Emilie Kahn always knew she had music inside her – after all, it was what she studied in her native Montreal. But it was only when the aspiring songwriter uncovered a harp that everything clicked into place. Naming the instrument Ogden, it seems as though it's luxurious wooden body and oh-so-pluckable strings afforded her musical ideas to space of their own – birthing Emilie & Ogden in the process.
“I was kind of searching for an instrument,” she remembers. “It was kind of a spontaneous thing – one day I decided to play and then the next I had a harp!”
“I was always kind of looking to find something to accompany my singing, I guess,” Emilie continues. “An instrument that is intuitive to play. It doesn't sound like anything else, it's an instrument that is alive – if you play one string then the whole thing resonates sympathetically. So it sounds really special and overwhelming.”
Despite a handful of lessons Emilie is almost entirely self-taught on the harp, lending her approach an unusual air. Wringing out unexpected tones, she can move from sweet, folk melodies to something rather more dissonant with just a few flicks of her finger. “I don't have much of a reference so I can kind of just do whatever I want with the harp,” she says. “So I'm kind of just writing in the certain style that I wanted and the harp is there to accompany me. People always expect it to be something really light and angelic and then it surprises them a little bit, I think.”
Debut album '10,000' is a wonderful distillation of her influences, with Emilie recruiting long-time drummer Francis Ledoux and producer Jesse MacCormack for sessions in a remote part of the Quebec region. “It was this old mansion, built in the 60s,” she says. “All the original décor and it has all these secret rooms and stuff in it. It's a really amazing place. It was winter, so we were just closed inside for a week while we were recording. It was a really fun experience.”
“I think you definitely become immersed in what you're doing,” Emilie adds. “We were recording and then all we would do is sleep, then wake up and we'd just work for 15 hours. Definitely a really great atmosphere for recording.”
There's a real intimacy to the album, one that is partly born from the recording techniques but also from the material itself. “I think you can hear that in the lyrics,” she explains. “It's pretty honest and intimate. My writing is super introspective. I like that to come across, and to reach people in that way. Have them feel something that they didn't think they could feel.”
Already looking towards her next step, the songwriter admits that Emilie & Ogden won't be straying too far from Montreal. “I think it's a great city for artists and musicians, right now,” she states. “I think it's the best city to be in in North America because it's really cheap to live in. It's a really awesome community of musicians.”
Clash recently attended POP Montreal, and was left astonished at the sheer depth and variety of the city's music scene. It's the independence of thought, the willingness to step outside the norm, that seems to impress most. “Yeah and that's happening all over the city,” she explains. “There's just so much music going on all the time. It's like this little community where everyone knows each other and is maybe inspired by one another. It's really special.”
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Emilie & Ogden's new album '10,000' is out now.