Emma Pask on jazz, life on Bondi Beach and her ARIA nomination
Emma Pask was discovered by jazz musician James Morrison when she was just 16 years old when she performed at her high school. There was an instant recognition of her incredible voice and musicianship, and Emma has been touring with the trumpeter and his band ever since that fateful day two decades ago. In fact, James Morrison crowned Emma to be, "The greatest gift to Australian Jazz Vocals in the last decade.” It's a story so many artists wish to be their own, and the accomplished and season jazz vocalist knows it. Not a day has been squandered with Emma seizing every opportunity to be better and constantly growing as an artist. Despite already having a career singing, Emma took her drive to be challenged to appear on The Voice. And while she didn't win, Emma has gone from strength to strength in her career, despite a few hiccups along the way. Her latest achievement having been nominated for an ARIA for her album Cosita Divina. Emma Pask took the time to tell Music Love all about the highs and the lows of a life in music.
What does music mean to you?
What a huge question! Music. The universal language with endless possibilities. It means so much to me. Sonically and lyrically, I enjoy music immensely and I'm so fortunate that is a part of my everyday life. Through music I get to experience so many differing emotions. Listening to it, and especially making music with my band, to then performing it live, it's quite hard to express all the feelings I get to experience and it can become overwhelming at times which is awesome too. Getting to connect with audiences while singing and sharing a story is pretty awesome. When a beautiful lyric is set to a gorgeous melody - that's joyous and feels so good! I love that music is there for you when you’re happy, sad, lost, suffering, or celebrating. We get to express so much through music and the people listening can relate and share an experience with you. Its mighty!
Your ARIA nomination – congratulations! How did you feel when you found out?
I was really chuffed when I found out [the album] was nominated for an ARIA award. There were so many incredible artists and albums that were up for a chance to be nominated, and only five received nominations, so I was really excited! The album was a real labour of love for me. Self-funded and produced, I was extra excited that my independent album could stand alongside the record company productions.
Your voice is beautiful. When did you start singing? How did you hone your gift? Are you disciplined with your voice?
When i was in primary school, i went along to singing and dancing lessons, generally in large classes. I was a shy kid and tended to stay up the back out of the way., and just sing along never thinking i was any good. When i started High School i had an incredible Music teacher, Antony Gullick. He encouraged me, and all my fellow students to follow our love of music. I always remember looking forward to music class as it was the time we could get creative and express ourselves. The shy little girl vanished and I’d always have my hand up ready to try new things. Like when it came time to learn to play the guitar, I think I nearly burst off my chair, I was so excited. I’d always loved the music my parents played around the house. Anything from Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, to Bill Haley and the Comets, Bob Dylan the Traveling Wilburys with loads more. My music teacher picked up on the love I had for jazz and big band music, so when he started up the school stage band and asked me to sing in it, I was pretty excited. I went to rehearsal after school and sang my first tune with the band It had to be you and that was it, I was HOOKED! Every Monday afternoon after school it was band practice and i would be there sitting on stage with the band loving every minute of it .
Over the years we played all over the place for school functions and I was just loving doing what came naturally to me. James Morrison visited our high school to workshop our school band when I was sixteen in year 11 and he heard me sing that afternoon. That evening the school put on a concert featuring James and his band, and half way through the concert, to my complete shock, James called me up on stage telling the audience that he’d heard me sing in the afternoon and now he’d like to get me up on stage to join him and his band for a number.
I was completely blown away, yet somehow managed to get up on stage and sing with him. It was such an incredible experience and one that i thought was a ‘once in a lifetime kinda thing.’ But the following week, his manger called and booked me for a gig with James, and the rest, as they say, is history. I spent the following 20 years by his side traveling all over Australia and Overseas.
During the first few years of working with him I had some voice training with two lovely teachers who helped me a lot with my technique. Finding out what to do, and what not to do, so as to not harm my voice. There was a lot of classical singing which I enjoyed the challenge of, as I really wasn’t any good at it! I much preferred it to be a bit more free, like in Jazz. I learnt a lot from those lessons, took what resonated with me, and then continued on my own path. I do look after myself and my voice as best i can. I avoid really noisy places where you find yourself yelling to hold a conversation. I keep hydrated and try to get enough rest.
Tell us about your on your time on the Voice.
My time on the Voice was pretty brief. It was fun but also very challenging. Just what I’d hoped it would be. Many people ask me why I entered the show. After spending twenty years on the road working and loving what I got to do so much, I found myself looking ahead and thinking, what can I do to ensure I can keep doing what I love so much for another twenty years at least? Not one to be complacent, I didn’t think for a minute that all of Australia had heard me sing before, so when I was approached to go on the show, I thought this could be a great opportunity to sing for a larger audience. Perhaps a different audience from those at my gigs, and see if [other people] like what I do, and bring a bit of Jazz to a potentially new audience. Also, it would push me out of my comfort zone, to be on live television where anything can happen. That was exciting! Unfortunately I didn't get to stay on the show very long. I left just before they had me sing an Adele hit, which I was so looking forward to but, alas, it didn’t happen.
What was it like to be invited to sing with Ricky Martin?
It was lovely to meet Ricky Martin. Singing Mas Que Nada for him [on the show] was a real challenge and I loved that. When he said how much he enjoyed it and then invited me to sing with him on his next album, I was really blown away. And I couldn’t wait for that to happen. Unfortunately to date, thats never come about. That experience left me pretty flat, and I kinda got quite down about it. It took me a little while, but with some encouragement from friends and family, I turned that around and went ahead and made my own Latin album! That's really what inspired me to record Cosita Divina, hence being pretty chuffed with my ARIA nomination.
What’s your process like in the studio?
Its always good to be well rested before long studio days. I love being in the studio with my band. We keep the set up as close to a gig as possible. All playing and singing live together. A very cool happy place where so much magic happens.
Who are your favourite Australian women in music and the arts?
I have many female friends in the industry who are out there trucking away, working hard doing what we all love so much. Some of whom are mothers at the same time as keeping their musical/artistic endeavours alive - totally inspiring! Katie Noonan, Sarah Grace Williams (the Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Metropolitan Orchestra), Virginia Gay (Actor/Musical Theatre awesomeness), Krew Boylan (Actor), and Shannon Murphy (a kick-ass director). Krew is a dear friend - we graduated from NIDA Young actors studio together many years ago - and together with Shannon and a few other awesome ladies they have formed an all-women production company called DollHouse Productions.
I love that over the years, you never really know whats coming next, but my feeling is always one of great anticipation and excitement at the possibilities. A new album, loads more gigs, some fun musical collaborations. I can’t wait! I'm really enjoying being a television presenter, too. Studio 10 have me on quite often, and it's always great fun hosting the show with them. Acting has been a passion of mine for as long as music, and while music took a leading role career-wise for me, I’m always looking for avenues to rediscover that love.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to travel to some awesome parts of Australia. So much beauty in this country. I love experiencing rural Oz, but at the moment my favourite place is home on the eastern beaches. Get me in the ocean. I love the ocean and I love swimming. I’m a member of the Bondi Icebergs club and you’ll find me most days with my swimming crew, a little group of us who swim from Icebergs in South Bondi, over to North Bondi and back. Its my favourite place to be!
What is your favourite Australian café/restaurant?
So many great eating experiences on offer in this country. I’ve just come home from being in Italy and Greece for a month, and whilst we had some amazing food over there, we really are spoilt for choice here in Oz when it comes to fresh organic deliciousness! I’m a vegetarian, and have loads of awesome favourites in Sydney. at the moment i love Sadhanna Kitchen in Bondi. I’m off to Adelaide for some fun Christmas shows in December and I’m looking forward to going back to Bliss Organic Cafe. A total fave :)
Who is your favourite Australian fashion designer:
The ever elegant Leona Edmiston dresses me for many of my performances and TV appearances. I love her style.
Emma Pask's ARIA award nominated album Cosita Divina is now available, and she will be on tour in March 2017, details up soon at www.emmapask.com
Follow Emma on Instagram @emmapask and Facebook.com/EmmaPaskMusic