We caught up with Emily backstage before her Peppermint Club showcase at SXSW to talk about her board design concepts, selling her original acoustic guitar to a fan, and overcoming some of the biggest challenges artists face today.
(Photo courtesy of Whitney Hensley)
As a native of Austin, is this your first time playing SXSW?
Emily: It’s not the first time I’ve played, but my showcase lineup gets better every year. I’ve done it for five years - the first time I played was at a dive bar, and last year I played Moody Theater. This year, I’m playing at the Peppermint Club pop-up, which is pretty cool. I get to watch my career evolve. I remember being in college and thinking [SXSW] was this beast I had to tackle. How does somebody play this? It’s chaotic, but it helps living here, because I can just escape to my house. I could go change my shoes right now if I wanted to. I honestly don’t think I could do it if I didn’t live here.
What advice would you have for other artists who want to play SXSW in the future?
EW: For starters - always figure out how to take one car. That’s a big one. But as far as getting picked as an official artist, [festival organizers] like to see that you’re active. The more you play shows, the better your chances are. It’s not necessarily about how great your music is, it’s more about the fact that you’re pursuing it. That, and wear comfortable shoes.
Any tips or tricks for staying sane on the road?
EW: I go insane when I’m not playing shows, or I’m not on tour. When I’m out and playing, I get to play for people, and then the next night I get to do it again - that’s what I love to do. When I’m not doing that, I have to at least take my dogs to the park so I don’t totally crack.
Tell us about your Epiphone.
EW: I didn’t really have the budget for a Gibson when I first was shopping around for electrics, but I’ve always loved the way an Epiphone ES-335 looks because I really love B.B. King. I like something a little sweeter [than a Les Paul], but I also don’t like single coils, so it felt like the perfect balance. I also use feedback like pads because I play in a power trio, so I need a constant note sometimes so it’s not super sparse. I love that it’s gold and black - I could see myself having it for a long time. It got it at Guitar Center actually, and I haven’t played anything else since.
Do you play acoustics in your set also?
EW: Not usually. I started my career out on acoustics - I lived in an apartment, so I couldn’t really plug in. Then I moved, and now I can blast my amp. I figured out that electric is way more fun for me, so I sold my acoustic. I didn’t want to part with it at first because it was what I wrote a lot of my first songs on, but I ended up selling it to a loyal fan. It’s gone to a good home.
That’s so cool that a fan has it now! How did that happen?
EW: I put it on my Instagram with the caption, “Does anybody want this? I’m not really into acoustics anymore. It’s not my thing.” There was a bidding war in the comments, and then a winner. I met up with them at a local coffee shop.
That’s such a cool idea. Okay, so let’s talk pedals – walk us through your board setup.
EW: The first thing in my chain is a TC Electronic PolyTune Mini. I bought a white one, but the color distracted me, so I taped it up with black electrical tape. I actually make my own cables too, so I can have the pedals where they need to be for my feet. Sometimes when you use regular cables, you have to work around the patch cables. I was so tired of that. I thought, I’m just going to learn how to solder and make my own cables to link. It’s so much fun to do that.
Almost like a mad scientist project, with a killer pedalboard as the result!
EW: Exactly. Then, the second pedal is a Fulltone Octafuzz, which I also got at Guitar Center. I use the octave before the gain pedal to get the fatness of the top octave, but also the gain out of the gain pedal. Next is an Electro Harmonix Glove Boost running into a Fulltone OCD. The glove is actually a clone of the OCD - I boost the first OCD for a fuller tone. After that, I have a Klon KTR - taped that up with black tape, too. For EQ, I have a Dynatrem Tremolo and a TC Electronic Alter Ego. Lastly, an Earthquaker Devices Levitation.
You also have an analog clock on your board – tell us how you use it in your set.
EW: I play a lot of support gigs for other bands, and I just think it’s important for a support act to be respectful of the headliner – it’s really their show the audience is stoked to see. I never want to go over time in my set. I can just look down and see, Have I got six minutes left?
Earlier, you described your band as a “power trio.” How does that shape the sound at your shows?
EW: I play with a drummer and bass player. I love the guys I play with because they’re very supportive. They don’t have egos - they always just let me fly. My bassist has a little pedal board that I set up for him – I modded his Way Huge Swollen Pickle so that it would be slightly scooped, and then I boosted my mid. My drummer uses really bright cymbals, and he’s a hard hitter. Together, it’s just straight up rock-and-roll. I couldn’t ask for better guys to play with.
What’s an obstacle you’ve overcome in your journey as an artist?
EW: Well, last month I turned three years sober. That’s been a big struggle, just because we play in bars – it can be rough. Outside of that, I also used to compare myself to everybody. I didn’t realize how toxic it was until I had a breakdown about it. But I quickly realized that everybody is on their own path - you don’t have to compare yourself to others or prove yourself. It’s just a matter of getting up on stage and doing what you love because you enjoy it – it’s not a competition. I know that I was born to do this, but there have been times where I’ve questioned myself because of how difficult it can be. Sometimes I get in my own head: No matter how good I am, I’ll never be recognized. But then, somebody out there hears your music and they like it. I would think, is the right person in the audience tonight? When in reality, everyone can be the right audience. There’s not going to be one big break. Everything’s a stepping stone to the next place. If you just keep going, something is bound to happen.
What are some of your top food recommendations here in Austin?
EW: Oh, man. Okay, I’m going to go Asian. There’s a place called East Side King which is phenomenal. There’s also a chicken wing truck which is absolutely incredible called Tommy Want Wingy. I love going there. Oh! And Kerbey Lane – they have a cinnamon roll pancake that’s f’ing crazy.
What’s next for you?
EW: For the past two years, I’ve been trying to get my record out. I’m finally in a place to do it this year financially as an independent artist without a label. It’s been really tough to get it out, but I’m finishing it up this May, with a summer release. It’s going to be a self-titled debut with eleven songs, produced by Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes. I’m so excited.
Check out what Emily's been listening to lately via her curated Spotify playlist: