It’s said that a sophomore album is harder to create than a debut, according to singer-songwriter Émilie Kahn. “People put a lot of pressure on us to create an album that’s better than the first,” she says. “That might be difficult to manage, but personally, I wasn’t saying to myself: ‘This album has to be better.’ My problem was that I had a ton of ideas for this record. I struggled from the get-go, because I was trying to force my songs to go in all kinds of directions, musically.”
Let’s jump to the punch right now: Outro is a better album than the previous one, 10,000, released in 2015. And it’s true as much on the writing side as on the production side. “I find that too,” says Kahn. That said, here’s the real urgent question: Why release this album under your real name, Émilie Kahn, rather than under the moniker Émilie & Ogden? She knew that question would come.
“I did that for several reasons,” says Kahn. “Initially, I had a band name because I didn’t like that idea of attaching who I am as an artist to my name. It was a way of acknowledging that in this business, one needs to know how to market oneself. I liked the idea of separating the person from the artist, but… I don’t know, I guess I’ve realized it’s impossible to do that. There’s no separation between myself as a person and as an artist. Also, to be honest, after three years, there were still some fans who had no clue what Ogden was, exactly…”
To those in the know, Ogden is her fetish instrument. It’s the name of a range of instruments created by Chicago-based harp builders Lyon & Healy, privileged by folk and pop musicians because of their light weight and versatility. Ogden has become Émilie’s signature, thanks to the instrument’s silky harmonies that imbue her indie pop songs with an ethereal yet tense aura. It’s a feeling of being suspended between two states of consciousness, halfway between ethereal pop and an indie-rock aesthetic, darkened by drums and guitars.
“People get the impression the harp is a difficult instrument, but it’s very close to the piano,” says the artist, who was at first a player of the recorder, an instrument that allowed her to enroll in a classical music Bachelor’s program. “It was in Cégep that I fell in love with the harp; I found a teacher on internet and took private lessons,” she says.
Because she’s older now and knows herself better, Kahn admits that this album, released under her real name, will sound more personal and sincere. “Yet, the evolution from Émilie & Ogden to Émilie Kahn is natural,” she says. Which is not to say that evolution was an easy one, and she recalls having recorded a pile of demos in preparation for this second album. But she ended up trashing all of them.
“I went through a crisis,” she explains. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work on this album with Warren [C. Spicer, Plants & Animals’ singer/guitarist]. I called him and admitted I had no idea what I was doing… He said, ‘We’ll sit down together, will calm down, we’ll just play music. We’ll take a look at the songs you have, and see where it goes.’”
After that crisis, she got back to work: a full week of writing until the wee hours. “It’s funny, because I got that question a lot when the first album came out,” she says. “‘How do you write your songs?’ I never knew what to answer, because it’s a very intuitive process for me. I never knew where a song came from. But this year, I wrote much more with other musicians, and had writing sessions. That’s when I realized that there are many different ways to write a song.
“I get the impression that a lot of musicians tend to start with the music – they find chords, rhythms, then the melody, and find words to fit in. I’ve always given a lot more importance to lyrics. I like my voice to stand out in the mix of my songs, so that the lyrics are clearly heard.
“I’ve always loved writing, from my childhood on,” says Kahn. “Writing down my feelings is the easiest way for me to get them out. That’s why I start with words over a melody. A single sentence can be the basis of a song. But this year, I forced myself to write differently, in a much more pop way. I have a friend who’s a producer, he composes beats on his computer, and I write lyrics on top of them. This album made me realize I want to move towards pop a lot more,” says the musician, who loves it when songs seem to write themselves.
“My favourite songs are the ones I write in 10 minutes, in one sitting,” she says. “Generally speaking, most of the songs that ended up on this new album were created that way. It starts with a sentence that pops into my mind, and the rest just falls into place… It’s a difficult thing to describe.”