Updated: Sep 15, 2020
(Photo by Sorrel Higgins)
Saint Clair is the product of Emma Topolski’s years of experience in the music industry, which ranges from session work with iconic names like Dua Lipa and Laura Marling to joining Bombay Bicycle Club and CHILDCARE.
November 6th will see Saint Clair unveil her breathtaking visual EP, In The Violet Hour, four different video concepts each detailing a different stage of Emma and sister Tamsin’s grief and heartbreak following the loss of their father.
Captivated by her heart-wrenching vocals, powerful lyricism and endless creativity, we spoke to Emma about her time in the industry and the importance of visuals.
Tell us a bit about yourself, what age did you get into music and when did you decide you wanted to make a career out of it?
Music was always a big part of my life and defined chapters of my identity and social life throughout my adolescence. The Spice Girls, then UK garage, emo, jazz and soul, then electronic music. The Beatles and Stevie Wonder were mainstays passed down to me from my parents so I've always had eclectic taste. Professionally-speaking, I started as a jazz singer, getting ignored in various corners of London hotels, and eventually did more and more work as a session musician. More recently my focus has been on songwriting for my own projects, Saint Clair and CHILDCARE.
You’ve got heaps of experience in the industry, including playing as a session musician with the likes of Laura Marling and Dua Lipa - at what point did you decide to work on your own project?
Session work is an amazing way to travel the world, meet like-minded people and be creative to a certain extent. It also gives you some structure and purpose in a sea of uncertainties! I've always written songs and knew I wanted to start my own project so I bowed out of touring for a couple of years to focus on Saint Clair.
Do you think your experience in being a session musician and has influenced your work as Saint Clair?
I wouldn't say it's influenced my sound, but it's certainly given me a wealth of experience and knowledge and contacts to integrate into my own project. I found it a useful way to mature and work out what I wanted whilst still remaining in the thick of music-making.
What do you think is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve picked up in your time in the music industry?
To endure. You have to enjoy the process because the end results will never satisfy you (or even worse, may never come). It's a rollercoaster and can take a huge toll on your self-worth and motivation but you just need to persevere and do what you enjoy, regardless of where you think you're heading.
You’re also the bassist for CHILDCARE, and more recently have joined the legendary Bombay Bicycle Club, how do you balance so many projects and how do you find they each compare?
Despite its challenges, I find having lots of projects on the go keeps me inspired. I actually produced a music video for Nina Nesbitt yesterday which is brand new territory for me! With CHILDCARE I get to flex my bass muscles, play and tour with my best friends and take a back seat when it comes to songwriting or driving the project. With Bombay being so established, there's a level of professionalism and structure that I love being a part of, not to mention the travel and amazing venues and gigs. And with Saint Clair, I run the show which is a blessing and a curse!
Where did the name Saint Clair come from?
Saint Clair is a hybrid between my Mum's Scottish ancestry in Sinclair Bay and the French word for "light". I'm a fluent French speaker so wanted to include that side of me too.
Talk us through your upcoming EP, where did the inspiration for the tracks come from and which is your favourite from it?
I wrote the tracks after losing my dad so each one was written during a different stage of the grieving process. The songs are inextricably linked to their visual counterparts - directed by my sister and shot in our family home - and journey through 4 chapters of grief and loss.
I've never been asked which is my favourite song before! Errr I think it might be the acoustic version we just made for chapter 01: goddess.
It’s also a visual EP, which is yet another testament to your creativity - what made you go for adding the visual aspects as well as the music?
The project was always conceived as a visual EP journeying through grief. I chatted to my sister Tam about it and we came up with the aesthetic concept together and she then created the detail and directed the whole project. We're releasing it as 4 separate chapters online but the full film 'in the violet hour' will be released in its intended form in November.
Aside from the quality of your music, what do you find is the most important part when it comes to releasing music?
Visuals, whether music videos or artwork, have always gone hand-in-hand with the music for me. It's such a wonderful way to help people step into the world you're trying to create and connect with things emotionally. Live is also key and something I wish I could do more of.
Who are you listening to at the moment? Anyone we should be aware of?
Well CHILDCARE of course! New album is on its way so look out for that. Check out my friend's band Noya Rao and my ultimate babe Holly Walker. Otherwise I only listen to The Beatles.