Emily Capell talks about her debut album, “Combat Frock”

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Having put out three EPs previously, North West Londoner Emily Capell has now released her debut full-length album,  Combat Frock. The title is an obvious nod to The Clash, one of Capell’s favorite bands, and is just one example of the singer/songwriter creatively referencing the music she loves. Influences of ska, indie rock, pop, punk, and other styles are apparent on  Combat Frock, and they combine to make the perfect foundation of Capell’s witty lyrics and catchy vocal melodies. Capell is currently opening for The Selecter on their 40th Anniversary tour, and before heading out, discussed her latest album and other topics.

You’d previously released a few EPs, but this is your first full-length album. Could you discuss the making of it?

Emily Capell: We went up to the North of England and had a studio booked for a week. Everybody was there, and the whole band stayed for the whole week. We had a few demos that we had made, so everybody knew what they were going to be doing. Within the week, we put the album down, which was really, really great. Before that, I’d done the three EPs, and I felt like it was time to do an album. The first EP was just me on my own. The second one was me with a few other people, and the third one was with my band as it is now. After working with the band, it made sense to make an album, so that’s what we did.

Did the music change much from the original demos to what we hear on the final album?

Emily Capell: Definitely. Some weren’t demoed just once; they were demoed two or three times. The last track of the album went from being just an acapella track to having guitars and a big drum-like section in it. In the end, when we were mastering it, it became a piano track. So, they really did change. There was a lot of going back and forth and seeing how we could change the sound and different things like that. Two of the tracks on the album were written with my guitarist, and I’d never done that before. Usually, I write on my own, and then I’ll send it out to everybody else. Then they bring to it what they think it should have, we rehearse it, and after the rehearsals, we’ll put the demo down.

You’re known for having clever lyrics. Do you have a general approach to songwriting? Do you usually start with lyrical or musical ideas?

Emily Capell: That’s a good question. I start with the music, usually. Lyrics come to me easier than the music does. So, once I’ve got that, then I can kind of think of an idea, and I can write lyrics and melodies over the top of the music. The lyrics and melody will come at the same time. It’s the chords and the chord patterns that I find the hardest. Once I’ve got those down, I can run with them. The only song I wrote lyrics for first was the last track on the album [“Ode to Uncle Moz”]. That was written as a poem, so it was the opposite way. I’d never done that before.

How does it feel to be touring with The Selecter?

Emily Capell: I’m really honored to be touring with them. I know a lot of bands went for it, and we got it. So, it was very nice. I’ve gigged with Rhoda Dakar. She’s doing the DJ set and is absolutely brilliant. I’m excited to see Rhoda again, and I’m excited to meet Pauline and the rest of her band and just go to different places I haven’t been to before. There are bits of the UK I haven’t seen. So yeah, I’m excited about that.

Could you talk about more musical influences?

Emily Capell: The album is called Combat Frock, and I’m very heavily influenced by The Clash. They had their Combat Rock album. I like Kirsty MacColl as a songwriter, and I like Paul Heaten as a songwriter, but I take inspiration from everywhere, every day. I find social media really interesting, and I take a lot of influences from that. I like every type of music apart from techno and prog rock. I have tried to listen to as many genres as I can because I think it’s important to be able to chat with anybody and everybody about what type of music they like, and I don’t want to have one genre that I like.

Was “Combat Frock” an obvious choice for the album title?

Emily Capell: Naming the album is one of the hardest things, honestly. I could not think of anything. Naming bands and albums is so hard. I don’t know how people name children. It must be such a nightmare. I knew I wanted to give a nod to The Clash in there somehow because they’re probably my favorite band. Somebody just sort of said it in a throwaway sentence. I remembered it, and I was like, right, I’m going to take that and use that as an album title.

You mentioned being influenced by social media in your songwriting. Could you elaborate on that?

Emily Capell: It’s just interesting to see what other people say and how they live their lives. And what they see. I think you can take social media really seriously, and it can be really horrible. It can be really upsetting, with a lot of bullying and stuff like that. If you look at it in a different way and you read only things that you want to read, and if you switch off the negativity, there can be really interesting stuff. I think it’s really funny. It’s how people look at the world and how people look at their lives, and I find that really interesting. So, I will write about that. The first track on the album is”101 Walterton Road.” A lot of that is just quotes of what people have tweeted and said and things I thought were funny, and I managed to make them rhyme. So yeah, I try to use it in a positive way.

What inspired you to write about Morrissey, in the song “Ode to Uncle Moz”?

Emily Capell: Morrissey inspired the song! I feel like somebody has to say something about what’s going on. It’s funny that we were just talking about social media; somebody tweeted a picture of this tattoo they had on their arm, “There is a light that never goes out.” And somebody else commented, “I bet you really regret that now that Morrissey’s saying all the stuff.” And I just thought it was true. I’ve met people with Smiths tattoos, and I feel somebody needs to say it’s not okay to agree with racist comments. Morrissey was cool, and he’s always been a bit close to the line, but I just felt like it was time. Somebody had to say, “You’ve lost touch a bit.”

But I love Morrissey. I absolutely love the Smiths. I’ve seen him solo. We had the London riots a few years ago, and Morrissey was playing on Oxford Street, which is a big shopping road. He came on stage and people were looting the stores over here, and he came on stage and did a Smith song called “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” and “Panic on the Streets of London.” It was absolutely brilliant. It felt like he really got what was going on. But then he just started saying things, and you’re like, “What?’ You can’t say that.” So, I just felt like I had to say something.

That song sounds a bit different than the rest of the album; what influenced it musically?

Emily Capell: It kind of came organically based on the music I like. I was listening to a lot of DooWop and a lot of Bluebeat at the time. I wanted to try a 6/8 ballad. I really wanted to write in that time signature, and I really wanted some spoken word in there. We actually tried it, and it just didn’t work. It just was the cringiest thing. I’m okay listening to myself sing; listening to myself speak is just the cringiest thing. It sounded like Delboy and Rodney, like the worst Cockney in the world. I had to get rid of it, but that is something that I would like to try again. I’m not giving up on that, and ballads are just something that I find a little bit harder. We gave it a go, and it didn’t work this time, but it’s not to say that it won’t work again.

For more info, visit https://www.emilycapell.co.uk/.

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I also currently contribute to the Please Kill Me website (based on the book of the same name.) Below are some of my recent interviews from there.

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