1. Other than sweet potato tater tots, what’s the most interesting aspect to performing live in local venues?
Wait, there’s more to a show than sweet potato tater tots? Are you SURE? Honestly, my favorite thing about performing live is the chance to forge a connection with people. I love playing songs and watching them resonate with different audience members. It means the world to me when someone comes up to me after a show and tells me a story about his or her life that a song dragged to the surface of consciousness. Music unites people from all walks of life; it reminds us that we’re not alone in our emotions, that most of the things we feel–even the unspeakably ugly things–have been felt before. I love it when my songs give someone permission to confess something or open up about something personal.
2. Elaborate a little on the tagline “Pop Music for Smart People” for folks who are pondering this genre hybrid.
I’ve always had an awkwardly large vocabulary. When I was four, I used the words “unmitigated disaster” to describe a broken gumball machine, and my mother has never let me live it down. When I started sharing my songs with their equally ambitious word choices, my best friend said, “No one uses the word ‘ubiquitous’ in a pop song. People aren’t going to listen to that.” I decided that I could change my awkward stripes, or unapologetically own them. I’m not very good at being someone else, so “Pop Music for Smart People” was born. It seemed like a self-aware, silly, tongue-in-cheek way to acknowledge that I’m not always good with one- or two-syllable lyrics. I also get a really big, Sheldon-esque kick out of plays on homophones.
3. Since learning piano at the age of four, how many instruments do you play? What make/model will you bring to the stage at Wildflower?
I play piano, guitar, ukulele, drums, flute, electric bass, and a pretty mediocre kazoo. I can also play the concert Bb scale on some of the instruments in marching band, thanks to patient high school friends and insatiable curiosity. I’m excited to bring my Yamaha P-85 to the Wildflower Festival stage. Her name is Belle, and she’s been with me since my first solo show in 2009.
4. Do you have any pre-show superstitious habits, calming techniques, or plain old good luck charms?
I tend to pray before I play. I’m also one of those rare musicians who enjoys the sound check. I like watching the dust particles float across the beam of the spotlight and anticipating the way the energy of the room will change when the audience arrives. I like the foreshadowing in the echo of reverb in an empty hall. Good microphones are magical. I used to get really, really, nervous before shows, but I’ve reached a point now where putting my fingers on stage-lit keys feels like coming home.
5. What does it mean to be selected as a top finalist in the Wildflower! Performing Songwriter Contest?
At the risk of sounding dramatic, EVERYTHING. I was so, so, so excited, honored, giddy, thrilled, and happy-tearful. I write songs to make sense of things that don’t make sense to me. I share the songs in hopes I can help someone else the way music has helped me. For someone to say they saw something of note in anything I’ve written is a huge, incredible compliment that I will cherish for a long, long time. Plus, to get to perform on the Wildflower Festival Performing Songwriter Stage with so many amazingly talented artists is a huge honor and a wonderful, humbling opportunity. I’m still pinching myself. Sometimes, the stars align in a really, breathtaking way.
6. How did you select the songs to submit to the contest and are they based on any memories or experiences?
Over the last year, I’ve tried to be as honest as possible in my songs. “Empire” and “Orlando,” the two songs that comprised my entry, really exemplified that honesty for me. I feel like I, as a musician, have a responsibility to write about love and hope and empowerment in the face of adversity to combat some of the toxicity in the news. I think our generation needs to feel real, honest, imperfect love—not just the tiny jolt of validation when someone else double-taps our Instagram post or clicks the thumbs-up icon on Facebook. These songs are about striving to find that kind of flawed and beautiful love. They’re about learning to search for blessings, even when hard to find, not just when we feel hashtag-blessed. I wanted to write the kind of music that inspires people to be kinder to themselves and each other. That felt like a message worth sharing, so I took a shot in the dark and entered. I’m SO glad I did.
7. Where is the best place to experience songwriting utopia?
There’s a really great and inspiring energy at a lot of the local open mics. It’s a very special moment when artists share their work in the intimacy of an acoustic setting. Watching other singer-songwriters be honest and vulnerable, watching them own their emotions and invite the audience into their sacred space–that moves me so, so deeply. It gives me hope. As for a personal songwriting utopia? Sit in a LoveSac. You won’t regret it, but you may never get up.
8. Do you have a favorite quote, lyric, or credo that you live by?
“Nothing is impossible. Even the word itself says, ‘I’m possible.'” – Audrey Hepburn
I love that quote. I frequently tell my students that I don’t allow the word “can’t” in lessons. A positive mentality is key. This past year, my mantra about musical opportunities is “Someone will say yes.” A close friend told me to set a number goal for rejections rather than acceptances, so that every chance I take results in something worth celebrating. That paradigm shift has been really, really cool.
9. How long have you been taking ballet and does it play a creative role in your music process?
I started ballet when I was three and danced seriously for the first half of my life. I think that ballet can be simultaneously beautiful and toxic. It taught me a lot about discipline–I was onstage or in class regardless of how I felt. However, the focus on image can be detrimental and exhausting. In college, I traded ballet for hip-hop (yes–as a tiny little white girl) because I liked the way that the latter celebrated different shapes, sizes, and strengths. Re-entering the world of ballet as a pseudo-adult has forced me to confront my body-image insecurities, though, and it challenges my authenticity. Some days (okay, most days), I’m not very graceful. The Ballet Burn, where I take classes now, is a studio that embraces everyone’s individual fitness journey and values progress over perfection. I love that. I think that’s what most artistic endeavors are really about.
10. Last question, does your beautiful beast aka Chloe the Conqueror really enjoy crossing the finish line for medals?
Hahaha…honestly, I’m pretty sure she couldn’t care less about the medals. Whenever I have her wear one to take a picture, she looks extremely put out about it. She loves crossing the finish line, though. I think she likes the energy of the space. A few times, they’ve announced her name at the finish line, and she seems like she prances a bit more proudly when that happens.
Chole is very much a social butterfly at races–she goes up to all kinds of strangers and nuzzles their hands until they pet her. She recently finished her first 10K, and she ran (read: dragged her slow human) the whole way!
Unsolicited PSA: Everyone should adopt a dog at some point in his or her life. I’ve done some cool things, and I’ve been blessed with lots of really amazing opportunities, but Chloe is by far one of the best things that has ever happened to me. God definitely knew what He was doing when He paired us up.
Emmeline will be competing with other finalists 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. Emmeline will also perform on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. on the CityLine Stage.
Additional information about the 2017 Wildflower! Performing Songwriter Contest and the full list of Top 10 Finalists, may be found on the website: http://www.wildflowerfestival.com/songwriter-contest-workshop/. #WAMFest2017