IT may seem like the (democratic) world has come to an abrupt end…
but there is plenty of light and hope to be salvaged. Canadian Soul-Rock singer Emily Mac is a veritable ray of uplift and beauty – a singer that can shake away the post-election blues. Her voice is honeyed and smoky: recalling the raspiness and strength of Janis Joplin with the smoothness and Blues command of Etta James. Having been raised on Motown – and growing up in Toronto – Emily Mac brings all these dichotomies and contrasts into her rich, varied music. In Awe of You is the new lyric video that proves what a spectacular, impressive talent she is. I ask her about that vivid upbringing and her musical tastes; what the following year holds (in terms of her music) and the three albums that mean the most.
Hey Emily. How are you? How has your week been
Great! Really busy. This whole fall has been a bit of a whirlwind but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been spending my time doing what I love making music!
For those new to your music: can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a Soul-Rock artist from Toronto, Canada. Songwriting is my therapy. I write songs to express the things that are burning inside me – to get out that I can’t quite say in day-to-day life.
I live to perform and be on a stage, and oddly, I feel more comfortable there than any place else.
One of the things that attracted me to your music was that mix of Etta James and Janis Joplin vocal sounds. When did you first take up singing and who were the idols and musicians heard around the childhood house?
I love Etta and Janis! I’ve always been inspired by gutsy raw female singers with big huge voices who are unapologetically themselves and full of sass! There was always music playing in my house growing up Motown artists like Otis Redding, The Temptations, and of course, the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin
In 2014, you received the Competitive FACTOR Demo Grant – an award from the Canadian government aimed to support aspiring musicians. What was that like receiving it and how long had your been making music up until that point?
I have been singing in bands for years but it was really only a year before I received the FACTOR grant that I decided to go solo and focus on original music. This was a scary move for me. I had lots of experience performing in cover bands but to put my own work out there felt very vulnerable so to be acknowledged by FACTOR meant a lot to me. It has helped to grow my confidence and open doors in the Canadian music industry.
I know you spent a lot of time in New York – falling in love with the city and its theatres in your early-20s. Is it tempting to move their full-time and what was the most magical memory you have of New York?
I actually lived in N.Y.C. for two years and it influenced me so much.
B.B. King has this amazing small Blues club in Times Square where you can see big acts in an intimate venue. When I saw Al Green there I was so moved by his voice and presence that I was literally bawling like a total fan-girl.
It was a spiritual experience to see him live. That night changed my life and I knew I would never be fully satisfied unless I was up on that stage too. I hadn’t been there in years and just this past spring I went back and performed at the Rockwood Music Hall. I felt myself fall in love with the city all over again and I can’t wait to go back!
You were born in Toronto – which is tantalisingly close to Detroit. Did you get to spend a lot of time in Detroit and what was the music scene like in Toronto by comparison?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Detroit since I was a kid. My grandparents use to live across the river so I went there lots when I was young. To be that close to where so much great music has been made was amazing! One of my favourite places to visit was the Henry Ford Museum – where they have all these vintage cars, trains and automobiles. As a teen, my dad spent a lot of time going to clubs in Detroit; sneaking in with a fake I.D. – that sorta thing. He would tell me all the stories of his adventures as he played the records to me growing up.
I hear there is a new single/lyric video arriving very soon. What can you tell us about that?
The song I’m releasing is called In Awe of You. It’s kinda like a love song about music. Music is a powerful thing and it can change your life.
I’ve had many times when I’ve felt low but music was there for me and it helped pull me through. I think a lot of people feel this way so to finally share this song makes me happy!
It is evident the Soul legends play a very important part in your musical sound and upbringing. How do you rate the new Soul artists coming through?
What I love about a lot of the new music coming out right now is that it isn’t so defined as one genre. There’s a lot of cross-bending of different styles and sounds out there and I think that’s exciting. I really love Judith Hill. Her voice is killer and the groove in her songs is amazing. Her album, Back in Time, was also produced by one of my idols, Prince,;so right there you know the music is gonna be great!
Many people overlook Toronto (and Canada) as a source of great new music. Do you feel the city/country deserves more focus and which local artists would you recommend to us?
I think more and more Canada is getting to be known for its talent. There is a great community of artists and musicians here.
In Awe of You is a song of yours I particularly admire. What was the inspiration behind that and how has it been received by the live crowds?
Thank you! In Awe of You is the song that most people come up to me after a show and tell me that it moved them. This is the very reason I make music to inspire other people. I decided to give In Awe of You to my fans for free as a thank you for their love and support. All you have to do is go to http://www.emilymacmusic.com/ and sign up for my insiders list – then you’ll receive the free download.
Looking back at your career so far: what has been your proudest achievement?
Writing and releasing In Awe of You is a pretty big deal to me. I think it’s the best song I’ve written so far. As an artist, you can struggle to find your sound and I really feel like I’ve found it with this song. It feels good to be releasing music that is very near and dear to my heart.
You strike me as someone very inspirational and positive. What message would you give those who follow you across social media – the fans that look up to you?
Never give up on your dreams. People will tell you (you) can’t do it. It will be more challenging than you can imagine; you may end up down the wrong road a few times but a life lived with purpose and passion is way more rewarding than a life lived outta fear.
Canadian Thanksgiving has just passed. How did you spend the day and are you looking ahead to Christmas (or is it far too early to be asking such things?!)
I spent the day at my aunt’s house with my 97-year-old grandma; all of my family and a golden Lab. named Mikey! It was a lovely relaxing time.
I hate the snow so I’m gonna be spending a hot Christmas in sunny Florida on the beach – with a tropical drink in hand!
If you could take three albums to a desert island – those that mean most to you – which would they be and why?
Exile on Main St. – The Rolling Stones.
I love this album I can listen to it again and again. Shine a Light is one of my all-time favourite songs. The southern Bluesy-Rock vibe of the album and the raw edge hit a chord deep in my soul and make me wanna shake my hips.
Is it cheating if I take Otis Redding’s King of Soul collection – it has 92 songs on it!
I would definitely need Otis’ sweet soulful voice to soothe away my loneliness if I was trapped on a desert island. I’d be playing Try a Little Tenderness, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and Amen on repeat.
Sometimes I’d need to just blow off some steam and dance around so I’d be taking Prince – The Hits/The B-Sides!
I’d be bopping around to When Doves Cry: singing at the top of my lungs to Purple Rain, and when I had enough of being on that deserted island, I’d sing Let’s Go Crazy.
Can we expect to see an album or E.P. in the coming months at all?
I am gonna release an E.P. in 2017 and possibly even an L.P. too!
I will keep you posted on release dates…
For any new musicians coming through: what advice would you offer with regards getting started?
You’re gonna get a lot of advice and opinions from other people: take it all with a grain of salt. You wanna keep growing and learning, but at the end of the day, the most important thing to listen to is your own instincts and heart – they will guide you to where you need to go.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song you like (not one of yours as I’ll include that) and I’ll play it here…
Angel Olsen – Intern
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