Wonder South

Surplus & Sight

Dispatch 07: Della Memoria ~ The Ebb


"Most of these songs were inspired by change, which can often make you feel like you’re being pushed from the safety of shore."


As newlywed synth duos go, songwriter and vocalist Emily Sholes Smith and multi-instrumentalist Josh Smith have a lot to say about change—the growth of a relationship, the evolution of a song, the unseen bends in the road up ahead. As Della Memoria, the couple—based on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and touring regularly through their home state, and across Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia—trades in a blend of dreamy pop that serves at once as a refreshing balm for their Southern audiences and also a combatant in a playful war with the region's more rigorous and traditional sounds. Wonder South spoke to the bandmates on the day of the release of their new E.P. The Ebb...

WS: The word “ebb” is very evocative of leaving the shore, exploring, searching. Is that how you view these songs for the band? 

Emily: This EP was named very intentionally. We were originally going to call it Corners, but then thought “The Ebb” was more representative of the mood of this EP as a whole. Most of these songs were inspired by change, which can often make you feel like you’re being pushed from the safety of shore—just trying to dig into the emotions that often come with change in life in a way that people may relate to.

"We may be in a different place sonically, but I think the emotional honesty that shaped the pioneering music of the South is still intact in Emily’s songwriting."

WS: Speaking of changes, since your last release you’ve gotten married. There are not too many songwriters who are married and put out work together. What are some of the challenges and joys that come from this work/life relationship?

Emily: We sometimes have to remind ourselves that we’re husband and wife first, then bandmates second. But it’s kind of counterproductive to think of it that way, because music has always been such a primary focal point of our relationship so they usually work hand in hand. But sometimes we’ll be like, “We should really practice for this weekend’s show,” and I’ll be all, “But date night..." 
Josh has made me a better songwriter. He’s an excellent songwriter himself, though his humility won’t allow him to admit it. He studied English at Millsaps, and sometimes I get him to critique my new songs which, admittedly, was a little difficult for my thin skin at first, but I’ve learned to embrace it. Our writing styles definitely complement each other’s.

Photo by Stephen Anderson.

Photo by Stephen Anderson.

WS: When and where did you first meet?

Emily: We both recall seeing each other here and there in high school, but we never actually met then. He was a year above me. It wasn’t until several years later that I recognized him and met him at a bar in Ocean Springs. It took me a minute to realize who he was under the ginormous beard he had at the time. Oh, and he was wearing a super cool pea coat.

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WS: Your electronic music is not exactly a traditional Southern sound. It’s actually progressive for this region in an accessible way. But then there are other artists like Washed Out, who are pushing the preconceived notions of sonic boundaries in the Deep South. What is your relationship with more indigenous Southern sounds? Are there any influences or counter-reactions to those traditions in your music?

Josh: I think our music initially took on the form of the traditional Southern sound. Part folk, part blues, part jazz. Emily grew up singing hymns, and I first got into music playing bluegrass. Now, we may be in a different place sonically, but I think the emotional honesty that shaped the pioneering music of the South is still intact in Emily’s songwriting, and there are definitely several Southern bands that have forged the path for us, like Washed Out, Colour Revolt, and Phosphorescent to name a few.

Emily: We owe a lot of the change in our sound to our friend who was drumming with us at the time, Pat Mcginley. He opened our eyes to rhythm and we really started changing the way we viewed the skeleton of songwriting.  Also, our drummer, Tommy Mims, and guitarist, Wayne Mott, are veterans of our local music scene. They come from a metal background, but can make lush, sonic dreamscapes.

Photo by Stephen Anderson.

Photo by Stephen Anderson.

WS: Walk us through the inspiration and writing and recording process for one of the songs on The Ebb.

Emily: "Before the Sun Goes Down" is the last track on the album. I wrote that song about experiencing the ups and downs of relationships. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about a romantic relationship. I think the gratifying part of writing music is creating an outlet that makes people realize they’re not alone. Everyone experiences evolution throughout relationships, whether it is with a significant other, friend, or family member. I wanted this song to take the listener through the experience of feeling disappointment or heartache and seeing it through to the other side. Kind of a juxtaposition of human weakness and strength.

Josh: Emily had been writing that song while we were recording other songs, and it was so beautiful with just her and the piano. We put up a couple of microphones and recorded her performing it and overdubbed some parts and harmonies to keep that raw, in-the-room feel.

WS: "Bright Screens" brings up issues of technology and the challenges of being present with those who you are physically with, if I'm listening correctly.

Emily: Correct!

WS: Would you like to unpack that a little bit? As an artist do you feel a duty to cut through the bright screens and try to help people connect with each other and with art?

Emily: I didn’t write this song with intentions of bringing about social awareness. It’s more so my musings about my own experiences. I will say, though, that one thing I love about being a musician is that often I’m able to connect with people on a deeper level than I can in an average day-to-day interaction. No matter how many people are at a show, as long as I can look out at a crowd and see that one person who feels something, I feel like I’ve done something worthwhile.

Photo by Mallisa Mott.

Photo by Mallisa Mott.

WS: Who are some other current Southern musicians you are really loving right now and listening to? 

Emily: We really dig Alabama Shakes. Locally, we’ve really been into Mississippi Shakedown, And The Echo, and Oh Jeremiah. We also really love Abe Partridge, a killer songwriter from Mobile, Alabama. And my sister, Lindy Loflin, has been writing some really good songs.

Josh: Emily really loves A.A. Bondy. He’s from Birmingham. You might hear some Radical Face influence on our new EP. I think he’s from Florida. Also coming from Florida, we saw this amazing rock show by a band called Sonic Graffiti. Alex Pieschel is a great songwriter, composer, and performer.  He’s put out some really great songs this year and everyone should buy his album. Our album was co-produced and mixed by Justin LaFramboise, who is incredibly talented and has made some of the best recordings to come out of Mississippi in a long time.  He puts out his own music as D’Indigo, and he’s working on a new release right now.

For Tour Dates and more, visit the band's official site