollock’s former band. This is no mean feat, given that they are my favourite scottish band ever.]

Emma Pollock wanders on, looking wonderfully relaxed. The ten song set she plays, to a welcoming crowd, takes no songs from her former band, and instead I find very, very quickly that I cannot wait for September and her debut Watch The Fireworks. This is coming out on 4AD, and watching her, I am reminded, yet again, that Emma Pollock is every bit as much an icon as many of those who appeared on that label – Kristin Hersh, Tanya Donelly, Kim Deal et al.. The songs have a lot of piano influence on them, but Pollock’s guitar playing is just as assured. She does ‘Limbs’ with just her and the pianist, and it’s gorgeous. future single ‘Paper and Glue’ and current single ‘Adrenaline’ should be there in those end of year polls. Like, at the top of them, not no. 23 or whatever.

The scottish indie scene has a reputation for being shambolic. Yet Emma Pollock makes light of any moments – I have seen artists of far less stuature go ballistic over the slightest thing, yet she’s not bothered by the roadie who didn;t leave her any plectrums. She has a great repartee that makes us all laugh, talking about how they drove up to do a gig in Aberdeen on Saturday, only to discover the venue was closed.

She encored with ‘The Optimist’, and it’s clear just how brilliant the album should be, and just how damn fine a live act she remains. ‘That was amazing,’ whispers the soon-to-be Mrs. 17 seconods, as we head out the door. It was. come back to edinburgh soon, please.

Emma Pollock’s single Adrenaline can be downloaded from iTunes now, and will be out on 7″ next week (UK anyway).

For now, try this:

Emma Pollock -‘Limbs.’ mp3

Read the Edinburgh Evening News’ review here, if you’re interested

Not Jackson but Emma

Oh, couldn’t think of anything witty to call today’s post. But, those of you who have read this blog regularly will know that I am a big fan of the Delgados, the seminal scottish band who for a decade from the mid-90s to the mid ’00s delighted us with some of the best music ever, and on top of that, helped launch the careers of Mogwai, Arab Strap, Bis, Mother and the addicts, Aereogramme, Sluts Of Trust, and more recently, De Rosa and Sister Vanilla through the record label they set up, Chemikal Underground. They are my favourite scottish band of all time, yup, even above Orange Juice, Belle and Sebastian, Aberfeldy and Sons and Daughters.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and the Delgados called it a day in 2005. However, Emma Pollock has signed to 4ad as a solo artist. Her myspace site has a demo of a song called Fortune. The album is ready and has apparently has a sleeve done by Vaughan Oliver who used to do the sleeves for Cocteau Twins in the 80s when they were on 4ad. I cannot wait…

Drop by the myspace site and also her official site where if you sign up for the mailing list, you get an mp3 sent to you.

Oh, and go and buy The Delgados back catalogue. Every bit of it. I recommend The Great Eastern above all, which is my favourite scottish album of all time.

To see Delgados videos, click on the links below:

‘Coming In From The Cold’

‘Everything Goes Around The Water’

‘American Trilogy’