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Exclusive Interview with Emm Gryner And Competition To Win Signed Copies Of Her New Book & CD!

October 11th, 2021 | by admin
Exclusive Interview with Emm Gryner And Competition To Win Signed Copies Of Her New Book & CD!
Interviews
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Emm Gryner is a woman of many talents. Her work spans a variety of genres, moods and perspectives, but she hasn’t limited herself to music only. If you follow her social media, you have surely noticed how Emm divides her time between different personal and professional engagements, all successfully. Her new book sheds light into her life experiences, including her time working with David Bowie. Emm kindly agreed to elaborate on our questions below:

Hi Emm, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. You spent your childhood in Ontario, correct? During your formative years, what kind of music did you listen to and how did you become interested in being a musician?

I grew up near Detroit so I absorbed a lot of Motown and rock, as well as R&B and soul. I also grew up with Canadian pop which was heavily influenced by Britpop. I became intrigued about music when I realized my piano lessons and story-writing could intersect and become SONGS!

 

You’ve been acclaimed for your songs, your voice and your stage presence, but do you feel your piano and keyboard playing have been sometimes overlooked? Listening to your albums, it is clear these instruments are an essential part of your music, and they convey as much of your art as your lyrics do.

Thanks! I feel like the piano is an extension of myself, it’s like an orchestra at my finger tips. I also love what synths and keyboards can do and right now I’m really immersed in the stuff people like Steely Dan, Michael McDonald and Toto did with keyboards.

After you improved your technique you mentioned that you began writing songs differently, and the learning also had an impact on your shows, which became more dynamic and interesting. Looking back on the songs you wrote before you learned how to sing the way you always wanted to – did you find it rewarding to revisit them and sing them better?

Yes, I felt like I was singing someone else songs. Because I like to stay true to the time period” that something comes out, I find I sometimes morph my voice into that 20-something voice for nostalgia’s sake. I think we can have so many different voices in our lives — and they’re all worthy of being heard.

Listening to your Girl Versions album is such an interesting experience. When approaching a cover project anyone would expect carbon copies of the songs. However, on Girl Versions you manage to make the songs radically different, pretty much your own in some cases. “Song 2” comes to mind as a unique take on the popular song. How did you tackle this project and make it so different to what cover albums usually offer?

I liked the idea of bringing my gift for songwriting to other people’s songs. That’s how you can twist songs into interesting covers – ask yourself, what can I bring to this? It might be jarring or upsetting to people, but to me it was a bit funny and sometimes poignant to sing male songs” in a female voice. Song 2” changed drastically, and I thought it was really humorous to take lyrics that were probably formed without much thought and make them sound very dramatic. I got my head checked, by a jumbo jet” sung really sentimentally for example is, to me, hilarious.

The “Dead Relatives” album really lives up to its name, it stands out amongst the rest of your work as a truly moody, atmospheric and evocative record. Can you share a little of the backstory of this work?

Sure, I released that right after touring with Bowie. Parting Song” is sort of me acting as a sponge, a backing vocalist for David and putting words and lyrics into a song that was inspired by The Cure. I had all these songs lying around and I thought it would be interesting to put them out. We always try to put out hit songs” but I think the behind-the-scenes material can be equally as satisfying.

“Visiting Hours” is such a beautiful song. What can you say about this one?

I wrote that when a fan of mine, Mike Kic, passed away from cancer. I always expect to see my fans at shows and I expected him to recover, but when he didn’t my heart went out to his partner and little daughter. Mike’s partner Jordy told me of so many people being in his hospital room (unfathomable these days) that the nurses had to really work to manage it. I thought it was beautiful to think that so many people were there for him in such a sad time. We often think fans are obsessed with us, but I really am in tune with my fans, and I’ve been so changed by the lives of my fans – and so affected when hard things happen.

For those unaware, you have released several albums, and all of them stand apart from each other with different concepts, styles and emotions. Is this something that comes to you organically or you do consciously seek to make your next album different to the previous ones?

I love so many different kinds of music and I’m all over the place so I’ve used my entire career to try out different things. I think in a way I’ve been trying to figure out which thing I love the most, and then I’ll probably settle on that and do more of that. But it’s been the great joy of being indie – if I were on a major I might not be able to make a jazz record one minute, do a hard rock thing the next, and then make an ambient album. They’d all be like what are you doing?!”

“Last Day on Earth” is another excellent track. How interesting is it for you to do these kind of songs where the lyrics on paper could paint a serious or sad tone, yet the actual track is so upbeat?

I have been really inspired by bands like The Smiths in this regard. I love the mood of music that moves or is driving but I’ve never been too fond of upbeat lyrics”. It just seems like overkill sometimes!

Going through your album and EP sleeves it is clear to me visuals are also highly important for you. I didn’t notice any dull artwork, it seems like you realize neither the artwork nor the music itself should take a backseat from each other. Is the visual aspect something you are passionate about from the get-go or is it something you attend until the music is done?

Thank you. I have always loved great photographs or great paintings and I even sometimes balk at the idea that I have to put text over them for albums. Well, I know I don’t have to but I do and that can feel a little like a betrayal of the visual. I’m always thinking of the visuals because I think expression comes through in colours, fashion, textures, art and shapes just as much as it does in words and music.

You are also a professional coach. Has this proven to be an equally cathartic venture for you as music is?

Yes. I love guiding people to find their creative, highest selves. I feel like I’ve spent 25 years finding my way, but so much has become clear in recent years that I’m able to guide others to clear the path to success.

Collaborating with Chris Hadfield on his Space Oddity cover must have been surreal. How did you feel when you saw the video for the first time?

I felt proud. I actually had a version of that video where I put myself in the intro. I thought it might be cool to show me on earth and then beam up to Chris. They were very kind about it, and I almost went with it, but at the end of the day I realized that the real interesting part about the project was that Chris was singing in space. So I decided to remove myself from it. That decision is actually something I’m really proud of because I was able to zoom out and see what was fascinating about it, and I could also still tell the story of my involvement without being in the video. I love that Chris is just a nice Canadian guy, floating around in sport socks, strumming his guitar – that’s who he really is, he wasn’t trying to go viral, he was just doing his thing. Turns out his thing was really inspiring to people. I love the shot of the earth from the ISS.

Can you elaborate on how Bowie got a hold of you, if there was any audition at all and what your first meeting was like? What was going through your mind when you were first introduced to each other?

Mark Plati actually ushered me into the band on Holly Palmer’s recommendation. My in-ear monitors were being moulded before David even heard me sing. The first day I met him as I talk about in my book, he came into the rehearsal space really casual, just wearing a hoodie and had a canvas bag slung over his shoulder. He said you must be Emm” and he was very gentlemanly. I’m sure he was surveying the sound of things during that first rehearsal which I was very nervous for – never having been a backing vocalist. It was more my inexperience than being starstruck that had me fumbling around. I went up to him after and said,l’ll be better tomorrow” and he just waved me off and said Oh you’re fine”. I loved how rock n’ roll he was. And the next day (pardon the pun) I was fine!

There’s a point in your book where you refer to yourself as a hired gun”, recalling your perspective of being in Bowie’s band. But you mention how vital that perspective is, and it reminds me of what Gail Ann Dorsey told you in your chat with her, that people love working with her because she can serve” the song if it’s required, or she can do something that stands out if that’s what is needed. Sounds like you had that notion very clear in your mind while you were doing backing vocals and finding your place in the band?

Yes, I remember actually when David and I were talking about websites. He said, it’s good if you go through your own site and click through as though you’re a customer or a fan, so you get the experience of what it’s like. I think being in a band as a hired gun gives you that same perspective that you can take back to leading your own band and know how to treat people. I always try to inform people, show them respect and give them a good pay cheque, because that’s what I would want! Oh and a good dinner. 🙂

‘hours…’ embarked you on a tour with Bowie, which included dozens of television appearances and culminated in the legendary Glastonbury performance, along with the BBC Radio Theatre show. Out of all the concerts you played during that time, is there any one that particularly stands out for you, bringing you fond memories?

The first time we played TFI Friday, it was the first time in front of a real live audience. It was amazing as a solo artist to see every eye on him instead of me! He turned around to me and Holly after the first song and said, Welcome to London!” I loved that because even though he was absorbing the energy of the crowd, he was thinking of us too. He knew it was new for us.

 

Were you nervous walking on stage for Glastonbury? How did you manage the experience on your end? I’m asking because based on some comments we know that even David was nervous.

I was nervous because David had lost his voice at Roseland previous to this and with such a big show, we just wanted him to be ok. But you can watch the concert back and see that we loosen up as he does, as we realize he’s going to be ok and he’s on fire and having fun. It was amazing to see all those people. It was a festival I’d always wanted to attend and *boom* suddenly I was there onstage!

With the impending release of Brilliant Adventures #5, which includes an era you were part of, along with the two 1999 live albums that came out through the Brilliant Live Adventures campaign, have you felt compelled to revisit that time frame and look back on where you were at that point?

Absolutely. Actually, watching Glastonbury 2000 – which I know you’re not asking about in this question – but it compelled me to write my book. I saw myself as a 25 year-old performer and realized I had so much energy and vibrancy and it caused me to reflect on where I had put it! The 1999 live albums were wonderful to revisit – I think I only listened to them once, but it reminded me how happy he was at that time, and also it’s fantastic to have a souvenir of that time in his life and mine. There was so much to be excited about – he was jazzed about the internet, excited about having a baby and I was just really starting my career, and loved being in New York.

There’s a thought provoking quote from Bowie in your book which reads Art isn’t art without an audience.” What’s your take on it?

It’s funny – the publisher was like,where is that quote so I can verify it” and I was like, he told it to me. Or to the band. I think it’s true because there is an exchange that happens and that exchange makes it art I believe.

Your new book is out and it’s full of wonderful stories, but it’s also very honest in the way you open up about some of the unhappier events you’ve been through. What can you tell Bowie News readers about this latest project?

Well, we can use our past experiences as jumping off points to a better life, a better perspective. The book may be about my relationship to singing, but It’s almost a guidebook for being creative and embracing who you are. I went through a very dark time and I tuned into the gift of my voice, how it led me to success, to David, to adventures in theatre, singing Joni Mitchell and I think each of us has something special that we can use to climb out of our own misfortune. It’s just about getting out of our own way. I think Bowie fans will really enjoy my observations of my time with him, because they aren’t really about name-dropping. They’re about sharing my heart. I really adored him and respected his artistic decisions.

Your time at the shaped-CD manufacturing company was crazy. To think that one day you were working an office job in 1997 and two years later you’d be on stage with David Bowie is hard to wrap one’s head around to. Was it the same for you?

I guess when you put it that way, it really is amazing. But someone told me today that blind faith is actually worth something. We discredit it, or at least I did because I associate it with being young and naive. But there’s a lot of fuel in blind faith. We could do ourselves a favour later in life and use some of it to jump into our dreams.

On that note, can you share a memory you have of your time spent with Bowie, not in the strict professional sense, but on a one-to-one basis? A piece of advice or a funny moment you cherish.

I invited him to see the band Grandaddy play in NYC and I loved that he said yes. I think the band were amazed that he came. I also once stole his watch by accident, but he was cool about it. I think it was astronomically expensive. I also love thinking about the Toy record and how we must have been all worn out recording it because we napped on the couch in the studio together. I called him Daddy Stardust and he called me Egg (after my initials, a name Mark Plati gave me). It sounds like we were all chummy, but it was more that he allowed everyone to feel relaxed. He didn’t have a wall up around his band.

Can you talk about Toy? How do you feel about the album finally seeing the light of day after two decades (leaving aside the leak) and what’s your opinion about the work itself?

I’m thrilled it’s coming out but mostly because I think David would have loved it – Mark has done a phenomenal job on the mixes and it’s nostalgic without feeling small. I’m at a place in my life where I don’t take anything for granted, so to hear my voice weaving in and out with David’s…it makes my heart swell. And I write in my book that when he passed, I couldn’t mourn him as a close friend (because I wasn’t) and I couldn’t mourn him as a stranger, I hung precariously in between which was a weird place to be. Toy makes me miss him phenomenally. I think because he was so happy then, and I loved being around his joyful spirit.

The album artwork has certainly generated all kinds of discussion amongst the fan base. What was your reaction when you saw it?

I think it’s amazing! It’s just the kind of thing he would have liked. I also feel like Mark had submitted some stuff from notebooks to the label and they ended up using it, so it feels personal. I vaguely remember those photos of the band being taken. We all looks so young and the graphics are so turn of the millennium!

The lock downs did not deter you from performing, you played live via streaming. We know some artists have approached this with pre-recorded performances to ensure the best possible results, whilst others have done it on the spot, in a stripped-down fashion. In your case it was evident a great care and thought went into it. I admire how much you respect your audience and your music, all the while enjoying what you do and staying true to your vision. In that way, was performing through this option as thrilling as walking on stage at a venue?

My fanbase is small but scattered all over the globe so luckily, the online shows make it possible for me to see them. I think my fans in Spain and in Asia need me to change the start times though! They end up watching in the middle of the night. I worked really hard with my sound man to get the sonics really great so people feel like they’re getting something special and intimate. I like to add a Q&A in sometimes with my concerts. I do miss the group applause at the end of every song, and the exchange between performer and live audience. I treasure it so much now that we haven’t had it. I tried to make it seem like I din’t miss it for the longest time, but … eventually the truth comes out. I wonder sometimes what David would have done in this time – probably something pretty mind-blowing and cool. I write about that at the end of my book, how he would have interpreted the pandemic for us.

I love listening and watching live performances of “Stay” during 1999 and 2000. The way you and Holly sing and dance is fabulous! Were there any particular songs in the repertoire that you enjoyed performing the most, and others you wish had made it into the set lists?

‘Stay’ live at the BBC Radio Theatre 2000

I loved Stay’! I also loved Station to Station” which David once trumpeted, We did this before you were born!” He had such pride in his work, and was kind of a musicologist about it all. Of course, because I would have watched the music video, parked in my living room after school when I was 8, I loved triggering the horns in Let’s Dance” and singing those backups. I also liked Seven” and how can you not love Under Pressure”. That song is everything.

Before Glastonbury Bowie told you and the other band members This isn’t about us – it’s about them”. It sounds like that observation truly shaped the way you approach a lot of things you do now. Did it help you back then, prior to the show as well?

I wasn’t thinking about life or music like that at all then. When I was 25, it was all about me. But in that moment for Glasto, it sure helped me realize what was important. What a crowd, and to this day, people say to me I was there” and then you know you experienced something special together. But none of it would have been magical without that crowd. And his words are such a gift now because they are literally words that I live by now in almost all areas of my life.

What is next for you in terms of projects and collaborations?

I am about to make a new album in Nashville with producer Fred Mollin. I’m eternally inspired by 70’s California rock like Fleetwood Mac and Toto so I’m making an album that sounds like that. My dream is that Michael McDonald comes to sing on a song. I was watching YouTube the other day and saw Catherine Russell duetting with Michael McDonald and I was like hey! She’s always moving in on my favourite men”. (I’m kidding – I love her). Bowie has brought nothing but love into my life. Thank you for these thoughtful questions.

 

Thank you Emm.

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You can join Emm on October 19th for a virtual event with @BookSoup in West Hollywood. She’ll talk singing, healing, Bowie, life as a single mom, ditching the music biz and the joy of it all.

 

Competition time!

Emm has very kindly given us 3 prizes of a signed copy of her new book ‘The Healing Power of Singing’ & a signed copy of her latest CD ‘Just For You’

For your chance to win one, simply send an email with ‘Emm’ in the subject field to competitions@davidbowienews.com (no question to answer)

The competition closes at midnight on Sunday October 17th and is open worldwide.

**Strictly 1 entry per person**

The 3 winners will be randomly chosen and notified by email shortly after.

Good luck!

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You can buy Emm’s new book ‘The Healing Power of Singing’ now at all good book stores

Stay in touch with Emm via..

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Interview by Francisco Beristain, exclusively for David Bowie News. © 2021.

Edited by Nick Vernon.

Many thanks to Emm Gryner.

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