Shout Sister Shout: Emma Pask (IWD 2021)
Approx. 7 minute 30 second read
I love learning of the relationships between artists; how they collaborate, inspire each other and create opportunities for each other. For example, one of my favourite jazz pianists, child prodigy Joey Alexander was discovered on Youtube by Wynton Marsalis (of Marsalis family jazz royalty, naturally) who then gave Joey a spot at a Jazz at the Lincoln Centre gala event. Sister Rosetta Tharpe took to the stage following in her mother’s, Katie Harper, mandolin playing and gospel singing ways. And, for an unexpected mentor/mentee artist relationship, you might want to read more on how Elton John supported Eminem.
Emma Pask shares her story of mentorship and how she jumped from the role of a high school sweetheart of jazz to a celebrated artist with an international performance career and a range of major label and independent releases to her name. Emma continues to share her love and joy of the art form with listeners everywhere and I was giddy as a gumdrop when I heard about Emma’s upcoming release, Dream of Life– read on for the scoop!
Sonia de Freitas: Hi Emma, how are you and where does our interview find you today?
Emma Pask: Hi Sonia, I’m doing well, thank you. I’ve started my day with another glorious ocean swim and now I’m at home in Bondi Beach, NSW.
SdF: Can you tell me about your journey in music? When did you know that you were going to make music your career?
EP: I absolutely loved music and drama classes way back in high school. Singing with my school Big Band, we had the opportunity to tour around our state of NSW, sometimes overseas too and play gigs at festivals with other school bands and I just loved that so much, but I didn’t really have any idea that I could possibly make a career out of singing. Not until James Morrison visited my school for a workshop and a concert, and he asked me up on stage that night (unbeknown to me) to sing with his band. A few weeks after that evening, I received a call from James‘ manager asking me to go on the road and play some gigs with the band. I still had a few more years to go at high school, but I managed to study along with playing gigs. When I finished high school, by that time we were playing a lot and touring everywhere, it just kind of naturally continued on, and without making a conscious decision about it, I was making a living out of music and I was a vocalist. I was really fortunate to cross paths with so many people in the music industry, and all these chance meetings would lead you onto all sorts of musical adventures.
SdF: Your album Cosita Divina, is one of my favourite for chillout listening of endearing Latin numbers! It’s pure sonic happiness, in fact, I’m listening to Samba da Minha Terra while typing this and simultaneously doing a shoulder shimmy to the music. Can you tell me about your creative process when producing this work? Is there anything particular you do that is special to your creative process?
EP: Oh cool! Thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoy that album. It really was a labour love. It wasn’t hard to choose the material for the album. It was a collection of songs that I’d always loved and wanted to record, along with co-writing two tunes with my lovely mates Ilan Kidron (The Potbellez) and one of Australia’s finest bassists and jazz musicians, Jonathan Zwartz. We wrote the title track, Cosita Divina, and Cu Cu Cu Ru. Our creative process for writing together is very much, “Hey what are you guys up to? Wanna hang out, play some music and see what happens?” I came in with an idea for Cosita Divina. I had a melody and some playful lyrics and a bit of a vibe for it, then Ilan and Jonathan offered all these beautiful ideas and additions to it. A dear friend, Ross Irwin (Cat Empire, Bamboos) created a fab horn arrangement for me for the album too. It was a beautiful collaborative experience. Cu Cu Cu Ru was Jonathan presenting us some delightful changes (chords) and Ilan having the Cu Cu Cu Ru title idea, we all shaped it musically, then I took it and wrote a little love story lyric for it.
SdF: Who is your sounding board? There must be someone that you trust to give you brutally honest feedback on your music. How do they fit into the process?
EP: Ha! My husband is a brutally honest critic, and I always hear him out. I’m really fortunate to be surrounded by incredible musicians whom I look up to immensely and value their opinions. I trust their feedback and encouragement. Also my agent, Jeremy. He’s such a great honest mate, and I value his opinion.
SdF: What was the first song that you remember making an impact in your life and why was/is it so important?
EP: It wasn’t so much a song, rather than an album. I was probably 13 or 14 years old when I first heard Ella and Louis- being Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. There was just so much JOY in their sound. It was infectious. That laid back swing feeling was so appealing to me and it made me feel SO GOOD, I was hooked!
SdF: So, what’s on the horizon for you? Any projects you’re working on or new releases to share? Include links if appropriate.
EP: Covid delayed a new album that I had in the works, but I’m really pleased to say that I’ve finally been able to finish it, and it’s just been sent off to the manufacturers. It’s called Dream of Life, and it’s full of tunes that I’ve been playing live over the last 10 years with my trio. Some swinging jazz standards, some blues, some beautiful ballads, some Beatles, some upbeat Latin. We recorded an iconic Australian tune, and I added an original song, The Feather, that I’ve written for a dear girlfriend. We had to say a devastatingly sad goodbye to her at the beginning of 2020, as Cancer took her from us all too soon. The song is my little hope and prayer for Tash. I don’t have a release date for the album just yet, but watch this space. As we slowly try and recover our industry after such a huge difficult blow, I’m trying to keep optimistic, and continue to work on ideas and musical projects and collaborations. Gotta keep moving forward!
SdF: What is your most memorable performance and why?
EP: I’m happy to say there’s been quite a few over the years, and it can be the most memorable for so many different reasons. Who you’ve played with, where you’ve played, the reason behind the performance. Sometimes it can be simply because of a feel we created together as a band and connected on with maybe just one tune especially, and you come off stage totally buzzing. I’ll never forget the very first time I had the pleasure of singing with a symphony orchestra. Standing out front of that incredible sound and being totally swept up by swelling strings wrapping around you like a big warm blanket. That was so beautifully overwhelming. I’ll never forget that sensation. More recently, after Covid hit and everything turned upside down, it was an incredible honour to be asked to be the first performance live streamed from the Sydney Opera House. It was a first for me and my band, playing to an entirely empty theatre and not knowing who was tuning in online at home. We found ourselves having to rely on each other to create that same energy, that would normally be there if you had a room full of humans you could interact with. It took a few songs in, to get used to there being no audience reaction. It was a pretty surreal experience.
SdF: Musicians come in many “flavours”; pianists, trumpeters, bassists… ; if you weren’t a vocalist, what flavour musician would you want to be and why?
EP: As a high school student iI dabbled with the Tenor Sax- so yeah, I’d be a tenor player 🙂
SdF: What advice would you give to any aspiring musicians out there?
EP: Play from your heart. Surround yourself with good people. If you’re moving into a band setting as opposed to being a soloist, try and play with musicians who are people that you like, admire, and respect. Collaborate with musicians that you know will bring the best out in you. And have fun, it’s a loooong journey.
To learn more about Emma Pask visit: emmapask.com
To buy Emma Pask’s music visit: emmapask.com/discography
For more information on International Women’s Day visit: internationalwomensday.com
Keep an eye out for my next interview in the Shout Sister Shout series where I interview Susie Bishop.
Did you miss the previous Shout Sister Shout instalment? Read Jenny Eriksson’s interview here.