Photo by: Emily White
Following two revered albums, ‘Dissolve’ in 2017 and ‘Avalanche’ in 2019, London-based electronic songwriter and producer Tusks, aka Emily Underhill, has returned with her third. ‘Gold’ is released on April 12th via One Little Independent Records, and new single ‘Adore’ is out alongside the announcement of UK in-store live dates as well as a tour supporting Tinlicker.
‘Gold’ took form slowly over several months spent rewriting and reworking; half created at home in the middle of London and half during two solitary trips to Devon, where many of the songs found their inspiration. In need of some space, away from a shared house that had just been through a pandemic together as well as from a relationship that was coming to an end, she traveled to the south-west. It was here that she would get the bulk of her writing done, recognising there were some things she would have to work through alone, and in no small part it came to her in the form of a torrential storm. Bringing the album back to London, Tusks partnered with producer Tom Andrews to bring the tracks to life from studios like Ten87 in Tottenham and SS2 Recording in Southend.
Synth-heavy and fuelled by emotionally charged layers of heavenly vocal harmonies, the album is densely constructed, meticulously produced and cathartic. Across ten tracks of deeply resonant electronic pop, the soundscapes crafted here sway from the blissful, ambient and thought-provoking, to slow-building ragers. Through pressure and release, ‘Gold’ explores dynamics, nuances and emotions using an array of atmospheric and kinetic textures as well as Tusks’ singular, powerful voice.
Anyone familiar with her career to date will note that Tusks’ relationship with music as a means to communicate vulnerability is well documented. There’s a raw, exposed nature to her writing that feels authentic and intimate. She often describes the complications and subtleties of relationships in a way that’s reflective and relatable. ‘Gold’ maps various stages in the breakdown of a romance, but it also stops to consider the impact of isolation, individually and socially, as well as anxiety, mental health and the wider effects of austerity.
“A lot of this album was inspired by contrasting experiences” Underhill explains, “Processing a breakup and then falling in love again. Being constantly surrounded by people in lockdown, then suddenly being completely alone and free. Being in the city vs being in nature. We wanted to echo these contrasts in the production of the music so constantly moved between lo-fi and hi-fi production – sampling our own drum beats, recording them through compressed tin can mics and processing through loads of analogue gear and a 404 then switching to cleaner, larger sounding kits achieved by recording with mics in back rooms and the ceiling to give the impression of space. There was a huge analogue influence on the production and mix too by using loads of analogue synths and modular, putting a lot of the stems through tape and getting to be really creative with using delay throws and feedback on the 501 Space Echo. It was such a fun process and allowed Tom and I to delve into doing exactly what we love.”
In its production, ‘Gold’ is a musician’s album, Tusks pushed herself further during the creative process, slaving over each snare sample and the tone of each synth note. She describes LP opener ‘Wake’ as “like the orchestra tuning up”, it invites the listener in and slowly spreads itself out curiously. “The demo sounded like this folk song sung over a synth drone, which we then used as a skeleton for the track and built it up with so many layers of textures and synths. That’s kinda what the song’s about for me – the journey of the synths and playing with as much texture and sound as possible; we did stuff like include samples from the NASA website of audio recordings of the Mars Rover. It’s very exploratory, I think it’s about discovery, and about trying to figure out what’s going on in your head.”
The album continues its excursion further, with epic and dreamlike musicality that soars upwards. On tracks like ‘Adore’ and ‘Artificial Flame’ it’s used to examine two opposite ends of the partnership spectrum; “Adore is about falling in love with someone at the start of a relationship when you’re asking yourself if it’s a good idea, if you should fall for that person or whether you should keep yourself guarded. Artificial Flame is about the point I’d also realised I was no longer in love with my partner at the time. It’s about coming to that realisation and processing it.” It was while thunder rolled and rain poured outside that Underhill was able to deal with some of these things, “I didn’t really speak to anyone for days, and the storm came over. Weirdly, that ended up inspiring the chorus hook because I couldn’t light a fire without using a load of firelighters, which then made this massive green flame. I was kinda staring at it, then the phrase Artificial Flame popped into my head and seemed to sum up everything I was feeling.”
Delving into the technicals of the record allowed for further experimentation across the board, for example they were able to lift parts out of songs and into others where they saw fit, adding thematic continuity and patchworking ideas they felt had value. A discarded brass recording from ‘Read The Room’ was sampled and added to ‘Tainted Plates’. They also played with processing through tape and 404 to retain the lo-fi quality Tusks was adamant in keeping throughout.
Album highlight ‘The Way’ was written about finding the calm past the turmoil, “I’d been out in the storm for a couple of hours, in these mental 45 mile an hour winds listening to Porridge Radio, I came home and instantly sketched out this whole song on bass guitar. It was another one where it just kinda came out in one go from somewhere within me, like it had been building up over time. It’s addressed to anxiety. It’s about realising that whatever is going to happen, is going to happen anyway – that’s just the way it is. I find that very calming.”
‘Read The Room’ is a one-take piano and vocal recording, stripped back to a melancholy mood-piece to convey reminiscing on a failed relationship. Follow-up ‘Strangers’ paints a vivid picture of “how you feel when you decide to end a relationship and realise what you’re about to lose – that person who you’ve shared so much with and been so close to for so long is just going to become a stranger. I found it so hard to come to terms with that fact.”
On the title track Underhill singles out the government’s handling of the pandemic. “It was written in response to seeing how the Tories acted and realising that if you have a certain amount of money and status, nothing else seems to matter – you can get away with anything. I felt like we were watching in real time how they just didn’t seem to care if people died or if any of this horrific stuff happened, so long as they weren’t going to get in trouble for it or their friends got rich. Somehow, they just seem to be immune to any kind of punishment and let off the hook. It’s more joyous at the end because that’s supposed to be about their downfall. I feel like I was hoping that would come by the time this came out…”
Joint closers ‘Body Ache’ and ‘Cold Storm’ perfectly encapsulate what ‘Gold’ is; a force of nature, as impactful in its quieter moments as it is when it strikes. Like the people and relationships it represents, it’s complex, with a depth and richness that’s observed within the smallest sonic eccentricity and decision. Like anything, Tusks knows that her artistic strength comes from a careful balance, a push and pull that can be felt tangibly across ‘Gold’ and its conception.
Early on Tusks drew comparisons to Sigur Rós and Explosions In The Sky, gaining support from the likes of BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne, BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac and Huw Stephens, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Mixmag, MOJO, Wonderland and more. She released her debut album ‘Dissolve’ to critical acclaim, produced alongside Brett Cox (Jack Garratt, Alt J, Marika Hackman). Second album ‘Avalanche’ led Tusks further into the world of grunge and shoegaze. Taking inspiration from My Bloody Valentine, Marika Hackman and Wolf Alice, the album went on to gain her support from ever widening audiences across the world, as well as syncs on hit shows such as Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’.
Having previously supported Khurangbin, Ásgeir, Bear’s Den and Submotion Orchestra, Tusks embarked on her first European and UK headline tour at the start of 2020, including nights at London’s prestigious Village Underground (which she recorded and released as a live album) and Berlin’s Berghain Panorama Bar. In 2021 she collaborated with CJ Mirra on the soundtrack for feature film ‘A Banquet’.
- Artificial Flame
- Tainted Plates
- The Way
- Read The Room
- Body Ache
- Cold Storm
Tue 27 Feb – Poland, Poznan – Tama
Wed 28 Feb – Austria, Vienna – Ottakringer Brauerei
Thu 29 Feb – Hungary, Budapest – Akvárium Klub
Sat 2 Mar – Czech Republic, Prague – Roxy
Sun 3 Mar – Switzerland, Zurich – Kaufleuten
Tue 5 Mar – Italy, Milan – Magazzini Generali
Thu 7 Mar – Germany, Cologne – Live Music Hall
Fri 8 Mar – Belgium, Antwerp – Trix
Sat 9 Mar – Netherlands, Amsterdam – Gashouder
Mon 11 Mar – Denmark, Copenhagen – Pumpehuset
Wed 13 Mar – Germany, Hamburg – Fabrik
Thu 14 Mar – Germany, Berlin- Huxleys
Fri 15 Mar – Germany, Frankfurt – Batschkapp
Sat 16 Mar – France, Paris – Elysee Montmartre
Thu 21 Mar – UK, Manchester – New Century Hall
Fri 22 Mar – UK, Bristol – Marble Factory
Sat 23 Mar – UK, London – Troxy
Wed 27 Mar – UK, Belfast – Mandela Hall
Thu 28 Mar – Ireland, Dublin – Vicar Street
Sat 13 Apr – UK, London – Rough Trade East
Tue 16 Apr – UK, Nottingham – Rough Trade
Wed 17 Apr – UK, Brighton – Family Store
Thu 18 Apr – UK, Bristol – Rough Trade
PRAISE FOR TUSKS
“A force to be reckoned with”
“Atmospheric and reflective”
The Line of Best Fit
‘Adore’ is out Thursday, January 18th
‘Gold’ is out Friday, April 12th