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Empress Pay Tribute To 'The Women Who Stood Before Us'

27 July 2023 | 3:03 pm | Empress

In celebration of their new album 'Daughter', Empress pay tribute to the powerful female artists that influenced them, including Australia's own Sampa the Great and British rapper Little Simz.

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Six-piece neo-house collective Empress recently returned with their eagerly anticipated debut album Daughter, a highly produced body of work that serves as a sonic journal of the band and their odyssey thus far, spotlighting the collective’s evolution since the record’s conception in 2019.

Led by female vocal trio Grace Robinson, Stella Dunai and Matilda Pungitore, and performing alongside bassist Noah Hutchinson, drummer Matt Dooley and keyboardist Christy Wozitsky-Jones, the Naarm-based outfit relish in owning a distinct and polished sound.

Daughter serves as an incredibly powerful and diverse ten-track album, with focus track and feminist anthem Water In My Breath examining the female experience under a patriarchal society. Equal parts cathartic and ruthless, it’s filled with glitchy synth, layered percussion and a warbling bassline to tie it all together.

Speaking on the record, the band said, “These songs were written as our experiences as women saw growth and becoming, and [the name] Daughter felt like the right way to reflect this experience. Being a Daughter is an innate shared experience of all women across the globe however you choose to depict femininity, and we wanted to feel them close and connected for this release.”

In celebration of their new album Daughter, Empress has paid tribute to the powerful women of the music industry who stood before them and continue to serve as a source of inspiration for the Melbourne-based musos.

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Check out what they had to say below.

Sampa The Great

When Sampa released The Return in 2019, Empress had only just formed as a band and we had no idea where we were going with our energy and vibe yet - all we knew is that we wanted female power and presence - and this album was HUGE in feeding and nurturing this idea.

Sampa is one of the most talented writers and performers to work in Melbourne, but it's her bravery and fierceness that we try to absorb the most.

Seeing her perform outside Parliament Building during the BLM protests and rally the crowd, hearing her speak out against the Night Cat after the owner’s bigoted comments, and seeing her constantly teaching, educating and advocating for her community and her voice is so powerful.

We have learnt so much from her music and her presence in our community, and she is so generous with her knowledge. Whilst her music is absolutely fire (Let Me Be Great, FEMALE, and Final Form are some of the best anthems EVER), she sees her musical career as only a very small fraction of using her voice - and that her voice can be used to inspire, educate and invoke change.

Sampa taught us that music is intrinsically linked to activism because music is storytelling. She taught us to never be afraid to tell our story.

Merrill Garbus (Tune Yards)

Merrill Garbus is a California-based singer, composer and frontwoman of the band Tune-Yards.

Us three singers were introduced to Tune-Yards in 2017 and we were initially struck by how unusual Merrill’s singing and writing style was.

Merrill is so unapologetically herself, finding beauty in the gritty, raw and ugly - unafraid to use her voice in ways that are conventionally “harsh” or “jarring”. She seems so unshaped by the many pressures that other female-identifying artists face to be conventionally pretty, sexy and delicate. (ones that we were definitely feeling in high school) .

Tune Yards’ song Real Thing is one of the reasons we formed as a band, and was included as a cover in our early Empress sets.

It was a crowd pleaser - we would yell, smash drumsticks together, be chaotic, soft and strange all simultaneously.

Getting to scream “Glory glory it’s good to be me” or “Why you worry about dress size 6?”, felt super cathartic, and this release was also shared with the audience as they’d yell ‘Bless My Lungs!!’ back at us.

Having Merrill as a figure to look up to at such a formative age in our musical journey made it seem possible to be a female artist that doesn’t want to be gentle or pretty all the time, or fit into one specific genre of singing.

She taught us excitement, uniqueness and unpredictability in our writing - and that nothing is binary. It helped us realise you can write music and exist outside of the norms, and that we would always rather be the weird, loud, unconventional ones.

Little Simz

There’s not a whole lot to say about Little Simz beyond that she’s just badass. We love that she has such a poetic and articulate way to convey female anger, power and frustration but it’s interwoven with these touches of delicate femininity, particularly seen in our favourite track I See You.

We strive to maintain this similar level of nuance and versatility in our writing, so Little Simz is exactly the way we love to see women portrayed in music.

Some of the particularly powerful lyrics that really stand out to us are in her track Venom where Little Simz says:

They would never wanna admit I’m the best here

From the mere fact that I got ovaries

It’s a woman’s world, so to speak

Pussy, you sour

Never giving credit where it’s due

‘Cause you don’t like pussy in power

As women, too often we’re labelled as either ‘angry’ and ‘controlling’ or ‘soft’ and ‘emotional’ and Little Simz’s music throws that right out the window, showcasing all of the beautiful dimensions of what it means to be women.

What we find so enamouring and particularly inspiring about Little Simz is that she has the confidence and versatility to navigate vulnerable spaces in her lyrics and then the next minute she’s dragging you through the mud with a reality check you didn’t know you needed.

Doja Cat

Another absolute beast in the pop industry who doesn’t care about what anyone thinks of her and speaks her truth and we love her for that.

Doja Cat is the living breathing testament that when a woman is empowered and does things her own way she can shake the world. Ultimately, we’d love to achieve even 1/10 of the positive effect she’s had on women in making them feel confident and content in themselves.

When we were younger, pop stars were always the same; glamorous, size 6, pretty, smiley - you had to be gentle and giggly and obsessed with fame.

Young women now have all these amazing loud and feminine role models to look up to like Doja, who doesn’t follow the status quo and will show up to the Met Gala dressed like a cat if they want and still look stunning while doing so.

She is one of the funniest, quirkiest and fiercest people in the industry, demonstrating to all that being a woman is not about being picture-perfect but about being fun, fierce, unique and honest - both to the people around you and to yourself.

Doja’s song Woman in particular – and for obvious reasons - is a big hit with us Empress girlies cause it’s literally a song that feels like a party celebrating women and that’s our whole vibe and energy when performing an Empress set.

Joni Mitchell

Unsurprisingly, Joni Mitchell has also had a huge impact on our writing and separate experiences of storytelling and lyricism.

No one can deny that she was one of the best songwriters of all time, and despite having to succeed within the sausage fest of the 1970’s music scene - she prevailed above her male counterparts. She was the pinnacle of existing defiantly free, which for a woman of that time was brave.

Being unmarried, unglamorous, unbothered by beauty standards and uninterested in fame, she completely reconstructed the feminine archetype in the music industry.

All three of us singers struggled with finding our musical identities, feeling like any female singer-songwriter was immediately put in the “basic gentle folk” category if they were lyrically vulnerable - but Joni taught us that vulnerability in your writing is strength.

Joni’s songs were never about women needing men - instead, the women in her songs had names, jobs, hobbies, and non-romantic desires.

Our favourite quote of hers was in an interview where she said “What I was doing was not really folk music, it just looked like it because I was a girl with a guitar,” - we all resonate with this.

Despite Joni’s own problematic views on feminism, it hasn’t stopped her from inspiring many women in songwriting and being one of the first to deconstruct gender norms within the music industry and pave the way for many that followed.

Whether or not she believes in feminism - we do - and she made us, and many others, believe in the strength of freedom, truth and vulnerability.