Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in the heavy music genres, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. Erickson is also a music artist herself, recently releasing the song “Eternal Way” with Upon Wings. This month’s piece features an interview with Emma Ruth Rundle.
Emma Ruth Rundle is a very different artist than she was a decade ago, and that growth is a sign of her strength as a musician. Now sober and on her own as a solo artist, Rundle feels as comfortable as ever in her skin, both literally and metaphorically.
Rundle released her fourth official solo album, Engine of Hell, on November 5th via Sargent House. The triumphant LP features haunting songs, filled with delicate piano lines and deeply introspective lyrics.
For Heavy Consequence‘s latest edition of “Beyond the Boys’ Club,” Rundle spoke with us about the new album, how taking ballet has made her feel more in touch with herself, her experience as a woman in the heavy music world, and much more.
On the dramatic title of her new album, Engine of Hell
It’s a lyric from the last song. It was actually the origin title of the final song, which is now called “In the Afterlife.” I really struggled with titling this album. I probably had 100 different titles that I went through and finally decided that taking a lyric out of that last song was right. It felt like it encapsulated the journey I’d been through in writing the album. I felt like I had been walking through this underworld, this Hades, and made it through this strong journey, so it made sense to me. The concept of that last song is if you’re watching your whole life after it’s happened and are forced to watch situations again.
On the meaning behind lead single “Return” and why she chose that song to introduce the album
I’m not great at giving a clear explanation. That song is a general existential quandary, and in singing and writing it, I was trying to do a soul revival, calling to pieces of myself, and all the lyrics got paired down to a simple poem about existing on earth. As for why I chose it as the first single, I felt it was moving and beautiful, and I really love that song and felt it was a good way to introduce people to the album.
On how taking adult ballet lessons is helping her reconnect with her body
I had an interest in dancing and wanted to find a way to be in my body in a joyful way that wasn’t painful and horrible. I’ve dealt with chronic pain a lot in my life. Getting sober, I couldn’t stand on one leg. I was losing touch with the physicality of my body, and I thought, I’m not a going-to-the-gym or working-out person, so I thought, I need something that’s a creative reward for my brain and the little child that lives in my head that doesn’t want to do anything! So, it was something to entice that. Doing the exercise and being in my body has helped me get strength and reconnect with my body. I love it. I’m horrible at it. It’s something that I go into with humility. I’m not good at — I’m never going to be on pointe. I can go and do something and learn and remain a novice. It generally gives me joy to do it.
On how the new album relates to her personal life
In a lot of ways, in my personal and professional life, it’s very easy to demarcate the new and old with this album. It’s hard to separate my personal life with my profession, because so much of what I do is enmeshed, and I write about my life. I don’t play with a band anymore. I moved across the country. I left my relationship. I cut off my hair. I got sober. Making this record helped shine a light on the things I needed to do to change and see where I’m going as an artist and person. My music is always a result of what’s happening in my life.
On the differences she sees for women in heavy music today verses when she started out
I’m not sure if there’s a difference in the number, but I definitely feel the attitudes have changed. When I first started professionally touring in my 20s to what it’s like now, I feel that there’s more of a presence. In heavy music, women are leading the charge. You have really incredible artists who have crashed down these walls. I was just featured in a guitar magazine, and Ani DiFranco was on the cover, and that magazine when I was a kid would have been full of half-dressed women. There was a huge shift in the past few years. Watching artists like Chelsea Wolfe pushing the boundaries of what heavy music is and owning it, I feel a respect and sense of place that I didn’t feel when I was in my 20s.
I’ve seen women headlining heavy music festivals. Media coverage is better. There’s more visibility and influence. I don’t feel the way I used to feel with it. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. It’s not as inclusive as it needs to be, but it has gotten better.
On the turning point where she felt more accepted as a female artist
I had a huge turning point in my career and experience as a musician and artist playing Roadburn in 2018. I decided to not include the band as part of my performance, and I played solo and felt a huge welcome and amount of respect. Since then, things just changed. I don’t know if it was helping me realize that I have value or something else. Part of this album is learning self love, and it’s a very complicated thing. I didn’t feel good about things when I was younger. Was it because my self-esteem was messed up? I’ve had a lot of inner dialogue. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s where I realized I was being shown respect for being myself and for being an artist, not just being, “Oh, there’s a girl.”
On if there’s more pressure on women in rock and metal to look a certain way
Yeah! I think, in general, on women, there’s that pressure. I do feel we’re getting away from it, but there’s this inextricable connection between a woman’s age and her appearance and value in society and as an artist. I’ve gone out of my way to put forward imagery that isn’t in line with that pressure. There’s always pressure in conversations on the business side, or has been in the past, that, hey, if you look pretty in this photo, you’ll get more attention. That’s garbage. That needs to go out the window. It’s up to us to change that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking a certain way — it just needs to be what’s right for the artist and musician. If a woman wants to look a certain way, like have a classic glam look, that’s her power and armor and aesthetic. That’s great. That’s just not me. I’d like to be accepted for myself as I am.
On the advice she has for girls and young women looking to get into music
If there’s anything I can say about what has gotten me here is that it’s a really intense perseverance. I sacrificed a lot to put music first. I think it’s important to be good at your craft and know yourself and know what you’re doing and want to accomplish. Don’t give up. Perseverance is key for anything in life that you want to achieve.