Literary influences explored...
Emily Wells

Emily Wells like to take things that little bit further.

Want an example? New album 'Promise' includes a track that was prompted by a visit to a remote Chinese ghost town, and ends with an apocalyptic world view.

Partly folk and partly not, partly pop and partly not, there are moments on 'Promise' that even veer towards hip-hop in their approach to production.

As we say, she likes to go that little bit further. Out on January, 'Promise' is another devastating document from a highly literate songwriter, with each song containing mountains of research and detail.

Clash invited Emily Wells to take part in Their Library - dive into her literary influences...

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What is your favourite book and why?
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn has been a long-standing favourite book of mine, full of imagination, colour, and oddity. I may have read better books since then, but this one stands, just like someone might keep The Cure as a favourite band because those things that speak to you early become yours. I named my dog after the protagonist, Oly and she's an elderly 12 year old by now.

What other authors do you like?
The last couple of years have been rich with James Baldwin, Joseph Brodsky, Joan Didion, Franz Kafka, David Foster Wallace, Wallace Stevens, Oliver Sachs. Other favourites include Jhumpa Lahiri, Raymond Carver, Anne Carson.

What draws you to certain books?
This might sound obvious, but it is always language... I'm drawn to language over linear story, though of course a story can be wonderful especially with an author like say Haruki Murakami or John Updike whose language I like very much but the stories are what keep me. I like when you can go over and over an idea, roll it around in your mouth. I like to inhabit a new mind when I read. The best authors lend us their minds.

Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?
I feel The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting by Milan Kundera would have to be my lost classic. Despite what anyone can say about Milan Kundera, and it's likely true, he harnessed something soft in himself in this book. He would be going along with a narrative and then out of nowhere he would come with some clean profound statement that felt utterly modern. I nursed on this book the weekend I was writing the song 'Becomes the Color' for the film Stoker while trying to conjure and inhabit a new character for the task of writing for a film. Shortly after I went out and bought seven or eight copies and sent them to friends.

Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?
Absolutely. I seek them as band mates and confidants. For Promise there are several books that were with me. Firstly Giovanni's Room, gifted to me by my best friend with a note inside reading simply "it's time". The night I began, and read most of the book, I was so moved I stayed up 'til dawn writing a song which I called the same name... While it's not on the record the experience informed my desire to reach into the minds of the authors I love for a new notion of the world, of the human experience.

The other big influencers to the album include Kafka's short story Description of a Struggle which absolutely gripped me so that I read it twice in one sitting, Joseph Brodsky's book of essays Less than One I returned to throughout the writing and recording, James Baldwin's Another Country accompanied me on a European tour and I finished it in Istanbul where he finished writing it. Also, and this is a little funny, I became absolutely soothed and obsessed with Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem as read by Diane Keaton during a particularly difficult period of the recording process. I've had a life long crush on Diane Keaton so the combination of Joan Didion's youthful wisdom and Diane Keaton's particular delivery gave me shelter.

I also became enamoured with Oliver Sachs and his fresh curiosity which continued indeed until his death. All of these authors are answering questions, and asking, questions and I was trying to do the same through my own work so I sought them as teachers and as the loner often does, engaged in a dialog with the page.

What are you reading at the moment?
I have just started 10:04 by Ben Lerner which I'm already completely smitten with, a birthday gift from a friend whose taste I trust implicitly and who's turned me onto many of my favourite books. I've also been working through the fascinating The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross on the history of 20th century music.

What is the first book you remember reading as a child?
The one that sticks in my mind is Where The Wild Things Are, but I clearly remember my Mom reading the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my brother and me before I could read myself.

Did you make good use of your library card as a child / teenager?
Oh yes, my Mom is library obsessed and loves to read and read aloud, it was a huge part of my childhood. Reading was a big thing in our house and reading aloud and being read to is still one of my absolute favourite things in the world. Once I could go on my own and discover for myself an entire world opened and beckoned. I remember finding The Virgin Suicides at the library probably around 12 or 13 and surreptitiously checking it out, very intrigued by the title. Have you ever found a book that you simply couldn't finish? Oh yeah, plenty of times. There's so much to read out there so if I can't stay with it I'll put it aside and start something new.

Do you read book reviews?
Not so much, they're often too abstract or give too much away. Besides, I'm not much for reviews in general. I like going into movies with as little information as possible. The same with a record. Reviews can steal opinions and surprise. I prefer to learn about books through friends who I'm always trying to stay up with as I have some serious readers in my life.

Would you ever re-read the same book?
Yes, absolutely. I read The Year of Magical Thinking this year as my partner's grandfather was passing away. It was an act of empathy and also a meditation on future grief. I'm sure I will return to this book again when I need this kind of methodical prodding of death.

Have you ever identified with a character in a book? Which one and why?
Any of the books I fall in love with is an identification with the character. You know how the prose gets into your mind and it almost adjusts your own inner dialogue?

Do you read one book at a time or more than one?
My girlfriend laughs at me especially when I've been home on my own for awhile because all through the apartment are open books and folded copies of The New Yorker in progress.

Is there an author / poet you would like to collaborate with?
My best friend is one of my favourite poets, Timmy Straw. I hope we will make many things together in our lifetimes.

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'Promise' will be released on January 29th.

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