The night I met Emily Capell was one of those dark, dreary November evenings, but inside Emily’s usual haunt, The Dublin Castle, it was warm and the band for the evening were setting up. Emily, with a curtain of a fringe framing her face and her guitar in tow, was heading off to band rehearsal after our chat, but first we sat down to drink Emily’s special half lemonade / half cranberry juice concoction that neither I nor the barman had ever heard of before, and to swap festival mud horror stories. Emily’s brand of fun, creative pop music with a specific London slant has earned her a reputation as a fresh underground artist.
When did you start making music?
I was like, 14. There was a pub at the bottom of my road and they used to put on live nights, so I just started doing that. I bought a guitar, and I’m not good enough to play anybody else’s songs, so I had to make my own.
So you’ve been in the game a long time! What do you think you’ve learned since you started making music?
Loads of stuff. Just like how to be on stage, how to be in an audience. What works and what doesn’t. And a lot about subcultures. When people say “you need a look, you need an image” – sometimes it works for you and sometimes it works against you. If you’re going have an image, you need to do it properly.
Can you describe your music for me in just a few words?
It’s London, it’s fun…I don’t know what else to say, there’s a lot going on!
You’ve had a bit of a 60’s vibe since you started out?
Yeah…but then the 80’s kind of drag me back in, I like crimping hair and loads of different colours. You don’t want to box yourself in. People will want to put you in a box, but it’s best not to. I like so many different kinds of music, not just one thing. Like on the album there’s a country track and a ska track and a calypso song, so there’s too much going on to be boxed in.
Have your inspirations changed since you got your start?
So when I started out, ‘cos I was so young – it made sense to kind of put yourself in a genre. I did the mod thing for a little while, and then I didn’t like it. It was too expensive, and you have to wear clothes and not get them dirty and they have to be ironed perfectly…I’m too messy.
And I love George Michael, so I feel like I can’t really be knocking about doing the mod thing when I love George Michael that much. But some people wear it well, and it works really well for them. But I’m too different, I can’t be like that – I like Madonna one day and then the Beatles the next day. I can’t be one person.
What kind of music are you into at the moment? What are you listening to?
At the moment, I love Matt Monro. And Frank Sinatra, all that kind of stuff. And I like how he holds and shakes his vowels when he sings, it’s a really nice way of doing it. Apparently, he used to swim for like, a couple hours every day so he’d get his breathing right. So I went swimming once. I heard that about Sinatra and was like, “oh I’ll go swimming!” and then after I went once, I was like, “no”.
Your voice seems pretty versatile to me – there’s such a difference in expression between the songs.
I’m very lyrical, so… what you’re saying dictates how your voice should sound. It depends what songs you sing.
You seem like you’ve been around the block a lot. Have you played all the Camden venues?
Yeah. No, I haven’t done Electric Ballroom and Koko. But I’ve done all the rest of them, I think.
What’s your favourite gig you ever did?
Probably my album launch. It was at the Barfly, now Camden Assembly, down the road. I had like everything I ever wanted – I had a bubble machine, I had a costume change, I had masks for people to wear in the crowd, I had a cardboard cut out, I had a cake, I had like all my family were there. So yeah. I decided to get a bubble machine cos I thought it would be really cool. It was the shittest bubble machine, it cost like £3. It blew out like five bubbles and stopped.
And what’s your favourite venue? What’s the venue that if they ask you to play, you’re always like “YES”, no questions asked?
Here [The Dublin Castle]. When we started our residency here, and the day before our first day, The Libertines played a secret set here and smashed up the PA. So we turned up and like, chairs were still broken, it had clearly been complete chaos the night before. We didn’t have a PA. We were like “Oh my god, the first night of our massive residency, it’s gonna be amazing” and they were like, “Er, we haven’t really got a PA”.
What’s next for you?
I’d like to do another album. I can’t wait to tour this one – in February we’re going all around the UK and then in March we’re touring abroad. And there’s also a couple of festivals booked in for the summer.
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Are you excited about the festivals? Do you enjoy playing those?
Yeah. Festivals are good fun.
What do you like about them?
The hot donut stalls. My favourite. We always have hot donuts, it’s become like a tradition in my band. *she laughs*
I just really like playing [festivals]. The pressure’s off. You don’t have to worry about ticket sales…When I played Glastonbury two years ago it was SO muddy, (…) I was going to play with Billy Bragg, who I really really love, and my mum rang me when we were walking to go see Madness on the main stage, and I had a hipster skirt on and my beehive and I fell over. I was completely covered in mud. It was all in my hair. A man next to us was eating an orange and throwing the orange peel on the ground, and I had to pick up the peel and scrape off the mud because I had nothing else I could use.
London girl Emily is headlining her own UK tour this February – be sure to catch her at the London date and let’s hope there won’t be any mud for her to fall in!