Guitar Girl'd: Connecting with Emma Anzai of Sick Puppies
I knew bassist Emma Anzai of Sick Puppies had been voted as one of the “25 Hottest Chicks in Metal” by Revolver. So when I sat down to take a listen to the band’s new album, Connect, I was expecting some metal mayhem.
I wasn’t disappointed by the driving beats, heavy riffs and overall awesomeness of the album. But I was surprised, because it was so much more than metal. In fact, the diversity of Connect was one if its strengths.
Solid radio-ready hard rock hits sit comfortably next to sassy lyrics and unexpected jolts of rhythmic intensity. But best of all, it's obvious this band isn't afraid to take stylistic chances. The writing and musicianship on Connect are top notch.
Sick Puppies gained notoriety when they released an independent video to accompany their first single, “All The Same.” Shot in a Sydney shopping mall in which fellow Aussie Juan Mann held up a hand-written placard offering passers-by "Free Hugs," the clip has attracted more than 74 million views on YouTube and spawned a world-wide phenomenon.
Connects follows their 2009 release, TRI-POLAR, which sold 400,000 copies and had two certified gold singles, “You're Going Down” and “Maybe.” Set for release in July, the band will be touring throughout the summer in support. Here we talk to Anzai about the new album and what’s next.
Let’s talk about your new album.
It’s called Connect, and actually the new single is called “There’s No Going Back.” The video was just released on June 6. You can pre-order the album.
I really like the writing on the whole album. I especially like “Gunfight,” because it’s so cheeky.
It’s funny, that song. We had a big debate over whether it would make the album, because the style is so left-of-center. And we were like, “I don’t know if it fits on the album,” because all the other songs are of a certain nature, and that one kind of sticks out. So yeah, you either love it or you hate it. I’m glad you like it.
there’s something fun about it that’s different. Especially because you mention Kevin Bacon in it, so …
Do you guys work as a team in the writing process?
Yeah, we all collaborate. It all happens in a different manner each time. Sometimes we’ll come up with a theme, and we’ll start from there lyrically and then put music to it. Other times we’ll already have a melody or a theme, and it all happens differently. Sometimes, it’s a riff and you build from that. So, it can be any number of ways.
The one thing we do keep the same is writing it acoustically rather than getting in a room and jamming on it. Just because it’s hard to know if it’s good when you’ve got the instruments plugged in and it’s already loud. Then anything can sound relatively OK! But it’s only when you strip it back to acoustic, and you can play it as a song, that you can know whether it’s radio-ready song or not.
Yeah, if that kernel of that song can make it on just an acoustic guitar then you’re good. The other song I thought was really interesting was the last one, “Under the Black Sky,” which is sort of Pink Floyd-ish.
That’s what people have been saying. That’s really cool and very complimentary, because Pink Floyd, obviously, they’re very legendary, and they retain credibility. And they’re really a good band.
It was definitely the most apart from “Gunfight,” I guess. It’s the one we kind of went most out-on-a-limb on. And we decided to put it last. Kind of like on the previous album. We put something at the end that gives you a hint of what direction we could go in next. The most experimental, I suppose.
You have some very solid radio-ready songs on there, but you definitely have stretched that creativity muscle. I watched your “Free Hugs” video. That must’ve been really crazy when that just took off …
It was! Because Shim, our singer, made it for his friend in Australia, who basically just stood at a strip mall and held up a sign, and gave free hugs. And so, one day, Shim decided to film it. It all happened around the time that we came to the states as a band, and it before we got a record deal and any of that.
Shim had all this footage of him giving out free hugs, and at the time, we were recording our first album, and we had just done the song “All the Same.” He decided to compile all the footage and put the song underneath, and it was a really weird thing. He just did it for his friend and then he sent it to him and he was like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” And we were like, “Oh, we should put it on YouTube.” It’s a really great, I don’t know, like a Get Well card. It’s very soothing. As soon as we put that on YouTube it went viral. We had no idea! It was totally unplanned, and it was very lucky for us.
I read that you started out playing guitar. What made you pick it up in the first place?
I was living in Japan at the time; my dad is Japanese. When I was a teenager we moved back to Japan, and I was having a hard time because I was already English speaking and it was hard to integrate back into a non-English-speaking culture. My friend would send me magazines from Australia, and I learned about Silverchair. I really got into them and started to play guitar after that. My uncle got one for me for my birthday. Then I ended up moving back to Australia and met Shim in high school. And he played guitar and sang, so I moved to bass, and so that’s how that kind of happened.
Do you feel your approach to playing bass has evolved as you’ve been doing more writing and performing?
Yeah, I think so. When you start out, you kind of want to put every single little thing in there that you’ve learned. And it’s not necessarily good for the song. But I think the one thing I’ve learned is to listen more, so you don’t step over the song’s melody. It has to sit right.
Are there any bass players you really love?
Yeah, oh yeah. I originally loved the bass player from Silverchair. And also Green Day; he’s super melodic, Mike from Green Day. And then, my absolutely favorite is Flea, because he incorporates both melody and rhythm, and slapping, of course…
Oh yeah, that’s key. He has it all. He’s my No. 1 inspiration, because he can really play with the drums and have it going. I like bass because you can be the guitar player, and you can also do drums, too — slapping and rhythmic stuff. So that’s why I think it’s my favorite.
Let’s talk about your gear. Can you tell me what bass you’re using and what amp you plug into?
It’s pretty simple. I love Warwick basses and Ampeg amps, and that’s pretty much it. I play a Stream Stage 1. I’ve been playing Warwick pretty much the whole time. And they’re very good to me. I’m endorsed by them. When you slap, it really cuts through. I play Ampeg SVT Classics for heads, and I use 8x10 cabinets, just a simple setup. I have two heads — one for the highs and one for the lows. I bi-amp it, and that’s pretty much it.
That’s a pretty solid rig, I would say.
Yeah, it is, definitely. Most solid I’ve come across, and sometimes when you play at outdoor festivals, you need it. ‘Cause the sound gets blown away, because it’s outdoors and windy.
Do you have any favorites on the new album that you like to play live?
There’s a song called “Die to Save You,” which has really mean riffs in it, which is really cool. For now, it’s my favorite.
Have you had any challenges as a woman playing hard rock?
You know, I’ve been lucky, because I’ve been in this band since I met Shim in high school. So, not anything that has made me want to quit. Nothing like that. You do get your cliché things like they’ll think you’re a girlfriend of somebody’s or someone who’s not in the band. You’ll get that a lot. I’ve found that people have been very respectful and especially, these days, there are more girls in rock. Halestorm, Amy Lee. When we were first coming up, she was the rock goddess and she still is.
Do you have any tips or advice to share that you’ve learned in your travels?
I guess, just make sure you love what you do, and you’re loving it for the right reasons. Because eventually that’ll be tested, and it’s not an easy road. You really have to sacrifice a lot, like being without your family and friends, being away for a long time, being on a tour bus, and just doing that kind of thing. And while it is fantastic, and it is a dream, you do sacrifice pretty much everything else in your life. And if you’re prepared to do that and you really love it, then it’s perfect for you.
And also, make sure the people that you’re in a band with and touring with are good people, and people that you get on well with, because that will go a long way. When you’re tired, when you’ve done 10 shows in a row, not enough sleep, you want to make sure that everyone is of a good temperament to be able to handle that.
That’s excellent advice. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The Sick Puppies Twitter is a place where people can ask questions and they can get in touch with us pretty much directly at twitter.com/SickPuppies. Ask us questions! And you can find out more at sickpuppies.com. And if readers wanna go a bit further, there’s sickpuppiesworldcrew.net, which is like a Street Team/Fan Relations that they can dig deeper!
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents Dean Markley, Agile Partners, Peavey, Jammit, Notion Music, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the founder of the Women's International Music Network at thewimn.com, producer of the Women's Music Summit and the lead singer for the rock band Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.