NYC’s premiere groove rock ensemble, EMEFE, recently dropped a new song called “Confess.” Originally conceived as a tightly arranged instrumental funk and Afropop outfit, EMEFE dramatically transformed their sound on this year’s self-titled LP. The band’s newest incarnation (which now boasts a heavy vocal presence) is a stimulating blend of pop, art rock, and dance music–taking cues from legendary 80s icons like David Byrne and Prince. On “Confess,” their most recent and most exhilarating track to date, EMEFE hone in on that pop sensibility with soaring vocal hooks, sharp horn licks and a simply irresistible rhythm.
I emailed EMEFE frontman and multi-instrumentalist Miles Arntzen about the process behind “Confess” and his relationship with pop music.
Indie Current: What inspired you to write a song about confession? What are you actually singing about when you say, “I always thought I had to confess”?
Miles Arntzen: The song is about honesty–the line between honesty and too-much-information. The protagonist opens up about something (the ‘confession’ could be related to sexuality, infidelity, fantasy, spirituality, whatever you want) to somebody who just doesn’t want to hear it. The protagonist is struggling, because if communication isn’t open between two people, the relationship becomes dysfunctional… but sometimes things are better left unsaid.
IC: How long after finishing the self-titled LP did you start working on “Confess”?
MA: I wrote “Confess” and a few other songs almost immediately after we put the finishing touches on the self-titled LP almost a year ago. We spent a long time mixing and editing the EMEFE LP, so there was a flood of new ideas after that process was finished. Since then, “Confess” and a couple other new songs have evolved into staples of our live show.
IC: Where the “EMEFE” LP maintained a kind of 90s bubblegum pop vibe against the more rhythm-driven funk, everything about “Confess” is quintessentially 80s. Have you found yourself more drawn to music and musicians of this era when recording your newer material?
MA: Our musical taste is so random and scattered that all the different eras are sort of mishmashed, and it all comes out in the wash in a natural way. It wasn’t a conscious decision to make an 80s track. Usually attaching a specific era or influence happens once we play it for other people who then make comments, and I realize, “oh yeah, I was particularly obsessed with early 80s Prince a lot at the time!” That is definitely the principal influence on the rhythmic feel of this song. Prince has a way of making what I can only call the “Prince Party Beat,” that is fast & bouncy in tempo, but funky because of a half-time feel going throughout. I’m thinking specifically of songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “Jack U Off”.
“Confess” is a slower version of this sort of beat–the halftime feel I’m talking about is particularly emphasized in the second pre-chorus of the song. Prince also has the ability to make a simple beat come alive through the use of different sounds coming in and out over the course of 2 bars (his song “Delirious,” for example). It is compositional and live-feeling, it isn’t just a robotic drum pattern. That was a big part of creating “Confess” as well. The drum beat and percussive elements are played live all the way through “Confess.” There is no ‘press play’ on a drum machine beat, here. It’s all live, which allows the track to breathe a little bit in a human way even though the sounds are electronic in nature.
IC: Describe the energy in the studio when the outro of “Confess” was recorded. Are there any interesting stories about how the whole song came to be?
MA: I tacked on the outro as a bonus beat, basically because I just love the beat so much and could play it for days. It makes me dance like I’m in an old school exercise video. The outro bassline happened as a spur of the moment thing while the beat kept running, and I decided to keep it and build it up into its own little section. The dueling guitar texture of the outro comes from Fela, who was a genius as weaving two guitar parts together like a cat and mouse. Oh, and those janky handclaps in the outro were recorded during our recent CMJ show at Rockwood Music Hall.
IC: Is “Confess” a one-off track or a single for a forthcoming release?
MA: No comment!
IC: How has your relationship with pop music changed, or stayed the same, since you first started the EMEFE project? In your most recent music, how important is it for you to capture that pop sensibility?
MA: I have loved pop music the same my whole life, but once vocals entered the EMEFE sound, it opened up a whole other part of my songwriting that I have now immersed in. I don’t consider myself a pop songwriter, but every song I write (even if it’s instrumental) is heavily influenced by pop music. The form of pop music is enthralling to me – it plays with tension and release in this succinct way like no other artform. It is extremely difficult to communicate an emotion through song in a way that is direct and to-the-point, with no fluff, and I have a lot of respect for artists that can do that. I can’t or don’t necessarily want to be so “direct” with my music, but there is a certain sensibility in that approach that will always be a part of my own process.
Stream the EMEFE LP and check out upcoming tour dates below.
November 4 – Brooklyn Bowl (opening for Antibalas)
November 6 – Paper Garden Records presents Chelsea Nights at Chelsea Market
November 8 – Stevie Wonder Tribute at Manhattan Inn