When Emily Elgin greets you, you know she means every ounce of friendless in her voice. Chatting on the phone with her last week as she drove back to Nashville from her home in Oklahoma felt more like a front porch visit with an old friend than an interview with a budding musician. Emily is an artist to pay attention to. Her genuine love of country music and the experiences behind her songwriting lend her an advantage in our industry; she isn’t waiting around for someone else’s good song to make her well known. She’s telling her story and building a legacy that so many will be able to relate to, laugh with, cry with, and cherish. Emily is a once in a generation artist who hasn’t given in to the changes Nashville demands of so many young people; she holds true to herself and her Oklahoma roots, and it shines through in her art.
We had the chance to catch up with Emily and learn more about her life in Oklahoma, what it’s been like living in Nashville, and where the inspiration for her sound comes from. “I don’t ever really remember knowing song, knowing music, it was just always there, always a part of me,” Emily remarked when we asked about discovering her love of music, “I’ve sang for as long as I can remember. I didn’t realize I had been given the talent to sing until I was in about the 6th grade and started doing talent shows. I used to sing to my friends at recess; they were my biggest fans and had no idea they helped encourage my love of performing.”
Though Emily always loved singing and performing, it being an option for the rest of her life only occurred to her recently. “Being a professional singer never seemed like an actual possibility to me. It was kind of like some distant land that you dream of visiting someday. Things shifted for me when I went to Hollywood for American Idol. That was the first time I thought what if, just what if it is possible? When I allowed even the possibility of the chance I could do this to enter my mind, it took seed and spread like wildfire. The more it spread, the stronger it became until I couldn’t ignore it. I couldn’t deny myself what I had been called to do, so I jumped into this thing feet first.”
Keeping her Oklahoma Roots
Emily’s childhood in Oklahoma is paramount to her music, and a big part of how she stays true to herself in a fast paced, constantly changing industry. Emily grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, a medium sized town where everyone still knew everyone, “and if you screwed up it would always make it back around to your daddy.” That is a sentiment anyone from a tight knit community- especially a southern one- can relate to. “Oklahoma shaped who I am. I am country. I grew up with red dirt and wind. I am a free spirit with a wild heart. Oklahoma taught me to stay strong in bad weather because it will always pass, it taught me to move slow and say thank you, it taught me to two-step to the greatest country music there is. It keeps me grounded and real, something that I strive to keep in my music. I am thankful for the state and its people; I wouldn’t be where I am today, writing these songs, without them.”
All that said, Emily has found her place among the music scene in Nashville. “Moving to Tennessee was like coming home. I had no idea I’d feel that way, but I did and it has been magical. I think the best advice I can give to anyone thinking about moving here is to work your ass off and surround yourself with good people. Don’t expect anything to be handed to you, no matter how talented you are. Hard work beats talent every time. Find your grit and hold on to it and you’ll get where you’re wantin’ to get to.”
Finding her Wings in the Music Industry
One thing I have quickly grown to love about Emily is that she speaks truthfully and genuinely, whether that’s in conversation or song form. It isn’t a guess where you stand with her, and there’s no mystery to her personality or her music. You know it comes from the heart, and she means things when she says them. Song, for Emily, has become another form of telling her truth. “It is sometimes scary to put it all out there- to write from the depths of your soul and hope people still accept you. I write that way because that is what I know, that is just who I am. Doing anything else would be like trying to win a marathon in a rocking chair; I’d look stupid, and I’d never get anywhere.”
Though Emily has always had a love for music and an innate ability to write and produce it, she didn’t get too adventurous with it until a couple of years ago, when a friend of hers took her to buy her first guitar. “I’d never played before and I didn’t know a single chord. Shortly after I bought the guitar, I smashed my hand and broke it in several places. Sadly, it was my chord hand, and it took me a little over a year until my fingers worked again. I started working hard on it about seven months ago and have been practicing like crazy ever since. When people in town [Nashville] ask if I can play, I laugh and tell them I hack! Learning to play has been one of the hardest, most frustrating, most rewarding things I have ever done. There were many times that I’d get so fed up I would literally yell out loud and walk away, just to come back the next day and give it another go. The first song I ever sang and played all the way through was Well Rested by Miranda Lambert. I practiced for hours and my fingers were raw, but I played it all the way through without stopping. I was so excited, and so proud of myself that I cried right there in my kitchen.”
Determination and hard work are two things Emily has carried with her throughout this adventure, and two things she urges other new performers to keep at the top of their arsenal to succeed. “Stay humble, know who you are, educate yourself, eat right, and burn the candle from both ends until you get there. Also, don’t forget the journey is the most important part. Don’t get so caught up in the destination that you don’t enjoy the ride, because the ride is amazing!”
When it comes to her personal inspiration and how she would describe her own sound, she tells people “think Miranda Lambert meets Chris Stapleton with some Bonnie Raitt sprinkles”. Emily loves soul and blues and good, old southern rock. She grew up listening to Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, Hank Williams Jr., Tanya Tucker, Merle, Willy, and so many more. “My love for their music runs deep and has greatly influenced me. My mama used to put a record on the player, open all the windows in the house, and we’d jam out. There ain’t nothing better than hearing that needle go down!”
Emily has found a sound peace in looking to her future in country music, and she carries her determination with her wherever she goes. “A good friend of mine back home, Justin Baron, once told me ‘keep going until fear and being uncomfortable becomes comfortable’. There is so much power in those words. How we respond during those uncomfortable times makes or breaks us. This [music] is an unbelievably hard journey with just as many ups as there are downs. It IS scary sometimes- I wish more people would admit to that. It’s scary to be vulnerable and try something that might leave you face down in the mud. It’s scary to write songs and put everything you have into what you’re doing, then release it out into the world and say ‘here y’all go, here’s my heart and soul. I hope y’all like it’. At the end of the day, the struggle that is making music makes you stronger. It allows you to find yourself. You find that you are braver than you thought; the fear will always be there and that’s okay because you’ll move through it. Art is subjective. Not everyone is going to like me, and that’s okay. Luckily I’ve had enough Oklahoma sunburns to have some pretty thick skin. I am blessed and fortunate to have some of the best friends and fans I could ever ask for.”
Emily can be found often doing writer’s rounds in Nashville, which she posts on Facebook and Instagram. She’s performing at Grays on Main [a Lula favorite!] in downtown Franklin on January 25. You’ll have a chance to catch her live in her summer tour this year, and her biggest show yet in Oklahoma. You can follow Emily on Instagram and Facebook, and her website is in development! Stay tuned for show dates – hers is one you won’t want to miss.
We at Lula 1892 will be keeping our eye on Emily as she continues to shine on the Nashville scene.