Photo by Jodie Canwell

October 13th sees the release of Tusks’ debut album, Dissolve, on One Little Indian Records. The work of London singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Emily Underhill, Dissolve is a moving and enthralling work of experimental pop, one in which you can sense the care in each word and in each note. We spoke with Underhill the day after her North American tour with Ásgeir started at the Troubador in Los Angeles.


You began your North American tour with Ásgeir in Los Angeles last night. How’s that going so far?

It’s been absolutely amazing. We did the first show yesterday in LA and it’s really great playing back with them again. I supported them in Europe earlier this year.

Who else are you playing with on this tour? Are you playing with a full band?

No, it’s just me on this tour. I only play with my full band in London at the moment. So, it’s just a solo set I’m doing.

Are you primarily playing guitar on this tour?

I do four songs with guitar and then two songs with piano and beats and stuff.

Are you playing the same setlist for these shows, or are you switching it up?

Pretty much the same setlist. I didn’t realize you have to get a transformer for amps and stuff over here. So, I had to cut a song out last night, ‘cause I couldn’t do it without an amp. But yeah, pretty much the same setlist.

You studied music tech in college; did you find you had a knack for that immediately?

Yeah, I think I’m quite a creative person, and I think the course I did was quite experimental. It kind of suited the way that I make music. So, I really got with it and I really enjoyed it, and the guys that were in my course. It was quite a small class of like 25 people, but I think we all had similar interests and similar kind of music styles and stuff. So, it was really good to kind of learn as much from those people as you from the course over the three years.

This is your first full-length album after releasing two EPs as Tusks. How did that experience help you with recording this album?

I think recording an album is such a different experience to recording EPs. Obviously, because it’s two, three times as long and it feels so much more important, because it is an album. So, I think that obviously recording EPs you kind of get a basic idea of how to kind of put a collection of songs together. But it definitely was a lot harder than I thought it would be. So, I don’t know how much they actually did prepare me for it.

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part was probably kind of psychologically realising that it is actually a really hard thing to do. I think, as an artist, you kind of always look forward to recording your first album and you think it’s going to be the most amazing experience ever, and then you realise it’s actually quite stressful, and there’s different sorts of limits to what you can do. I think actually struggling a bit with it was psychologically the hardest thing, because I’d been looking forward to it for so long. I think just the pressure that I guess you put on yourself for your first album means that I was kind of doubting whether the songs were good enough and stuff.

This album was recorded with you and with Brett Cox. What do you enjoy about working with him?

He’s great. I think the best thing about Brett is he’s very relaxed, and he works insanely hard. He’ll sort of sit there in front of the computer for like twelve hours at a time. He hasn’t got a big ego that he tries to push on the music. So, I think he realises that he’s there to kind of enhance the project, rather than it being it his time to kind of put his production ideas that he really really wants there. He’s just a great person to kind of bounce ideas off, and he’s technically really good. He’s a lovely person as well. So, it makes working with him really fun. He’s kind of a good balance of being really technically good and also really creative. So, it’s a good experience.

On your album, Dissolve, you’re balancing really heartfelt and personal lyrics with really lavish production and instrumentation, and with really beautiful singing. Do you prioritize any of these elements? Do you try to strike a balance between them?

I don’t think it’s like a priority. I think it’s just like the vocals, and the lyrics, and the chords and stuff come first. So, I guess that’s the more heartfelt, lyrical side of it. Then, try and get the production as big as I can after. It’s not really a priority thing. I think it’s just my natural style that each track ends up becoming.

You recently released a video for the title track, considering how your music has been described as “cinematic,” do you have plans for more in the future?

I’d love to just do more and more videos and hopefully get bigger and bigger budgets and really kind of explore, stuff like that. I’d love to go to places like Iceland and shoot videos.

You also have releases on Bandcamp under your given name, Emily Underhill. What was your reason for switching to the name Tusks?

I think when I was doing it under my own name, it was while I was at university. It was when I was about 18 to sort of 20, and I was just making music. Half of it was for my portfolio for my university degree. I was just making music and just putting it online and sort of seeing what happened. It wasn’t until I changed to “Tusks” that I decided to take it really seriously and sort of really focus on it on like an artist’s side and try to hone it in as a project. I think the Emily Underhill stuff was just my journey to where I started out as Tusks. But it was me kind of just me finding my sound and experimenting and putting things online and seeing what the feedback was.

Have you ever produced for anyone else, or would you like to?

I’ve done remixes for other people, but I haven’t actually produced their music. I’d like to do it in the future but I feel like I’d like to get sort of technically better before I do.

You’ve been remixed as well by other producers, like Bodhi Glitch and Junk Son. How does it feel having your songs reinterpreted like that?

I love it so much. I love that kind of music. The reason why I get remixes done of each track is because I’m as passionate about that kind of electronic side of music as I am about the more sort of indie pop side of music that I do. So, it’s great to be able to cover both sort of genres and worlds by getting remixes done by the artists. It’s so interesting to kind of get your song across to them and then hear what they come back with. I love the whole journey of that process.

Who would your dream remixer be?

Probably someone like Lapalux or Bonobo.

Would you classify your song as “sad”? Why or why not?

I think they’re kind of bittersweet. I think there’s definitely sad undertones, but I hope the production maybe brings them up slightly. It’s a very personal album, and it was quite a tricky transition year that I was going through when I was writing most of it. So, it is quite a personal and sad album. Hopefully, the way that the songs are crafted doesn’t make them too depressing [laughs]. I think someone told me it sounded like “comedown pop” once, which I think is quite funny.

What sort of transition were you going through?

I think it was just sort of normal stuff in your mid-twenties, when you’re sort of trying find your feet, and living in London can obviously be quite stressful, just the sort of things that people go through in their mid-twenties, really.

Were there any songs that were particularly taxing to write for you, or to perform?

Yeah. So, I’ve done this thing where I keep writing songs that are really hard to perform, and I don’t really think about it. I kind of get lost in the writing and the production when I’m doing that, and I don’t think about how I’m going to do them live. There’s a song called ‘Paris’ on the album, which is so hard to play live. It’s in four different time signatures, and it involves playing piano with one hand and then playing beats with the other hand and singing as well. It took me probably about three solid days to be able to learn how to play it through. I don’t really think about how I’m going to play them live until I get to the live point and then I’m like, “Huh, this is going to be pretty tricky.”

Do these songs take on different meaning when performed live?

Yeah, I think they take on a different meaning, because some of them are written one or two years ago. So, the things that I’m writing them about back then aren’t big things in my life anymore. It’s quite funny, I was listening to one of the songs which is going to be the next single, [Dissolve track, ‘Last’] and the thing that I wrote that about isn’t an issue in my life anymore, but the lyrics totally relate to something else that I’m still struggling with. So, you can kind of put a different emotion behind it.

There are two songs named after cities on the album. You have ‘Paris,’ ‘Toronto,’ and there’s also a cover of ‘London Thunder’ by Foals. What was the significance behind this?

‘Toronto’ was written in Toronto, hence why it’s called ‘Toronto.’ ‘Paris’ was actually written straight after the Bataclan attacks. I don’t want to say it like, inspired me. But, it definitely made me think a lot about your own mortality. At the time, my boyfriend was playing in bands and I was playing onstage, and I was just so terrified that would happen to me, which is what ‘Paris’ is written about. ‘London Thunder,’ I was listening to on the way back from Toronto, when I was playing Canadian Music Week last year. It just really kind of hit home. You know when you listen to a song, and you’re obsessed with it? I just loved it so much that I decided to cover it for the album.

How are you feeling with the album being released next month?

Yeah, it’s a month today, actually! [laughs] I’m excited now. I think now that, hopefully, pretty much everything is done, I’m getting quite excited for it. It’s going to be amazing to actually hold a physical copy.


Tusks’ debut album Dissolve will be released on October 13th, you can pre-order it now. She is currently on tour in North America, catch her at one of the following dates:

09.19.17 - Chicago, IL - Bottom Lounge
09.20.17 - Stoughton, WI - Stoughton Opera House
09.21.17 - Minneapolis, MN - Fine Line Music Café
09.23.17 - Detroit, MI - Magic Stick
09.23.17 - Toronto, ON - The Great Hall
09.26.17 - Montréal, QC - Corona Theatre
09.27.17 - New York, NY - Irving Plaza
09.29.17 - Boston, MA - The Sinclair
10.01.17 Philadelphia - Union Transfer
10.02.17 - Washington - Sixth & I Synagogue
10.04.17 - Nashville - Mercy Lounge
10.06.17 - Dallas - Gas Monkey Bar & Grill
10.07.17 - New York City - Mondo Festival
11.01.17 - Reykjavik, IS - Iceland Airwaves
11.15.17 - London, UK - Kamio