Emily Underhill, aka TUSKS, clearly came of musical age on a diet of James Blake, Sigur Ros and Daughter.
Her atmospheric soundscapes expertly meld the icy melodies of Scandi-pop with the broken bass of late night London, so it’s no wonder she’s recently signed to One Little Indian (home to Björk and Ásgeir).
As a solo proposition, she’s fully in charge of every glitch, lunging beat and reverbed guitar plunge, filtering the ideas in her head through a lo-fi dimmer switch that can flip at any moment for a technicolour crescendo.
Following a string of drama-fuelled SoundCloud uploads, and the ace False EP, her debut album Dissolve is set to land on 13 October.
We caught up with her beforehand, to find out what’s in store and hear how she first began sculpting her icy synth-pop…
When did you first think about making music?
When I was growing up, I used to learn the piano. I always really enjoyed making up stuff rather than learning someone else’s pieces. So I think it was just a steady progression. Then I did music tech as A Level, and that introduced me to making music on computers.
What have been your biggest inspirations?
I find it really hard to pinpoint a few things. But there was a band called Explosions in the Sky that I was obsessed with when I was 17 or 18. And things like Sigur Rós and that kind of really epic, orchestrated music. I think that definitely inspired me to create music along those lines.
Your music is definitely pretty glacial and a bit Scandi. I guess you’re a good match for One Little Indian!
Yes! It’s just great being with them. When me and my manager Jack wrote a list of labels I added One Little Indian on because they’d followed me on SoundCloud when I was about 19. As I was just starting out, I got really excited that it was going to happen! Obviously, it didn’t, but from having that initial excitement, they always stuck out to me a little bit more. Then I got to know how incredible their roster is, and it just felt like a really good fit. Touring with artists like Ásgeir is really cool.
Did you sit down intentionally to write the album?
It’s more of a collection of songs really. I don’t really want to use the word ‘journey’, because it’s a little bit creepy, but it’s been a journey over the past three years.
I think when I do the next one, I will sit down and think about it more as a project. But this one has got songs on there that I created almost three years ago. And it’s also got songs that were finished in May or March time, just before we mastered it. I just picked the ones that I thought would gel well together, and had a really cool overall sound.
I read that you mostly write late into the night. Are you a night owl?
I think I can write the initial stage of a song at whatever time of the day, if it just comes to me. But I’ll start working at 2 in the afternoon, and I’ll keep working until 2 in the morning. I’m not the sort of person who wakes up at 7 and starts working.
How do you approach production? Is it something that comes naturally to you?
I think my view on production has changed a lot over the past year, when doing the album. I think I was always under the impression that I should be producing all my own music, and if I didn’t, it was a failure on my part.
But I love it so much when I’m in a room with someone else, and they’ve got all these amazing ideas, and you can put them with your ideas. You buzz off each other. I think that’s definitely how I want to go from now on. I’ve produced and my remixed stuff, and I hope I will produce a couple more songs on the next album. But I really, really enjoy co-producing with people.
How do you feel about the now it’s just about to be released?
I’m really excited. It feels like the end of a marathon. Now I can just enjoy it and go on tour. I’m also really excited to start the next one because I think you learn so much from making your first album.
So are you ready to play it live then?
That’s what I’m working on at the moment. I need to sort that out. Thanks for reminding me!
Is there anyone that you’d love to work with in the future?
Yes, there are loads of people I’d like to work with, which I’m sure will never happen! I’d love to work with classical people like Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm, really beautiful piano music. That would such a dream.
What’s going to be your measure of success for the album?
I really love touring, and I want to play a load of festivals next year. So I think if the album allows me to do that, to keep on touring and go to different places in the world that I haven’t played yet, that would be amazing. That would feel like success.
What else is keeping you busy for the rest of the year?
I’ve got the Ásgeir tour, which is a month in Canada and the US. Then I’ve got Iceland Airwaves, which I start in November, and I think I’ll stay out there for a little bit longer just to explore. Then I’ve got the album headline show on 15 November, so I’ve got to be busy getting the album tracks ready to play live.