"It’s one of the most impactful songs for me to perform, and it usually leaves an audience silent" In conversation with Emily Scott Robinson
Hey Emily, hope you’re well. An easy question first, what have you been up to today?
Today I woke up in my RV! I’ve been on tour out of my car for the past month and just got home to the RV last night. It’s sunny and 75 degrees here. I slept in, made a cup of coffee, wrote in my journal and did my morning meditation, and now I’m answering these lovely interview questions!
And where are you right now?
Littlefield, Arizona. Next week, we’ll take the RV to Flagstaff, Arizona where we are spending the summer.
Introduce yourself to our lovely readers, in case they don’t know you.
I’m Emily Scott Robinson! I grew up in North Carolina. I love reading. I used to be a social worker, and three years ago I took the leap into playing music full-time. My husband and I moved into an RV and started travelling around the country, living on the road.
Tell us a bit about you, what’s your first memory of playing music?
I grew up singing in the church choir, so I think my first memory is walking down the aisle at church holding a candle on Christmas Eve singing “Once in Royal David’s City.” I think that’s a hymn that only Presbyterians sing at Christmas, because I’ve never heard it anywhere else! Ha!
Your new record, Traveling Mercies, has just come out, what can you tell us about it?
I wrote every one of these songs while I was traveling around the country living in my RV!
There’s a thread running through it of telling peoples stories, how much of the record is based on real people or real stories?
It’s about 50/50 fiction and truth! I’ll let my listeners sort out which is which. I enjoy playing with the line between fiction and reality in my songs!
How important is ‘The Dress’ to you?
It’s probably the most meaningful song on the record for me. It’s one of the most impactful songs for me to perform, and it usually leaves an audience silent. It’s an opportunity for me to talk to my listeners about sexual assault and darkness and shame and healing from the hard things that happen to us.
How difficult was it to record that song?
Not fun. I struggled to record this song because it’s so heavy and laden with emotion for me. I recorded every other song on the record with great ease, except for this one. It’s even difficult for me to listen back to. 'The Dress' captures the pain and confusion of the aftermath of my sexual assault. That’s what I wanted to achieve in writing the song because I knew I wanted to reach other survivors in that state, but I don’t live in that reality anymore. I’ve healed, I’ve moved on, and I am safe. It’s not comfortable for me to sit with those emotions, and I don’t think it will ever be, and I’m okay with that.
There are honestly loads of great songs on the album, the opening track, ‘Westward Bound’, is really brilliant, what can you tell us about that song?
I created the open tuning in ‘Westward Bound’ by accident. I was attempting a DADGAD tuning on my guitar but forgot to drop down the high E string. When I started playing the open chord, there was that beautiful high 7th note, which created a little bit of tension and dissonance, but the sweet kind. That DADGAE chord felt like it was the sound of hope and a new beginning and leaving an old life behind. I thought of how I felt when I was 24 and moving out to Colorado to start a new life and a new job and how much hope that move held for me. I gathered images from my road trips and put them all together into ‘Westward Bound.’
And I really love 'Borrowed Rooms and Old Wood Floors', what’s the story to that?
That’s another song I wrote really quickly. I was borrowing a friend’s house in Livingston, Montana to record a few demos to send to my producer for Traveling Mercies. Her house was an old Victorian with beautiful, creaky hardwood floors and a bare guest room with a single bed in it where I recorded the songs. I thought about how it feels to always be borrowing spaces and making my home in other people’s homes and how lonely it can get.
What was your approach to writing (and choosing) songs to record?
I wrote 12 songs for this record and no more. They all came together at the right time and I finished the last few in a batch right before I went into the studio. I didn’t overthink it. I liked these songs and 12 feels like a good number.
Can you describe the recording of the album for me, what was your process? And what was the studio like you recorded in? Did you personalise the space at all?
We recorded at Skinny Elephant Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s cozy and homey and full of great gear. My producer Neilson Hubbard built the studio and worked out of it for years, then he sold it to the engineer on my record, Dylan Alldredge. We focused on tracking everything live together and capturing an organic feel to my performances. I played guitar and sang together on all of my songs. All of the full band songs were tracked live together, too. We had fun, we played around, we experimented and we didn’t get too precious or perfect about the recording process. Our goal was to capture something real and full of energy, and we did that.
You live in Nashville, how would you explain to people who’ve never been?
I don’t live in Nashville, actually! I was based there for three months this spring for my album release, but I live full-time out West in my RV. Nashville is a phenomenal city for music and my release team for Traveling Mercies was all based in Nashville.
How do you find living in Nashville? What’s the good/bad of it?
Here’s why I don’t live in Nashville: I find that I am a healthier, more balanced person living the mountains and high desert of the West. I’ve always been drawn to and find inspiration out here. It’s the landscape where I belong. I like to be able to see the horizon and weather moving in from miles away. It brings out my wild nature and instincts, and I dive deep into my creative side out here. It helps keep my visionary and clear about what my purpose is. I visit Nashville for work several times per year and I LOVE my community there, so it feels like a second home, but I feel most at home out West.
What else is coming up for you in 2019?
I’m TOURING! I love touring. I’m playing lots of shows beginning in July all through the rest of 2019. I’m also already working on a batch of new songs. I am currently off the road until mid-June, so right now I am focusing on my songwriting, my guitar playing, exercise, reading great books, and riding horses.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
I have generally been treated very well as a woman in the music industry. I would say it’s a phenomenal time to be a woman in the music business. We have more power and a stronger collective voice right now than I think we’ve ever had before, and we have to thank the women who came before us who endured so much sexism and fought for a better future for us. Most of the time, I only notice what I would call “subtle sexism” or micro-aggressions that remind me that things are still imperfect in this world. A sound engineer second-guessing my expertise, a promoter at a club hitting on me and commenting on my appearance. I often walk into venues with energetic armor on me, prepared to deal with sexism from men who I do not know. I don’t trust men I don’t know-- they have to earn my trust. But my overwhelming experience of men in my branch of the music industry has been one of support and allyship. Next stop: equal opportunities and power for women of colour. I have a lot of power and influence as an educated white woman from an upper-middle-class background. I refuse to see myself as a victim when I’ve benefited all my life from my whiteness. I want to use my voice and platform to promote women of colour and minorities.
Have you felt a change at all over the last couple of years?
Big time. Things have been shifting BIG TIME since the #MeToo movement, which, spoiler alert, was started by a black woman!
Who inspires you?
Brandi Carlile. I watch how she uses her voice and platform to create opportunities for other women musicians, to benefit refugees and immigrants, and to give a voice to the LGBTQ community. Brandi Carlile gets on stage and I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself when I watch her perform with the Hanseroth twins. It’s so inspiring. I love how she is just taking over the world right now, because she’s bringing everyone with her and is just so generous.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
What am I reading right now-- And the answer is, “Many Lives, Many Masters” about reincarnation!
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Freshly roasted and black with the tiniest dollop of half and half. I’m a coffee snob. I travel with my own Counter Culture beans, hand grinder and Aeropress. [Ed - we like your style.]
To find out more about Emily, including her tour dates, visit her website. You can also check out her range of socials: