MUST SEE SXSW: An Interview With Emily Wolfe

With SXSW less than a week away, we’re profiling artists that will make this year of the Austin institution one to remember.  First up, Emily Wolfe, a singer-songwriter with a powerful voice, a knack for songcraft, and a versatile back-up band who call Austin home 365 days a year.  Her dates at SXSW are below, but she’s one-to-watch even if you don’t make it to Texas.

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AudioFemme: You’ve lived in Austin for 10 years.  As a native, how is performing at SXSW different for you?

Emily Wolfe: This is the first year we’ve played an official showcase, but I do know that performing at South By is so much different than performing in venues when the conference isn’t happening. The town gets flooded with creative people of all kinds so the crowds are super excited to find new bands and experience live shows. I feel like that allows for this really amazing atmosphere, almost like SXSW brings out the personalities of everyone who lives here. However, the traffic also brings out everyone’s road rage! It’s different than playing a show at The Parish or Stubb’s when South By isn’t happening – we don’t have to worry about leaving two hours before soundcheck just to get there on time, whereas that’s kind of the drill during SXSW due to the crazy amount of people all trying to get to the same places at the same time.

AF: Can you describe the moment you decided to make music your life’s work?

EW: I think the moment we walked on stage at The Brooklyn Bowl to open for Allen Stone was when I realized there wasn’t any other option. Performing for 900 people was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done – no turning back after that. For some reason the stage is the only place I feel completely comfortable. I think that’s a sign I might be meant to do it.

AF: How did the band come together, and how did you come to work with producer Mike McCarthy?

EW: Hannah (keys/vocals) took me to this really amazing urban tap show back in 2012 put on by a dance company called Tapestry. Sam (bass) and Jeff (drums) played in the band behind all of the dancers and I had never seen a drummer and bassist so locked into one another. I looked over to Hannah and said “we have to get those guys.” After the show I asked if they’d be interested in playing with me.  Now we’re here, two years later. We’ve all become really close friends. They’re like my second family. My manager Lauren Bucherie had known Mike from a while back – she introduced us and we just clicked on a creative level. Now we’ve got two EPs and a single produced by Mike. He’s the best.

AF: You’ve been very productive the last few years, releasing your debut as well as a double EP.  What helps you stay motivated and focused?

EW: Writing every day keeps me focused, as well as the people who surround me – my manager, my bandmates, supportive fans, my family. It’s hard to not get caught up in details of criticism and/or excitement but the people on my team really help me get past those things and look forward. As far as motivation goes, I’ve heard a lot of people say how difficult it is to “make it” in this industry; how much work it takes, all the things that can go wrong along the way. Every time I hear that, it makes me want to work even harder. I’ve been doing this for two years straight and before the songs started really gaining recognition, I felt like I was walking up a mountain at a snail’s pace. But it’s all been worth it and in retrospect we’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. Where am I right now, I wanted to be two years ago. In all likelihood I probably would have never been ready back then for everything that’s happening now. That’s another motivator for me – seeing big things happen is like a pat on the back and makes me want to achieve the next big thing: writing a new song, recording, seeing where that song can go and how it can make people feel something. There’s a lot to it but with the right team and being able to create content everyday, I think we can go anywhere we want.

AF: Your latest single, “Swoon” is sort of a different vibe for you, with its blues-rock feel.  Is this a direction you’ll continue to explore with your next release?

EW: I think so – I’ve been writing a lot of songs with that vibe and really enjoy playing that kind of stuff live. For some reason that style has started to come out pretty naturally within the past year or so.

AF: You wrote the lyrics while you were at work. What are some ways you make space for yourself to create as an artist with a day job?

EW: I used to be full time but after using up all of my year’s vacation hours over the span of about a month, I had to go part time. Now I work about six hours a day and afterward I go home, take a couple shots of tequila, write new hooks and riffs, and practice the old stuff. It’s a really great balance. That’s mainly how I handle making time for creativity. I’m really grateful to work somewhere that allows me to balance two jobs, essentially.

AF: What do you have coming up in the next few months in the way of tours and releases?  What’s most exciting for you in the year ahead?

EW: We have a few big SXSW shows coming up, which we’re all very excited about. Afterward, we plan to record five new songs with Mike McCarthy and release them all as singles gradually over the course of this year. As far touring, we’re kind of just riding the wave and seeing what comes up.

AF: Besides yourself, who should our readers check out at SXSW?  Anyone you’d recommend?

EW: Black Pistol Fire, Jess Williamson, Shakey Graves, The Black & White Years, and Orthy.

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