REVIEW: EMMA BLACKERY – VILLAINS 0 162

Having already channelled the events – and the highs and lows – of her life into her previous releases, 2012’s Human Behaviour, Distance, released in 2013, 2014’s Perfect, 2016’s Sucks To Be You and last years’ Magnetised, YouTube sensation and singer Emma Blackery has continued along a similar path with her first full length album titled Villains.

Opening with the atmospheric rhythm that accompanies “Villains Pt. 1”, the collection gets off to a positive start, assisted by the follow-up, album lead single “Dirt.” However it’s on “Agenda” that the collection really kicks into gear. A bold, sharp and ultimately uplifting pop anthem, the song brims with positivity, all of which stems from celebratory, self-confident lyrics such as “I’m confident, I know it scares ya, scares ya…Bye-bye, good riddance, the rules have been re-written” that are sure to inspire those who hear them, and encourage all those who do to be themselves and ignore or forget anyone who doesn’t like or accept them for who they are.

Addressing the issue of having someone in your life you’d love to call out and settle a score with, “Fake Friends” is one of those songs that will likely stick with any listener who identifies with the issue about which Emma is singing. It’s hugely positive and encouraging to find that the song ultimately ends with Emma deciding it’s best to move on, and this in itself could well inspire others in similar situations to let go of the stress of the matter and live their lives as fully and as happily as possible. “Icarus” is a surprisingly similar song, and once again sees Emma taking the high road and ultimately being the better person in the situation she’s addressing. If there are any two songs that sum up who and how Emma is today as an individual, I for one would go with these two.

Having always channelled her thoughts and feelings into her music, Emma appears somewhat reflective on “Third Eye,” written about how over the years, she’s come to know the signs of those who are ready to go or have gone up against her. Life, as we all know, is full of lessons and this song is Emma’s testament to how she’s learned them and in some cases, has learned them the hard way and now she’s more wary and aware of who and what to look for when it comes to those she surrounds herself with.

There’s an almost simmering and undeniable sadness to “What I Felt With You”, although the tempo and mood soon lifts again thanks to “Burn The Witch.” Closer “Villains Pt. 2″ features what can only be described as an explosive instrumental which is combined with lyrics including: “Am I kidding myself, blaming somebody else, I’m my own biggest villain,” that suggest Emma is continuing to look inside herself to address the thoughts and answer the questions that might be plaguing her.

Ultimately, Villains as a whole works as a strong showcase of just how far Emma Blackery has come since 2012, and having earned herself an impressive army of fans during those years, this collection could, and should, easily earn her a few more.

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MEGAN DAVIES TALKS “GIMME”, SOCIAL MEDIA & ARTISTIC INSPIRATION 0 51

Having already earned herself a growing army of followers across social media and seen her music streamed millions upon millions of times on the likes of Spotify and, most notably, YouTube, Megan Davies has achieved a great deal in the last few years. A passionate and creative singer-songwriter, she’s currently in the UK to play four shows on her very first headline tour here, and ThisIsTheLatest caught up with her before the first show in Manchester to talk artistic inspiration, performing for the cast of The Greatest Showman and what the future holds.

TITL: As an artist and an individual, how would you sum yourself up in a few words?

Megan Davies: I would say acoustic – everything started out acoustic for me, even if it was a big pop track I was covering. Raw in the sense that I try to be as honest as possible when it comes to the things I like and what I want to say. Hopefully passionate because I just love it so much.

TITL: Personally and professionally, who are you most inspired and influenced by? How do those influences filter through to the music you make?

MD: I love John Mayer a lot – his guitar solos are really cool. He doesn’t seem to…he always seems to be pushing to be better at what he does, which I find really inspiring. I’m a huge fan of this Brit named Imogen Heap…

TITL: “Hide And Seek”.. a beautiful song.

MD: She’s someone I’ve listened to for a really long time and I think is really inspiring as a female who does as I do; record and produce my own stuff that I post on my YouTube channel, that kind of thing. I remember when I was in high school seeing an article and a picture of her at a huge mixing board at home, in her living room and I was like “That’s so cool.” I think she’s someone who is very inspiring. People like Ed Sheeran – I saw him play a stadium in Nashville where I live just a few months ago and he was just standing up there with an acoustic guitar singing to THAT many people..

TITL: He played the Ethiad Stadium on his last tour here which holds something like 80,000 people. It’s incredible to see how just one guy and a guitar can captivate so many people like he does.

MD: Literally no-one else could do what he does.

TITL: Who would you say you feel most musically connected to?

MD: That changes a lot. I feel very emotionally connected to a lot of different types of music. I’m definitely one of those people who can cry at certain music if it hits me the right way. I remember when I was twelve years old being connected to Avril Lavigne’s record; super emo, but nowadays, there’s so much. I love Radiohead, Coldplay – a lot from the UK. It’s amazing that you can listen to so much nowadays, especially with streaming, so you can make your own playlists to fit whatever you’re going through in life. It’s hard to say just one artist because I feel like I connect with a lot of them.

TITL: You mentioned that you can cry to a lot of music but what’s the one song that can and will make you cry every time you hear it? Is there one?

MD: “River” by Joni Mitchell.

TITL: Mine’s “Everybody Hurts” by REM..

MD: Yes!

TITL: The last time I recall hearing it on public, national radio was September 12, 2001. It was the last song played before the country held a two minutes’ silence.

MD: Oh my God.

TITL: And of course, it’s such a true, honest and relevant song, especially now as mental health is becoming more of a talking point and more artists are starting to speak out about it. The song has such a powerful message.

MD: Of course, yes. I think with “River”, for me, it’s kind of a song that comes on a lot around Christmas time. It’s a sad sounding song and I’m one of those people that isn’t a big holiday person – I’m not super happy over the holidays and that song, I don’t know…it hits a nerve for me. It’s a great song.

TITL: As a singer-songwriter from Nashville, often considered the music capital of the States, do you ever feel any pressure to live up to the success and legacy that the city has thanks to the many artists who have come from there and achieved so much over the decades?

MD: I don’t think so because I’m not a country musician. I think if you’re a country musician, there’s a lot more pressure. I think there’s a lot of great music that comes out of Nashville don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing bands that have come from there, with different styles of music, but I’ve always been on the fringe, I guess. When you’re not in country music, I guess that’s where you are – how can I explain it? You kind of feel like you’re a little bit more on the outside, which I love…creatively not doing what everyone is expecting from you. I personally don’t feel that because it’s SO country. Everything in Nashville is so much country music. I feel like I get to skirt along the outside a little bit.

TITL: You don’t fit into the Nashville norm, as it were…which is and can be a good thing.

MD: Absolutely yeah. I wouldn’t take it any other way for sure.

TITL: It’s like that saying “You were born an original, why die a copy?”

MD: Exactly. I like that.

TITL: You uploaded your latest video “Gimme” two weeks ago. How did you come up with the concept for the video and why did you choose that song as a release?

MD: That was a song that was written a little bit ago – early 2018, I think. I was out in LA, working with a producer who was making beats and I was writing to them. It was really fun and that was one song that came out of it. I had just watched this episode of Black Mirror – I was binge watching it, it’s so good – and we were kind of just bitching about social media. There’s that one episode that was all about social media and that was so uncomfortable to watch. It was like so scary and so…he was making this track and I was kind of just writing down these lyrics, putting my guitar to it. We wrote it and recorded it – it was kinda just a fun jam session – and towards the end of the year, I’d been looking at some of the songs I’d been writing and that one just felt so relevant, and I felt that it would be a fun one to put out.

As far as the video goes, I came up with the idea for it in the shower. *laughs* I was running through it in my head I guess and I was just trying to think about what I would do in terms of a video. I ran out of the shower and wrote it all down. I got my laptop and just wrote the entire treatment which ended up beings something like two pages. I started sending it off to all the video people I knew in Nashville asking “Can you help me make this?” We got it done, which was crazy – it’s one of the more ambitious videos I’ve done.

TITL: But it works with the song – and I think once you have a visual that fits with a song, as yours does, then its “pull” can be and is often magnified – it reaches a bigger audience. Someone can listen to a song and like it, but sometimes you need a visual to go along with it to really put the song into context and put out there exactly what you’re trying to convey through the lyrics..

MD: Totally. With this song, sometimes you can be like casually listening to the lyrics and be like “yeah this is a good pop song” or whatever, but once you actually listen to those lyrics, it’s actually very dark and very tongue in cheek. It’s not super happy, so with the video, I wanted to put a sort of scarier video to it.

TITL: Given that you launched your career on YouTube, how do you feel about the dominance social media seems to have over many industries, including music, and people’s lives in general? Is there such a thing as “too much” social media?

MD: Oh absolutely. I have very mixed feelings about it as I think most people do. I think most people have a love/hate thing with it. You wanna totally cut off but at the same time you don’t. I feel the same way. I’m grateful for the internet and everything that it’s brought to my career as I would never be able – or have been able – to do it without that platform, but I can’t lie – it causes me a lot of anxiety; a lot of social anxiety and depression. It definitely affects your mental state. I have very mixed feelings about it but the more I talk to people about it, the more it seems they feel the same way. If there’s anything that ties us together, it’s that aspect of it.

TITL: This is your first UK headline tour. Just how excited are you to be embarking on this new chapter of your life and career?

MD: I am so excited. It’s so cool to be so far away from home and to come here and first of all play music that I created back there, but also see people who’ve been listening to it and who I’ve had conversations with online. The coolest part is meeting people who are so far away, but have been connected to what I’m doing in different ways.

TITL: For those who perhaps haven’t listened to your music or who are coming to see you on this tour, what can they expect from your set?

MD: They can expect some new songs for sure. I’m a big fan of trying out new music before I release it. There’s a song, it’s brand new…just a few weeks old, that I’m going to be playing on this run, and a lot of the new stuff hasn’t been released so I’m really excited to try that stuff out. People will hear some OG Megan Davies too, but there’ll be a good variety.

TITL: You’ve been championed by the likes of Parade Magazine and Music Radar among others, but do you actually care that much about what critics and the like think, or are you more concerned about the thoughts and opinions of those who come and see you, support and follow you?

MD: I definitely care more about the people who are connecting with it, than those who are “forced” to connect with it, like it’s their job to write about it or something. I do care – I don’t want people to not like it – but I’m also the person that doesn’t want to look at it, good or bad. If it’s a great review, that’s fantastic, but I don’t read it, and if it’s a bad review…I’ve gotten this far based on my own creative tastes – I don’t want to colour that too much, you know? It’s definitely flattering when someone does like what you do, but I do like to keep it more between me and the people who are listening in the audience or wherever they may be because they feel a connection with what I do.

TITL: What’s the nicest or best thing someone has ever said or written about you and how do you deal with any criticism directed your way? Do you find it easy to shrug off or does it linger in the back of your mind?

MD: It definitely lingers – I’m a deep thinker, for sure. It’s honestly why I take breaks on and off from social media. I try not to spend so much time on it because it can kind of get to you. The nicest thing anyone’s written about me…there’s been a lot of great things. Just on the personal message type side, I’ve had some really amazing stories shared with me. I had a soldier in Afghanistan who reached out and said he was listening to my covers at night to help him sleep. I thought that was pretty cool. It’s things like that that I remember the most rather than a straight forward compliment – it’s nice to get those for sure – but I love hearing those types of stories from people, who my music has helped through a difficult time or something. I’ve definitely had my share of terrible things written about me on the internet and it kind of stings a little bit. I’ve gotten better at pushing it off, but there’s always that stuff – the good and the bad of the internet. This is the job – it’s all part of it and can be – is – one of the not so great parts.

TITL: Your career has given you many amazing opportunities, including, perhaps most notably, performing for the cast of The Greatest Showman. As someone who loves the film and saw it twice in the same night, I have to ask, what was that experience like?

MD: Twice in one night?

TITL: A friend and I saw it and loved it so much, we went to the screening straight after it..

MD: Wow. There were two components to that whole experience. The first was that I got to go and meet the cast, visit the set and film the video that I have on YouTube, and sing for them. That itself was very surreal. I hadn’t seen the movie yet – I had the song, but that was it. I didn’t really know if this was going to be a huge film or not, at the time..

TITL: It turns out the answer was yes…

MD: It was six, seven months before the movie came out, and just to meet the cast, Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, was pretty mind-blowing. Then I got to go to the premiere. That experience blew me away just because I had never experienced anything like it. Nashville’s not a movie town, it’s a music town. To see such a huge premiere with the red carpet, and see so many people and be drinking champagne, was like…it literally felt like a Cinderella moment. It’s hard for me to even explain it to people; friends and family back home – it feels like I’m describing a dream. It was so surreal. I got to watch the movie with the cast and crew around me which was super cool and everyone applauded after like every song. It was an experience I will never forget.

TITL: I still don’t know how “This Is Me” did not win the Oscar for Best Song, but the soundtrack has a Grammy now so there’s that..

MD: It was on the Billboard charts for forever…I had a feeling when I was on set that the film was going to be pretty amazing, and then when I saw it I just thought “Wow, it’s going to be huge.”

TITL: The soundtrack broke the record for the longest time an album held the number one spot here a while ago; the record that used to be held by The Beatles Sgt. Pepper record..

MD: Good for them! That’s amazing.

TITL: You’ve also collaborated with the Red Cross and American Cancer Society. How important to you is it to be able to use your platform to benefit and support such organisations and those less fortunate? Would you like to see other artists – and perhaps people in general – do the same?

MD: I don’t judge people for what they do – people support different causes for different reasons and in different ways – but those two approached me, and when you build a following online, that’s something that happens a lot. Charities, brands…they all tend to reach out, and the Red Cross and ACS…those two were no brainers for me. Of course I’ll spread the word about having a plan for your family to get out of the house if there’s a fire – things like that are important and we did little PSA’s, things like that. They’re both causes I feel super passionate about.

TITL: Aside from this tour, which after the UK you’re taking around Europe, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

MD: At the end of this tour, it’ll be mostly focused on releasing some new music. Like I said, I try a lot of new songs out when I’m on the road. I have some YouTube videos that I need to work on and that involves me not travelling. I spent a couple of days in London before we came up here to start the tour and I really enjoyed it so I’ve been thinking about going to London…I like going to different places and writing; being creative.

TITL: Finally then, taking into account all you’ve done and achieved so far in your career, what other goals and ambitions do you still want to fulfil? What’s the ultimate goal?

MD: So much. For me, since I’ve built so much of my audience on covers, I really want to develop as a songwriter and performer. I still feel like I’m always trying to get better at what I do; I’ve a lot more to give as a creator and musician. That’s my focus more than the numbers…it’s cool when you get really big numbers or a reaction, but yeah, I think that’s more my goal at the moment. You’ve gotta explore…I could probably just do covers for a long time, but that wouldn’t be satisfying to me. I want to push myself creatively and I feel like I’m meant to do more.

Check out Megan’s latest video, “Gimme” below and keep up to date with her and her music by visiting her website, following her on Twitter, giving her page a like on Facebook and subscribing to her YouTube channel.

REVIEW: MARLENE OAK – ‘SILVER MOON’ EP 0 59

Just as several of her artistic inspirations and influences – Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Jeff Buckley to name just three – made their impressive mark on the music world, Marlene Oak looks set to perhaps follow in their footsteps as she shares her own talents with the world via her EP Silver Moon.

Title track “Silver Moon” kicks things off with a rather bluesy sound. In all honesty, it comes across as a little flat and easily forgotten up until the point where the horns kick in and inject it with some much needed energy, but it’s soon left in the shadows thanks to “How Can I Move On”, easily the best track featured on the collection. Led by little more than a guitar and a simple drum beat, Oak’s voice is captivating, emotion palpable with every word she sings and note she reaches. It’s one of those songs that can cause goosebumps – it certainly did for me.

“In The Evening” plays like an old, much loved record from the past – the composition has an almost timeless quality to it although Oak’s voice does tend to overpower the instrumentation in places. Follow up track “Everyone” brims with energy. The song itself is the most pop-sounding featured on the collection and might remind some of past releases by the likes of Colbie Caillat or Taylor Swift (without the country-ish twang), and for that, it’s worthy of a few repeat listens and some airplay if chosen as a future single. The only slight flaw with the track is the times when the vocal sounds almost distorted like there was an issue or problem with the recording equipment. It doesn’t particularly hamper the track, but it doesn’t help either.

“Come Home” closes out the collection and while and the musicianship is good, it takes it’s rightful place in the background and allows Oak’s vocal to shine from the start, even more so as the song builds towards its end, leaving listeners with a lingering reminder of just how good a new talent Oak is – and could well be in the future.