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A&E interview: Emma Wilkinson ’16 releases EP

By Lucas Phillips '16

March 6, 2014

The Spectator: Tell me a bit about your development as a songwriter. When did you start writing music?

Emma Wilkinson: I started taking guitar lessons when I was eight and I was only allowed to take guitar lessons because I had long fingers…because I was way too young. But literally after the first lesson, I wrote a song. It’s just the way I wanted to use the guitar…for songs.  And then somewhere along the road I kinda lost some creativity; I guess like middle school/high school…I didn’t really write as much, and then when I got to college it was just like [a] creativity boost.

Did you not write in high school?

I wrote a few songs, but nothing spectacular.  I’m much more proud of the stuff I’ve written in college.

When did you come up with the idea that you wanted to go into the studio and record?

I wasn’t even thinking about it really, but I decided to take guitar lessons at Hamilton with the jazz guitar teacher [Rick Ballestra] and I told him I only want to work on my songs…So then we started working on my songs and he was really into it and we had a really good vibe going, so he was like, you know, ‘I know someone who runs a studio in Syracuse, and if you want to, I can connect you with him and you can think about doing an album.’  At first I was a little scared about it because I don’t really know how to set up other instruments, so I wouldn’t really have been able to organize anything, but since my guitar teacher was there, he said he would help me organize all of it.  I figured this was the best time to do it because when else am I going to have someone who holds my hand through every step of the way?  So he was really helpful, and without him I really couldn’t have done it.

Can you tell me more about the music that you recorded? What were you trying to accomplish?

All of the songs I wrote in college.  Two of them I wrote over winter break and I tried to balance it out so that they weren’t all love songs because everyone writes love songs.

Did you write those two especially for the EP?

No, I actually didn’t.  I didn’t write any of them specifically for the EP…I wrote four out of five of them before I even thought I would record at all.  And then, the fifth I wrote after I already knew I would record and I wasn’t sure I was actually going to put it on, and [thought] actually I really like it.  But each song has a specific memory attached to it and message.

Could you give me an example of one of your songs and how you went about writing it, and what it means to you?

This one called “Tell Me,” I wrote about my grandma and it’s basically a song about how we’re really young and I’m really young and I don’t really know what’s going to happen in my future, so can you, Grandma, help me figure out what’s going to happen later, because I’m kinda scared.  And I think that was also in reaction to writing these songs and having my guitar teacher tell me that they’re actually pretty good, and if I wanted to make a career out of it, that kind of scared me…because I had never thought of doing a career out of songwriting, so then I wasn’t sure about what was going to happen in the future.  So I wrote that song.  And then my grandma actually died a few months ago, so whenever I sing the song, it gets a little emotional for me.

How would you characterize your music?

I usually say folk-jazz-pop, the three genres that are all put together…Like “Queen” is more pop-y and upbeat, and then “Tell Me” and “Firefly” are more folky, singer-songwriter, “Don’t Let Me Down” is definitely very jazzy; so that was kinda fun with the EP to be putting all those different genres on there...

If I were going to relate myself to other artists, which artists I think that I’m similar to—now this is, I’m flattering myself by saying these people that I think I’m similar to—I love Norah Jones and she inspires me a lot: her voice, the sexy jazzy voice, I love that.  And then Ingrid Michaelson has that indie-pop style going on that I really like…And then I love Carrole King, which is just like classic singer-songwriter, and Joni Mitchell has really good stories in her songs so when I write my lyrics, I try to emulate her, but I don’t think I do her justice. 

Tell me a bit about the recording process.

Obviously, it was my first time in the recording studio, so that was really exciting but really nerve-wracking. It was five days, it was grueling, it was 12 hours a day in the studio but it was the most rewarding experience of my life because [I was] just surrounded by constant music all the time […] I’d never really had an experience like that before, and I just felt like I was in a completely separate world.

We hired some musicians: a bassist, my guitar teacher and a drummer, and they were so sweet and cool, and they were really fun to work with...They helped me with the music and they tried to get a vibe for what was going on, what I wanted—it was really awesome…The sound producer who worked at the studio, Andy Greyson, he was so awesome and so sweet and he worked so hard to edit all the tracks so it was amazing.

And then we also decided to record three music videos during that five-day period when I was recording the EP so we were very adventurous.  So, there was one day when I had been recording these music videos and then I had to spend the next whatever amount of hours…recording the songs so that was a crazy day; I was drinking tea non-stop because my throat was so sore…It was really fun though.

What now? Do you think that you’ll keep recording?

My dream would be to be a songwriter for other people because I don’t necessarily want to be having to tour all the time and be famous…So it’d be cool if I could just write songs for a career and other people can sing them, so that’s my goal.  With the EP…I’m going to be shopping it around to record labels in [New York] City, and I’m hoping to get an internship this summer at some sort of music industry position…I don’t really have a specific plan, I’m just hoping that someone pays attention to [the EP].

Muse EP is set to be released this week.

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