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Interview: Emily Anderson
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My dad's taste in music, record collection, and general enthusiasm about music is a big factor into why I got into music professionally. I asked for piano lessons when I was 5 and then it all kind of snowballed from there - choir, a cappella group, a smattering of musical theater, songwriting, a band. My parents have always been so supportive but not in a pushy "you've gotta be the best" kind of way, and the community I grew up in (Fairbanks, Alaska) had a very nurturing and vibrant arts scene. I think that let me grow and explore music on my own terms which I feel very grateful for.
If I hadn't gotten into music, I think I would be doing something that involved social interaction and the arts. Probably marketing or logistics for a Festival or non-profit (which is work I've done and loved). The other career I thought about for a while was dentistry, but then I realized I would just be trying to work as little as possible to tour during my time off, and you can't really talk to people if your hands are in their mouths.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I love to read, cook, run, and I've recently started watercoloring (I'm not good, but it's so relaxing!). I think any career needs balance and these all help me think in new ways or think about nothing at all! Going on a run when I have a creative block is one of my favorite things to do since it gets me outside and something about moving to a rhythm really helps me get access to a different part of my brain. Plus, endorphins are cool.
How long has music been your career?
I've been doing music full time for 3 years now. My career is officially a bossy toddler! I feel extremely privileged to be able to make music as a career and I feel it's definitely a service industry. I love it and I know I will continue doing it as long as I am able.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I was born and raised in Alaska and I currently split my time between Fairbanks and Los Angeles. I think being raised in Alaska I had a lot of natural beauty around me, but I don't think I really drew lyrical or musical inspiration from it until I was living in Boston and feeling homesick. I really gained a sense of self in Alaska - the community there is just amazingly supportive. I was scared to make the move to California but I knew it would get me out of my comfort zone and help me grow as an artist. Los Angeles and Fairbanks really could not be more different, but like two sides of a magnet they push and pull me for different reasons.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
The worst show I've ever played was at a fundraiser in Boston and my college ensemble was hired to perform a few songs. Me and one other student made our way to the fancy burbs in the middle of January (only us, out of an ensemble of 8). Our teacher was supposed to come and bring a keyboard to accompany us on a few songs, but he got stuck in traffic and we were on our own. The fancy fundraiser people shuffled us off into the unheated greenhouse, made us wait an hour, and then asked if we could play something. So I, being the young people pleaser I was, said yes. I ended up playing on a child size keyboard with no sustain pedal and the songs I performed were ones I'd written in high school (one was called "Ping Pong"). It all feels like a weird dream that I can't believe actually happened.
One of the best shows I've ever played was my album release show in Ester, Alaska at the Malemute Saloon. It was fully packed and an amazing historical saloon that's only open in summer when the bartender has a hankering for working that day. I held the release on my birthday because I couldn't imagine a more fitting celebration. I was surrounded by friends and family who had seen me grow up - they came to my coffee house shows as a teenager and they'd stuck around for a decade. What an amazing feeling it is to be seen like that - I hope to make other people feel just as seen and loved as I felt that day.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
The Palace Theater is one of my favorite venues to play in Alaska - so many fond memories in those walls. It's got just the right amount of character and cozy. I'm also a big fan of house shows - I feel like my music lends itself really well to that kind of intimate environment. One of my other favorite places to play is Tonglen Lake Lodge in Healy, Alaska. Their outdoor stage is gorgeous and it's one of my favorite places in the world.
When things open up again, I'd love to play Kulak's Woodshed and the Hotel Cafe in LA - I was booked to play there the week everything shut down. Someday soon!
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
This is such a fun question! I think my IDEAL lineup would be: Peter Mulvey, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Jewel, and Regina Spektor. Just the right amount of introspective, humor, heart and also I feel like we would have a lot of fun eating chips and hummus in the green room and chatting.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
Surround yourself with good people who make you happy and help you grow. Build and nurture real relationships with your peers, because they are going to be your lifeline. Music is such a business on relationships and those don't happen overnight - be patient and remember to be a person and not just a business card.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to learn different styles of piano playing earlier on and to not be so stressed out all the time.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I think "Gold" is probably the song that means the most to me at this point in my life. It's about grief and healing from a loss that completely changed me. I still miss my friend every day, but this song helps me remember them and heal a little each time I play it.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I'd say Gold gets requested the most, second to an old-time favorite "Nickels". My favorite songs to play are the songs that I can feel connected with the audience.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
I can't not write songs - it's the way I process the world around me and I'm pretty sure if I didn't I would explode. Well maybe not explode, but I definitely wouldn't be as happy. Sometimes that inspiration for a song happens with a lighting strike, but most times it's like a slow burn. It's a skill you have to practice just like any other, but I'd say even then every song is a different experience and act of discovery.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I make music that lets people know they're not alone. I want people to feel seen, important, and understood when they listen to my songs. I also love to make people laugh, so if I can do both it's a very satisfying experience and I feel like I've done my job.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
This has only happened a few times and it's generally so brief that I can't even remember the specific examples. I think the key is to not be too precious about yourself or your ideas - even if one co-write or collaboration isn't your favorite, it's still a song that didn't exist before and you've practiced your craft! Being kind, humble, and generous with your collaborators is so important if you want people to keep wanting to collaborate with you.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I have a lot of new music in the works! Later this month I'll be releasing a single to a collaboration EP with this amazing Alaskan producer called Naessie. Our single will be officially out on April 26 and I couldn't be more excited. It's way different than anything I've ever done (think Disney princess energy with glitchy granular electronica). I'm also working on a full length album which will be released in the fall! I'll be releasing sneak peeks and early releases on my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/emilyandersonak if you want all the behind the scenes!