Dearest fellow travelers, you know I like to keep you apprised of good tunes. This here is another installment of Music You Might Very Well Enjoy, and it has the added benefit of being made by someone near and dear to me — my sister. My entire family is talented in many ways, and as I’ve mentioned before, we’re all musical. But today, let’s focus on Emily, the songwriter and performer among us. Dad taught Emily the guitar when she was in eighth grade, and only one year later, she’d written her first hit, “Whoever Said.” She’s been writing songs ever since, and performs at open mics and the like in whatever town she happens to live in, be it Ann Arbor, Avignon, or New York City.
I’m sure that writers of every kind get tired of being asked where they get their ideas, what they think about when they’re writing, and what their process is. The answers even remain mostly the same — ideas come from a small seed somewhere and get under the writer’s skin, the writer has to give over to what wants to be written when they’re sitting down with paper and pen, and they have a pretty good sense of when it’s working. But the variations on that theme are still interesting, and if you’re a writer yourself, often informative.
I asked Emily to write a bit about how she writes the wonderful songs she writes. I’ve included videos of some of my favorite tunes — “Release Me,” “For You,” and “A Story.” As she says, they’re all love songs, and they’re all ones you’ll want to listen to again and again. Enjoy!
“Songs — I like writing ’em and I like singing ’em. I write the song that gets stuck in yer head; the one to which each person in the audience can relate. My favorite kind of song is the one that makes your mom (or dad!) cry but it’s written right for you and your heart. I like to write love songs — the love that grows, the love that changes, the love that ends.
“I’m no poet like Bob Dylan or Carole King but I write what I know and I write from experience. So there isn’t a single song in my repertoire that doesn’t make me think of a person or an event or a potential or something like that. I guess each song is its own story for my bag of memories. Which is nice, as I have the worst memory in history so if I have something written down with a tune, I can carry that with me always.
“My songs are written in both ways — with words first or with music first, it really just depends. Sometimes it depends on the challenge I’m setting for myself… whether I need to fit a certain chord progression in or rhythm… whether I’m trying out a new trick with finger picking or not. Then I lace words into the music and figure out the song from there. Other times I get a line (usually something cheesy) stuck in my head that runs in a loop until I finally get other lines to go with it. Once that’s secured that’s when I’ll get out the guitar and see what fits with it. Sometimes the melody I start with becomes the song’s chorus or bridge or it’s thrown out altogether for something completely different and that is so exciting.”
ETA: I can’t believe I didn’t get into this earlier, but watch the videos, because as good as Emily’s songs are (and they are good), they are transcendent when she sings them. Her voice is strong and beautiful, and although she prefers harmonizing over singing the melody in just about everything she sings, she sticks to the main tune in these videos.