Emmy the Great © Alex Lake
Emmy the Great is the stage name of Emma-Lee Moss. (The moniker was a university joke that stuck.) The twenty-eight-year-old Anglo-Chinese musician first began to attract attention in the mid-2000s, when a set of her acoustic demos, recorded for a school project, began floating around the Internet, and she subsequently became associated with a group of young London-based folk revivalists that included Noah and the Whale, Johnny Flynn, and Mumford and Sons. Her debut album, First Love (2009), was built around acoustic guitar and her bright, quavering voice. But her early songs also reshaped classic indie pop and girl-group tropes into funny, wordy tales of romantic disappointment: a boyfriend who whiles away his life watching back-to-back episodes of 24; a girl who has a one-night affair with a guy who plays her the song “Hallelujah” (“the original Leonard Cohen version,” the narrator makes clear). Moss’s new album, Virtue, is both more mature and more heartbroken. The songs were written around her real-life breakup with her former fiancé, who left her on the eve of their wedding to join a religious order. We met one July morning on London’s Oxford Street (“About to meet Serious Journalist from Abroad … At Top Shop. #igottopickthevenue,” she tweeted) and went to a Soho café.
Musicians often say they don’t want to explain their lyrics or talk about the autobiographical elements in their songs because they want the listener to be free to project his or her own stories onto them. But with this album you’ve talked openly to the press about the breakup of your engagement and how it led to these songs.