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May/June 2022

by Ella Karalus-Glannaz

Emma Dilemma: Ready To Be Noticed

by Ella Karalus-Glannaz

Emma Dilemma: Ready To Be Noticed

Emma Dilemma is an energetic, and vibrant creative force of nature that will have you jumping around singing We Should All Give A Shit after only hearing the chorus once. From a long musical journey of collaborative projects such as Ōtautahi rock band Decades, she has transitioned into a full-energy solo music project. Emma Cameron talks to Ella Karalus-Glannaz about her new album ‘Spit’, the meaning of memes, and her wacky music video ideas.

Born out of the Christchurch four-piece rock act Decades, Emma Dilemma continues Emma Cameron’s musical journey, only this time, as a solo artist.

“It’s a long story,“ she warns. “I’ve been performing and playing music since I was about eight, performing, I guess, since I was about five because I used to be a dancer, I danced from like age five to 19 or 20. I started performing in rock bands in my teens and then the main rock band that I was in when I was a teen was called Ashei, which then developed into a rock band called Decades, which was where we got signed to Warner. Decades released an album [’The Truth And Other People’] that came out in 2017.”

As their lives progressed other members of Decades started having kids and Emma, having travelled to Melbourne to work on songs with Alex Markwell and Harley Webster (who make up the production duo called Le Sauvage), found it was the perfect time to transition to Emma Dilemma.

“There’s something about me and those three dudes that everything just always works out how we all want it to! I don’t know, maybe they would disagree with that, I’m not sure,“ she says, reflecting on their last band get together. “I drank a whole bottle of wine before that meeting!”

As a new solo artist eager to take on the music industry, Emma was hit (like so many others) by Covid restraints. On the bright side this gave her time to really reflect and decide how to go about actually being Emma Dilemma.

“It took me a long time to figure out who or what I am as an individual musically, even though I already had a lot of the music. But it was like, ’How do I collate this together? What’s my message? Who the fuck am I [as a solo artist]?’ Do you know what I mean?”

She credits her partner Moses Robbins for coming up with the incredible artist name.

“He was like, ’Well the obvious name’s Emma Dilemma ’cos it rhymes.’ And I was just like, ’Yes! I have so many dilemmas it makes sense!’ I have so many problems and questions about the world and I’m always in a dilemma. I said that to my manager, and my label, and they both really liked it too. It feels fresh, it feels like something I could create something new from, which was exciting.”

To describe her genre, Emma shares a recent conversation she had with her little sister.

“We were talking about what my genre actually is, or like what my brand is, and I was like, ’Is your genre allowed to be like a meme? Do you have to be rock? Do you have to be pop? Do you have to be RnB? Can I just be like my genre is this meme, you know that Kombucha girl meme?’ Or that other meme of that little girl Chloe in the backseat of the car – that’s my genre – and that’s how I approach songwriting is those two memes.”

Those who’ve heard an Emma Dilemma track will almost certainly understand this peculiar genre description. Her songs are catchy, full of energy, and when you pay attention to the lyrics and storyline of some, extremely entertaining. Cooperate, for example, gives the impression of being an obsessed stalker’s anthem. ’We’ll be so happy, it’s gonna be great, I just need you to cooperate.’

“I have no idea how that song really came to be. It was like plucked from… actually, probably plucked from somewhere out there and just put in my head, because I’ve never stalked someone. It was really weird!”

Emma Dilemma has a debut album, ’Spit’, set for release in July through Warner Music NZ. Because of the current global pandemic’s ever-changing nature, Emma realised that change was inevitable during these times and decided to push back the original release date of ’Spit’ from October to early 2022. Wanting to give her fans a taste of what is to come, she released the EP ’Spit (Side A)’ in October 2021.

“I absolutely love to be by myself,“ she says of her songwriting process. “Just because a lot of the things that I’m trying to say or do are ridiculous until they come into like a fully formed idea. A lot of the songs on ’Spit’ were Liam from Decades kind of sending me instrumentals. He sent me so many, he’d send me like 10 a day for weeks. He just smashes stuff out, he’s a weapon. I’d listen through all of them and if anything kind of made me start humming a melody right away, then I’d write a song to that.

“So then I’m just sitting at my laptop, or with my phone, listening to his instrumentals and just singing out loud at them. That’s kind of how ’Spit’ came to be. There are a couple that I’d just come up with guitar riffs and then write songs to them myself.”

Vulnerability, a recent single from the album, shows a more emotion-based side to her songwriting process.

“I think I was going through a time in my life where I’ve been told by a lot of people close to me that I’m not vulnerable enough. That I kind of like, hide my emotions and I’m quite stoic. So yeah, when I started coming up with melodic ideas for that song, vulnerability was a theme that was playing on my mind a lot. So I just wanted to talk to myself about it, like, ’Come on, tell people how you’re feeling.’ It’s actually quite healthy to share your emotions, I’m still working through it, but yeah.“

The NZ On Air-backed music video to Vulnerability features her rather awkwardly on stage in front of a theatre full of Lincoln High School pupils. The T-shirt she’s wearing says, ’Vote For Emma’.

“I had a bigger budget for Vulnerability and that was shot at my old high school which was fun. Amber Beaton did that one with me. I don’t know why this Napoleon Dynamite dancing came to my head but I was like, ’Maybe it should be like a kind of dorky dance video, kind of like Fat Boy Slim videos and stuff like that from back in the late ’90s early 2000s.’ I did think Napoleon Dynamite would be a good reference and I was like, ’What if we actually just created that shot for shot, that would be fucking funny.’”

The 2004 movie’s dance video to Jamiroquai track Canned Heat has been watched almost 8 million times on Youtube – and she absolutely nails the parody. It’s in complete contrast to her Bounce music video, another Amber Beaton production, which features Emma naked (censored of course), and bouncing about a bedroom set.

“I wanted it to be like – you know all these other pop and rap videos where the artists are super undressed if not naked – I wanted to be like, ’Yeah I’m naked too’, but in a highly comedic, Emma Dilemma fashion.

“People take themselves too seriously I reckon. I take my music very seriously, but I take the whole approach of ’life is not serious’. Like you know, there’s serious things in our lives that we have to deal with, but why should art be serious? It should just be fun and I like making people laugh! We can still sing and talk about serious things, but I like to kind of point out the absurdity of some of those things you know?”

Giving added artistic credibility, Emma typically includes the lyrics with her Youtube-posted music videos.

But even without the lyrics, her song titles alone provide evidence of Why We Should Give A Shit about Emma Dilemma. Like her, they don’t beat around the bush, witness tracks like Cooperate, Idiot and I Want It. With the diversity of genre she embraces it can be hard to decide on a personal favourite, they are songs for diverse moments of heightened emotion.

“I’ve got a song on my album called Other Girls which is like my favourite, favourite song. It’s quite grungy, Garbage-y, and it’s kinda like Vulnerability in that I’m probably being quite a bit more emotional in my lyrics instead of taking the piss out of stuff. My favourite release (so far) I think is Cooperate, because I just love how that [self-directed] music video turned out, it’s so terrifying,“ she says laughing.

With all that said, why the name ‘Spit’ for the upcoming album?

“Just because of that photo (the album cover), taken after the first lockdown. I was taking a self portrait a day for the whole 70-whatever days it was that we were all in lockdown, and then this photographer Aaron Lee reached out to me. I was like, ’Yeah I have this idea, I’m just gonna bring paint with me.’ I brought red paint, blue paint and yellow paint and Michelle Raasch did my makeup. The yellow was just calling out to me and I did this photo where I’m just dribbling out paint. I made sure it was kids’ non-toxic paint! It still made me feel so sick, it was so gross, but out of all the photos we took together I really liked those photos.

“I was like, ’I think this could actually be an album cover’. I sent it to my label and stuff and they were like, ’Fuck yeah, that’s mint, what’s the album called?’

“And it just made sense to call it ‘Spit’. I don’t know why. And also just the fact that it’s this really aggressive and disgusting and hilarious word, and what I feel like when I think of all the songs on the album and how there’s not really like specific genre – kind of word vomiting out thoughts and feelings like I’m spitting out random songs – that just felt like it made sense to me.”