Getting to Know Emily Mae Winters

One of the exciting aspects of attending a Folk Alliance International conference is discovering brand new artists.  I recently spent some time doing some FAI homework to get myself acquainted with some new artists so I’d be a little bit prepared as I walk up and down the numerous hallways!  One such artist that I discovered is playing an Official Showcase at the upcoming conference in New Orleans later this month.
Emily Mae Winters is a fast-rising musician from the U.K. Her voice reached out and grabbed me on first listen and I had to keep listening. As her bio says, it’s a foice that “stops you in your tracks.”  Her style runs the gamut from lush balladry to gritty Americana.  Emily Mae’s artistry knows no bounds.
Find out more about her on her website.
Check out this video of “Come Live in My Heart and Pay No Rent.”
I’m interested in the fact that you were born in England but spend some years growing up in Cork, Ireland before moving back to England and beginning your career in music.  How would categorize the differences between traditional British and Irish folk music?
I think one thing British and Irish folk music have in common is the historical and story-telling element. I might be wrong in saying this but I have found the lyrics of Irish folk music to be more general, poetic and symbolic in terms of the moral or meaning whereas in general British folk music often refers to one story or tale where there is a specific outcome. I have always loved Irish ballads and poetry and this greatly inspired my first record as well as the transatlantic soundscape. Now, I write more in the singer-songwriter vein but I remain attached to poetic lyricism and hidden meanings in words.
Listening to your work from your first EP through your first full-length CD, Siren Serenade, to your most recent CD, High Romance, I can definitely hear how you deliver each and every song with a definite intention of its sound.  Are these production decisions made in collaboration with your bandmates and the producer?  Or do you go into the studio with a sense of which songs should sound more rootsy or less Celtic inspired if you get my drift?
With my first record, I worked with a brilliant producer, award-winning folk musician, Ben Walker, and he and I would decide the instrumentation of each song. I was able to decide the overall feel in advance and we would line up parts and musicians accordingly. On the second record, it was much more led by award-winning Americana producer Matt Ingram. I had written the songs in their barest forms and I had a small line up of musicians (including Ben Walker) and he essentially guided us to take the rhythm and soundscape of the songs in different directions. The aim was to find a unique Americana sound and avoid the play by numbers country production. I think he did a great job! It was hard letting go of creative control but overall I really enjoyed collaborating and hearing new ideas from a fresh perspective.
When you first started playing live, did you sing covers or did you jump right into playing your own songs?
I actually began singing musical theatre! I loved playing characters in an atmosphere of heightened drama! I then sang everything from classical to pop, soul, rock, blues, soul, country, folk and more. Before I learned the guitar as a teenager it was mostly covers. I gained something from every vocal style but I was drawn to the romanticism and timelessness of folk and country music which was what inspired me to start writing my own poetry and songs.
You have cited some of your influences as Kate Rusby, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and Sarah Jarosz.  What did each of these musicians offer you in the way of music lessons and inspiration?
If I’m honest, I try not to be inspired musically or creatively too much by any one artist as it’s always been important to me to try and say new things and be original. I feel the same about soundscape. However what I get out of listening to great artists such as these is pure enjoyment! For example, Kate Rusby has an earthiness and a celestial quality which I love to see live. Alison Krauss, it’s her vocal style and the juxtaposition between her strength and vulnerability. Gillian Welch, I just enjoy the soundscape of her records and find it peaceful and timeless. Sarah Jarosz is such a talented musician instrumentally that I find that very impressive. Other artists that I love are Norah Jones and KT Tunstall because they constantly reinvent themselves which is something that is very important to me creatively as I don’t like to get stuck in a genre rut!
When did you first admit to yourself that you were a legitimate musical artist?  Was it when you first did a show, when you recorded, when you won a particular songwriting award or some other highlight?
I think when I was first played on BBC Radio 2 Folk Show with my first EP! The track ‘Anchor’ won the Guardian Songwriting Contest. I didn’t think the EP would come to anything or that anyone would be interested in hearing the songs. I just wrote them because I felt like it and I used to be very frightened of playing live.
What are your thoughts about touring?  Do you have any plans to tour the United States?
I like touring and I’ve toured in various capacities over the last four years- solo, with a band and headline/support. I think it would be great to expand my touring territory to Ireland in the first instance as I lived there and have never actually done a full tour there. Also on my list are Canada and the U.S. Like lots of artists who love country and Americana it’s my dream to play in Nashville so I will start by visiting there in the next year or so to see what’s on offer in that wonderful music city!