Best of 2016: Non-Metal album – Emma Ruth Rundle, ‘Marked for Death’

Photo by Kristin Cofer

Photo by Kristin Cofer

There are those record that, when you hear them the first time, you know your perspective is going to change. The music becomes a part of you, grows on you, shifts its meaning for you, and ultimately stays with you like an added body part.

Emma Ruth Rundle’s amazing third album “Marked for Death” was that for me this year. I already was a big fan of hers from her work with Red Sparowes and Marriages, as well as her solo albums, but this album went above and beyond. The tales of love, loss, struggle, and death are very real, and each song on here reached out and impacted me. Rundle was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the record, her experience recording it, the personal nature of the songs, and what she has coming up. This is the first year we’ve ever done a non-metal record of the year, and I can’t think of a better album or artist to kick off this feature than this one. Thank you again, Emma, not only for taking time to give us your insight, but also for your music.

err-coverMeat Meat Metal: We’re primarily a metal site, but our love of music goes beyond that. “Marked for Death” was my favorite non-metal record of the year and I found it an incredibly raw, emotional experience. I know you went through a lot making this album. How is the music sitting with you now that you’ve had some time to reflect on it?

Emma Ruth Rundle: Hi Brian, thank you for the kind words. It’s good to know that the emotional content translates. I recorded MFD last December after spending some time alone post-tour, writing at the Sargent House Farm in the freezing high desert of California. It’s been a year since then, and while I’m not one who really listens to their own recordings, I have had to go out and perform some of these songs this year. To be completely honest, getting back into these songs it psychologically difficult in that I feel it seems to cause an emotional backslide for me. I believe some music can be therapeutic to perform, but not so much this project. It motivates me to try and live a happier life in the hopes that the songs that come out aren’t rooted in some of the twisted themes of MFD. So far, I have yet to write a happy song, but I won’t stop trying.

MMM: How do you view this record emotionally? Was this sort of a bloodletting for you? Cathartic? Was it simply just necessary to get all of these things out of you? Something else?

ERR: All of the above. Writing is sort of a calling out, naming the creature, and then putting it in a glass jar for examination. If I had my druthers, I would probably shelf each one right away and just keep pulling them out until I feel clean. Ha.

MMM: There are so many high points on this record, but the closer “Real Big Sky” crushed me on first listen and has every time I’ve visited since. It feels like the beginning and end of something, a point where acceptance comes in. And it’s particularly well placed at the end of the record. Tell me more about this song.

ERR: Thanks. I feel attached to “Real Big Sky.” It came to me after a few “dry” days in the desert during which I was bereft of feeling. Totally numb. I had a conversation on the phone with my sister that touched on some memories and family stuff. Without getting too specific, the song describes the degradation of the body, the knowledge of eminent dusk, but the hopefulness of a possibility that there is something beyond—free from the pain, suffering, and loss that affect us all in our human experience. The finished version of the song is almost exactly like the original demo. There were some deviations in the studio, other attempts, none of which were appropriate. There is a little film Brandon Kapelow made about and for the song (below). I’m very happy with how this piece turned out, and it talks a little bit more about the record with a particular focus on this song.

MMM: There also is, as the title of the record makes clear, the pall of death. From some of your words in “Hand of God,” the title track, and even “Heaven,” why was death so present in these songs?

ERR: It’s hard not to feel self-indulgent or like I’m dwelling on dark times and Death. I acknowledge that there are different forms of loss and suffering, and that mine is surely trivial compared to that of others. It is not my intention to perpetuate the sad girl stereotype, and sometimes I feel disappointed in myself when it appears to me as though this work did the opposite. I am interested in an exploration of transformation. “Heaven” describes the ideas of simple life-type happiness slipping away, returning to the church of the earth, and into the fire of revelation. The sublimation of the common or physical form. A lot of my work has been focused on death. Without talking too specifically, it’s coming from my personal life and history. “Hand of God” is really a song about shame particularly around sex, relationships, and my own twisted nature. Or at least that’s the interpretation today.

MMM: All three of your solo albums have been so different from each other, yet mistakably Emma Ruth Rundle. Did you know going in that “Marked for Death” would head down this path musically, or did it come about as your creative process went on?

ERR: The record really came together in the studio. There were a lot of songs, but I discarded many ideas after writing newer stuff during the time at The Farm. The bulk of the record was written there or at least completed there. We actually recoded MFD there as well. I had wanted to make a more “folk” album at one point and really struggled with the decision to either have drums on the record or not. I knew by adding instrumentation I might be setting myself up for logistical/financial problems when the time for touring came, but as the songs developed, it was clear that the record needed to be as it is now. Perhaps the next one will be more stripped down. Sonny DePerri was very helpful throughout the process, and I felt safe sending him my demos and in making choices about which songs to include vs abandon.

MMM: You’re no stranger to heaviness with your work in Red Sparowes and Marriages. Could we ever hear any heavier sounds in your solo work, or does this hold a different purpose for you?

ERR: I feel that MFD was a step in the heavy direction, and I certainly don’t want to limit the future. Right now I want to do something a little more restrained and sparse as well as finish up “Electric Guitar 2,” but touring this record might change my mind. All the touring Marriages did in 2015 certainly influenced the more drum-heavy direction MFD seems to have gone in.

MMM: You’ve got some dates coming up with Deafheaven. What else are you planning to do in 2017?

ERR: Yes, I love Deafheaven and am very pleased to be joining them as well as This Will Destroy You for the Feb/March dates (see dates below). I will be returning to Europe in April for Roadburn as well as some touring surrounding. As I said before, I would like to finish up “Electric Guitar 2,” complete some of the visual art I’ve been chipping away at. Maybe more Marriages, definitely aiming to record another solo record and improve my skills as a guitarist. Always working, while I am lucky enough to be doing so.

For more on the band, go here: http://emmaruthrundle.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/emma-ruth-rundle/products/marked-for-death-bundles

For more on the label, go here: http://sargenthouse.com/

Our other favorite non-metal releases, in no particular order:

STURGILL SIMPSON, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” (Atlantic): Tremendous third album by this true country artist, whose nine-song collection acts as an open letter to his son. It’s a more full-bodied effort complete with a great horn section and stellar songwriting.

ANGEL OLSEN, “My Woman” (Jagjaguwar): The best record Olsen has put out to date, highlighted by highly energetic “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Sister,” an amazing eight-minute song that starts soft and ends up a face melter.

BIG THIEF, “Masterpiece” (Saddle Creek): Perhaps the best new band of the year. Their debut record is rugged and emotional, at times playing things delicately (“Paul,” “Lorraine”) and at others tearing the roof off things (the rousing title cut, “True Love”).

MITSKI, “Puberty 2” (Dead Oceans): At just 26, “Puberty 2” is already Mitski Miyawaki’s fourth record and the one that should rip open ears. “Your Best American Girl” is a barnburner and has one of the best choruses (both for sounds and words) of the year, while “I Bet on Losing Dogs” and “Thursday Girl” unleashes her vulnerability.

SAVAGES, “Adore Life” (Matador): This English four-piece managed to eclipse their excellent debut with “Adore Life,” where the band really comes into their own. Noisy and alluring, the Jehnny Beth-led band splinter your ears and your hearts on “The Answer,” “Sad Person,” and “Adore,” which builds to a crescendo that could end you.

BLACK MOUNTAIN, “IV” (Jagjaguwar): This psychedelic space rock band finally returned after six years with one of their most expansive works yet, as they also level some trippy doom into the mix. The zapping synth of “Florian Saucer Attack” and the morbid funeral love of “Cemetery Bleeding” are so good, you’ll listen over and over.

ESBEN AND THE WITCH, “Older Terrors” (Season of Mist): This great post-rock band found a new home on typically metal label Season of Mist and made a compelling record as unsettling as anyone else on that roster. Four epics dot this album that’ll make the woods seem scarier than ever before.

CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX, “Bronze” (Season of Mist): This UK psychedelic rock band never hid their love of Pink Floyd, and that runneth over on “Bronze,” perhaps the best-timed record of the past decade (especially if you’re an American). Feeling lousy about the state of the world? Immerse yourself in “Bronze” and come out psychologically charged and devastated.

WARPAINT, “Heads Up” (Rough Trade): This record didn’t get nearly the amount of attention it deserved. Following their self-titled 2014 breakthrough effort, the band responded by turning down the lights, chilling out, and putting together an effort that pulsates your darker inhibitions and constantly keeps you stimulated.

Emma Ruth Rundle on tour this Spring with Deafheaven and This Will Destroy You:

February 23 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent (Noise Pop)

February 26 Las Vegas, NV @ The Bunkhouse Saloon

February 28 Albuquerque, NM @ Sister

March 2 Austin, TX @ The Mohawk

March 3 Dallas, TX @ Trees

March 4 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Studio

March 5 New Orleans, LA @ The Republic NOLA

March 7 Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade

March 8 Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge

March 10 Charlotte, NC @ The Underground

March 11 Richmond, VA @ The Broadberry

March 12 Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Sound Stage

March 13 Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts

March 14 Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw

March 15 Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club

March 17 Detroit, MI @ Shelter at St. Andrew’s Hall

March 18 Bloomington, IL @ The Castle Theater

March 19 Milwaukee, WI @ Pabst Theater

March 20 Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line

March 21 Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room

March 23 Denver, CO @ The Summit Music Hall

March 24 Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge

March 26 Seattle, WA @ Neumos

March 27 Eugene, OR @ WOW Hall

April 23  Tilburg, Netherlands @ Roadburn Festival *

* Emma Ruth Rundle only

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