On the afternoon that I catch Emilíana Torrini on the phone at her home in Iceland, she is in the middle of making herself some lunch.
We are discussing, in detail, each of the tracks on her new album, Tookah, and after some chopping and munching, Torrini accidentally drops her meal on the floor half-way through our conversation. I tell her about the 10-second rule and she reassures me that the food was so delicious she’d still eat it if it remained on the floor for half an hour.
Writing and recording Tookah was far from an easy process for Torrini. In fact, by all accounts, she had put too much pressure on herself to make a worthy follow-up for 2008′s near-perfect Me and Armini, that somewhere along the way the experience teetered on the verge of being destructive. But, with the help of producer and long-term collaborator Dan Carey, Torrini dusted herself off and tried again. The result is a 9-track set, which doesn’t stray too much from its predecessors but nevertheless brings that unique and beautiful voice back to our ears with some personal and story-laden songwriting. Here Torrini discusses her favourite moments on the record, creating Kylie’s ‘Slow’, nearly losing a song to a plane-crash and why she wrote a track about ‘War Horse’.
Best Fit: Right, let’s talk ‘Tookah’!
Torrini: ‘Tookah’ was kind of… it was was born when we decided not to do a record.
Best Fit: Strange timing…
Torrini: Yes. I was struggling with the whole thing. I just wasn’t feeling that we were on the right track. And Dan just said to me, basically you are not ready for this, why don’t we just hang out. And that’s what we did. The hanging out, of course, was in the studio . After having my baby I just needed to go out and have a dance, you know? I need to go dancing with my friends. But I was already with my friend so I didn’t really have to go somewhere to do that. So we just started doing some dance music and ‘Tookah’ was really dancey, originally. It had a toof-toof beat on it and it was born out of an improvisation. It ended up being a kind of visual thing in my brain where the word Tookah kept coming up with a blissful, beautiful feeling. It was like a mental split where you become a duality, you know, two ends of yourself and you have to work at getting them to join. And in the centre there is the you that you are born with and that is the you that never goes away. And I think that is what – I always say this – what the sufis spin for. I always kind of saw sufis in my head, spinning. That core became Tookah, what – for me – was my core. You know, it’s that feeling when you’re walking somewhere and you’re suddenly just feeling really grateful and this gentle happiness and you know that everything is ok.
Best Fit: Tookah’s album version is different to the original dance demo but it does have a whiff of the electro-blips we hear on Kylie’s ‘Slow’, which you and Dan co-wrote. Have you ever recorded ‘Slow’ yourself or performed it live?
Torrini: Yes. I mean, I did the demo of it but never a finished version. It’s just never been that interesting to me. You know, we wrote it for her. We did go: ‘ah, I don’t really want to give it away’ but we were in the middle of writing Fisherman’s Woman and that was the priority for us at the time.
Best Fit: Caterpillar explores sadness coming “in slow whispers”. Did this song arrive from a sad place?
Torrini: No, it’s not all sad. There’s joy in that song too. It’s about not having to be afraid of being by yourself. Sometimes you just have to let it happen and go through with it, not fight it so much. For me it’s a bit more of a poem… It’s really hard to explain because it’s very much ‘of a feeling’, what you are feeling when you hear it. I feel like I would belittle it by trying to explain it because I haven’t really figured out the words to express it, that’s why I wrote the song.
Best Fit: This one nearly got lost to a plane crash, didn’t it…
Torrini: Dan left his bag with his computer at the airport and we were already on the plane. He had to run last minute to get it and he forgot his passport somewhere as well so he had to run out again -
Best Fit: Yikes!
Torrini: Yeah. I think someone was trying to save him from a plane crash and it was meant to happen. But he persisted and came on the plane with the computer but at landing we almost hit another plane on the runway.
Best Fit: Is the version that made the album the same version Dan had on his computer on that fateful day?
Torrini: No, actually. We didn’t record it properly in Iceland – we only had a laptop with us and wanted to record it in the studio. It was very difficult because we wanted to capture the demo, we always do that – we fall in love with the demos .
Best Fit: How did ‘Home’ come about?
Torrini: My partner, who is English, got a dream job in Iceland, of all places. It was like, pack your bags – we’re going! After 16 years of living in England, there was a lot going through my mind, you know? There are a lot of friends who have substituted family and so… it was kind of a big deal. And then one night when we were recording the album – Dan was playing the guitar and I was singing – this song just came up. Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m feeling very much, I have no sense of what I feel about something until I have written a song about it and then it de-scrambles my thoughts or, you know, stops them being pixelated. So this song was kind of the start of the excitement of going home and seeing family.
Best Fit: Do you miss home when you’re on tour?
Torrini: Oh, no – I love having a double life, you know. There is such a massive part of me that is a gypsy. Without the kind of music life that I have, you won’t get the best of me when I’m home. You know what I mean? So, one doesn’t go without the other. It’s really important to me. Although I do get… not homesick, but I miss my family. Extremely.
Best Fit: ‘Elísabet’ is one of only few new songs that you played live at festivals last summer. Is it one of the first songs you wrote for the record?
Torrini: Ummm… yeah. I wrote it when I was pregnant. I met up with two guys called Ian (Kellett) and Simon (Byrt) who are my guitarist and keyboardist and we started fooling around in my house, I was massively pregnant when I wrote that song. It’s an ode to Elísabet, who is my auntie. She’s my mum’s sister and we are very close and, you know, she is basically one of those people that… everybody wants to have a song written about them but you have to earn it and Elísabet has really earned the song. I had to do it. She is an incredible person and I think if everybody had a person like Elísabet then the world would be a pretty amazing place.