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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Emily Wells Remembers S.F. As 'Pure Blissed-Out Romance,' Plays Saturday at Slim's

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 9:35 AM

Pigeonhole Emily Wells at your own peril. Homegirl stacks violin loops like Andrew Bird, purrs tales of love and darkness like PJ Harvey, lays down beats like ?uestlove, and occasionally even raps like Eartha Kitt channeling Biggie. On her albums, particularly 2008's The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties, each strain finds its place, the classical rubbing elbows with the hip-hop in a generally convincing show of inter-genre acceptance.

Live, though, you get to watch it all come together at once, whether she's flying solo (sometimes there are goggles) or backed by drums and upright bass. She plays some notes, records them, accompanies them, sings a phrase or two, twiddles some knobs, amplifies some thrift-store noisemakers, and suddenly you're following her through this creaking, claustrophobic world of sweet melodies and sinister intentions. You trust her, but only because she's leading the way. "All the live looping is like a sporting event, or keeping the first take of every recording," she explains in her bio. "I could fall off the balance beam... which makes it all so much more exciting." Adds one YouTube commenter: "I love how she always looks like she's making love when she's playing music."

Lucky for us: the formerly L.A.-based Wells is stopping through San Francisco, a town dear to her heart, to wrap up her farewell to the West Coast before she moves to New York. Accompanied by drummer Sam Halterman and bassist Joey Reina, and supported by Valerie Orth and Kindness & Lies, she'll be making it happen at Slim's this Saturday. If you ask nicely, she might even play "Juicy." We spoke with Wells for a few thoughts on her favorite things San Francisco and what to expect from her next.

What prompted this tour?
We wanted to do it because (a) we love the west coast and the people who have been coming out to give us love for these last couple of years, and (b) we just finished a new record and wanted to birth these songs live -- feel 'em out in the live context, get tight. It's been so fun thus far playing the new material.

What can the audience expect?
New songs, a few old ones, dirty jokes, and to move their hips ... or at least their heads.

What inspired "Take It Easy San Francisco"?
I spent a lovely weekend in San Francisco a couple years ago. It was pure blissed-out romance -- park the car, walk all over town, Chinatown and the BART and North Beach -- and it felt so good. Driving back to Los Angeles, something fell from its sacred place the closer we got to the city. I had a longing in me for that sweet simple weekend...

What are your favorite places to go while here?
I made a record in S.F. this past year with Dan the Automator for our new band, Pillow Fight. Being a San Francisco native, he showed me a new side of the city and an appreciation particularly for its food and restaurants: tacos in the Mission, sushi at Yoshi's, etc. Delicious.

What are some good and bad memories of performing here?
Believe it or not, I busked on the streets of San Francisco for at least a month when I was 19. It was a wild adventure, but scary, and so hand-to-mouth... on the other hand, the last show I did was at Café du Nord, and I remember starting the set feeling strange. A couple songs in I was at a fork in the road -- so tired I could curl up for a nap right there on stage. I looked into the lights and the faces and got a bolt, took the right turn, and boy was the rest of the set full of life with all of us there together.

Would you say your sound has a geographic influence?
Absolutely. I moved to Topanga Canyon last year with pretty much the sole purpose of making a record. I had lived on the east side of L.A. for years, and the work, both writing and recording, was drastically influenced by living in the relative middle of nowhere, on a horse ranch with a waterfall not 20 feet from the back porch. My feet got to stompin' and I'd leave the back door open when the tape was rolling and let the sounds of the night seep in.

What's next?
Well, there are two finished records on the horizon. My record with the trio -- the fantastic and brilliant Sam Halterman and Joey Reina -- is called Mama, and the Pillow Fight record will be released early next year as well. Lots of touring in my future with both projects!

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Daniel Levin Becker


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