Although based out of New York City, the music that ambient artist Emma Houton makes seems to have little in common with the city that never sleeps. On her upcoming debut album, The Bath, out this Friday via Trapped Animal, Emma instead seems to dig deeper into her family history. The record incorporates elements of Irish Folklore from her father’s ancestry, religion from her Methodist upbringing and the ancient, gory tradition of the Murder Ballad. The result is a record that seems to exist outside of a specific time and place: folk music delivered through the filter of modern ambient composition.
Originally written for an 8-voice choir, The Bath was planned as a piece of work for Emma’s university thesis. However, when the pandemic made that impractical, Emma decided instead to perform the whole thing herself. Throughout the record, Emma utilises little more than a loop pedal and her own voice to create a vast sonic canvas. The result is a hypnotic, beautiful and slightly eerie world in the mould of Julianna Barwick or Marissa Nadler. Thematically, The Bath seems to be constantly tied to water, both its life-giving quality and its destructive power. This is never more clearly laid out than on Bow and Balance, where a shared sisterly love interest ends with one sister drowned in the sea and the other on the gallows for her murder. Throughout, there’s something wonderfully immersive about this record, as if you’re sinking your head beneath the titular bathwater and becoming engulfed into Emma’s world. It is a record full of familiarly human sounds, which are then manipulated to something much grander than their origins. The Bath borrows influences from music old and new, and in doing so creates an amalgam of ideas, a place of escapism and wonder that serves as a magical introduction to a songwriter who isn’t quite like anyone else you’ve ever heard before.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Emma Houton?
Emma Houton is an NYC based vocal ambient artist. They work using a loop pedal, layering their voice to construct atmospheric, choral loops. Their music is melancholy and cathartically escapist.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
The first show I played was with my first band when I was 15 at a gallery opening. I completely lost my voice and was so terrified I gave one of the worst performances of my life. I had such bad stage fright that I was shaking and kind of just whispering into the microphone— it haunted me for years but now it’s really funny to me.
I played my first solo show in college at a house show, and it was a nightmare all around— my equipment kept failing, the audience was talking, and my ex was running sound. I think my curse may be that each first show for any project I have will be a catastrophe.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I make music because I have an overwhelming sense that if I didn’t, I would regret it everyday. It’s almost a compulsion— making music is the most fulfilling thing in the world to me, and I think if I ever gave up on it I’d be a really bitter person. I love creating music and it brings me so much joy and peace, but to a degree that I kind of have to make music or I’ll absolutely lose it.
FTR: What can people expect from the Emma Houton live show?
An Emma Houton live show is a very meditative experience. I know I’m doing something right when everyone in the audience is kind of just swaying in place with their eyes closed. I want my music to create those kinds of private experiences, I think it’s incredibly valuable. When I play live, I like the sound to be inescapable and all-encompassing. From the outside they’re very low-key experiences, but I’m doing a lot of emotional work through my music and my live shows invite you along for the ride.
FTR: What’s next for Emma Houton?
Currently I’m working on an album of murder ballads, arranged in my style. I’m also working on a full live performance of The Bath. It was originally written to be performed by a full choir, and I hope as things become safer that that will finally be able to happen!
They Listen To…
Slowdive – When The Sun Hits
Julianna Barwick – White Flag
Joanna Newsom – The Things I Say
Emma Ruth Rundle – Oslo Pt. 1
The Veils – Axolotl