So opens Emiliana Torrini’s second album, a soft-yet-searing collection of twelve intimate and atmospheric songs that will whisper their way into your bloodstream. Back in 1999, when the singer released the critically acclaimed Love In The Time Of Science, Emiliana came out with a gorgeous, electronic trippoppin’ vision of endless summer and moonlit nights out. Following her departure from One Little Indian, there’s a new introspection, closer to Nick Drake or Jolie Holland than Portishead or Goldfrapp.
“This whole record is about these four years I was away,” explains Emiliana “ Very life-changing times. A lot of things happened. I just couldn’t at this stage go back to writing a record like I did before.” Indie HQ Rough Trade clearly approved of her new direction: they signed Emiliana immediately after hearing the first demos from Fisherman’s Woman.
The 27-year-old singer and writer has nonetheless been busy since Love In The Time Of Science. She moved to Brighton, joined the cast of Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers to perform the enchanting ‘Gollum Song’ wrote and toured with Thievery Corporation, and wrote a Number One Hit for Kylie Minogue in the shape of huge-selling pop smash ‘Slow’. “It was a very fun thing to do,” she says. “It was an opportunity to dust off my dancing shoes and write music that I don’t normally write but love, and then keep the smokey-little-bar-music to my self.” ‘Slow’ was written and produced with Brixton-based producer Mr Dan, midway through the sessions that became Fisherman’s Woman. After writing with a number of different artists, Emiliana was introduced to Mr Dan – and they clicked immediately. “it had been so long since the last album, and I was in two minds of doing it again,” she says. “I was very nervous about going back, but we had so much fun doing it. It is just one of those collaborations I have been waiting for all my life.”
Emiliana decided to go back to basics and write with just a guitar and no electronics or programming. The pair jammed out the songs in Dan’s dark Brixton basement with Dan on guitar and Emiliana conjuring up the lyrics and melodies. After that they recorded the record in The Exchange in Camden, “ well one thing I knew very well is that I wanted a very intimate vocal sound,” she says. “This album was recorded with candles, laughing fits and my duvet. We were sad leaving Brixton. I love it there,” she says. “It can suck the life out of you and then blow you full again. Depends what mood it’s in. Brixton is like a huge ‘me me me show’.”
Intimate. It sounds like it: opening gambit ‘Nothing Brings Me Down’ gradually builds from sparse beginnings; Dan’s acoustic guitar, light touches of piano – to a textured, gentle circle. Album highlight ‘Sunny Road’ sounds as if it could have leaped out of a dusty, lost Leonard Cohen session, while ‘Lifesaver’ floats along a mysterious, fairy-tale accordion melody, accompanied by the ambient creak of boats on water. ‘Thinking Out Loud’ whispers of Eastern Europe and the Appalachians before album closer, ‘Serenade’ multi-tracks the listener into a moonlit dream which references clouds, dark vines, temptations and new tomorrows. It’s evocative and heart-felt – a handcrafted jewel of a record. Fisherman’s Woman also includes a song, ‘Honeymoon Child’ written by smog’s Bill Callahan, who Emiliana spent some time writing with in America.
Emiliana Torrini is half Icelandic, half Italian. She grew up in Iceland in a town outside Reykjavik and spent her childhood summers with her grandmother in the far east of Iceland out in the wild, spacious countryside. Her teen summers were spent in Germany with her Italian uncle. She joined a choir aged seven and sang soprano till she was 15, when she went to opera school. “I got into other music rather late because we didn’t have any records, well except lots of classical, my mum’s Greatest Love Songs compilation from the TV and Leonard Cohen whom I love. Then we got MTV. We were the first people in our town to have it and I would stay up all night to record from the late night alternative shows, making tapes to take to school to brag about my musical findings.”
She recorded a few jazz and blues songs for her father’s 50th birthday which then became an album that sold 15,000 copies in Iceland and remained at number one for many months. She followed this with an equally successful album of which 50% was co-written by her and hence the beginnings of her writing career. “I spent this period singing in restaurants, bars and hotels all over Iceland,” and that is how she was discovered by One Little Indian where their MD happened to be eating. Emiliana consequently moved to England where Roland Orzabal from Tears For Fears co-produced her worldwide debut. “ I wanted to move to India, learn the classical techniques there, then move to Bulgaria, be a gypsy, and learn the techniques, and keep moving and learning new ways of singing – but instead I came to England and made a pop record.”
Fisherman’s Woman is a very different beast. It is themed around loss, and how it feels to lose people; sometimes it’s dripping with sadness but more frequently imbued with almost magical optimism. “Fisherman’s Woman is a letter I wrote to a person that I lost at that time. I coped by thinking I was with a fisherman. They can go on sea for months like my friend’s dad. Her mum saw him twice a year maybe for a fortnight at a time,” she says. “It was a little bit like Alice in Wonderland. The falling into a hole, the madness of it all.” Despite the sadness, Emiliana remains positive. “I could never write a wholly sad album,” she says laughing. “There are too many moon rivers to see and life to live. Fisherman’s woman has been a way of making things whole again.”
This album is sincerely honest and as endearing as they come. And it’s lovely, too.