Deity, the debut album by Melbourne-based vocalist and songwriter Emma Volard, is a record of tensions: caught in the push-pull between light and shade, joy and sorrow, chaos and order, it’s an album that draws power from the divine messiness of the human experience. Synthesising acid jazz with modern R&B, dub with pop, and future soul with old-fashioned grooves, it’s a statement of profound artistic intent for Emma: a 12-part journey of self-expression and hard-won self-determination that combines the classic and the cutting edge to build something sleek and scintillatingly new. “This album is a revolt against oppressors, particularly those in the music industry — an f-you to anyone who tries to tear us down,” she says. Cathartic, vulnerable, and deeply, defiantly empowered, it’s a definitive document of feminist soul: a call for listeners to “discard the judgement of others, and embrace their bodies, their minds, and their souls.”
Raised between the hustle-and-bustle of inner-city Melbourne and the organic serenity of the coastal town of Philip Island, Emma’s upbringing provided the kind of musical education money can’t buy. Singing and dancing along to pop classics like “Spinning Around” and “I’m Blue” as a toddler snowballed into drum lessons from the age of eight, which turned into vocal training in high school and a voracious appetite for all the classics she could get her hands on, plumbing the depths of her grandma’s record collection to unearth gems by Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Joe Cocker, and Ella Fitzgerald. Emma’s training continued while studying music at university, where she discovered luminaries like Etta James and Erykah Badu, the latter of whom would become a clear guiding light in her journey towards a place of gleaming fusion jazz music.
This omnivorous upbringing is written between the lines on Deity, which embraces the fullness of Emma’s multihyphenate musical upbringing, touching on breathless polyrhythms and indelible hooks, a clear-eyed political bend and, at the centre of it all, Emma’s sublime, silken vocal. It’s a potent combination that Emma has showcased with her band during live sets at Meadow, Leaps & Bounds, and Brunswick Music Festival, as well as in support slots for celebrated artists like REMI, Emma Donovan, and Horatio Luna.
Deity was led by “Femininity”, a powerful statement of intent that encapsulates Emma’s devoutly feminist politic with the cutting-edge bricolage of her music, which was praised by tastemakers including Double J’s Zan Rowe, Triple J’s Nkechi Anele, and Gilles Peterson. Combining cinematic strings and a motorik guitar groove with Emma’s plush, soulful vocal, it’s a jaw-dropping introduction to a record that touches on loose, acidic techno (“My Desire”), ambient spoken-word (“Searching”) and, in its spectacular, dynamic coda, the kind of darkly-toned avant-garde jazz practised by UK luminaries like Moses Boyd. Above all, though, Deity is a statement record, one that positions creativity as a brazen political act, a mode of self-expression that can’t be silenced or diminished. “Deity is a love letter to myself,” she says, “That reminds me to embrace who I am, to break boundaries, to express myself without fear, to allow myself to grow and to love unconditionally.”