Emma Ward, aka Emma Loo, doesn’t make weird music just for the sake of being weird. She makes it weird because she is too and she likes it that way.
This month the singer-songwriter releases her first solo album, Ancient, at the Tip Top Deluxe. The set list is years in the making for a performer who finally found the tools to make the songs in her head a reality.
“I thought, ‘I can make this happen out loud. I don’t care how the hell I do it. I have to make this happen,’” Ward said.
Backed by a successful KickStarter campaign, she self-produced the album, working alongside engineer Justin VanHaven of NextDoor Audio, who mixed and mastered. Together they created many of the beats and otherworldly sounds accompanying the tracks, which range from tipsy piano ballads to tribal funk and beyond.
“It definitely goes from really simple to extraterrestrial,” she said.
Ward was blunt about how to prepare to listen to her new disc and upcoming gigs.
“Am I allowed to tell people to smoke a joint?” she said. “And maybe be ready to cry. I just want the show to be a lot different as far as how elaborate I’m going to go. I want it to be more theatrical and a lot closer to the actual sound of the album, which is bigger than anything I’ve ever played onstage. I want you to be jumping with Kleenexes in your hand.”
Ancient’s alien vibe defies genre by design, starting with the bombastic “Panty Dropper,” which features guest guitar work from Jeffrey Kollnot of local metal bands Blackgate and Flood the Desert.
Emma Loo Album Release Party
“It turned out way crazy. I didn’t expect it to get as weird as it did,” Ward said of Kollnot’s guest spot. “He sounds like if a God stepped out of a cloud and started laying down some guitar.”
The album is bigger and more theatrical than anything Emma Loo has ever done before, which is saying something, especially for anyone who has seen her high-energy live performances alongside boyfriend and fellow singer-songwriter Sam Kenny.
The pair, known as Emma Loo & Sam, have become something of local open mic legends over the last three years, gigging regularly all over Grand Rapids at places like Rocky’s Bar & Grill and The Hideout Brewing Company.
Kenny recorded several instruments on Ancient, including trumpet, saw and jaw harp. The duo is also working on a collaborative album together. Next month, they’ll tour together in support of Ancient. It’ll be their fifth time touring the United States.
Originally from Lowell, Ward first met Kenny in her hometown in 2011, but the two didn’t start to collaborate musically until 2012.
“We ended up going on a date and liking each other. We wanted to do music together too, because we have the same interests musically,” Ward said. “[We’re] just two crazy people doing crazy music.”
Like many open mic performers, when the duo started it was just the two of them singing along with an acoustic guitar. That changed when Ward found a keyboard abandoned by the side of the road and taught herself how to play, becoming much more prolific.
“We experiment with how we can take from different angles of different genres and mix them together,” she said. “We love each other a lot as people and we like the music, too — which really helps.”