Over Coronas and limes, a conversation with the band EMÆL veers from the finer points of cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s persona to the prolific output of Dr. Dre and composer John Williams. Heady stuff from a group of kids mostly born and raised in Orange County all who live within a few minutes of each other in Placentia.
Emmanuel Ventura-Cruess, lead vocalist and cello, with Alyssa Cantal on vocals, Michael Womack on guitar and vocals, drummer Joris Hoogsteder along with keyboardist Daniel Kristoff form the current lineup.
Although things can rapidly change as they’ve been known to add and drop members as needed. Eman, as Emmanuel is referred to, performs the bulk of the songwriting but thrives on working with others “There is never a reason not to collaborate,” he says.
Collaborations aside, the tight relationships between the mostly OC natives (Hoogsteder came to them by way of Holland) remains a core factor in their ability to tighten the focus on their latest release Introspectre. Set to drop on May 31, EMÆL celebrates the album’s official release tomorrow night with a show at The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa.
Introspectre is their second after last year’s full-length Glasswork and can be seen as a follow-up, featuring tracks that didn’t quite fit with the previous album. “Glasswork was referring to our bodies and very introspective being trapped in them; looking inward, this one kind of continues with that idea,” explains Eman.
Lush with haunting lyrics, the EP has a more expansive feel than its just over ten minutes running time. The gorgeous “Le Lac” has Eman’s hushed vocals calling to mind Brandon Boyd on 2001 Incubus release, Morning View.
“Diotima” presents a reflective bridge while the strongest track, while “Steam in the Faucet” brings in a more pulsating vibe with Alyssa featured on the lead chorus. “Yeah, we’re actually siblings” Eman jokes about his relationship with Alyssa, who he met in elementary school. Working together for so long, their voices blend comfortably, complementing and contrasting as needed.
Introspectre ends in kind of a sweet exorcism after taking a few harder edge detours no doubt influenced by Hoogsteder, known for his composition work. Joris is out traveling somewhere in Portland they tell me. Emmanuel met him six or seven years ago when both were in CSUF’s music program. “He was just in there playing on a Moog synthesizer one day and I was just like ‘I got to get to know this guy.’
It also marks the edge of evolution for the band. In the three to four years with their current lineup, they’ve built a growing audience based on a creative fusion of genres: jazz, hip-hop, electronica, orchestral, you name it. Ventura-Cruess’s main instrument is the cello but he treats it as a tool: strapped around him like a guitar, it’s often plucked and played like a bass.
Despite all the genre-defying eclecticism, this release marks a decidedly centered turn. “After this, we’re definitely headed in a slightly more refined, boiled-down direction,” Eman explains. “Songs that are a little more simple and more straightforward…to me, this EP is like the final, artsy hurrah.”
The plan is to dish out more singles, perhaps on a monthly basis, eventually leading to a completed album. Dropping more frequently opens up a dialogue with their fanbase, many whom message the band with works of art inspired by songs: whether it be choreography or a flute solo.
And while sometimes that dialogue can be intense—”Straight-up people could be crying, but that’s not going to be The Wayfarer show”—the party is just getting started.
Catch EMÆLwith CAPYAC and The Moon Jays Friday, May 24th at The Wayfarer Costa Mesa. Upcoming dates include Piano Fight in San Francisco on the 25th, and Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles May 31st.