EMM. She’s an accomplished classically-trained musician, R&B and pop music singer-songwriter and producer, social media and blog whiz, as well as a philosopher, self-help guru and self-proclaimed feminist. The question had to be asked of this eclectic, prolific young woman:
By Mary Crescenzo
TJ: How did you become so wise?
EMM: I’ve always been kind of weird. From the time I was little I was a deep thinker. My parents taught me to ask questions, question everything. Their advice has helped me to think things through as I go through life, not just react and listen to other’s reactions.
TJ: Your parents are professional musicians who teach at Interlochen. Do you recall your first experiences singing around the house?
EMM: I started piano lessons at age five or six. The first thing I did at the piano was make a melody. Since then, I’ve always made melodies to sing along with. If I wrote or sang anything I kind of felt judged, but that just made me want to do better. Encouragement was a constant in my house, and it really helped me creatively.
“I started piano lessons at age five or six. The first thing I did at the piano was make a melody. Since then, I’ve always made melodies to sing along with.” EMM
TJ: What was it like growing up in Traverse City, Michigan?
EMM: It’s a stunning little artist community on Lake Michigan but as far as socially, it was hard. I never really fit in. I listened to music that most people my age weren’t listening to – classical music, Aretha, Prince and Tina Turner. My experiences there were mixed compared to my friends’ experiences, but it made me who I am.
TJ: Tell me about the evolution of your name, from your birth name, to EMM, the EMMpire and your EMMpowerment group.
EMM: Originally I used “M” as my name. My management at the time persuaded me to change it to Emm, and it stuck. They told me that no one will ever find me with a one letter name on the Internet. When I was young, everyone called me Emm or Emmie, so it felt natural. EMMpire was created by a fan who sent the word to me and created a fan page with it, so we decided to run with it. As for the EMMpowerment group, one of my best friends texted the word to me, and we chose it as a brand to speak to women.
TJ: You went to New York to pursue your musical career, and you were mugged in Harlem. How did that event effect your songwriting?
EMM: I was seventeen when it happened. It was 2 a.m., and I was coming home from the studio a block away from my apartment. It was a bad neighborhood. My laptop was stolen with all my music on it. It taught me that there are bad people in the world. My hometown was a small peaceful place, a religious community, and nothing like that had ever happened there. With music, it helped me understand that not everyone has good intentions, not everyone has your best interests in mind. I can empathize and have totally forgiven the person who mugged me. I’m not sure what he was going through at the time. I had to let it go, but it opened my eyes to be aware that people will take advantage of you.
TJ: After New York, you moved to Los Angeles to continue your career goals. How is navigating the music scene different in Los Angeles as compared to New York?
EMM: In New York I was so young, so I couldn’t get into clubs, couldn’t get into real networking experiences. My mom came with me the first couple of times. The musicians in New York are absolutely incredible. I worked with powerful management in New York and learned how they worked in the studio. In LA, the musicians are more laid back in general. It’s been much more fruitful in LA since I can get into the rooms I need to perform. I’ve learned a lot here.
TJ: You performed the Star Spangled Banner in Dodger Stadium and sang at LA’s Staples Center. How does singing in a huge venue compare to performing in an intimate club?
EMM: It’s funny, but I get more nervous in a club than in an arena. I feel really calm in a big space. There is so much energy there, and I feel fully grounded. In a club, I see all the faces and that can be overwhelming. Singing in an arena is the best feeling in the world.
TJ: Your writings include many thoughtful and empowering statements. One is, “Another woman’s beauty is not the absence of your own.” How did you come to this belief?
EMM: Every girl goes through this, so I’d like to be open about it and make it clear: We don’t exist for the attention of men. I think a lot of girls feel this too, but there’s this unspoken feeling that we are in a competition for men. It’s not healthy, but we see it in our culture. Girls can be catty towards each other, rather than supporting each other as sisters and friends.
TJ: Another quote: “Don’t be afraid to lose people. Be afraid of losing yourself by trying to please everyone around you.” What led you to this conviction?
EMM: I saw this on Instagram. I identified with it, because when you’re an artist, especially before you’re established, there are a million people telling you what to do: Wear this, dress like this, sound like this, especially when you talk to producers. A lot of girls take orders, and I’m not like that. Men in this business don’t know what to do with a woman who knows what she wants. This business is especially sexist. It’s run by men and only five percent of producers are women. I’ve had moments where I’ve stood up for myself and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ And, I’ve lost people because of that. But that’s not a loss, because at the end of the day, if you are being who you are supposed to be, and people’s egos are offended by you knowing what you want, then they are not your people.
TJ: Tell me about your writing team, ZOË and Taylor?
EMM: I met ZOË , who’s from my hometown, Traverse City. She was a student in a singer-songwriter program my dad started at Interlochen. We started writing together about a year ago. I always knew she was a great writer. I think our solid friendship gave us a solid sound. ZOË knows my heart well enough that she can articulate my thoughts and feelings in a way a stranger can’t. I met Taylor through a mutual friend. In a few sessions, I knew he was the person I was waiting for to write with. We have the same ear, and he’s into classical and metal music, so he has an understanding of my musical background that others don’t.
TJ: You mention in your blogs that there is a strong presence of God in your life. How did you come to that awareness, and what does that mean to you?
EMM: I grew up in church, but I had a lot of negative experiences there because I asked questions. Is this loving? If God is love, does this make sense? Do I want to believe in a God that approves of things that are not loving or kind? Over the last six years, I’ve been on this journey asking questions with an open heart and mind. What does love look like? I do believe God is love, so I’m in a thriving, vulnerable and personal relationship with this. My roots are in Christianity because that’s how I grew up, but I don’t identify with a lot of Christian tenets. I try not to put God into too many confines. I’m still trying to figure it out.
TJ: Your videos on Facebook and Instagram, your blogs, etc. are all direct, honest and positive. Have you always been that way?
EMM: Nope. When I’m talking on Facebook or Instagram to a large group of possibly young women, I step into their shoes and try to be inspirational and kind and courageous. I’d like to be like a big sister because that’s what I needed when I was a kid. So, if I seem really great and positive, that’s me trying to be great and positive for them.
TJ: Your latest song is entitled, “No Gods,” is a powerful song that seems to address the society we live in today. Can you explain the title, “No Gods” and the song’s meaning?
EMM: The title refers to the first line: “Got no Gods in the Wild, Wild West.” “Got no Gods…” relates to the fact that the United States is referred to as a Christian country, but so many people are doing evil things. You can go on social media and post political comments, and you get the meanest, nastiest things said back to you because there’s a screen between each person. No one would ever say these things in person to you. Both sides are shouting to each other, “You can’t make me be like you.” We can’t even hear each other over the noise. There’s no empathy, no compassion for the other side. We talk about this all the time in the studio. It’s depressing, but I’m not giving up hope. We want to point out in this song how this talk is not leading to solutions. We’re just hurting each other. We’re trying to say, “Guys, this is not working.” That’s the first place to start.
TJ: I read your blog, “15 Reasons I’m a Feminist.” Your position is so clear and straight-forward. How did you come to be a feminist and publish your list?
EMM: I wrote this blog right after the Women’s March. Everyone was posting from my hometown about how feminism is a joke, and how it’s not needed or necessary. In my own life, I have so many examples of being wounded because of bigger issues that I didn’t understand at the time, like going to school and not being able to focus on my work because of people commenting on my body. With this blog post I wanted to tell my own story. It’s not that dramatic, but I’ve been deeply affected with the lack of feminism I experienced growing up. I just wanted to say that this is why I think feminism is necessary. It’s much harder for people to judge feminism when they hear your personal experience. Any girl can relate to that.
TJ: The Me Too movement seems to be saying: No longer will women be afraid to speak out about the inappropriate actions of men; it is the men who are to be afraid of perpetrating acts of sexual harassment, assault and rape against women and men, because women and men will speak out. How is this movement being reflected in the music business?
EMM: I think a wave is about to hit the music industry as it has in the film business. There’s never been a movement like this since I’ve been alive.
TJ: Is touring and new music coming soon?
EMM: We’re in rehearsal but my events will be posted on the website, http://www.emminreallife.com .We’ll be releasing music for the rest of the year, so lots of new music is coming.
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