It’s a gray, blustering, cold and snowy day for Caro Emerald as we talk about the weather in her hometown of Amsterdam. The jazz singer is particularly interested in the weather here in California, since less than a week away from this interview is her U.S. debut at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. I assure her, she’s in for a treat. Excited, and hopeful for a reprieve from the harsher winter, we talk about her music and fashion influences, a possible full U.S. tour and The Shocking Miss Emerald, the follow-up to her 2010 debut, Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor.
Though Emerald is currently wrapping up the final vocal tracks, the writing for the new album began over a year ago. Her first album showcased her dynamic voice and range, creating a cinematic feel on the aptly-titled album. Bold beats anchor tracks like “I Know That He’s Mine” and “Back It Up” while a brassy horn section brings a jazzy feel to “That Man,” creating an album mixed with bits of mambo, pop and vintage soul. And while the cinematic feel remains on the new album (producers recorded using a full-size orchestra at Abbey Road), this time around Emerald wanted to contribute more to the production and writing of each song.
“I am more of a singer than a writer, but the first album helped me develop more confidence as a writer. I wanted to write different kinds of songs, be a bigger influence on the project. I also wanted to write songs that were more personal to me,” says Emerald.
It’s really no surprise that Emerald wants to write more about her personal experiences, especially after how much her life has changed over the last few years. Though still relatively unknown stateside, Emerald has garnered quite a following across Europe—an appearance on Jools Holland, an Echo award for “Best Newcomer International,” a sold out European tour, as well as multiple musical features on TV shows on both sides of the Atlantic—all on an independent record label that Emerald and her production team run on their own. With no prior music industry experience, it’s clear Emerald’s production runs mainly on gut rather than formula, a method that’s likely to prove adaptable and as long lasting as her musical style.
Vintage soul and big band music, like record labels, has experienced a number of reincarnations over the past few decades, by Emerald as well as other artists like Paloma Faith, Adele and Mayer Hawthorne. What makes it so timeless?
“I think, in the end, good music survives,” Emerald says, adding, “There’s a reason why people are still listening to it.”
Emerald’s love for musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Louis Armstrong blossomed when she was young, and remained with her—leading to a musical education at a jazz conservatory. Emerald’s style and unique take on the musical era is no doubt also heavily influenced by her love for Motown, the funk and pop of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and certain hits by current pop artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna.
The sweeping, timeless feel of her music is not just limited to the album, either, as Emerald’s live shows have a reputation for being quite a visual production. The self-professed shopaholic has a sizable wardrobe, mixing vintage pieces from the ’40s and ’50s era, and also creating her own throwback pieces with a modern twist—like a classic 1950s hoop skirt, but made with leather.
Throughout our conversation, I am struck by how humble Emerald is, and how in awe she is about her recent success. She seems to be sitting on the edge of everything, a little bit of calm after a whirlwind success, and right before something even bigger. Right now, she is just enjoying the moment. Though she doesn’t have any particular new year resolutions, Emerald is hoping for a few things this year: A chance to tour the U.S., continued health and to buy a house in her hometown, a place she has learned to appreciate much more since the success of her musical career.
“I always hear from a lot of people about how beautiful Amsterdam is, and after touring and traveling so much and seeing so many other places, I really appreciate my city much more. I really see how beautiful it is.”
(All photos by Adrie Mouthaan)