Emmanuel Ventura-Cruess has never been one to dream a dream that wasn’t his. In the case of the classically trained cellist from Yorba Linda, his dreams have always revolved around music. So it’s fitting that the sounds he creates strive to immerse listeners into the storm clouds of his mind. As the de-facto leader of his outfit EMAEL, Ventura-Cruess blends multiple dreams together to make one eclectic and jazzy R&B sound with a nod to his classical roots.
The result is a five-piece band that blurs the lines between electronic textures and instrumentation that can be as soft as it is explosive. That’s a lot to take in, hopefully not too much to make you forget that at the end of the day, they’re just a solid-ass band.
“Every song has an influence from a different band or genre of music, I sometimes hope we don’t come off so eclectic that the songs don’t sound like the same band,” Ventura-Cruess says, sitting in the band’s makeshift rehearsal space in his suburban backyard with drummer Joris Hoogsteder and keyboardist Daniel Kristoff. “But as far as the album and the meaning and connectivity between the songs, they all ended up being very introspective.”
The album he’s referring to is the band’s debut Glasswork independently released back in March. The underlying theme of the 10-track offering deals with the strife of a 20 something graduating college and now trying to figure out what they’re gonna do with their life while dealing with the negative parts of your psyche, failure, and self-doubt.
This is the band’s first proper release since 2015’s Venym EP in 2015. Of course they’ve experienced plenty of growth in that time, expanding their sound, adding and subtracting members and honing in on their sultry and technically savvy jams that give nods to Hiatus Kaiyote, Rhye and Radiohead. Alongside Ventura-Cruess, Hoogsteder and Kristoff, EMAEL is rounded out by vocalist Alyssa Belle Cantal and guitarist Michael Womack. Together the band brings a constantly evolving sound to OC’s musical landscape.
“It’s been cool to be shape shifters of electronic sounds,” Ventura-Cruess says. Sometimes the shape isn’t always what some audiences are expecting. There’s been times when the band’s approach to classical and jazz has been a little too crazy for conventional palettes.
“We played at a restaurant last night and the first song we did, this old couple put their hands over their ears and walked out,” Kristoff says with a laugh. Ok course what kind of adventurous album would Glasswork be if it didn’t break a few people’s eardrums?
Slightly off-kilter rhythms and textural twists and turns make songs like “Yellowtail” at times feels like a jazz vocal exercise on acid. You can hear the influence of Hoogsteder, the Dutch drummer/composer and SoCal transplant who definitely brought an extra layer of creativity to the band’s eclectic sensibilities.
“When [Joris] came in the band he threw me this kinda nasty, disjointed groove and we worked on it together and it became a song,” Venutra Cruess says. “It was a bit more jazzy that any of the stuff we’ve ever done.”
That’s part of the reason why EMAEL have such an eclectic sound–the ability to bring themselves out of their comfort zone and have fun with experimentation.
“When you look at what’s going on in the more underground hipster scene for music I think there’s a lot more tolerance for complexity,” Hoogsteder says. “If you look at bands like Hiatus Kiyote or Flying Lotus, even people who are not total music nerds like us are into it. I feel like you can get away with a lot more nerdy stuff.”
The video for “Yellowtail” definitely matches that aesthetic. Shot in a sterile factory where workers are forced into a workaday life they don’t want, the band’s persistent scatting, syncopation and R&B flow encourage the downtrodden not to give up on their creative lives by “folding their kite,” Ventura-Cruess says.
“There’s so many people in my life who I see that in and it’s like you’re just dead when you do that,” Venture-Cruess says. “Everyone has something creative to offer and this song is about not folding your kite and letting it fly.”
Growing up playing classical cello since 4th grade, Ventura-Cruess experienced an artistic rebirth when he started to incorporate his instrument of choice into a contemporary sound. Most importantly, since starting the band in 2010 playing in coffee shops around OC and LA, it’s been a quest to translate his skills into an energetic performance.
“Back when I was younger I was playing so much classical repertoire so much crazy stuff, I don’t do a lot of that anymore so the playing isn’t as challenging,” he says. “But as far as having a high production value and putting on a good show, that’s always a challenge.”
It’s hard not to put on a good show when everyone seems to be getting one step closer to their sonic journey as players with every performance. For Kristoff, who didn’t start playing piano until junior year of high school, sharpening his skills on synthesizer as well as the traditional ivories has made him a better composer in his own right on the band’s latest album.
“Most of my life I grew up playing a regular piano, so delving into the electronic side it’s been cool to figure out how to blend organic sounds and synthesized sounds together,” Kristoff says.
Even if the band can’t ever really be put in a box, Ventura-Cruess is okay with remaining ambiguous as long as someone can find an element in their introspective songs that makes them listen and hopefully provides an interesting soundscape that might find its way into one of their dreams. It doesn’t matter what you call it as long as you can identify with it.
“I think sometimes it’s really hard to know what to classify ourselves as,” Venutra-Cruess says. “I have to hear it from other people. Even some blogs that wrote about us, for once I was ‘Okay this is what our music is.’”
For more info on EMAEL and their new album, click here.