I always enjoy dreamy-tinged music that I can play on repeat while continuously feeling inspired. Enter the 25-year-old singer/songwriter Emma-Lee and her soulfully composed album Never Just a Dream. The lovely Emma-Lee sings her own ardent and earnest lyrics with an unbroken capacity for strength and reflection. Play Never Just a Dream and let it seep into your skin and soak into your bones. You’ll start gently vibrating with the beautiful and honest emotional intensity that has been crafted into each song.
With truly relatable lyrical confessions and musings, the music swims through the air and will seize you with the notion to sing along. I’m a tremendous fan, and I was so pleased when I was able to interview this talented singer.
Jessica Rae: Will you share with us the five songs or albums that you’ve been playing the most these days?
Emma-Lee: I love sharing new music with people! I do it all the time. Lately I’ve been obsessing over M. Ward, mainly his album Transfiguration of Vincent. I’m also digging the new Martha Wainwright, Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree, the new stuff from Jenny Lewis… A constant in my rotation is Elliott Smith. I never tire of his music. He was such a brilliant writer!
JR: Listening to your music, I feel as though, in the tone and lyrics, I am hearing an old soul surfacing. One of the influences you’ve cited for your music is past lives, which is intriguing. Do you believe you may have had past lives? If so, do you feel those contribute to the lyrics you write?
EL: I think we evolve through many different “versions” of ourselves — at least I do, quite frequently. I’m always myself at the core, but where I’m at dictates my thoughts, my inspiration…so I guess sometimes I reflect on other versions of me because I have a hard time assessing the “present” me. It’s much easier to look back and sort it out. Unfortunately, I’m always a bit late that way.
JR: Your cites that you sound like “a red velvet cupcake.” Did you come up with that idea? Do you have a special affinity for red velvet cake? It’s a unique comparison concept, but it fits. Could you expand on this idea?
EL: Well, people have always said my voice sounded like velvet — the smooth quality of it. When I was designing my album artwork, I came across this photo of a red velvet frame and it struck me. I thought it would make an eye-catching cover. When I have an idea, I tend to run with it very quickly, and I thought a red velvet cupcake was an original way to describe the sound, as I think — or hope — the album carries a certain sweetness to it. I went as far as to consider sending out red velvet cupcakes with all my press releases…but I didn’t have time to play Betty Crocker, unfortunately. Maybe next time!
JE: Do you sing in the shower?
EL: Sometimes I do. It’s good to warm up for shows in the shower. The steam feels nice. I’m more known to sing in those really big public washrooms that have great acoustics. I actually did it tonight at a sushi restaurant. I was belting “I Will Always Love You.”
JR: Have you always been aware of your gifted voice, or was there a specific time when you realized that you had a talent for singing?
EL: I mimicked singers a lot when I was younger. That’s how I learned, since I didn’t take any lessons. When I felt I could sing pretty close to how Mariah Carey could sing, I think that’s when I thought I had something. Alas, I still can’t quite hit those impossibly high whistle notes. It’s probably for the best.
JR: You have such a unique visual style and presence which seems to be a mesh of sweet retro allure — a slight quirky edge and distinctly feminine enchantment. Is fashion something that interests you? Can you tell us how you would describe your (fashion) style, and what sorts of items you gravitate towards?
EL: I mostly find the women of the “pin-up” era incredibly sexy in the way that they don’t always show a lot but you can always see their curves and there’s always that sweet yet seductive charm about them. I love a good red lipstick, and when I have time, I like to give my hair the “bigger is better” treatment. I’m a bit of a vintage dress collector…shoe collector too, I suppose. Okay, I’m a bit of an eBay addict! Ahh! I admit it. But the day-to-day me isn’t always super glamourous. For example, I am currently wearing Hello Kitty flannel PJs — they’re the best!
JR: I was amazed to hear that you went through two surgeries on your vocal chords in 2006 and 2007. Did you prepare to deal with the possible reality of not being able to sing again?
EL: Well, I’m not a religious person, but I definitely had to tap into faith, to a certain degree. I just kept telling myself that there was a bigger reason to have those things happen to me. I feel, in some ways, it was a test of strength, and I passed it. I knew in my heart I was going to keep singing. I try to stay on the positive side of things, even if there are those “what-ifs” dwelling in the back of my mind.
JR: In addition to being a singer and songwriter, you take wonderful self-portraits and run a photography company. Do you have any other creative talents that you love to nurture?
EL: I’m a huge lover of movies. I’d love to be involved in the film world, in some capacity. A friend of mine and I have been working on a script for a while. From a visual standpoint, I’d love to conceptualize my own music videos, as well as videos for other artists.
JR: Asking you to name your favorite song to sing is an unfair and probably impossible question, so I won’t do that. But can you name one of the songs on Never Just a Dream and explain a bit how you feel when you sing it?
EL: Well, the last track on the album, called “Until We Meet Again,” always moves me when I play it live. Basically it’s about the strength of my parents through a year of poor health in the family: my own stuff, my dad had cancer, my grandpa was sick…it was pretty hellish for my mom, but she held it together astonishingly well and got us all through everything. But yeah, something in the chord changes and melody of that tune…I feel really good when I sing it.