Since exploding onto the scene in 2018 with her breakthrough single, ‘Wonder’, Gold Coast indie-pop starlet San Mei (aka Emily Hamilton) has experienced a meteoric 24 months, culminating in the release (on March 27) of her new EP, ‘Cry’.
Marrying a resplendent, modern pop sheen to a punchy, guitar smeared dream pop template, ‘Cry’, is another impressive step in her musical development, sure to garner her ever-growing accolades.
Upon chatting with Emily, she fills us in on how the new EP came to fruition and how it has contributed to her growth as an artist.
”I wrote the songs over the course of about a year. I hadn’t necessarily been writing them with the intention of having particular theme, but as they all came together they really showed what the state of my head and heart had been at the time. These songs are probably the most honest and vulnerable songs I’ve written yet, and I felt like that was a really important progression for me to make as an artist.
“I got to work with producer Oscar Dawson on the tracks ‘Cry’ and ‘Hard to Face’, and with Scott Horscroft on ‘Love in the Dark’. The song ‘Cherry Days’ was self-produced, which was an awesome challenge for me to fully take the reins on production. It gave me a lot of confidence in my endeavour to become more and more self-sufficient when it comes to recording.”
With the rapidly escalating ramifications of COVID-19 playing out both here and abroad, Emily was caught in the crossfire recently, with herself and her band having to deal with the cancellation of both the iconic South By Southwest Festival which she was scheduled to perform at, followed by the blow out of her own showcase performances in Austin, Texas.
“We were pretty heartbroken when SXSW announced they had to cancel, but we understood why it had to happen. We weren’t really in a position to cancel our trip that we had booked months in advance, and at that time there was talk of non-SXSW showcases still going ahead in Austin, which we were excited for,” says Emily.
“We were able to wrangle a decent number of showcases, however the day we landed in Austin, all those shows got pulled. It was disappointing but not hugely unexpected given that everything had been changing hour by hour in the States in relation to COVID-19.”
In true intrepid spirit, they did salvage something from the unfortunate circumstance.
“We’d fallen in love with Austin when we played SXSW 2019, so we were determined to make the best of the situation and still try and enjoy our time there. We had a killer Airbnb, so we thought, why not create some cool content while we’re here! We hired a little PA and filmed some stripped back songs in our accommodation which was really fun and got us feeling productive. We also met the owner of one of the venues we’d been booked to play, and he asked us to play a little house party for a few of their friends. We were stoked – we actually got to play a show after lugging all our gear to the other side of the world!
“The best part was meeting a bunch of amazing creatives at that party who we met up with the next day and helped us create some killer video and photo content. We made special connections with those people in the middle of what felt like an apocalypse, and now we’re itching to get back there next year even more now!”
Emily has been quoted as describing her new single and EP title track, ‘Cry’, as “a reminder to myself to stop, breathe and appreciate this stage of my life and everything it has to offer.” Ironically, now that she’s just returned from the USA and entered 14 days mandatory isolation, she’ll get this very opportunity. I asked her what she was planning on doing during this current period of isolation, as we all ride out the spread of the COVID-19 scourge.
“I’m four days into mandatory quarantine and I’m actually loving it! It’s so easy to become distracted with music-related and general life tasks that are outside of song writing, but now that those distractions have come to a pause, I’m definitely using this time to put my head down and get as productive as I can with making music. I’m also aware of the self-imposed pressures for creatives to churn out a lot of material right now, so I think it’s important to make sure that the process is enjoyable and not based on that anxiety of how much I ‘should’ be creating.”
The term ‘dream pop’ gets thrown the way of San Mei quite a bit in relation to musical style. I ask Emily how she feels about being anointed with this particular tag.
“I’m a big fan of dream pop and shoegaze. I see it more as something I’m drawn to and that resonates with me, rather than something I decided I wanted to sound like. It seems that whatever music naturally comes out of me aligns with this kind of sonic world. I’m also a huge daydreamer and being transported to another world is my favourite thing about music, so it makes sense!”
Whilst dreamy, phased pop sounds resonate though her musical DNA, she’s also turned up on some quite eclectic bills, playing with sonically diverse bands such as The Growlers and the Gold Coast’s own Pure Milk.
It’s a situation that she clearly now revels in, despite some earlier trepidation.
“Earlier on I definitely found it a little weird to be playing on line-ups where I felt I wasn’t an obvious fit. But now I see it as a good thing, that maybe I’m not being pigeon-holed into a specific genre. I’m lucky to get the chance to play with so many different types of bands and to a wide range of people.”
With the music industry and all of its support networks going through some very tough times right now as a result of COVID-19, Emily is endeavouring to remain productive and positive.
“I feel so much for the people who are doing it tough right now in terms of loss of income, but it’s inspiring to see so many people pull themselves up and use their creativity to find a way out of a really dark time. Live shows are definitely the biggest income for many artists, so all of this is a huge blow.
“Fans buying/streaming music and buying merch right now will be a huge help. In terms of connecting with fans, we are extremely lucky to have social media and I’ve loved seeing all the live shows and video content popping up. I think there’s a real humanising element for fans to be able to see their favourite artists in their home environments, who are going through what everyone else is going through, and who are maybe showing a more vulnerable side than usual.”
And while the future may be uncertain, there is a sense of resolve and optimism from Emily as to where things will head for her, music wise, once the madness subsides.
“It’s hard to make concrete plans right now, but I’m hoping to be able to reschedule some headline shows that I had coming up over the next couple of months, which obviously had to be cancelled. Luckily all of this doesn’t affect putting out music, so I’m more determined than ever to keep my foot on the gas and continue to create and release as much music as I can.
“What I’m seeing from creatives across the board is that the passion to create is driving them to innovation and resourcefulness despite the current climate – I find it so inspiring and it makes me feel hopeful for the future.”
‘Cry’ is available now on streaming services, and you can check out the video below: