Emily Cross Confronts Mortality on “Cross Record”

Emily Cross

Photos by Jackson Montgomery Schwartz

“I don’t view my life as a sure thing,” says Cross Record’s Emily Cross. After the release of the first Cross Record LP, 2016’s Wabi-Sabi, Cross took a step back from music to focus on death—specifically end-of-life care. While touring and releasing music as one-third of the Sub Pop supergroup Loma, Cross took a three-year hiatus from Cross Record to start a career as a death doula.

As Cross describes it, the role of a death doula is similar to hospice, but it’s more comprehensive; a death doula helps clients with everything from funeral planning to legacy projects, to creating a peaceful space for their final days. That heightened focus on mortality gave Cross an acute awareness of her own impermanence. 

The songs included on Cross Record reflect this shift in thinking. The band’s instrumentations are multi-layered but not murky, vocals floating atop plains of echoing sound. Cross’s exposed vocals have a kind of confident vulnerability—she’s not hiding anything. She openly mourns the change in lifestyle that accompanies sobriety in “Face Smashed, Drooling,” and tries to grapple with growth and loss on “I Release You.” Though hardly unpolished, the songs at times feel like thoughts in progress—Cross lays out her emotions in a way that is diaristic, but not always conclusive. Sometimes, she contradicts herself: “The Fly” is a picture of conflicting emotions, with a bridge that repeats, “careful, careful / fuck it, fuck it.”

Emily Cross

Cross’s open writing style is also, in part, a result of her recent proximity to death. “I think that what working with [people who are] dying has given me is a feeling of freedom to just do whatever I want, and not be scared of what is going to happen,” says Cross. “On this record, I was able to just have fun and not worry so much about whether people were going to like it or react well to it—maybe because I spent so much time thinking about my mortality.”

Cross has noticed a lack of positive dialogue around death and dying, and is working to create one through both musical introspection and tangible ceremony. In conjunction with her upcoming tour, Cross is performing a series of Living Funerals, three-hour ceremonies that encourage the participant to visualize and make peace with their own death. After viewing a Vice documentary depicting a similar practice in South Korea, cross began searching for people in the United States who conducted similar ceremonies. When she came up empty, she took it upon herself to try to replicate them herself.

“[The Living Funeral] is intended to make priorities visible, and it’s actually changed a lot of people’s lives in real ways,” says Cross. “They have a way of showing you how you can change your life to live the way you want to be living, in line with your values and your desires and things like that.”

Though clearly the result of heavy introspection, Cross Record is also the product of external influences—Cross wrote the whole album in one month, while holed-up in a remote beachside cabin in Mexico’s Yucatan province. The album takes musical cues from Cross’s surroundings; “PYSOL My Castle” mimics the overstimulation of the street markets in Merida.

The origins of “Licorice” are particularly visceral, inspired by the borderline apocalyptic weather during her stay in the Yucatan. “There was this crazy storm where the wind was assaulting me with sand and burning my skin,” says Cross. “I was standing outside, and there were all these palm trees whipping around, and ant hills were being blown so there were ants all over my body. Our power lines caught on fire, and there were explosions from the transformers—it was pretty intense.” 

Those circumstances prompted Cross to reconsider her songwriting process, creating music that was uniquely personal. “I think that the album for me feels just really like myself,” says Cross. “It feels like when I was first writing music, when I was 20 years old and had no idea what I was doing—really pure, and exploratory in a really nice, comfortable way. It feels like kind of a return.”

-Anna White

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