Saving the electric guitar for the food of Rock 'N' Roll
At SXSW 2017, one of the industry's biggest "buzz" artists was Austin native Emily Wolfe who has been astonishing the jaded music press and fans alike with her commanding voice (courtesy of her favorite Epiphone Sheraton-II), lightning chops and rock steady band. At a time when electric guitar seems to be in decline, Emily and her band have made the case that its death is premature but that it just might be the savior of the record business after all. If you're a betting person, our money is on Emily.
In our follow up interview, Emily is still happy to talk about B.B. King, Barney Kessel, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But now there are more serious subjects to contemplate. High Road Touring, one of the nation's top booking agents for acts like Wilco, Robert Plant, and Ryan Adams, recently signed her and a record company isn't far behind. We spoke to Emily from her home in Austin, Texas.
When we last spoke you were preparing for a string of shows at SXSW and there was quite a buzz about you.
Yeah it was great. I played Austin City Limits (ACL) Live, Arlyn Studios... I think I had five different shows. It was a lot of fun. And I have some great news--I signed with High Road Touring. I'm very excited. While I've been working on getting a record deal, I've been playing with local musicians like Black Pistol Fire. Kevin McKeown and I have been writing. I've been playing drums with him during this limbo in a side project. I've learned so much over the past few months about soloing and guitars--the tech world.
That is new right? As I recall, before we had spoken about your fondness being a kind of 'plug in and go' guitarist.
Right! But I've always been interested in pedals and stuff. Now when I do go on the road I want to be able to fix something if it breaks and not have to rely on anyone else. I'm trying to keep myself busy during this waiting time.
What have you been listening to in anticipation making a full LP?
I'd love to put pop arrangements on classic rock. I love guitar. I've been listening to a lot of Rory Gallagher--so awesome. I love him. And B.B., Stevie... the old classics. But I've been diving deep into the Thin Lizzy catalog, UFO and all those Prog Rock bands. Captain Beyond is awesome to me. And I also really love pop music. So if I can combine the two and make it digestible for people but also kind of bring together the cult following that I do have now to the masses that would be great.
What is your process for writing like?
Actually it's all over the place. I don't have a process. I just know that if a phrase comes to me and I can tell that it's really special, then I kind of go from there. So the seed of a riff or an interesting sentence gets planted and I grow it from there. There's a Rory Gallagher song--something 'to keep from crying...' I think there's something special in that. So I just kind of look for inspiration--special things that could have massive potential. And I kind of figure out where the potential comes from and write around that. But it starts on guitar because that's where I want to write from. I have to be alone. A lot of times, I'll just write verbally in my car because it's a totally secluded space. No one's gonna make fun of me talking gibberish waiting for a word to come out. I feel like I write two or three songs a month. They're not all great but they're something.
Are there any young musicians who look up to you?
I hope so. When I do make it, I hope people will be motivated to stick it out. I hope my story does help them because there a lot of people with talent here. I do feel like the difference between a local musician here who can drive to their gig everyday and feed their family--which is amazing--and me is I feel like I'm so driven to get to the next level and make my footprint on the world. I know that sometimes I wish I could be complacent but it's not in my DNA. I didn't get that gene.
Has it been difficult to find a record company who understands your vision and is equally motivated to steer through this very strange time in the business?
Last year I signed with a management company--Full Stop Management--and they are a monster management company and they've been amazing to me. They are the ones helping me navigate the waters of the music business world. I've been to major labels and I've sat in many offices. They've either been very interested or not known where to put me. Being a female guitarist that can shred, write all the parts to her own songs, sing, and record them is something that seems to shock people. I don’t have any direct comparison so it's difficult for a business like a record label to predict the level of my success. What's really important is that my team and I know without a doubt that I'll succeed. I want to build a life-long career, and from what I've seen, certain labels are more interested in the quick financial guarantee of trendy music. That's not what I'm after, I want to be a living legend one day and I'm excited to bring on a very big label partner in the coming months. I've got loads of new songs waiting to be recorded and I cannot wait to release them to the world with this new partner.
How about Bonnie Raitt, Nancy Wilson, Joan Jett, Carrie Brownstein, or Joni Mitchell. Don't these people have a record collection?
I know! The people who get it really get and they are on board. But the people who don't get it are completely oblivious. It's tough because I'm caught in the middle of the people who get it and the people who don't. After those meetings I go and write a song about it. It's really tough to hear someone say: "Is it blues? Is it rock? What is it? Where are you?" I am what I am. I feel like if I keep with that trajectory I'll be successful eventually. And I know it will take a long time but I'm totally open to that wait. I really do believe it will pay off one day.
Do you feel that you have a chance to make a case for rock 'n' roll guitar? You mentioned Gary Clark Jr. He's very visible but at the same time, almost an anomaly when you think about how few--if any--guitar solos there are in the Top 10.
I think about that all the time. I feel a responsibly to bring guitar back. Because as a woman who loves 'pop' and who can shred the hell out of a guitar, I feel like I can combine those things to the point where the industry says: Oh this is "pop" but it's also guitar, let's put it on the radio. I can at least open the door for it to come back. I know that it's just such an important instrument. It's so part of history. I know that Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Dave Grohl want to do the same thing. They're all like: Where are the rock bands? We need to bring this shit back! And I feel like I have the same responsibility. That's where my drive for redefining classic rock in a pop way comes from. It cannot die. We cannot have computers making music for us. They're not emotional beings. The guitar is an emotional instrument. That's the best way to convey emotions and realism. Come hell or high water I'm going to bring this thing back. That's my goal.