An intimate conversation with Emma Ruth Rundle

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Emma Ruth RundleThe work of has always moved away from the more difficult and burdensome aspects of life, often addressing themes such as loss, grief, hopelessness, resentment and substance use. However, unbelievable as it may sound, none of his previous albums are as personal and thoughtful as Hell engine.

The record stares at itself long and harshly in the makeup-free mirror – that’s literally the cover image – and, through the lens of a haunting piano-guitar combo and loud, deafening voice, shows readers the interior really gross itself.

And it can be ugly. Rundle even admits that some friends and family thought the record was so raw and personal it made them feel uncomfortable. It’s unpretentious filtered music, without holding anything back. And in that sense, Rundle really went beyond the ego to present art in its most unfiltered form.

In a conversation as honest and vulnerable as the record it was about, Rundle shared a glimpse of his creative process on Hell engine.

—Addison Herron-Wheeler

How personal has this record been to you and how is it different from the full arrangement records you’ve made in the past?

From a production point of view, at the beginning, before I On black horses and before doing the collaboration with Thou, I really wanted to do a stripped down album, back to basics, but the timing was not good. I had the opportunity to work with these amazing musicians, and I didn’t want to miss it.

Then when it was time to focus on another solo album, it felt like the perfect time to kind of bring the universe back into a super small and streamlined version. I just did all this huge music with these other people, and I wanted to get back to the basics.

It was also the right time for me to let go of my collaborative face and do whatever I wanted, and that’s the material on this album. It wouldn’t have been this record if I had made it several years ago. I think it all came together, and it does Hell engine which is because it happened when it happened in my personal life. The piano and everything that went into it fell into place in a way that worked, and I think the style of production and the subject matter really reinforce each other with the intensity and closeness of this one.

You also alluded to dance and visual art. Can you tell us more about how this influenced the record?

In fact, I got into physical movement after recording the record. It had a lot to do with sobriety and staying away from drugs and alcohol. I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting to get out of my body, numb myself, escape from being here.

I had also read a book called The body keeps the score and read that doing choreographed physical movements can actually be good for traumatized people. And when I finished the record, that’s when I discovered dance. There is a ballet studio near my house now, and I’m not a dancer, I just discovered physical movement. For me, it’s been a way of being in my body that’s happy, and it’s very powerful and different, so I recommend it to everyone. It’s also great to just be bad at something and to have the benefits outweigh any embarrassments you might have of being new to it.

What do you hope other people with a similar structure take away from this album?

It is difficult to have expectations about the impact of your work on others. I guess I had some trepidation about the record that would impact people negatively, as I hope it doesn’t push someone to a darker place. Because that’s never my intention; I never want to hurt anyone.

So if anything, that thought crossed my mind. My main concern is that it could take someone to a bad place. But I tried to put a bit of positivity in some of the visuals, because the lyrics of the songs are pretty dark, but there is an uplifting element of self-esteem there that I hope to translate. It’s not just desperation.

Really with this album, one of the main things I did was feel my feelings after being away from it for so long, and I wanted to make it happen.

Is there anything else you would like listeners to take away?

I guess maybe in light of some of the things we’ve discussed, if someone is struggling with drugs or alcohol, or with intense mental health, there is help. There are communities that can support you, so look for them.

Hell engine released on November 5 via Sacred Bones.


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