Having had a fantastic reception of her debut album, 'The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties', Emily Wells (EW) looks set to be the next exciting talent to come out of California. With an experimental, eclectic style and an invitation onto the next Hotel Cafe Tour, she certainly gave RoomThirteen some good reasons to look forward to catching up with her.
R13: For those who don't know, who is Emily Wells?
EW: I recently wrote this new (auto) bio.... I think it explains a lot about where I come from as a regular human being and as an artist. (sorry, it's a little long!)
I love rap music and Vivaldi. Nina Simone and Biggie Smalls make my world go round. The first record I really, you know, heard, in headphones, was Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence". I play the violin and have since I was a little kid. Growing up, my home was filled with music. There was a lot of singing, French horn playing, and symphony listening, plus youth orchestras, church choirs and xylophones, I used to listen to the classic rock station in a three up front car with my two best friends, the windows cracked and the Indiana winter creeping in. I was born in Texas. I love the studio, it could very well be my favorite place, (especially when it's raining). So I do a lot of live sampling and looping in an attempt to bring the studio to the stage.
All the live looping is like a sporting event, or keeping the first take of every recording. I could fall off the balance beam... which makes it all so much more exciting. As a dirty teen I would sneak into a tiny jazz hole in the wall almost every night and watch the band play. My favorite person there was an old upright bass player with a bushy smile. The women who worked there knew I wasn't of age... They served me coffee while I fell in love with jazz and live performance. I really like to make beats, sample old records, but I often leave the beats up to my favorite drummer, Sam. Joey is the bass player and together we make a live trio. I started playing with them both a couple of years ago while making my first record, "Beautiful Sleepyhead and the Laughing Yaks." Even though I made and released a number of cassette tapes and CDs before that, I call "Sleepyhead" the first because all the others were similar to going to college. Very important, very influential to my future, but mostly, they were about learning.
This year I released my latest work, "The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties", which consists of 10 songs heavily influenced by classical music and hip hop production. I'm interested in old or odd instruments, samplers and synthesizers, mallets, and analogue reverb. I collect toy pianos, though I only have three. I'm interested in songs, and word play, and sonatas. I'm curious.... Most of all, I'm grateful for every day I get to make music.
R13: What started you off on your journey to becoming a musician?
EW: Well... when I was a little kid I saw this young woman named Midori (I believe she was 14 at the time) performing on Johnny Carson (I was seriously three). I was smitten. I was convinced that this was for sure without a doubt something I had to do. I bugged my parents and they finally got me started on the tiniest violin when I was four as part of the suzuki method.
R13: You had a record deal from quite early on in your music career; was walking away from that security deal daunting? Did you ever doubt your decision?
EW: Well, I never actually signed a record deal. I was heavily courted for nearly two years; they were trying to "develop" me. I believe the people involved had the best of intention, but it was still a major label with major label goals. I was 18; I think they saw potential for a sort of pop Norah Jones with a little street-cred or something. I had a lot of growing to do as an artist, so I couldn't be happier with the choices I made. It allowed me to have the time I needed to create A LOT and record A LOT and perform a good deal too. As hard as it may be, I think it's really important to stay humble, which is easy when you're doing it on your own.
R13: Is it hard to keep a sense of belief in what you are doing when you're solely relying on yourself?
EW: Sure there have been rough days, discouraging things along the way. But I've always had a really strong drive to create; that's not been a problem for me so far. I've also been interested in people hearing my work, so that's where it can get tricky- art meets commerce- a lot of hard choices.
R13: Doing it on your own for so long must have meant a lot of time on the road? What are your favourite and not so favourite parts or touring?
EW: I did spend a good deal of time on the road. Last year I went out for a week with one of my closest friends who is also a fantastic musician (Timmy Straw). We had a blast. Lots of adventure (like sleeping in the scariest RV ever, parked in this random girl's driveway... well, it's a long story), laughing until our stomachs bruised, and getting to play every night. I'd say that's a favorite. The rough parts are when you're going somewhere you don't know so well, and you don't know anyone. Sometimes it can be a little daunting.
R13: You seem to have a DIY approach to your music; how does this affect your music?
EW: Well, it allows me to work out of the studio I built out of my garage. I love this, being able to work whenever I want and so easily. That's the practical side. I learn a lot as I go, and I get to feel out the production that's both in my head, and that comes in the moment. I think it makes me close the recordings it in a way that I couldn't be if I was working with a producer. Not to say that I'm not interested in working with the right person/people in the future on all sorts of projects. I work with a drummer (Sam Halterman) and a bass player (Joey Reina). We play live as a trio and they come into the studio and record their parts and bring ideas. It's cool because even though my process can be isolated, I love having the two of them bring their flavor to both the studio and the recordings. We have a lot of fun.
R13: Do you think this ever puts limitations on what you want to achieve?
EW: Sure... Any time you collaborate with someone new things come about. I had a lot experience during the label days working with other producers and songwriters; I learned a lot about recording, writing, what I did and didn't want to do, or how I did and did not want to approach both the recording and writing process. Like I said, definitely open to so many things, so many unbelievable producers out there who could bring objective ears.
R13: How do you think your music has evolved with your own life experiences?
EW: Hmm, I guess that's a hard one for me... The two feel completely intertwined. I think both have naturally matured, gained skill, and confidence.
R13: You've played the Hotel Cafe previously. Do you think community-building places like that are as important for the art itself, as they are for the artists?
EW: Well, for me writing the symphonies was definitely influenced by my audiences, which was really a first for me, and a in a cool way. So yes, having a place that you sort of trust and feel at home in and where people know they'll see/hear a good show is really important. However I do believe that one can and will make art no matter what if they are so driven. Your surroundings no doubt have an impact on that work.
R13: What does playing at a music hub like the Hotel Café mean to an artist like yourself?
EW: Home. Trusting in good sound. And now... getting to tour with the hotel tour!
R13: You're a part of the female Hotel Cafe Tour this year; are you going to find it challenging to adapt yourself and your music to the collaborative style of the Hotel Cafe community?
EW: Well, we don't exactly collaborate when it comes to the songs, but we do share the stage (taking turns... two 15 min sets from each artists.. and there are five or six artists per night). And I think creating an evening of music is certainly a collaboration even if we don't play a note together. I'm feeling pretty excited about it. And any anxiety I might be having is overwhelmed by joy. Getting to play every night so many shows, with great artists in beautiful venues... that's a dream. I'm having a lot of gratitude.
R13: Is there any one gig that stands out in your memory as an amazing night? (Or a horrific one!)
EW: We played MOCA (the modern art museum in LA) last summer- it was outside and gorgeous and so fun. I'd always wanted to play there, it was an honor.
R13: Have you ever found it difficult to stay grounded amidst all the craziness that surrounds the life of an artist?
EW: No, not so much... I just try and stay really focused. Plus I have the most amazing support system.
R13: What are you hoping to achieve as an artist in the coming year?
EW: Tour tour tour! I'm going to release a recording of the song "Juicy" by Biggie Smalls. It's pretty much finished. I'm excited about that. I've also recorded a number of covers, and am releasing the song "O Holy Night" next month for the holidays. Dirty (EP) - 2009
1. Symphony 6: Fair Thee Well & the Requiem Mix
2. Symphony 4: America's Mercy War
4. Symphony 9 & the Sunshine (edub Remix)
5. Whiskey and Rags
6. Take It Easy San FranciscorghostBeautiful Sleepyhead & the Laughing Yaks - 2007
1. Mt. Washington
2. 50 Year Love Affair
3. Fountain of Youth
4. Waltz of the Dearly Beloved
5. Big Love Lullaby
6. Action's Debut Rendezvous
8. Tisis Momar
9. Oh My God I Miss You
10. The Laughing Yaks
11. My Tin Car
12. View From a Blind Eye
13. 1000 Years War
14. Dr. Hubris & His Vile of Turpentinerghost