Epiphone.com recently caught up with rising star and Masterbilt Century fan Emel Mathlouthi--who goes by Emel on stage. Born in Tunisia, Emel recently relocated to New York City. Hers latest album, Ensen, has been getting incredible reviews from fans and critics. The first single, "Ensen Dhaif," was named 'best new track' in February by the notoriously picky editors of Pitchfork.
Emel will be touring the United States in May with stops in Washington, New York, San Francisco, LA, and World Cafe life in Philadelphia.
How do you like your new Epiphone Olympic?
I simply love it. It has a very warm sound and so open to experimenting. It's very beautiful, too but it can develop so much with pedals and effects. I just finished a tour with it so I am looking forward now to start recording new ideas with it.
Do new guitars inspire new songs?
Absolutely. I fell in love with the Masterbilt because the first time I played it for a filmed acoustic session, I couldn’t even recognize the way I played, I was so possessed.
You produced your new album, Ensen. That's a lot of work to be both artist and producer. Why did you feel you had to take that step?
It is definitely, but I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it differently. To be able to fulfill my vision, I needed collaborators. But I needed to trust myself to take the right direction. I had to be in control to deliver the right message and the sound I was developing in my head.
Do you enjoy producing?
Now that I am on stage, I miss it. It’s the most alive part of me, I think--creating and developing sounds and textures is almost like magic. I hope I could always be inspired, that’s my biggest hope.
Do you perform live in the studio or do you prefer to layer tracks a few at a time?
It depends. There are some parts that are live but there’s always need to process a lot of things, that’s the creative part and the most difficult one, to achieve complexity and depth with pure emotions.
Are your songwriting methods similar to how you work in the studio?
I used to really write in a classic way. Now that I produce, I like to record portions of ideas right on the computer and write complete produced stretches at a time. I like putting layers of vocals on arpeggios ideas and start processing sounds right away. It takes the songwriting straight to the point. There are of course no rules. I like being totally free to be able to carry every inspiration to a more interesting level.
Many artists find it difficult to compose when they are traveling and promoting a record. There is a lot of pressure with a second album. How do you balance the audience's expectations and your own?
It’s true that until now, I’ve always managed to permanently be writing stuff so by the time we need to create a new album, I already have the material for it. I wouldn’t like starting from scratch if I need to record a new album.
It’s definitely a challenge though to be moving and to translate your inspiration--or get inspired at all! Especially as an artist nowadays and not in the mainstream, you have to do so much to be able to carry the rest of the pyramid. I feel it takes a lot from your main job which is to create and produce. The promoters, record labels, bookers...But the road should be inspiring yout stuff, the different journeys, the trips. You just need to look to the right direction and listen inside yourself and especially to find the time!
Your song "Kelmti Horra" led to a performance at the 2015 Nobel Peace Price Concert. Do you put pressure on yourself to write another song that has that kind of impact of?
I always write songs that I believe can have an impact. That is why there’s always that kind of epic environment in my music. I wouldn’t release or record a song that wouldn’t shake my emotions to their core. Some songs--even if they are real strong--can’t benefit from the same historic context and gain that aura. But thank God great music is not only defined by hits and sales.
You also play an Epiphone Les Paul Custom. The Olympic and the Les Paul are very different sounding guitars. What do you like to play when you're composing?
I would maybe prefer to write on an Olympic. I feel it has an immediate impact on my playing. The proximity is stronger I would say. But to produce on stage, I would definitely put my set up together with the Les Paul, my looper, and pedals.
What contemporary (or traditional) artists have you been listening to for inspiration?
For this album, I loved listening to and getting inspiration from Samaris (Iceland), Susan Sandfor (Norway), Forest Swords, Ben Frost, Sohn.
You’re planning to tour the U.S. in May. Tell us about what to expect.
We will be 3 on a stage--drum pads, keyboards, and me. I like to push the minimalist side of my music. I can’t wait to see the audience reaction! The music business is difficult.
How do you keep the music "business" from influencing your work too much?
It’s definitely getting tougher. My first album sold real well in Europe and France. Since I moved to New York, my work has definitely acquired a richer sound concept. But I feel I have to be multi-tasking all the time because I am working on multiple territories now. I have always been able to make a living but what interests me the most is to gain the recognition that my work deserves and finding the potential of my art and my vocal abilities.