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EMKER CEL

RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW BARROW-IN-FURNESS SINGER EMKER CEL

Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.

What made you decide that music is a thing for you?

I don’t think I had a choice. I come from a musical family, and music was already inside me from a very early age. Most of my earliest memories involve music, and I honestly cannot imagine not doing it. 

Introduce us to you and your musical history.

Well, it’s mainly me. I’m Matt, and I write, perform, record, produce, mix and master my own music at my own Digital Man Recording Studio, in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, UK. I release on Seahouse Records, a non-profit label I set up and run with the other artists on the label. I get some people I know to guest on records sometimes, so this time around it’s Dave Fox and Howard Connor on drums (though I drum on one track), Julie Rogerson on sax on the title track, and my dad Pete Kassell plays guitar on a song called Understood.

What was life like for you before music?

Before doing my own music I learned my trade playing in a rock covers band when I was a teen, playing Motorhead and Metallica in pubs then going to school the next day was funny. I was only 15 and shouldn’t have been in those places! I’ve done all sorts of jobs alongside music, and currently, I work part-time as a college lecturer as well as doing music.

What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?

I loved all sorts of music growing up, I used to sing Beatles songs with my mam around the house, but when I first started playing bass I was obsessed with Need You Tonight by INXS. Such a good song, and a really great, under-appreciated band I think.

Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?

Definitely grassroots level, but the quality here is as high as I’ve ever known it. Our label puts out some great stuff, I record some stuff by other artists at my studio that I think deserves a wider audience too. It’s a supportive, friendly scene and we have realistic ambitions. We don’t see commercial success as the standard, musically or financially.

What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?

I had the pleasure of recording a demo for this album with Pete and Dave from Field Music, at their studio. They taught me a lot technically that day, about sound engineering, about workflow, arranging: they get the job done quickly and well and, I’m sure they won’t mind me saying, without spending a fortune on equipment. 

Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.

I am a dad of two, I had football trials with Sheffield Wednesday when I was younger, and I lived in Greece for a year teaching English.

If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?

A fairer return on your investment: even breaking even would be good, but it costs you to make music, publicise it, make videos etc. You can learn the skills but because you have to work to fund it, there’s never enough time to do everything you want to do.

Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….

I am in a position where I don’t really have a lot to lose, so cancel culture doesn’t worry me directly. I am of course concerned about how it can work against someone unjustly, if there is an agenda, and you have to be very careful in choosing your words. Even lyrically, you could be misunderstood. One of my songs on the album, Not Your Enemy, is about this exact situation, especially given the number of online interactions we have where people often see something out of context. It’s important to stay calm, give people the benefit of the doubt, and do your own research.

Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories? If not why not?

The most entertaining is the Paul Is Dead rumour, which has so much attached to it over such a long time period, that it’s just fascinating. Overall, my approach to life is to keep an open mind. Some things are maybe discredited for a reason, some are maybe discredited because there’s no truth in it, but will we ever really know the truth? As I get older, it’s easier to let things go.

What was the worst experience on stage?

Oh, playing an inaugural festival, main stage, in a location that was the windiest point in the country and on a site that was far too big for the event. It could have been good if done small scale with the “crowd” fit into a small club rather than dotted around the hillside in a storm. I still haven’t been paid for it, either, just to rub it in!

Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about.

I got long covid just after I started making this album, and basically spent 6 months in bed. Some days I couldn’t walk. I lost my voice, could hardly speak, let alone sing. It took 2-3 years to get back to where I am now and finish the album, thanks to my friends who encouraged me and worked with me. For a while I thought this was the end, not just of music, but of me. This is quite the comeback!

What makes you stand out as a band/artist?

I don’t think I sound like anyone else. This is likely down to a combination of the many and varied influences plus my own stubborn self when it comes to writing and recording.

I hear you have a new music, what can you tell us about it.

My new album is called You Are Everything You Are. It’s 12 tracks of new Emker Cel material, recorded over the past 3 years, and I think these are the best songs and the best sounding songs I have produced. There’s a real range of influences and styles on this record, and I really took the opportunity this time around to show off my bass playing on a few songs (bass is my main instrument), which I enjoyed. There’s some faster songs, some that show a rock influence, but also some nice synth textures. Throughout the songs are the melodic and harmonic sensibilities which I think are real signs of an Emker Cel record.

What was the recording process like?

Long! Me and Dave Fox recorded the bulk of the album as a duo: most of the songs are based around live drums, guitar and vocal takes that we did around 3 years ago. I then spent 6 months in bed and then started overdubbing parts until all the songs were finished instrumentally. My voice didn’t return until late 2022, so the last year has been spent building up my voice and recording the vocal parts.

What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?

Not repeating myself. It’s easy to fall back on favourite chords, melodies, feels. I tried to make every song sound different not just to each other, but to anything I’d done before. Sometimes this meant doing things really simply, sometimes things turned quite sophisticated in terms of harmony and arrangement, so it was nice to push myself in those ways.

Would you change anything now it’s finished?

No, I’m really happy with the sound, and it was worth waiting for.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

Keep watching us all at Seahouse Records, there’s some amazing music coming out of our label and we’re really a very friendly bunch of people who truly appreciate anyone who takes the time to get in touch, listen to our stuff and engage with us. We hope to get around the country more and play live too.

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