Emily Elbert is one of those talents that doesn’t come around every day. I feel blessed to have gotten to know her over the past five or six years. At the time I was booking some shows for a wonderful bluesy singer-songwriter, Brooks Williams, who had some gigs in Texas where Emily was attending high school at the time. Emily wrote and told me how much she admired Brooks and wondered if he’d be open to having her open a show for him in Dallas. He listened to her music online and immediately said “yes.” Fast forward a bit and Emily started to make plans to attend Berklee, here in Boston. I asked her if she’d like to take part in a benefit show right before the semester started and she agreed…and she was one of the shining stars of that magical evening. Emily dove right into the music scene here in the Northeast like she had lived here her entire life. We had some fun road trips together–and met a lot of cool promoters and musicians along the way. So, yes, I have a very special place in my heart for Emily and am so grateful to have her, her music and her lovely family in my life.
I highly suggest checking out her website.
Here’s a new jazzy video called “Evolve.”
Allman Brothers may enjoy this version of “Whippin’ Post.”
And one more original for good luck!
Tell us about your latest EP, Evolve. Are you approaching your songwriting differently than you did when you first started writing when you were a teenager?
Yes, I’d say so. When I wrote my first album, I was 16. The whole process was different. When we’re younger, I think we’re naturally better at exploring, going with the flow, feeling creatively uninhibited…being reckless in a good way. With experience we develop expectations for ourselves. So the challenge is to gain control over those voices in your head, to reconnect with that recklessness a bit, loosen up and have a good time. It’s a continual journey, for sure – but I’m learning more about myself as I grow as a writer, about what turns me on artistically, what I want to focus on, and what kind of message and energy I hope to share.
Do you feel your sound has changed over the years?
I think so. Because songwriting is such an intimate practice, it’s interesting to watch how different experiences change the lens through which you view the world. Personally, of course, the last 10 years have been full of change – leaving home, beginning college, falling in and out of love, traveling, etc. So there’s certainly been a perspective shift, to some extent, but I also think that the core remains the same. My biggest source of inspiration is unchanged – finding love in all of the twists and turns in life, connection, gratitude – that’s still what I’m most excited about. Musically, I feel similarly. It’s more complex, draws from a lot of different stylistic influences, but my musical foundation is still the same crew: Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles.
The video of Merritt Moore performing a modern dance to your song, “Michaelangelo” is truly beautiful. I understand that you met Merritt when you both were named Glamour Magazine’s Top 10 College Women.
She’s a total gem of a human being, highly intelligent and creative. That was a very moving experience for me. And yes, we met during the awards process for Glamour. All of those women were incredible, and I’m glad that Merritt and I remained friends. When you write a song, you know that everyone will interpret it differently, so it was particularly moving for me to see Merritt take that piece and turn it into her own work of art. Would love to experiment more with that kind of collaboration.
What kind of music do you listen to these days?
Kind of all over the map. I’m excited about a lot of African and South American music, from the 60s through now. I’m drawn to a lot of music from the 60s, Woodstock-era artists, Stax, Motown, etc. As far as new bands, there’s so much fabulous stuff coming out now that is pushing the envelope. Some really radical women really doing their thing, like St. Vincent, Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu. Songwriters like Tingsek and Emily King, more electronic-leaning material like James Blake and Little Dragon. I’m crazy about this hyper-musical flood of stuff coming from bands like Snarky Puppy, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Haitus Kaiyote, too. I’m really excited about the music of this generation.
Life on the road. What’s it like? What do you like about it and what do you dislike about it?
Kind of crazy, I don’t really know how else to sum it up. I just this month signed a lease in L.A., but I was there for 4 days, got furniture, sublet my room, and went back on the road. It’s been several years since I’ve spent more than a month in one place. That’s really beautiful in a lot of ways, and there’s a lot to be learned from traveling – lessons in adaptation, fast friendships, independence, etc. But it’s also challenging, because the people and places I feel most connected to I see very rarely, and I’m alone the vast majority of the time. I’m really glad to be touring, but I’m also really excited to have a home now. I’m striving for a balance there.
You’ve been to many far-flung places like Indonesia, Turkey, and Thailand. Have you played those shows with a band or solo? I’m wondering about the audience’s reactions in light of the language differences.
Mostly solo. Solo I’ve played in 15 countries, I think. Last year I took a band with me to tour in a few Southeast Asian countries, though. That was wild. Tremendously beautiful people, places, and culture. Independent international touring is definitely an adventure, from managing logistics to the actual on-the-ground travel. But honestly, I’ve never had any challenges with a language barrier in music. Live performance is mostly an energetic exchange, anyway. I’m crazy about it; it’s a very inspiring thing to be a part of. One of my most treasured experiences ever involved playing Bob Marley’s “One Love” in East Jerusalem, with Palestinians, Israelis, and ex-pats all singing along. Music reveals to us our common denominators. The language barrier issues just come into play when you’re trying to order vegan food, apologize to armed guards for hiking too far into their territory, negotiate a motorbike repair…that kind of thing.
Do you have any special memories about any of those exotic places? Do you have time to play tourist when you travel that far?
Each place has had its own set of special experiences. I try to be quite deliberate with building in time to experience local culture when I travel – it would feel disrespectful to just fly in, play, and bail. So dry and businesslike. But in creating room for exploration, trying to let the experiences crack you open, that’s when the good stuff comes out. It’s important. So, yes. I’m in Nevada this morning, in a gold-mining town. Played a long set after a long drive yesterday, but then met a bunch of local folks after the gig and got to talk about forestry and politics and Van Morrison.
How do most of your fans discover your music?
Mostly at live shows, on YouTube, though social media. It’s mostly a matter of continuing to make new music, and putting it out there for people to find and share. That, and playing live all the time.
What’s next in store for you?
Trying to figure out how to live somewhere! It will be a journey, I think, but I feel very positively about it. It’s good for my writing. And also lots more touring of course. I’m really excited to be back in the Northeast right now – I feel such a sweet connection with this part of the world. Then back west, all over the States for the next few months. Besides that, write, collaborate, record, release, repeat. Just trying to grow and make better music. And trying to figure out how to be more like Stevie Wonder. That’s pretty much the goal.
Photo by Sasha Aleksandra Arutyunova