Emma Kak, professionally known as EmZ, is an incredibly multi-talented vocalist born in Darwin, Australia, and transplanted to Irvington. Under the tutelage of Stephen Downs, her voice and composing mentor from Sleepy Hollow, she seems just on the brink of breaking out in a very big way. In her own words, EmZ said, “I’m not just interested in being a part of the counter-culture. I want to be challenged in every way. Talk to me like the rain. I want everything to be an emotional experience.”
For most of her youth in Australia, Emma Zakarevicius lived with her blind grandmother, a former opera singer, who sang with a local Lithuanian choir. Her grandmother kept in touch with family and friends, back in Lithuania, by singing her messages and recording them on tape, utilizing a technique known as “double tracking”. The technology, first employed in the United States by Les Paul and Mary Ford, involved singing the melody on one tape, harmonizing on a second tape, and then combining the two for a multi-voice sound. Those years gave Emma her first serious introduction to music and nurtured her desire to learn as many nuances and ‘beats’ of music she could find. Her grandmother’s ‘correspondence’ brought about her first instruction in recording which she still uses today.
Her painting and graphic talents, however, were first to bring her to the attention of school and professional authorities. She was awarded a grant to study art and print making, as an exchange student, at the University of Colorado. Her sister was also an artist, a good one, and her family felt she was the better of the two. So Emma went to school to study art, “just to stick it to my Mom.”
While at Colorado, EmZ was exposed to Miles Davis, and then the obvious follow-thru to Anita O’Day, Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. She immersed herself in vocalizing jazz with what she calls ‘manipulated voice’. Meanwhile, she kept up her growing body of artwork and working for expenses when not in class. Then back to Australia.
After a short period of time, EmZ received another opportunity to get back to the states, this time to New York City. She was awarded a grant to study art at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Art and Sculpture, with a12-hour art-producing and study load. However, it should be noted here, that the grant did not include living expenses. That, in turn, entailed a continual whirlwind effort to secure part-time work and living quarters.
Enter Arleen Schloss, a recognized performance art pioneer, video/ film artist, director and curator, and an influential force in the Downtown New York art and music scene. While EmZ was studying in New York, she met Schloss, who at that time was involved in wrapping Tomkins Square Park in re-cycled canvas billboard material, and in need of artists to stake out space for new, experimental art. There, EmZ met Schloss and a joyous rush of interlocking ideas, strengths and teaching began, which is still on-going. “Arlene will forever remain a formative factor in whatever I do in my career,” Emma said. Emma now holds BFA, MFA, and MA degrees in art. “I indulged in my abstract mind!”
It is at this point that EmZ’s music and singing career begins to take shape. “I bounced around a lot,” she said, and it’s in her multi-faceted lifestyle that you can feel heartfelt experiences shape her music and lyrics. Before she had to return to Australia, and later to renew her visitor’s visa and return to the states, she acquired a taste for Sinatra and pops, hard-core rock ‘n roll ( “It’s like making love.”), heavy metal (“I do my dance and exercising with it.”), flamenco beats, and not the least of all, Voodoo! “I met this guy in a real cool café on Mulberry Street, in the Village. We hit it off right away and he took me to his magical red-walled, crimson-lit basement, with hanging masks, and an over-sized, domineering chair in which he sits in a judge’s wig. “Now, that was different and exciting. We would sing for hours. “
Back to Australia, and then back to the United States, with a new grant to study at The New School for Social Research. More bouncing around until she met Charles and Jessica Kibel and then moved to Irvington. In 2007, at the suggestion of the Kibels, she auditioned for Crazy Mary, the psychedelic rock and roll band with which she now performs and records as a vocalist and lyricist. The band plays around Westchester and New York City and has plans to extend to New England this summer. At the same time, Jessica’s daughter was taking music lessons with Stephen Downs. She felt it would be beneficial for EmZ and Stephen to meet. They did and the electricity was immediate. As her website explains: “Working with collaborator and friend, Stephen Downs, her new solo venture ‘Ez Does It’ is a mature body of work that allows for a more personal side of the singer to shine through. The fusion of EmZ’s sultry heartfelt lyrics coupled with Stephens’s eloquent piano delivery results in an experience of musical delight.”
After a date at the Bitter End’s Singer/Songwriter Sessions in the Village, EmZ moves to ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ on West 46th Street, for a showcase presentation later in the year.