Uncharted is our weekly showcase of rising artists. This week, Jon Pappo profiles earthy exploratory songstress Cross Record.
e Good. Within the cavernous echoes, the empty dark room is a presence. A human being with a need to express and just do the right thing, whatever that means. For Emily Cross, under the moniker Cross Record, being good seems to be establishing personal relationships and loving those around you. Loving yourself. Enjoying a messy world, nature’s fickleness, and creating to connect. It’s about being human. The phrase “Be Good” serves as the title of her latest album and as a way to establish her direct, but by no means easy, philosophy. As Emily relates, being good is something she is “challenged by… every day.”
Like soft hands cultivating an earthy mound of dead leaves and wet dirt, Cross Record has an elegantly natural sound. It’s textured folk with an Elverum style of production that brushes the line between the ground rattling and cracking underneath your feet and the glowing clarity of sublime beauty. Cross Record is exploratory, with spacious noises flittering that let you breathe in every moment. As much as music is her main focus these days, Cross dabbles in paintings, drawings, and photography. It’s all part of a larger project, which is to put it plainly, her life. And every day she continues to cultivate.
In an email interview, Emily Cross wrote to me about readjusting to a daily routine, balancing between light and dark, solitude, food politics, and her unending desire to be good.
What did you get up to today? Where are you living now and what does your daily routine include?
Let’s see. My day is only beginning. I’ve had my breakfast, a little coffee with the radio, and now I’m writing this. You’re all caught up. I’ve just moved back to Chicago from Maine, so I’m still settling into my “daily routine”, but it usually includes some nourishment, some coffee/tea, some walking around, and some work. Sometimes I do stretches and hand stands and stuff. On days I have to go to my job, I try to get at least a little bit of personal work in…whether it be drawing, painting, writing or working something out on an instrument.
I see some connections between your work and Phil Elverum’s Mount Eerie. Can you talk a bit about your influences on your work as an artist, whether musical, philosophical, or people in your life?
Influences. Well, yeah, I guess musically Phil Elverum is one of my influences…more than some other musicians that make their way into my atmosphere. I can relate to his way of writing. I think “The Glow pt 2″ was the first album that hit me hard when I started listening to music a couple of years ago. Before I started writing and recording music, I didn’t pay much attention to the way songs were pieced together, how the sounds were interacting with each other.. or even to the lyrics. I was a casual music listener, if-you-will. I appreciate the imperfection in Elverum’s music, the blurry line he walks between beautiful and disgusting…clarity and fog, quiet and crunchy noise. Of course I am a fan of many other artists as well…a few being Bjork, Nico, Sibylle Baier,Tinariwen,The Dirty Projectors, Bulgarian vocal choir music, friends and acquaintances who make music. I have the pleasure of being in the company of some insane talent here.
I’m stimulated by patterns, repetition and simplicity, and am a huge “outsider”..”naive”..”self taught”..”intuitive” art..whatever word you want to use…enthusiast. Trips to places like the Roger Brown Study Collection and Intuit Center here in Chicago really opened my eyes to that type of work. I saw a fantastic exhibit curated in part by David Byrne in London that had a huge impact on me, too. I’m attracted to the sense of directness I get from the work, and of the pure weirdness of a lot of it.There is often a devotional quality to it, and I love that. The idea of making art for the sole purpose of honoring something/someone else is so beautiful to me. A lot of those qualities find their way into my music, I hope.
You graduated from art school last year, but even before that you’d released several albums of material and it seems like you have no intention of stopping any time soon. When did you begin making music and where does this drive to create stem from?
I took a music history class during my third year of college about the minimalist movement. Our final assignment was to do either a presentation on an aspect of the minimalist movement, or to make some sort of recording showcasing what we had learned in the class. I chose to take on the challenge of writing and recording a minimalist composition, and asked my friend Theo Karon (who engineered “Be Good”) to help me with the recording. It ended up being a very strange, nearly ten minute composition of wine glasses and accordion. I had such a great time working with Theo, learning about tape loops, and about multi-tracking. That’s definitely when I got a taste for recording. Soon after that, I left Chicago to travel and do some study abroad trips.
I landed in the countryside of Ireland for about five months, where I had a studio to make a body of work in for the semester. I made a friend there who was recording an album on his computer, and he introduced me to digital multi-tracking. He convinced me (after a few pints of Guinness) to sing some lines on one of his tracks. I was sure it was going to be a disaster, but much to my surprise it was well received. A couple of days later, I snuck off to the detached laundry room of the house I was staying in with a borrowed field recorder and my laptop. I sang for hours with my head inside of the dryer to get a “reverb” effect..ha! After I recorded that first song by myself, I became a mad woman. I spent almost all of my time in the studio writing music to record in the laundry room instead of drawing and painting.
It was such a perfect place to begin my musical journey, since I was able to escape into the wilderness and work on my confidence as a singer in solitude. There was even a castle on campus that had an absolutely gorgeous sound to it. The landscape! The ancient stone circles and ring forts! The cemeteries and the ocean and the cliffs! Inspiration was abundant. It was an incredible time artistically for me.
When you aren’t creating art, what do you enjoy doing?
I like to just walk around and look at things.
I cook and I eat. I try to keep up with the politics of our food. It’s pretty messed up…but there are people out there trying to make it better. THANK YOU- to those people. I like to learn about plants and their medicinal values. I’m in the process of making a personal catalogue of the plants available in and around Illinois to forage. I also enjoy a good game of checkers.
You work in a lot of different mediums–music,paintings,sculptures. And there’s a distinct earthy feel to them all. When did you begin these different mediums? Do they bleed into each other at all? Do all of these different forms serve a larger,continuing project for you?
I have been painting and drawing since I can remember. I don’t often make sculptures unless I have a specific idea that requires that medium. Even then, I usually will throw the sculpture away, or just leave it somewhere for someone to find. Maybe that’s rude. I’ve been littering the planet! I don’t like to have a ton of objects around.
Yes, they do all bleed into each other. I write music about the same things I make visual work about; I use the same ideas in both places. Sometimes I get a bit obsessed with a particular idea or an image, and I will just beat it to death. I will make paintings, drawings, photographs and write songs about this thing and then move on. As far as all of these forms serving a larger, continuing project for me… yes. That project is “MY LIFE”, and it will end when “MY LIFE” is done.
This is a rather open-ended question, but what do you believe in? I ask because beneath the sometimes dark and cavernous sounds of your music is a warm positivity. “Be Good” is the phrase I see popping up a lot.
I love the dark. I love the shades between light and dark. What is it about that?
I believe in our power as humans. We are amazing vessels, but we have the ability be tremendously horrible. It is important for me, personally, to remind myself to be good. It sounds like an easy thing to be, depending on your idea of what good is, but I am challenged by it every day.
I believe in trying our best to be kind to one another, to be patient with people who frustrate you, to be understanding, and to always have love in your mind. Be good to yourself, too. Do what you want to do, but know how you’re affecting other people.
Self-awareness is key… and it’s difficult.
What are plans for Cross Record? What are your plans for Emily Cross? Where do you go from here?
We just got the band together again and have started practicing, so we are gearing up to play some shows in Chicago. We don’t have any real plans other than having a good time playing with each other and learning how to translate “Be Good” into a live performance.
I have started to write for a new album that I’m going to begin recording soon. My partner and I are planning some extensive traveling for next year, which I am very much looking forward to. Hopefully I will have just released the album I am working on now, and will be writing another while traveling. We hope to have the opportunity to play music on our travels. I go wherever I want from here!