With her new album April / 月音 due for release 9th October via Bella Union, Emmy The Great has shared a new standout track, “A Window / O’Keeffe”, from the LP.
Of the track Emmy says: “A Window/ O’Keeffe was written about my last summer living in Brooklyn. I’d just travelled to China for the first time and had a moment in a temple, and the entire summer I would only wear ‘lucky’ colours – royal yellow, dusty orange, or the red that scares away ghosts. It was a summer of bright sun and dizzying freedom, the kind that only happens when your life is about to change. The city was a film set of burst fire hydrants and music playing constantly from open windows. On the grass outside my apartment, people documented their lives on their phones, and I walked through their videos on my way to meet friends.
The world was shifting, and maybe we didn’t always like where it was going, but it was summer now, and we were together. When I finished the song in Hong Kong that October, the colours of an O’Keeffe exhibit I’d been to see at the Brooklyn museum had seeped into my memories of that time. In many ways, this song is about colour, though it’s also about the friendship between women, something I leaned on as I moved into the next phase of my life.”
“My story begins with the moon. In September 2017, I travelled to Hong Kong from New York, where I’d lived for three years, for the Mid-Autumn festival. I was planning to visit my parents and take some time off to write my fourth album. I arrived in time for the full moon – Chang-E’s moon – at a time of year when the heat breaks and the city seems alive with possibility.
That Spring, I’d visited China and accidentally become somewhat fluent in Cantonese again, though the goal had been to speak Mandarin. I was there for a music residency, and had expected to feel an instant click. Instead, I realised that Hong Kong had an identity quite separate from the Mainland, and with my mother tongue reinstated, I was beginning to come to terms with that identity being a part of mine. This was tough – I was born in Hong Kong but I’ve always felt complicated about it.
Still, that Mid-Autumn, everything felt simple. Under the guidance of the moon, I walked the city – its neon-lit alleyways, its escalators and mountain paths. For a brief, precious moment, I fell into synch with Hong Kong. I felt its complex legacy and its tangled future. I felt the sorrow, alive in the buzz of neon and the drips of air-conditioner units, of a city caught between two destinies. It was twenty years since the Handover and the beginning of ‘One Country, Two Systems’. Everywhere I went, I saw people seeking to define their shared identity before it was too late. I hope some of that spirit has found its way into the songs, which were mostly written during that time.
The album was recorded over two weeks in February 2018 in the Creamery in Greenpoint. It’s the fastest record I’ve ever made, which is ironic because its release was later delayed to accommodate a year’s maternity leave. I produced it with Bea Artola and Dani Markham, who was in my US band and also played drums. Jeffrey Fettig, our guitarist, also engineered, and the rest of the players were mostly friends as well as musical collaborators. These sessions became a kind of goodbye, and I left New York for Hong Kong permanently a few weeks after they finished.
I’ll never know why the city called me back, but I know what it gave me. In return, I want to give it this album. That Mid-Autumn, nobody could have predicted what was to come, neither the atomisation that began with the anti-Extradition Law protests in June 2019, nor the struggle for democracy that continues now, through the Covid-19 pandemic. To witness your birth city in its greatest moment of need is a powerful, humbling event, and I know I watched Hong Kong’s destiny shift into something turbulent and uncertain. I’m glad I recorded what I felt there, during a precious, peaceful time, when life was so good that all I had to do was trust the moon. May it be just one small piece of witness among many, and may the voices of Hong Kong never stop speaking, and asking to be heard.”