photographed by Kathryn Vetter Miller
Music editor Joshua Fisher and I caught up with multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and modular synth savant Emily A. Sprague on a perfect, tranquil Los Angeles afternoon in Griffith Park underneath the Hollywood sign. Joshua has long been a fan of her band Florist while I’m a recent convert to her masterful ambient electronic work.
I first heard her modular synth work at a Leaving Records outdoor performance event alongside another favorite and frequent Sprague collaborator Sean Hellfritsch, who records as Cool Maritime. Ambient isn’t a genre that produces many stars, but as a new generation discovers and expands upon the universe of modular synths, Sprague is quietly emerging as one of the leading lights. Last year’s self-released Water Memory was easily one of my favorite records of 2018.
In July the third Florist LP Emily Alone was released on Double Double Whammy. It’s a melancholy-tinged record that manages to sound lush while being lo-fi, spare, and intimate—and like much of Florist’s catalogue, lends itself to repeat listening. We spoke to Sprague on making the move to L.A., recording at home, and her approach to making music.
Joshua: Did you spend much time in L.A. before moving here?
Really just through touring. Every time I ever came to L.A. I was checking it out, and a lot of my friends moved out here in the last three or four years from New York. This whole shift happened.
Joshua: The mass exodus.
I feel like that happens every ten years. I love New York, it’s such a heart home for me, but at the same time when I think about going back there to live, I’m just like, No, I can’t. Right now at least.
I lived both in the city and upstate. I lived in this old schoolhouse from the 1800s which is where we recorded the last Florist record, If Blue Could Be Happiness (2017), in this place I was renting. I love the Catskills, the mountains; it’s such a huge part of the fabric of me and it’s a miracle that I am the person that I am because of where I grew up, and what I grew up around. But I just need to be in a city pretty much.
Joshua: Listening to your music, your connection with nature is intense.
It’s a huge part of my life. I need both things definitely and that was also a realization that I just recently started having, which was—I have a lot of really intense Gemini duality things about me. One of the ways in which that manifests really strongly is my energy in a city and also wanting to be completely rural, in nature. For so long I just thought that it had to be one or the other. So it would be these extremes: living in New York, having to get out of New York, trying to live in the middle of nowhere, and being a young person who needs to be stimulated creatively by people and culture and diversity, which is really hard to do that in a rural place like that. But then I just was like, Well, I’m gonna move to L.A. and California is perfect.
Tonx: Are you set up with a full-on home studio here?
Yeah, right now. I’ve been thinking about having a separate studio space. My whole life I’ve only ever had studios in my house. That’s how I learned to be creative: being in my own space—whether it’s a bedroom or a little room in an apartment or whatever. Creativity happens at home, I think that’s probably from being self-taught. I never went to college or anything, so I never experienced what it was like to have separate spaces for different things. But I’m starting to become really interested in that—mostly through just working with other people and starting to do a little bit more collaborating, and feeling the feeling of waking up in the morning, getting a coffee and driving somewhere and then going, Okay! let’s talk about concepts! And wow, it is a totally different way that your brain can create things, and it is the complete opposite of the way that I know, so I’m interested in it.
I joke that my house is a studio with a bed in it, that’s where I recorded this new Florist record that’s coming out. That’s where I’ve been recording instrumental stuff.
Joshua: So on Emily Alone, is the band on this record?
No, Emily Alone is kind of like a solo record under the Florist moniker. I went back and forth about releasing it as Florist, because Florist really, truly is this friendship between me and Rick [Spataro] and Jonnie [Baker] and Felix [Walworth] and we’ve all been going through such different things in our lives. I moved out here, obviously, and they’re, you know, all still in New York.
Joshua: You guys grew up together, right?
Pretty much. We started playing music together and there was immediately a connection, and it’s never going to end in that way—Florist is always going to be that. But Florist has also become a documentary of my life and the lives of us all, when you read between the lines in the project. This chapter in my life and in our lives is actually a part of Florist. We’re making our next record in June, actually. I’m going to New York for a month, and we’re going to record in a house out there. It’s going to be this quick follow-up to Emily Alone that’s very much about collaboration and friendship.