Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Track by Track: Emilíana Torrini – Tookah

Track by Track: Emilíana Torrini – Tookah

03 September 2013, 15:30

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.

‘Autumn Sun’

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.



‘Animal Games’

Best Fit: If I understand this one correctly, you’re talking to a lover who blows hot and cold instead of deciding whether or not he wants to be in the relationship…

Torrini: I liked the concept of it because I’ve seen it often with friends who go out with people who thrive off drama and jealousies and I just wanted to make a funny little song about it. I liked how the could be told with all the animals, you know? We struggled a lot with that song because it was very folky and I didn’t really want to go there again. This song was written when I was in labour with my son. I was singing it in my head and I really, really liked it. It’s one of those songs where no one else is really interested but you have to kind of fight for it to be born, you know? I really believed in it. I had to make it happen.

‘Speed of Dark’

Best Fit: Definitely one of the poppiest things you’ve done, to date. Do you agree?

Torrini: I guess so. Lyrically, I enjoyed making it because it’s the kind of song where you’re singing to a brush in the mirror. Lyrically going all the way, no matter what. And I really enjoyed writing it! Sometimes you go through sleepless nights and things are overwhelming… like being a new mum. It’s amazing but it can make you feel a little trapped. You know, it’s all so new and then you get over it and move on and you’re just learning new things. And this was kind of one of those songs where you’re getting out of feeling trapped.

Best Fit: And where did the title come from?

Torrini: It was just a stupid name that we chose. We started calling it that because… things can start going bad really quickly in relationships if you don’t live it in the light. The not-so-fun parts can come quite fast. But it was never meant to be called that. It was something we called it to recognise it by but we kept referring to it by that name until it was like ‘hey – if you want to change the name, this is your last chance’ because they were printing it and, of course, none of us contacted them to change it . So it just stayed that way like some really cheesy rave tune . Maybe the song just really wanted to be called that.

Best Fit: Did you know you wanted it to be the first taster from the album as soon as you finished it?

Torrini: No, it was more part of… me and Dan were kind of making a side-project and and it was a massive relief not to be working on a record. There had just been too much thought put into it, it was exhausting me, I was being way too hard on myself and that song and ‘Tookah’ were born when we were taking that break from making the record. We were just having fun. Doing songs that were just going to let us dance and let us have a party, you know? But then when we had written them, we started thinking about putting them out as a white-label thing and then one day I just called Dan and I said: “what is this nonsense?! This could be the birth of the sound of the record!” I really wanted to go with this and try to mix it all together. And then we re-produced them a lot and had a lot of the dance element taken out. So, yeah, it was just very exciting. You know, when you don’t need to do the record, you’re still somehow doing it.

‘Blood Red’

Best Fit: ‘Blood Red’ is one of the longer tracks on the record. What do you remember about the mood and the feel you wanted to instill when you first wrote it?

Torrini: It was Simon – my keyboard player – and I, we’d been in my house for a whole day and I was in a weird mood and before dinner I said, hey, come on let’s improvise with something and then we’ll see. And we basically did an hour’s improvisation of this song which was an hour-long song and it was all really, really good. But then we had to craft it into, what – five minutes or something, which was really annoying because it was really… nice. It took a while. I think, for me, it’s such a ‘movie’ song. When you listen to it you get a strong visual, I think. We worked really hard on it, I think we finished the lyrics the day when Dan said, ok if you don’t finish it today, the song is not going to be on the record. It’s just one of those lyrics. The middle section was like ‘aaaarrrgh’ and it was really important that it was right, you know? I never ever put a single sentence in just because it would finish it. I can spend months! If I can’t find it, it can be really, really frustrating. But it got there in the end and it’s my favourite song.

‘When Fever Breaks’

Best Fit: This was the first song you wrote for this album. Why did you decide to place it last?

Torrini: I thought it was a good end to the journey. In the beginning I wanted to start with it. I love this track. I came off a really, really, really, really hard tour and both me and Dan and also everyone else – but especially me – were just going totally nuts. I went to Dan’s house because I needed to figure things out and we got into the studio and we made this song and it’s never changed. What you hear is exactly what was made. The funny thing about it is that, usually when I’m going a bit loop-di-doo Dan can bring me down to earth and go, hey – come on! But he was also in loop-di-doo land so we were both in this weird place . So we just did this improvisation and we never ever got tired of it in three and a half years. Or, fours years now, actually. We never got tired of it.

Bonus Track: ‘Echo Horse / History Of Horses’

Best Fit: The extra track people get if they splash the cash on the special edition of ‘Tookah’. What can you tell me about this song?

Torrini: Dan gave me tickets to see ‘War Horse’ in the West End and it’s supposed to be incredible and it was my wish to go and see it but I ended up missing it. I missed the show. So I wrote the song about it instead.

Best Fit: Have you seen it, since?

Torrini: No. No. So I wrote about it – about how I imagined it to be.

Best Fit: And why is it only a bonus track as opposed to an integral part of the album?

Torrini: Well, because it just felt too much like a glitch in the matrix with the run of the album, it disturbed the run, it took it to a place… one song can take the record off kilter and there was a certain journey that I wanted to take with it and this song was too much of a glitch so I took it off. And I’ve never had b-sides so it was exciting .

Tookah is out on 9 September on Rough Trade

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