LA-based songwriter and producer EmmoLei doesn’t wait for inspiration.
Emily Jackson, a.k.a. EmmoLei Sankofa is never not creating.
After a Master’s degree at Savannah College of Art and Design, she moved to LA to make and teach music. She has since developed her artistic practice in all directions.
EmmoLei makes music, scores film and videos, runs a collective called Bèl Son (from the Creole ‘beautiful sound’) and exhibits visual work too.
Her most recent release is the beautiful LANDR-distributed single “Relax”:
Her latest project JustBcuz is a 30 day series of music for animations. She explains her process, workflow and creative vision. Let yourself get inspired—or by EmmoLei’s definition, let yourself get to work!
Can you describe the process of composing for animated videos?
For the series JustBcuz, I started out by identifying the visual rhythm and tempo of each video.
Then I experimented with ways to make people perceive that visual rhythm differently through music. It’s like watching an action-packed chase sequence in a film that has a slowly evolving underscore. The music completely contrasts with the visual rhythm on screen.
So I look for areas where I can provide contrast between the visuals and music. From there, I sit with the colours and marinate on how they make me feel—along with what I’m actually going through that day.
Sometimes, I observe the collective energy of my peers or people on Twitter to establish what topic I want to address lyrically. The lyrics end up being advice that I’m giving myself. It just happens to resonate with others too!
The lyrics end up being advice that I’m giving myself. It just happens to resonate with others too!
The instrumentation usually boils down to what feels right—or collectively possesses the timbre that supports the visuals.
I’m not really sure what happens between the time I play the first note and actually finish composing the song. That space usually gets foggy for most people. I almost never look at the visual while I’m creating. The time I spend with it before even making a sound is where I’m sure to capture a mental picture of what’s happening.
After that, I let it swirl around in the back of my mind while I allow my sonic ideas to flow. Every now and then I stop to see if what I’m creating even makes sense!
How do you work with lyrics and image? How do they relate to each other?
The lyrics come from what’s on my heart that day. If I come up with lyrics and a melody first, I flesh out that idea by choosing a video that somewhat matches the message. Other times, I look at a video, the lyrics jump out at me, and I run with it.
What do you think is the current role of the music video?
To me, good music videos have always had two major functions.
They’re either a way for your audience to gain clarity on the meaning of a song, or totally disrupt what they thought the song meant.
Music videos currently still serve that same purpose. But I think people underestimate the art of storytelling and feel compelled to throw a music video together for the sake of doing so.
People underestimate the art of storytelling and feel compelled to throw a music video together for the sake of doing so.
I’ve really been digging Kendrick Lamar’s videos lately. I’ve also gravitated towards music videos from Flying Lotus, Missy Elliot, Tyler the Creator, Björk, Outkast, and Kanye just to name a few.
Can you describe the process of making JustBcuz, what it stands for and how you made it? What have you learned?
I woke up one day and just decided to do this. That’s how the series got its name JustBcuz—I’m creating and sharing this just because I feel like it.
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. – Chuck Close
The idea came to me after thinking about ways to share more of who I am as an artist—and what I am capable of. It’s become an exercise that gets the juices flowing and forces me to come up with fresh ideas everyday.
I’ve been thinking differently since stumbling across this famous Chuck Close quote: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you’re not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process—they come out of the work itself.
My best ideas truly do come from being in the trenches and just trying shit out. I was already creating everyday, but I started to sense a disconnect between me and my audience. I was hoarding everything because I’ve been experimenting with my sound and I’m a perfectionist.
All the best ideas come out of the process—they come out of the work itself.
My work is everything to me and sometimes, I get sensitive about how it’s perceived. Most people still don’t know or can’t believe that I’m the one singing on my songs. I still critique my work after it’s released so I can assess how to make my next song better.
So I’ve learned a few things. This has taught me more about design and arranging. I’m learning how to fully maximize the capabilities of my DAW and essentially “sharpen my sword.” I’m employing different songwriting techniques, learning how to shape rich harmonies, fighting my insecurities, and learning more about the people that connect with my work.
Can you walk us through your process of going from the finished song to the release? What are the crucial things for you?
There are so many factors! The process I take depends on the magnitude of the release. I’ve also been experimenting with more creative ways to release music.
The crucial stages for me are: mixing and making the art for the overall presentation of the release. Releasing music gets trickier by the day. My main concern right now is getting it to the people that care about it the most—the early adopters and die-hard Emmo fans. They magnify the impact of what I release a lot better than I do.
What is your ideal context for your fans to view the audio visual work for JustBcuz?
I just really want people to be open. Each piece presents a different idea. While this work is thematic, each piece can stand alone. That way, people freely gravitate to what resonates best with them without needing to connect all these dots. There’s a time and a place for that: my next album.
Watch the entire JustBcuz series on EmmoLei’s Instagram.