1. What does it mean to be selected as a finalist for this competition?
For me, it’s an honor and a vote of confidence from the Folk and Americana music communities at an early stage in my career. The Wildflower! Festival and particularly this competition have a strong legacy and reputation for bringing talented, unique, wholehearted musicians to this contest. It’s pretty exciting for me to be in such good company! It’s also a message to me that, despite my fears and moments of not knowing what’s ahead for me, that I’m on the right path.
2. How did you select the songs for the Wildflower! contest and are they based on any memories or experiences?
My first criteria for selecting these songs is that they are rooted in the South. Being from North Carolina– a Southerner– is part of my identity. I love telling stories, even if they’re not my own, in the voices of characters who I know and love. Magnolia Queen is the story of a former beauty queen asking the question, “What next?” after she’s done raising her kids. It’s a little funny, it’s totally sassy, but it’s also a little cracked. Magnolia Queen is a woman who looks beautiful on the outside, but she’s a little lost and broken on the inside. She had everything she thought she wanted, and now she’s feeling alone, curious, a little brave, a little wild and reckless. She misses her glory days. I love her. I love her journey. It’s also– funnily– based on an experience I had in high school where I entered a pageant called “Junior Miss” and discovered that, despite being a Southern girl, that pretty and put-together pageant world did not feel comfortable or easy for me to navigate. I was a runner-up, but I swore I’d never doing anything like that again!
I chose Marriage Ain’t the End of Being Lonely as an almost opposite song in tone and emotion. It’s heavy, it’s sad, it’s truthful. The two songs balance each other well. Neither are my own personal stories, but both have universal appeal because there are abiding truths in both songs. Questions about our identities, our paths– fear, loneliness– those are experiences we all have.
3. How did you meet your husband and what’s it like to have him touring with you in the RV? Is there a story behind the song title “Marriage Ain’t The End of Being Lonely?
My husband and I met in Telluride, Colorado and got married in a year. We’ve been married for over 4 years– together for over 5! We just knew that this life was something we wanted to do together. Touring with my husband is amazing. He is the one who proposed the idea of buying and moving into an RV! We worked together for a year and a half, saving up money and planning for our dream, and now we’ve been living it for a year. I’ve never been so freaking happy in my life. My husband is incredibly supportive of my music career. He is a good mirror for my instincts, and so I go to him for advice and I run songs in their early stages past him. I hate to admit it sometimes, but when he gives me feedback on a song or performance, he is usually right. He’s my northern star!
He is also a rock climber, so part of our travels are devoted to visiting great climbing destinations for him! We set aside time to do this. I usually belay him during these trips, then devote the rest of my time to relaxing and writing new music.
“Marriage Ain’t the End of Being Lonely” did stem from a real experience we had. In 2013, my husband and I traveled through eastern Europe for 4 months for our honeymoon. It was the first extended travel we ever did together and it was TOUGH. We fought a lot. We had a hard time finding our groove. We blamed each other when things went wrong because we had no one else to take our frustrations out on. We had this french car- a Peugeot- that had all sorts of problems. I had a lot of happy and unhappy moments juxtaposed throughout that trip. I started writing the song when I was sick with a stomach bug at a hostel in Slovenia.
The story is about a woman from Jackson getting married young, and it’s not autobiographical. The only autobiographical thing in that song is the moment when she says, “Turns out when I drink I like to fight.” That is true of me. I have minimal tolerance for alcohol. I used to drink to check out, drink to cut my anxiety, drink to cope with my fears or the stress of my prior jobs. This is something I learned with the help and compassion of my husband. I had to take a sober period during our marriage and completely re-evaluate my relationship to alcohol. The result is that I have a much healthier, more intentional relationship to drinking now and I love how clear-headed, creative and grounded I am now that I don’t drink regularly. I’m very lucky not to have an addiction to alcohol. Alcoholism runs in my family. It’s all about balance and self-awareness for me. I usually just have a drink or two at celebrations or gatherings, or on a date with my husband.
4. Do you have any pre-show superstitious habits, calming techniques, or plain old good luck charms?
Oh, yes! One of my favorite things to do is put in my headphones and listen to Top 40 radio hits and just DANCE like a total dork. I am the dorkiest dancer, but it really gets me in my body and out of my head. Being playful and creative and laughing are the perfect antidote to anxiety and stiffness for me. They help me open up and relax on stage. Dorky dancing is a thing my husband and I do all the time.
I also like to do a breathing meditation. This is part of the spiritual practice for me. I remind myself while I’m breathing that I am a channel for something much bigger and deeper than myself. Some people call it God, others call it Holy Spirit or Truth or Qi. I call it Spirit. I just know that these songs, this voice, this whole gift that I’ve been given comes from something much bigger than me. My job is to breathe, to trust, to sing the songs and tell the stories I’ve been given, and to be a clear and open channel for Spirit. Part of being a clear and open channel is caring for my body– getting good rest, feeding myself well, moving my body, and this is one of the main reasons I don’t drink when I perform.
5. How would you describe your songwriting style?
I would say that my songwriting style is traditional folk and country in its structure! I love writing story songs, so the structure of having verses, a unifying chorus, and a bridge works well to tell my stories. I like structure. I like containers. I don’t like writing songs that have no closure. I like my songs to pack some sort of punch. To have DONE something by the time they’re done. I call myself Americana because I’m a folk artist whose songs and characters are grounded in place. There’s a feel and a taste and a landscape to my music that places me squarely in the United States, and often in the American South. That’s my definition of Americana!
6. Other than the songwriting camp in Lyons, Colorado you attended last year, where is the best place to experience songwriting utopia?
I used to think I had to GO somewhere special to write special songs! I adore Lyons- I adore songwriting retreats. They feed me as an artist. But I realized that saving my energy to write in a “special” place was really just my fear keeping me from writing. So the best place to experience songwriting utopia, in my humble opinion, is in your own home with a giant mug of coffee and a totally open day. I like to move my body a little, do some yoga or meditation before I start. Other than that, my greatest moments of songwriting ecstasy have been in totally ordinary places. The bedroom of my RV. A friends guest room. On a walk or doing dishes. Driving to a gig. You can’t save the magic for a special place or time.
7. Do you have a favorite quote, lyric, or credo that you live by?
Yes! Many! Too many to count. But here is the one I feel best sums up my purpose on earth:
“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” – Henry David Thoreau
8. What do hope the judges feel when you perform for them in May?
I hope the judges have a rollicking good time or feel goosebumps on their arms. I hope they feel a little lightning bolt to the heart. When I hear a song that tells the truth, it makes me feel less alone in this world. I hope the judges feel that way.
Emily Scott Robinson will compete on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at 11:30 a.m. on the UnitedHealthcare Singer Songwriter Stage located inside the Eisemann Center at the 25th Wildflower! Arts& Music Festival. Emily is also scheduled to perform on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. on the CityLine Stage.
Additional information about the Wildflower! Performing Songwriter Contest, and the full list of Top 10 Finalists, may be found on the website: http://www.wildflowerfestival.com/songwriter-contest/ #WAMFest2017