Tusks: The Pace Is Glacial

On her debut album, Tusks’ Emily Underhill learns how to dissolve completely

Emily Underhill, who performs as Tusks, has been immersed in music ever since she can remember. “I started piano lessons when I was four and taught myself guitar when I was 13,” says the London-based artist. “Because I was classically trained on piano, it slowly became less enjoyable. My guitar became my musical escape from the piano.”

At the University of Surrey, Underhill studied music technology and began writing and producing her own songs. “I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I was covering all bases,” she says. “Writing acoustic folk music, noise music, glitch, pop, electronic, and then singing on house and dubstep tracks.”

Under her given name, she released an EP called Snow in 2012, following it up with Ink in 2014, this time using the Tusks moniker. Both were created in her bedroom, but they struck a chord with listeners. Ink amassed more than a million streams on Spotify.

“I didn’t realize how well it was doing,” says Underhill. “I had nothing to compare it to. It was entirely self-produced, the vinyl records were funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and I was pretty much managing myself and promoting it, too, with the exception of a couple of very helpful friends.”

Tusks’ debut album, Dissolve (One Little Indian), echoes the slow, throbbing, emotional intensity of Ink. It’s another collection of spacious, cinematic soundscapes awash in murmuring ambience, with Underhill’s smooth, wistful vocals laying her soul bare before sinking beneath soft, rippling waves of textured synthesizer sounds.

“I sometimes use my voice as another instrument, like a string line or something,” she says. “I’m anxious about being vulnerable to people, letting them see sides of me that I normally keep hidden, so it was a big step to record the raw, less ambiguous tracks on this album.”

—j. poet