Interview: Em-J Dau Of Dear Willow On Launch Of New Single ‘Happy’

Interview by Tracey Moyle – Music Maven Events

Sunshine Coast indie pop/rock foursome, Dear Willow have released their sunny new single Happy.  From her musical emergence in 2012, lead singer Em-J Dau has seen the metamorphosis of her Dear Willow persona grow from poet to soloist to their beautifully fresh sound as the band they are band today.   Happy is an upbeat yet dreamy alt-rock retrospect lyrically almost juxtaposed by the fragility of relationships.  Dau takes Tracey Moyle deep into the psyche of the lyrics as well as the process and outlook the band takes when writing their music.

Congratulations on the new single Happy! It’s has a beautifully upbeat alternative pop vibe to it but in contrast, musically it’s light but lyrically it evokes a heavy hearted feel, almost a deep yearning to be Happy.  Can you give us a run down on what the song is about?

“Thank you. I wrote this song when a bunch of people that were close to me were going through some break ups and I’ve always had a bit of a fear of commitment being a child of divorce.  So I guess when those things happen you think about how scared you are of them, how scared you are of putting yourself out there.   And at the same time I’ve been with my husband since I was 18 so we’ve been together for seven years and am so happy with him.  But I still have this deep fear, should I be this happy, should I risk it, kind of thing.” 

It’s funny how much we carry from our childhood. The psychology of that is fascinating to be honest.

“Totally.   Sometimes I forget how deep seeded those thoughts are.  For me I guess having this really deep belief that there’s always an end to relationships, even if I don’t believe that for myself, it’s still a thought that comes up.  It’s really deep seeded so you forget about it until it happens again and you think ‘oh that’s right, I’m really crap scared of that’. ”

Sometimes you meet couples and you think or you just know that they have something special and you know they will be together forever and sometimes others, you think ‘hmmm that’s an interesting combination.’  So it really depends on the couple.

“So yeah I guess that’s where I started writing Happy.  There’s someone in my life particularly, a little bit before I wrote this, (where) they’d been together since I was a kid basically and they were my idols for relationships and I thought they’d be together forever and then they broke up very badly.  And that’s one of the things that shook me and I realised how scared of it I was.”

It comes across in the song.  Your vocal control is beautiful. Your tone is sublimely melodic but you have that hint of held back huskiness that creates more depth than just a sweet pop voice.   Do you have any particular female artists who have inspired you?

“Thank you.  Well I grew up with a lot of Fleetwood MacStevie Nicks was a big influence.  I don’t think I sing like her but she was a big influence for me.  I think on this song, particularly in the verses, I do go into my near lowest register and I think at the time I was listening to a lot of Garbage.  So growing up I listened to a lot of Garbage and Shirley Manson was a bit influence for me.”

It’s funny that you say Stevie Nicks because when I was listening to Happy and thinking about how you had that control, I did think Stevie.  

“Oh wow! there you go, maybe she is coming out in my voice.”

I think no matter who you are or who your influences are you can hold on to it subconsciously.   I wouldn’t say you sound like Stevie Nicks but there was just something there enough so that her voice popped into my head when I was listening to you sing. 

“It’s like a nuance or something.  Interesting. That’s cool.  (laughs)”

You’ve been in the scene since 2012?

“Yeah that’s right, I was 18 and started gigging outside of school when I first graduated.”

Since then you have built from a soloist to a full band.  Was this a conscience decision or did things just all seem to fall into place.

“It was definitely a conscience decision and it fell into place. (laughs)

When I started doing it, I pictured this big band like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and there was just people jamming, but at time I didn’t know anyone who was interested in doing the same thing as me so I just started as solo.  Over the years I played in different versions of Dear Willow, I don’t know how many versions of Dear Willow we’re up to (laughs) but through some session musos’, played with some friends, and then in the last two years we’ve become the Dear Willow that we now are which is the four piece.  We’re a tight knit gang of weirdos (laughs), which is amazing and I love it.”

Are you the wordsmith of the band?  The main song writer?

“I write the lyrics and the melodies that’s for sure.  Over the last year we’ve definitely started song writing together a lot more.  It’s hard to finish songs, start to finish, as a band because you never have enough time together.  So we do write some together and then there are others that I start and I bring to the band and then we workshop it, chop and change stuff or sometimes it’s finish and it’s like ‘lets just add our instruments ‘cause this is good’.  So it’s a bit of a mix and match for that one.”

Do you find that lyrics come out and a song is written around them or a melody is put down and the song comes from the feel of the music.

“Definitely case by case.  I have bunches of books that are filled with lyrics and sometimes if I’m song writing and I’m not feeling any words I use some of those and then put that to melody.  Sometimes they come at the same time and other times we start with just the music and I let that develop before I add any kind of vocals on it.  So when we’re writing in a full band setting, generally I don’t set a vocal part to it until the music starts to be established.   I sing a little bit of it, some notes that will fit in with it, and I kind of just ad-lib a bit until we find a good kind of foundation to go on, get some chords that we like.  A lot of times we start with bass actually because Jye (Pouzet) our bass player is an amazing song writer as well and he’s really, really good at finding interesting changes and interesting chord parts.”

It’s great having more than one song writer, that would give you disparity in your music.  You haven’t got the same sound or same feeling all the time. 

“That’s one of our things that we’re always proud of ourselves with, is that while we’re figuring out our sound we never want to sound the same each song.  It’s something that we really strive to not have.   Be too same-same.”

You can still have your sound without every song sounding the same.

“There are a few bands I discovered recently and I thought “oh my god, this is amazing, I love their sound” and then I got a bit bored because there wasn’t much difference in the songs. It got a bit predictable.  And I got really disappointed.  So I don’t want to disappoint anyone or myself.”

We’re you musical as a kid?   Or did you find bands influencing you to play when you were a little older?

“I definitely grew up musical. I have memories of being maybe five years old, at a family reunion singing the Titanic song My Heart Will Go On at the top of my lungs, (laughs) in my baby chipmunk voice.   I was always a performer. I grew up doing musicals and plays and all sorts of  showcases.  I have a very musical family so I definitely grew up with music being a big part of my life.”

There are some amazing bands where you are from on the Sunshine Coast.  I saw The Dreggs at Caloundra Music Festival and loved them.  Who do you love catching live on the coast?

“How much time do you have? because I’m a big fan of music that’s local!  (laughs)”

Give me a few for us to listen to and we can go from there.

“Ok well, look up Dorah Jackson if you haven’t heard of her yet.  She is incredible and I have song written with her before and she is just beautiful.  Beautiful music – beautiful person.  Fieu – Amazing songstress, an absolute powerhouse with vocals – like dark alternative pop based on piano. Anna & Jordan, they’re a folk duo, folk/Celtic kind of stuff and they are amazing.  Forrest Run, a three piece electronic groove I guess you would call them. They produce amazing music and Ayla is the singer, she does her own solo stuff as well and she is just incredible.  And I could probably go on forever and ever but those are probably my stand outs.   Oh, and Muules, they do heavier music. They are a three piece and they have drums, bass and vocals and the bass is the lead guitar as well as creating all sorts of unique sound effects.”

I love my music a little heavier.  You had me at bass.

“You’ll love Muules then.” 

You have a single launch in Brisbane on Friday December 13 – The Flying Cock, and recently you had the Sunshine Coast launch at Wax Buildup in  Maroochydore.  How did that go?

“Well there was actually a bit of a change with that one.  Wax Buildup is a record store but unfortunately we couldn’t play there so we played around the corner at a venue called The Sneaky Baron.  It was a daytime launch, because it was suppose to be a record in store performance.  So when we had the change they really helped us out and we had a really good time. It was good, there were lots of people and they were all super nice and it was lots of fun.  

Everyone was so helpful.  So with Wax Buildup when we couldn’t do it there they actually organised for us to do it at The Sneaky Baron so that was really cool of them.”

I guess that proves that people in the music industry in any form, are there to help each other out and see the music happen and keep supporting it. 

What have you got on your wish list for 2020.  Will there be new music?  Will you take your tour beyond Qld?

“Well we’re definitely working on some songs. We’ve been taking our time with them because a lot of the time you feel really rushed to put stuff out, to stay relevant to stay in peoples minds but we’ve just been really enjoying the song writing process so we’ll see how quickly that comes out next year.   We definitely won’t be rushing ourselves.  Then we will be doing some show for it and take it into some other states as well.” 

If you could tour as support with any artist who would you choose?

“I can answer that for a couple of people in our band.  So Melinda (Huurdman) our guitarist, she’s incredible, she would want to support Paul Dempsey.  Callan (Holstein, drums) for our music, I reckon he would want to support Wolf Alice.  Jye, probably Wolf Alice, or Billie Eilish because he’s a sucker for Billie Eilish.   Me, I would so love to go on tour with Warpaint.  I think they would be amazing to jam with and get to know.” 

Well you’ve put it out to the universe now lets just sit back and see what happens!

“Thank you universe, let me hang out with Warpaint please! (laughs)”

You can catch Dear Willow with guests and the Happy single launch at The Flying Cock Brisbane on Friday December 13.  More information HERE.

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