Nashville based Emma was one of the early contributors to our “ Your Voice, Your Choice” feature which is how I first became aware of her music. The heartbreaker of a single “ I Thought You Were The One” from her self titled EP immediately made me want to check it out in its entirety, and it really is a stunning collection of songs, believe me!
1. LH Hi Emma, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for Belles and Gals….where are you at the moment, I like to set the scene!
EW I’m about to board a flight to Nashville .. it’s a Sunday afternoon. beautiful and sunny …
I’m just hoping I am allowed to bring my guitar on board and put in the overhead.. I usually can but switched my flight last minute and will be one of the last people on the plane. ooops! fingers crossed. I’m a nervous flyer in general.
2.LH I was reading how you come from a musical family and were even named after the legendary Emmylou Harris, so was there ever any doubt in your mind that music would not be just a hobby for you but a career?
EW I always knew. I tried to fight it when I was little but couldn’t. It’s the kind of feeling like it chooses you in a way… thinking of taking any other path makes me really sad. I thought about being a land developer for a little while when I was 9.
3. LH I gather you had pretty eclectic musical taste while growing up which comes through in your writing, but which particular country artists have influenced you the most?
EW Originally Dixie Chicks got me into country music and Carlene Carter.
4.LH And was the move from Baltimore to Nashville always part of your plan, or was there something specific that triggered it?
EW I didn’t plan to move to Nashville. I took almost a year after college and made trips to New York, LA and Nashville before I decided on Nashville. It was 2011 and at the time you could see what Nashville was already becoming… this intersection of a lot of music – country and pop and rock and everything .. in a really cool way. It seemed like a happy medium between the things I wanted to pursue which was both country and pop.
5. LH Songwriting appointments and co-writes seem to be the norm for artists in music city, is this collaborating something that you enjoy and which comes naturally to you? Is there a dream writer you have yet to work with?
EW At first co-writing was terrifying and kind of painful to be honest. Writing alone was where I felt most comfortable and authentic in my art. But, after doing it more and more you get more comfortable and it’s a different thing. You’re not always so attached. You learn who you work well with. And you learn that great collaborators can really add so much … I’m always amazed by what a song turns into when you have two or three brains working on it rather than just one. It’s incredible. Sometimes a co-writer will be mumbling and their mumble sparks an idea in me and it’s like we all just bounce things off of each other. I love writing with three people now too. But it all depends. Writing alone is like my spiritual practice and co-writing is a little more team effort or business-y to me if that makes sense. I have to compromise, let go of control more. My dream collaborator to work with is Stargate. They’re a production team that have been a part of so many of my favorite pop songs. I think if they worked with a country artist it’d be a really cool combination.
6.LH I asked the previous question as several of the tracks on your self-titled EP seem to come from a very personal perspective, heartbreak in particular, am I right and do you find writing therapeutic in such situations?
EW Yea definitely. It’s weird I don’t have a lot of serious relationships in my past but all the feelings are still real. I wrote a song called “I Thought You Were The One” in all honesty, about someone I never actually dated. (LOL.. I know.) It’s cathartic to write about heartbreak… it’s as if you come to an understanding (of a situation) by the end of the song. In a practical writing sense, you’re like, I need a bridge so I’m going to have find a way within myself to deal with this situation and find a way to move on and once you do that, personally, you can put it in the song. Then you know where the song needs to go and how it should end. Songwriting can almost force you to come to an understanding of a situation and move on, personally at the same time.
7. LH I was fortunate enough to hear you perform several of the EP’s songs in stripped back format at a writers round in Nashville recently, these are a big part of the live music scene in the city aren’t they? A great chance for you to explain the inspiration behind your writing in an intimate listening room environment.
EW Yes. that was such a special night with Song Suffragettes. The writer rounds are a huge part of the music scene in Nashville, particularly within country music. I really love learning about how comedians come up in that world and work out new ideas and it reminds me so much of how I feel toward the writer rounds. You can see immediately what people respond to.
8. LH And in total contrast, you have opened for some major artists at massive venues, what can you tell me about those experiences?
EW Yea. I love playing, period. but in a weird way I feel way more comfortable and at ease in front of a bigger audience than I do in front of a few people. I can be very self critical if there’s only a few people listening. If it’s a big audience, it’s so freeing because it’s more of a show. I kind of lose myself in it. You’re trading energy and enthusiasm with the audience as a whole. and a lot of times you can’t totally see every single person so you really just have to focus on the task at hand.
9. LH Going back to the EP, all know is that you released it independently, I don’t even know where it was recorded, who produced it or who you got to play on it! What more can you tell me, and how was the entire process for you?
EW It was a great experience, and I learned a lot through it – how to be a better collaborator, when to let go, when to stand your ground. I love learning about every aspect of how a record is made – it’s a little obsessive honestly but it’s so fun and complicated. I wrote the ISRC codes for each song. I don’t know why I’m a nerd with that stuff but each song has a code and it’s so cool that you can write them yourself. For this album I kept playing it for different labels and publishers but just released it myself because I didn’t want to wait for someone to jump on board because what if they never did? So I tried to think about it like I was the label. What would I do if I signed an artist, how would I make it so they had the best chance to get heard. My friend introduced me to my distributor, Stem who have become friends now and I just admire what they do so much. I think their concept is really forward thinking and a really good solution for indie artists who like to have a hands on approach. It’s a really comprehensive platform. Seeing it through to the end from both the creative sides and business sides was really special. The album was recorded in Nashville. It was produced by Brad Hill, Evan Hutchings and I was a co-producer with them. My band included Kris Donegan (electric guitar), Joeie Canaday (bass), Evan Hutchings (drums) and Todd Lombardo (acoustic guitar). The musicians are always really fast and this group works together a lot so they were so helpful to have for my project. We took about two days and had them play on everything. It’s usually the tweaking, mixing, finalizing arrangements that ends up taking longer.
10. LH There was a particularly heartfelt new song called “The Actress” you performed at the round I attended, your favourite right now I gather…..what inspired this one and are you making it available anytime soon? it got such a great reaction!
EW I’m so glad you like that one. That song was actually written about dealing with mental health issues. I’ve always been too afraid to talk about it, even with people that have been very close friends. But it has been big part of my life – navigating it. How to not give up. How to not let it define me and dictate how I’m going to live my life. I think on a day to day level we all have to put on a face, a brave face, or a positive face and on the inside we may not feel like doing that at all. We live in a world that’s so competitive, so comparison driven – you have to be excelling all the time. And for some people, they’re just trying to make it through the day without breaking down or crying or get out of bed and feel productive. So I wanted to write it for those people too.
Talking about it actually helps me stay healthy. I can be like oh, this is that way of thinking I had that I can change or this tendency I recognize so I’m going to try to alter that today. And maybe other people feel that way and can’t voice it or don’t think there are ways to navigate it.
The Actress is sort of a cool way to think about all people in any kind of job or any situation. But because I’m a singer it’s performance and I often feel like when I perform it makes me happy because I forget everything for 45 minutes or so. I can’t worry or plan or prep. I have to be fully engaged and in the moment. so that’s where the “ that’s where I shine, that’s all I know ” line came from. People have so many sides. We truly don’t know what’s going on when the show’s over – whether it’s a literal show or a meeting, a party, or bumping into someone … I would love to release it. I’m not sure when but I’d love to be able to record it.
11.LH And looking ahead to the rest of 2018 and into 2019, what are your plans? Is a trip to the UK on the horizon?
EW Yes! I’ll be releasing one or two new songs by the end of the year. I will be in the UK too! I’m going to Liverpool in 2019 to do a private event. I’ve never been to Europe – I really would love to play a few festivals there too.
LH Fantastic news, I’ll look forwards to that new music and to catching a UK show ! Meanwhile, take care, safe travels ( including to your guitar!) and have fun.
To listen/download Emma’s EP and keep in touch with all her news go to emmawhitemusic.com
Interview conducted by Lesley Hastings