LA’s Emma Ayz (pronounced “eyes”), has just announced her debut EP, “Animus,” a dreamy, chamber-indie-folk gem. Emma has also released her title track, the beautifully languid song and video. “Animus” captures me at a time of deep self- exploration, by looking for clues and symbols in my dreams; it references the Jungian archetype ‘animus,’ or the mediator between the unconscious and the ego. This song is my best attempt at embracing the expanse of possibility that comes with learning to love myself with the conclusion that this process is messy and humbly neverending, Emma explains to Flood Magazine.
We shot this video in Joshua Tree over two nights. We wanted to link the lyrical and sonic themes in the song (wandering through the mysterious dualistic maze toward self-acceptance, or “integration with your animus") with the visuals of wandering through the otherworldly yet disorienting beauty that is the desert at night.
“I wanted to get messy with this process,” says Emma Ayz, the iridescent folk-pop empath who’s already opened for Meernaa, Gillian Frances, No Swoon, and Bunny Lowe. “I was going through the biggest changes of my life, and the world was actually on fire. What got me through it was focusing on other things.” What’s the opposite of fear? For Emma, it was embracing the unknown.
That expanse of possibility begat her debut, Animus, an EP that’s a nod to both Jungian psychology and the spirit of rebellion. (She’s currently working on a full length, produced by Luke Temple, that will follow later this year.) Gently oscillating between angst and resolve, “It’s about learning to accept myself, to feel pain, to acknowledge all the mistakes I’ve made, that we’re all beautiful messes,” she notes. “This is me being really vulnerable and honest.”
Word gets around, and fellow musicians have taken notice. Guitarist Dylan Day (Jenny Lewis, Ethan Gruska, Nick Hakim), bassist Daniel Rhine (Madison Cunningham, Phoebe Bridgers), and engineer/co-producer Cassidy Turbin (Beck) all contributed to her EP. And at various times, her live band has included guitarist Greg Uhlmann (Perfume Genius), drummer Sam Kauffman-Skloff (Angel Olsen), drummer Jorge Balbi (Sharon Van Etten), and bassist Pat Kelly (Perfume Genius). Not bad for a breakthrough artist who wrote and produced the songs herself, starting with the lyrics first, alone in her bedroom.
“Loving myself is like / Running in a maze / But I don’t know /Any other way,” she sings in the title track, “Animus.” A throwback to ’70s pop, it’s a weightless lament that yields way to soaring strings. “I was listening to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald. So many of her songs are vocals and beautiful instrumentals, just classically pretty,” she says. “There’s no live orchestra on the track. It’s insane how you can make it sound so real with a MIDI and orchestra samples.”
Much of the magic of Animus—and of Emma Ayz—lies in how she’s mastered the beauty of heartbreak. She grew up with a trans sibling who struggled with substance abuse. She suddenly lost a close family friend to pancreatic cancer. And despite coming-out as queer, she couldn’t shake the sense of feeling lost. “For a long time, I was just functioning, going forward, not thinking about myself at all.”
A pair of tracks serve as character studies-turned-personal life lessons. “Judy” begins with a stark drone that dissipates into a lush elegy. Here, Emma puts herself in the shoes of a friend grappling with lost time, after their mother quickly passes away. Meanwhile, “Becca” is an ambling lullaby bent on laying-to-rest the name her brother used before he changed it, his substance abuse, and all the pangs of sadness that came with that.
“During COVID, I got super into dream work, waking up each morning and writing about my dreams,” says Emma, who’s played the guitar since age 12, when she avidly studied Abbey Road. (She wrote her first song, about a dearly departed cat, just two years later.) At the start of the pandemic, Emma left New York City, miserable in her data-analyst job, to move-in with her mom in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood. Soon, her company laid her off, freeing her up to work diligently on the music she always wanted to make—funded, somewhat ironically, by unemployment checks. A turning point for Emma, who subsequently surmounted her own eating disorder, came when her mother gave her a copy of the seminal feminist book Women Who Run With the Wolves. It references the Jungian concept of animus, “this subconscious energy, a masculine counterpart of femininity. It’s about living in a place of balance, complete harmony with both your masculine and feminine sides,” she explains. “That process reclaimed my femininity from archetypes. For the first time I felt proud of who I was.”
This was the inspiration she needed. “I started really working on myself. Now I have an insane morning routine of meditation, movement of my body, and deep gratitude,” she says. “At the same time, I started to grieve a lot of the things that I had sort of pushed down. I guess I was grieving the person who I was before.”
That’s why a number of her tracks willfully mingle reflections of herself with observations about her relationships. She’s at once looking inward and outward, a potent, narrative head-trick that’s surprisingly relatable. In the sleepy, Americana “Hardly in Love,” “I’m seeing myself trying to move away from this place, that I’m just in-progress right now as a person,” she says. With the moody, ’80s-tinged “Blind”—which also channels West African rock rhythms—she asks, “Maybe I hold you to blame for all the reasons I’m still cold / And you’re gone just in time, baby are you goin’ blind?”
“On Animus, I’m completely shedding the image that I had of myself and the understanding that I had of myself, and stepping into who I know I really am,” she says. “The decision to even make music and to pursue it full time was the biggest act of self-love.” And in her mind, there’s no turning back. “Everything is now intertwined with my art.”
Website: Emma Ayz