Emma Rugg is certainly no stranger to the Hull music scene. A self-taught guitarist, pianist and singer, she initially honed her natural talents by busking on the streets of Hull. At around the same time she began to visit the Musicians Nights at ‘The Adelphi’ on a regular basis, unconsciously nurturing her hugely supportive fanbase as she sung and played her heart out.
Financed by her busking, she released her debut album in 2003 through her own ‘In Dreams’ record label. Intriguingly entitled ‘Isolated Impression’, it was a mesmerising ten-track wonder of a debut which perfectly encapsulated Emma’s ability to convey a wide range of emotions with devastating sincerity. Showcasing both her integrity and vulnerability, it’s impossible to listen to ‘Isolated Impression’ and not be profoundly moved, with the entrancing melody leading into opening track ‘As You Go’ setting the scene in style. Such a release provided Emma the ideal opportunity to present her songs to a wider audience, with a clutch of her oldest songs such as ‘If Walls Had Ears’ sounding just as sublime on record as they do when interpreted in an intimate live situation.
The word of Emma’s sensational voice and subtly intoxicating melodies spread like wildfire. Realising that Emma was a precocious singer-songwriter of the most original order, the Beeb-backed Radio Humberside intervened to help promote her music without hesitation, inviting her to perform a live acoustic session on their weekly ‘Raw Talent’ show. Unsurprisingly, it received instant widespread acclaim. Through the show (which primarily focused, and to this day continues to focus, on ‘underground’ bands and artists in the Hull area), Emma struck up an unlikely alliance with American singer-songwriter Henry Doss. Upon hearing each other’s music, Henry invited Emma over to the states, which helped them to forge an enduring friendship on both a personal and a professional level.
Come 2007, Emma hit the road with Henry in the US, playing a staggering number of well-received shows in states such as North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Michigan. This allowed Emma the opportunity to perform a selection of songs from ‘Isolated Impression’, along with one of her newer songs in the form of ‘Oceans’, a bewitching tune she’d recorded in 2005. Excitingly, it was a track that heralded a swerve in direction in both musical style and substance.
Whilst on tour, Emma had the foresight to record her and Henry’s experiences on a Handycam. Having expertly produced twelve short but infinitely endearing ‘tour documentary’ episodes, she posted such output on her ‘YouTube’ page during the course of July and August 2009. Unleashing the documentary via the Internet enabled an international audience to witness Emma’s musical talents and personable charm like never before.
2010 was even more exciting for Emma: she won the prestigious ‘People’s Music Awards’ in London.
HEY EM, HOW ARE YOU?
Hey, how’s yourself? I’m fine thanks… very busy with various projects at the moment, with lots of stuff going on!
HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU LEARNT THAT YOU’D BEEN SHORTLISTED FOR THE PEOPLE’S MUSIC AWARDS FINAL IN LONDON?
The People’s Music Awards is a worldwide award ceremony and the winners are chosen mostly by the public. There is a guest judging round, but from the beginning of the awards, and in the last round, people have the chance to vote for their favourite band or artist to make it through to the final. The top two artists with the most votes make it through to the final and the winners are announced at the awards ceremony which has recently taken place this year. I was more than amazed to learn I’d made it through to the final; I was so happy to be performing at the awards ceremony and to be in with a real chance of picking up an award.
IN ORDER TO SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT YOUR PRECOCIOUS MUSICAL TALENT, YOU USED A SONG ENTITLED ‘OCEANS.’ WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO USE SUCH A SONG OUT OF ALL THE STUNNING TUNES YOU HAVE PENNED IN THE PAST?
I wanted to enter ‘Oceans’ into the awards because I think it’s a really catchy song, one of my absolute recorded favourites, and I think it fits into the category of being a pop song very well. I think the song is also quite retro in its style, and I wanted to enter a track that shows I can be diverse in what I do. My music is changing so much right now, and I think ‘Oceans’ signifies a turning point: the direction of things to come is changing a little.
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE ASTOUNDING LEVELS OF TALENT IN THE COMPETITION, AND DID ANY OTHER SINGER-SONGWRITERS IMPRESS YOU?
To be fair, there were lots of other artists / bands performing on the night of the awards. One person who couldn’t make it the the ceremony was Pekkanini, a theremin player from Sweden who received an award in the ‘Off The Beaten Track’ category. “The volcano got him,” joked Howard Marks as he announced on stage that Pekkanini had won. It was a shame he couldn’t be there; I think his music is both different and great, too.
WHAT WAS THE ATMOSPHERE LIKE AT THE FINAL OF THE PEOPLE’S MUSIC AWARDS, AND DID YOU EVER THINK IN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS THAT YOU WERE IN WITH A SERIOUS CHANCE OF WINNING?
On the night of the awards there were lots of film crew, and some great performances from the finalists. The atmosphere was so exciting: very busy, lots of people rushing around everywhere, lots of people anticipating results, wondering who’d won. It really was a fabulous night that I will remember for a long time. I took my BFF Stella with me and we rocked it on the red carpet. I stood there the whole time wondering, will they call my name out? Stephen K. Amos was hosting the night, and he said ‘hop’ instead of ‘pop,’ so I thought they were presenting another different category award, so when my face appeared on the big screen and my track started playing I knew we were there at the point of announcing the winner. My name was called out and I had to go up on the stage to give a speech. I didn’t expect to win, but I really wanted to. I am so excited to have won and I can’t believe how many people voted for my song.
WHAT WAS THE PRIZE, AND HAS WINNING THE PEOPLE’S MUSIC AWARDS SUBSEQUENTLY CHANGED YOUR LIFE IN ANY TANGIBLE WAY?
I now have this beautiful and very shiny award sat here with my name on it; it is so heavy, everytime I pick it up I almost freak out a little because I don’t want to be responsible for dropping it and breaking my own foot by accident or something similar. I look at it and I realise how hard I need to keep working to get my music out there. It’s great to have some recognition and feedback on what I do.
YOUR WIN AT THE PEOPLE’S MUSIC AWARDS ASIDE, YOU POSTED A TOUR DOCUMENTARY THAT YOU MADE IN AMERICA ON YOUR ‘YOU TUBE’ PAGE LAST SUMMER. CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR MOTIVATIONS FOR MAKING THE TOUR DOCUMENTARY, AND ABOUT THE REACTION IT RECEIVED?
The ‘Directions Tour Film’ I made is an account of the tour I went on back in 2007 with my friend and long-time musical collaborator Henry Doss. I took my video camera over to America with me and filmed a lot of our adventures on the road. I came home after the tour, and whilst watching some of the footage with friends a few days later, I realised that the footage was shot in a way that would work well if translated into a tour film… so I set about making this film! It is posted in its entirety on my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/emmaruggtv and is almost two hours long. I haven’t even got round to watching it online myself yet, I must find some time to sit down and revisit this documentary. I suppose putting together all the footage for that long, you don’t need to watch it all straight away: you’ve seen it so many times already. I spent a lot of time trying to get this footage sorted out though; I have never made a film before, so it was a challenge, and it’s always cool to be able to do something new and learn new things in the process. I have had a lot of really positive feedback about the film. Maybe I will make some more videos sometime.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HOOK UP WITH HENRY, AND WHAT IS IT THAT YOU SO ADMIRE ABOUT HIM AND HIS MUSIC?
I first met Henry via the Internet. I was listening to BBC Raw Talent at the time. They were playing one of Henry’s songs. I wanted to e-mail him to tell him that I thought it was a great thing that his music was being played on our local radio station because Henry lives in the USA and I think it was one of the first times they ever played a track from someone who didn’t live in East Yorkshire. Henry e-mailed me back, and a few days later, completely out of nowhere, we had come up with a plan to record together on some of Henry’s material over in America. I flew over to Michigan and went to record with Henry at Frontier Studios in Copemish, Michigan. From there we became really good friends. Our first project went so well that we decided to do another one, this time with producer John Beland who has worked with Johnny Cash and Linda Ronstadt. We recorded some new songs back at Frontier Studios and it was a great success. In 2007 we put together our own USA tour and travelled along the East Coast, and through Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan and New York. We set out in a Ford Explorer and played about thirty shows. It went so well, and in that seven weeks I got to spend a lot more time with Henry and his partner Chris. I love them both so much; they are like my USA family and we are always trying to find ways to get together for new projects we can work on. I admire Henry: he is someone who has worked hard as a banker and a businessman, and has decided to follow his dream. He writes and records his own material, and I have been lucky enough to witness some of this along the way. I also admire him because he isn’t afraid to write songs that speak from his heart. Listen to some of his songs about his wife Chris… his songs are emotionally honest and beautifully sweet. Some of Henry’s songs have a great Country music feel to them, too – and I love that.
DOES THE ART OF WRITING SONGS GET ANY EASIER WITH TIME AND EXPERIENCE, OR DO YOU FIND THAT YOU MAKE IT HARDER FOR YOURSELF BY CONSTANTLY PUSHING YOURSELF TO IMPROVE UPON PAST OUTPUT?
I don’t really try that hard to influence my style of writing in any way. It is what it is. I don’t worry about how to improve it or make it better. I do care a lot about the music I’m making. Of course I want all my tracks to sound better than the last ones, but I think it’s up to other people to decide if they like it, too. After all, I could write a whole album of songs and love them all, but someone else might hate them all!
OF ALL THE SONGS YOU HAVE WRITTEN OVER THE PAST DECADE, IS THERE ANY ONE SONG OF WHICH YOU’RE THE MOST PROUD? IF THERE IS, WHAT IS IT ABOUT SUCH A SONG THAT’S DIFFERENT FROM THE REST?
I’m proud of all my songs; they’re all my ‘babies.’ You do your best at the time of recording them to make each one good, then they go out into the world and everyone makes their own mind up about which ones they like the best. You can change them or work on them no more. I don’t really listen to any of my own records that much, but I think the songs on my E.P. work well together as a set of songs. Meanwhile, my album ‘Isolated Impression’ includes a body of work that is relevant as a whole recording. The songs very much represent where I was at musically at the time.
DO YOU HAVE A TITLE FOR YOUR SECOND ALBUM IN MIND, AND ARE YOU WORKING TOWARDS ANY DEADLINES SO YOU CAN RELEASE IT ON OR BEFORE A CERTAIN DATE?
I am currently working on lots of new material and would love more than anything to go into the studio to record it. The next record I make is going to be very different from the first. I don’t know the title of it yet, but I have had some ideas about what it could be called and what it will sound like.