Many moons have waxed and waned over Liverpool since EVA PETERSEN’s sultry vocals last graced a record, but the Huyton-born vocalist has not exactly been in hiding since her previous outfit The Little Flames disbanded five years ago.
It is the lot of the chanteuse to be in search of the perfect setting for their vocal style, just the right band or line-up who provide the backdrop required to best showcase their talents, and Petersen has ventured down several of these avenues since going solo. But now she seems to have happened upon the right formula, one that has resulted in the release of her strident debut solo album Emerald Green Eyes on Porcupine Records. Though it has not been without trial and tribulation: as the lord of hellfire himself Arthur Brown remarked after witnessing Petersen support him for a live show, “that was great, but you need a baaaand.” Recalling this and many other similar scenarios, Petersen rolls her eyes as she drops in to her seat for our chat, and sighs, “If I had a pound for every time someone said that to me…”
A stylish and glamorous figure, Eva Petersen meets up with us on her lunch break to talk about the five-year process of forming her debut album, yet she still manages to turn up looking like she’s just left a classic vintage fashion shoot. Talking quietly and with a certain modesty about how things have come together, Petersen’s eyes light up when we touch upon moments of real interest to her (70s Italian horror soundtracks and rare BBC sound FX). Those who have seen Petersen live over the past three or four years will get a shock upon listening to Emerald Green Eyes: gone are the blatant Velvets and retro stylings, and in comes a blast of surging electronic krautrock to add a much-needed impetus, as well as a shifting theatrical canvas, to Petersen’s songs. It is perhaps not surprising to jump to Velvet Underground comparisons upon first hearing Petersen’s distinctive voice: deep, sultry and demure, it has more than a faint echo of Nico in its delivery and style (hence the well-placed, ponderous cover of Femme Fatale). There is also something in there that recalls the thematic setting of Marlene Dietrich’s husky tones, with each syllable loaded with dramatic intent. It is easy to stick to the tried and tested formulas, as highlighted by the Nancy Sinatra-esque chamber pop of Candie Payne’s solo record I Wish I Could Have Loved You More, Liverpool’s latest great addition to the realm of the sultry female vocalist. By branching out in a new, up-tempo direction, Petersen has freed herself from these shackles, which is largely due to a serendipitous encounter with her newfound collaborator Will Sergeant.
Not every chanteuse gets to find her muse, but it seems as though Petersen definitely has in Sergeant. Bonding over a mutual love of Neu!, Can and film soundtracks, Petersen soon found that the Bunnyman was on a similar wavelength to herself, and deemed that he’d be the perfect person to work with on the collection of songs she had written since going solo. “It’s very rare that, to have that connection,” she openly admits. “I’m very lucky.” That the record has had such a long gestation period is mainly due to the fact that the pair started collaborating so late in the day. Petersen: “He [Sergeant] was perfect for the album. I’d been doing stuff before with other people but when I met him we just clicked. Then I thought, ‘Right, this is the person I need to do my album with.’ So why rush it and do it half-hearted when you’ve met the right person?” Petersen took her batch of songs to Sergeant to re-work, and make them sound how she wanted, over a two-year period. Originally coming from a sound that was admittedly “a bit 60s”, the duo collaborated to give the songs an altogether different feel. This distinct new direction is apparent right from the attention grabbing opening onslaught of Jewelled Moon: the album’s lead track is a signal of intent, entering on a wave of shifting guitars and bubbling synths that hint at the electronically psychedelic pulses of Baltic Fleet’s Towers. Title track Emerald Green Eyes gets a similar treatment; with its Bond theme dynamics benefiting from Sergeant’s full weight of production it now boasts more of a dark insistence than the grandiosity of its former guises, yet still retains the strut that has always placed it as Petersen’s most accomplished song to date.
In a compositional sense this was a real weight off Petersen’s shoulders, as she could now truly realise her goals for these songs through Sergeant. “Because I don’t play any instruments it was difficult [for me] to put it in the way I wanted it to sound,” she explains. Was this hard then, to relinquish control of your songs and pass them over to someone else? “No it was great,” comes the instant and unabashed reply. “I don’t have the tools to do it, and he does. I mean, he’s an amazing musician.” That must have required a certain amount of trust then? “Complete trust, yeah. I’d send over a song to him and say ‘Tales of the Unexpected.’ If I said that to someone else they wouldn’t get it. But Will didn’t say anything, he just took it on board and sent back Sunday Love Affair and got it spot on!” Sunday Love Affair is one of the simpler tracks on the album, dominated by Petersen’s deadpan vocal delivery and not as adorned with as many bells and whistles as the others. This really lends the record that air of classic spaghetti westerns that Petersen seemed to be aiming for. The strings and plucked guitars on Sunday Love Affair conjure up vivid scenes of old Sicily from The Godfather, or the bleached landscapes alluded to as a backdrop for Jack White and Danger Mouse’s Rome project.
I’m intrigued by this connection the pair have, and I want to know more about how the songwriting process manifests itself if Petersen can’t express her vision for her songs via an instrument. “I hum melodies in to a Dictaphone,” she explains, “or in the past I’ve sung a song in to my phone, and then sent that to Will.” Though they seem to have made it succeed in this case, it does seem like it a pretty frustrating way to work. “Oh yeah it is,” comes the admission, but Petersen has other ways of realising her visions for her songs too. “I see writing these albums as like little films. Each song is like a chapter or scene of a film.” Take one sense away and another heightens: so, in this case it seems that Petersen’s inner eye has taken up the strain of her song composition. She presses on. “It’s storytelling as well, but it’s not reality. It’s a cinematic way of doing it. I always wanted to write a short film, and I wrote Emerald Green Eyes a long time ago, but all at once, like a continuous piece, or film.”
This is an avenue I can quite easily see Petersen moving down, as she has designs on scoring her own soundtrack at some stage, but, “doing it the other way about, so doing a film without the visual, just the soundtrack.” Having already worked with animator John Davide on a short soundtrack, this could be a reality sooner rather than later, but for now Petersen’s attention is focused on playing live. Accompanied by Paul Duffy (The Coral) on guitar and Nick Kilroe (Echo & The Bunnymen) on drums, she admits that it’s a challenge to find that balance of replicating the “Eva and Will sound” on stage, but also bringing a fresh element to it. Again giving in to her innate theatricality, Petersen admits that one day she’d love to do a full-blown live show with Sergeant and a full band (“full-on masks and capes and visuals!”), but it’s one step at a time for the moment. It’s been five long years since Petersen has had a release to call her own, but she’s in no mood to rush it. I wonder if there was ever at any point during those five years where she worried she’d never get to this stage, holding her own record in her hands? The answer comes after only the briefest of pauses, accompanied with the smallest of laughs. “No! I always knew it would get done. But then, you don’t know until you meet the right person how it is going to happen. If you really love something it’s just a labour of love, isn’t it?”