The Brooklyn-based artist showcases her fascination with all things occult, from the supernatural to the Orlando Magic.
Emily Reo’s new record, Only You Can See It, sees the Brooklyn-based electro-pop star shining. Over ten songs, Reo crafts a rich, layered world that bounces and bops and thrashes, teaming with warped bubblegum vocals and carefully constructed synthscapes. It’s a record of lush highs, hushed lows, and honest reflections.
Ahead of her upcoming record release show at Baby’s All Right on April 26, we asked Reo to share a playlist of recent inspirations with us. She replied with 13 magic-related tunes, ranging from Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell on You” to Babe Rainbow’s “The Magician” to Jenny Hval’s “Spells.” We also spoke to Reo over email about her new record, her relationship to magic, and the similarities between making music and practicing witchcraft.
“This is a playlist celebrating the intersection of two of my biggest interests: the supernatural and the Orlando Magic,” Reo says. “For most of my life, I’ve been deeply fascinated with the occult, spells, and magic. […] I’ve also been deeply fascinated with the mediocre NBA team the Orlando Magic. Coincidence? You decide.”
Only You Can See It is out now via Carpark Records. Check out the interview and playlist below, and catch Emily Reo at Baby’s All Right on April 26, with support from Foxes in Fiction and Felicia Douglass, plus DJ sets by Liz & Jenn Pelly.
AdHoc: When did you write and record Only You Can See It? What was that process like?
Emily Reo: I slowly wrote OYCSI from about late 2014 until mid 2018. Recording happened alongside writing, in the sense that I started these songs with production and instrumentals instead of vocals.
Somewhere between late 2017 and early 2018—once the songs were fully written—I brought my band into the studio to track live drums and some of the bass. After the studio tracking, I went out of town and re-recorded all the vocals completely alone, as I am extremely shy about recording vocals within earshot [of] anyone or anything, then replaced a lot of the soft synths with real instruments.
Last, I added all the vocal harmonies on the record, and then my band, [my] collaborators, and I added final instruments like guitar, percussion, synths, sax, and various things such as [the] theramin, harp, and whistling that show up briefly on the record to fill out any space that still needed some depth.
The process was long and relatively arduous—I would even say painstaking at times, simply because of the personal expectations I was trying to meet. But I did really enjoy it, and I’m so proud of what it became. I truly don’t think I’ve ever worked that hard or passionately on anything in my life, and I really put my entire self into it. I wanted to work until it was “perfect,” but at a certain point, I learned to let go of that.
Musically, how does Only You Can See It differ from previous releases?
In the past, I wrote songs pretty quickly—[I] tried playing them in different ways and ended up adding more and more layers over time. [This] time around, I feel like I made all the layers first, and then had to figure out how to fit a song inside of them. I made instrumentals I really liked, but when the time came to make these into “pop songs,” I had to carve out room for the vocals and take some things away to make the space.
If Olive Juice  and Spell  were made from me taking relatively simple songs and watercoloring all over them to grow them into something larger, OYCSI started as a large slab of ideas and was sculpted carefully into a collection [of] songs.
This time, I also tried to push myself lyrically and musically to write more accessible, interesting, and complex songs. In the past, writing felt more kinetic. [This] felt meticulous in comparison, like I had a strong vision going into it that I knew I wanted to reach. [There] are secrets and little easter eggs for folks who are familiar with my older songs. Sometimes I worry a bit about having overworked it, but when I listen to it now, it sounds just like what I wanted it to be.
Have you ever dabbled in witchcraft, magic, or related practices?
I haven’t dabbled in witchcraft, although I have this book called How to Use the Phases of the Moon to Get What You Want. I can’t say I’ve ever tried any of the spells in the book, but I’ve read through it and considered what the chances of things working might be.
I recently bought a pocket book of magic and I’ve learned one trick so far, which, for what it’s worth, has only NOT worked on women. Make of that what you will! I’m actually super interested in magic, [though] I love how something that seems supernatural can still be grounded in reality and science. I might be more interested in illusions than the occult, because they play internally with the mind instead of trying to control external forces.
In what ways is making music like witchcraft?
Making music feels like “conjuring” something, for sure. When I end up making something I’m proud of, it feels somewhere between “What a happy accident” and “I’m really lucky that worked” or “I don’t know how I did that—that’s magical.” To me, creativity falls more in the realm of magic than witchcraft, since you’re using your mind to bring something to life out of nothing, and sort of bending the possibilities of reality.
But I also see how it could be likened to witchcraft, if you think about putting together various elements to create something that can change someone’s emotional state. That feels relatively spell-like: If you combine notes and sounds in a certain way, you can change the way people feel, and there’s something extremely surreal about that.
Nina Simone – “I Put A Spell On You”
The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Do You Believe in Magic?”
Babe Rainbow – “The Magician”
Bong Wish – “Saturn Spells”
Sidney Gish – “Good Magicians”
Heart – “Magic Man”
Portishead – “Magic Doors”
Kate Bush – “Waking The Witch”
Bruno Mars – “24K Magic”
Electric Light Orchestra – “Strange Magic”
Andy Shauf – “The Magician”
Jenny Hval – “Spells”
Emily Reo – “Spell”
Listen to the whole playlist here: