Cross Record launched its wispy, skeletal brand of indie rock on Bandcamp in 2011, so it’s no wonder that Emily Cross, one half of the husband-and-wife duo, got her musical start after taking a course called “Minimalism.” Her new album, Wabi-Sabi is a critically acclaimed collection of experimental tracks that hold this beautiful, no-frills ethos close to the chest.
Emily Cross wrote Wabi-Sabi after abandoning Chicago for the open spaces and skies of suburban Dripping Springs, Texas, where she now neighbors a chicken coop and bird sanctuary. Detached from the mental clutter of city living, she was able to further expand her sound into something even more naturalistic and ethereal.
We chatted with Cross about transitioning to music from painting, the art-making process, and finally planting her roots in country life.
When did you first start playing music?
It was in a music minimalism class. Our final project was to either make a presentation about the minimalist movement or make a composition. I thought that sounded more fun, so my first recording was this minimalist piece with my friend Theo. It was just a bunch of wine glasses and an accordion. That was the first time I made “music.”
After that I went to Ireland with my school, drawing and painting for a studio credit. While I was there, I met this guy, Jimmy, who was also taking a studio credit. At night, we’d have the whole night to either work on projects at home or hang out, but my friend Jimmy was making this record on his computer. I guess I didn’t really know that people did that so easily – I always thought it was some very complicated process. He showed me the tracks and how he recorded it on the computer, and it was a very visual process, which I was not expecting. I just kind of took his lead and started recording on my computer and just messing around with it.
Was it a conscious decision to make that a bigger part of your life?
It was just a natural progression. I had no intention of making it the thing I did more than drawing and painting. At the same time period, I suddenly realized, “What am I thinking I’m going to do with my fine arts degree? Is this really what I’m going to do? I’m going to be drawing and painting and I think I’m going to sell these paintings for thousands of dollars?” I didn’t want to be one of those people who are hustling to get their work in galleries. It didn’t really resonate with me anymore. Making music was really fun and I didn’t really think about that as a career, either, I just knew that I enjoyed it. It kind of came at the same time when I was losing faith in my art career, so I just naturally let it take a little bit of the front seat.
From moving to Ireland to Chicago and Texas, do you feel like your style changes because of who you’re working with or the landscape or both?
All of those things. When I listen to my music from a couple of years ago, it’s just painful to me, because you learn so much every single year and just keep building on that. I learn an immense amount from other musicians, and I wouldn’t be here today – my music wouldn’t be in the same place – had it not been for the people I surround myself with. I think everything plays a part, but mostly time and building confidence, and understanding how to get what I want, as opposed to just wanting something and not knowing how to do it yet.
It seems like a very different process making music in a city versus making music out in nature.
I’ve only made one record in a city (Magnetic Current). That was the first thing that I put on Bandcamp, and it was a miserable experience. But a good one, and a learning one. The other two I made – in the woods and Michigan and here [in Texas] – I started some tracks in the city, and I’m just generally not a very happy person in the city. It makes it harder to do in the city for me.
Do you collaborate mainly with your husband? Do you think it’s easier to collaborate with someone you know really well?
I definitely think it’s easier to collaborate with someone you know. There are exceptions; sometimes you meet people and you’re on the same page right away. I don’t have an extensive musical vocabulary. It would be hard for me to approach a stranger who doesn’t know my music and be explaining what I want in musical terms. I don’t think we would get very far very fast. Working with someone like Dan — he knows my music inside and out, and I know his sensibilities, too. It’s just much easier to work with someone like that.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
In the past year or so, I’ve listened to a lot of normal, top 40 songs. We have this station called The Beat, and that’s my favorite station to listen to: mainstream hip-hop music. A lot of older stuff, like Neil Young and Nico and The Velvet Underground and The Beatles…but also I really love Bjork and bands like Goat. I like everything. I don’t actively listen to a whole lot of music at home. We put records on when we’re hanging out with people or if there’s something new, we’ll critically listen to it, but I’m not a super music connoisseur or anything. Usually, it’s NPR.
On one of the songs you ask, “Are you a vessel?” Is that how you see the art-making process?
I don’t know. It’s asking, “do you carry anything? Do you have anything worth transporting?” I think every single human does, but it’s not always apparent in the way a lot of people walk around. As far as art-making goes…I have no idea!