“It felt like I was driving through tunnels,” Emma Tricca says of her fourth album – her first for Bella Union. A phosphorescent panorama of undulating colour, shape and sound.
As with any transformation, it is this sense of movement that underpins Aspirin Sun and its bold new form, ebbing and flowing, continually unfurling. The tunnels led the Italian-born, London-based singer-songwriter towards something expansive and far-reaching: an entirely new and experimental collection of songs. But they also drew her closer to her late father, and her memories of him driving them both in his small white Fiat, darting through the Alps and whizzing through darkened passageways, where shafts of light flickered ahead of them in the distance.
Light and shade; past and future; love and loss. “I was in uncharted territory trying to understand what was happening to me,” Tricca says. In the winter of 2018, only months after her mystical third album St. Peter was released, her father died, submerging her in a subaqueous world of grief. “I think that the loss really informed the tunes a lot,” she muses. And the tunes quickly emerged. Tricca decided to spend a few months in New York during the summer of 2019 – and started recording Aspirin Sun in her long-time collaborator Steve Shelley’s studio.
“With this record, it was very much accepting that one does what they do,” Tricca says philosophically. “Don’t try to be anyone else, you can’t fake what you’re not.” She wanted to venture outside her comfort zone, and the result is a kaleidoscopic exploration of what it means to break free from past constraints. From the supernatural swirling and whorling of ‘Through the Poet’s Eyes’ to the haunting susurration of mariachi brass on ‘Space and Time’, the rhythmic echoes of the Beat poets are never far away – a flame that was lit, aged 9, when Tricca read modernist poet Ungaretti’s ‘Mattina’ and went looking for further avant-garde freethinkers.
Ask Tricca how Aspirin Sun feels to her and she’ll describe it as “a weird germination” of disparate influences. A “Wim-Wenders-meets-Fellini-8 ½” kind of set-up – especially ‘Autumn’s Fiery Tongue’ which swells and amplifies into a pulsating, hallucinatory odyssey that came to her in a dream. “You know when the sun is in the sky and it’s so round it looks like an aspirin? This record very much depicts that kind of sky,” Tricca says. It also depicts the discombobulating nature of grief – as overexposed as a blazing ball of gas and light. “I was blindly finding my way through my grief with music and dreams that I wrote down in the morning.”
This new psychedelic horizon could only be fully brought to life by a band she calls her family. The same musicians she collaborated with on her 2018 outing, St. Peter: Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, Dream Syndicate guitarist Jason Victor, and bass player Pete Galub. All three musicians brought something unique to the record. “Pete comes from more of a traditional songwriting background, Steve and Jason are more experimental, and then there’s me, very much in-between. For me, that was magic,” she says. As an only child, Tricca has always been used to solitude. But when the world shut down, her windows flung open. “On the one hand, I’m a loner; on the other, I get so much excitement when I work with other people. If you grew up in a broken family, like I did, when it comes to work and friendship I’m always looking for the family I never had. That’s why, with these guys, I feel complete.”
After her initial stint in Shelley’s studio, Tricca flew back to London only to return to JFK airport in January 2020: a homecoming that she calls “fate” considering what was set to follow. A few months later, the world would irreparably change. “Hell broke loose with Covid,” she says – which only added to the record’s core theme: its sense of alienation. Back in London, she liaised with her New York band over the summer of 2020, working on overdubs and exchanging ideas, “finding a new way with a renewed confidence.”
Reading Frank O’Hara by day and listening to Can, Neu! and Brian Jonestown Massacre by night, Tricca ventured off the beaten path, extending beyond the softer Greenwich Village sound of her 2009 debut Minor White, keen to expand upon the classical Italian melodies that she’d grown up listening to as a young girl: Morricone, Puccini and Rossini. She carries these strong melodies in her blood just like the rhythms of the beat poets. “That’s my natural state,” she concludes.
Darkness and danger are always there, Tricca muses. But just like those darting beams of light she remembers from her childhood, racing through the Alps with her father, hope is never far from view. It pulsates brightly in the sky. “Time will go / Racing through space and an old fashioned waltz,” she sings on Aspirin Sun’s final track, ‘Space and Time.’ A mariachi trumpet calls us home.