ATP! Killin' It: Emily Wolfe
A master of both acoustic and electric music, Wolfe’s work is darkly sexy, a folk-pop- rock mashup with dreamy vocals and scintillating guitar riffs that feel like a heat wave on a winter day.
And more than anything, Wolfe wants to pioneer an entirely new genre of music. She calls it dream-rock.
“I want to create something,” Wolfe said, her words measured, but honest. “Dream-rock is a combination of my childhood music influences: classic rock like The Who and James Taylor, and
then some Motown. My mom listened to a lot of Motown. But I want to put my own voice to it.”
Wolfe has been putting her own distinctive voice out there since her 2012 debut album, Director’s Notes. Wolfe started her journey as a recording artist completely alone. Director’s Notes was written, produced and played entirely by Wolfe, for the price tag of 600 dollars.
Lacking the access to anything more, Wolfe settled for recording in her own apartment, which restricted her from any electric sound. Since her 2012 release, Wolfe has been able to move on from her acoustic sound and opt for the electricity of a full band. It was a damn good move, if 2014’s Roulette is any indication.
“Now you go into the studio, and it’s ten thousand right away,” Wolfe said with a laugh. “But I really love playing with the full band. Playing music with other people has this innate electricity to it.”
Relinquishing control after recording a debut album entirely on her own was not easy for Wolfe. The artist has always wanted to be “super-involved” in every aspect of creating an album. Wolfe grew up playing “every instrument,” so handing over the bass or the keyboard to someone else and trusting people with the different parts can be hard, but it’s ultimately worth it, Wolfe said.
Though Wolfe prefers playing with a full band, she’s clocked plenty of time playing live acoustic sets. Wolfe has received critical praise of being equally capable at both; the versatility is an impressive feat, and it’s no surprise she’s been named one of the artists to watch at South by Southwest this year by well-known publications like NPR’s World Cafe.
Wolfe was surprised to hear her placement on many of these articles, stating that she’s “actually terrified of the internet.”
“I’m really afraid of getting bad criticism,” Wolfe said. “I wish that it didn’t bother me. I wish I could be one of those artists that just don’t care, but I do. It really hurts my feelings. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is great, but you don’t find a lot of that on the internet.”
There is an imminently personal and raw undercurrent to all of Wolfe’s songs, and perhaps her feelings are hurt because there is so much of herself in each track. In her performance onstage, as well, Wolfe puts herself out there in order to create a “really memorable” experience for her fans.
“I love it when I see bands that you can’t stop looking at. And not because they’re really attractive or whatever,” Wolfe said. “But because you just can’t look away. I want to give fans something mesmerizing.”
Giving an electrifying performance is one of Wolfe’s goals for SXSW this year, an event the artist simply can’t wait for.
“I know I sound like a weird goober, but I really feel like [playing music] is my purpose,” Wolfe said. “I’m ready for SXSW to get here, because I get so excited being onstage.” It’s interesting to note that an artist so enthralled and comfortable with being onstage is, in actuality, self-described as “super shy and incredibly awkward.”
“My parents come to my shows, and they’re like, ‘What the hell?’” Wolfe said. “They’re always kind of confused by who I am onstage. It’s like the opposite of the regular me.” Playing music onstage seems to be a sort of refuge for Wolfe, a space where she can “do something that means something to other people.”
That said, Wolfe was not originally comfortable with the idea of performing live.
“It took me a really long to actually start playing live music,” Wolfe said. “So I did stand- up comedy for a year to get used to being onstage.”
Wolfe knew she had to get used to the limelight, so she entered a contest called Funniest Person in Austin. The musician came in fourteenth place – out of over 200 contestants. Compared to music, Wolfe said, comedy was “incredibly brutal.” Her time in comedy helped her prepare for all aspects of playing a live set.
“Female comedians definitely get heckled worse than musicians, I think,” Wolfe said. “I’ve personally only been harassed in Dallas. It’s always Dallas! Normally it’s just drunk people, and I try to make a joke out of it. Now that I’m playing with a band, I won’t lie, I feel a lot safer – I’ve got three burly dudes with me.”
With Wolfe’s band – the aforementioned three burly dudes and her friend, the keyboardist – at her side for South By Southwest, it’s no doubt the musician will be making quite an impression. Wolfe is an intelligent, dedicated and wildly talented individual who seems to have mastered a lush, dark sound at a relatively young age. It doesn’t hurt that Wolfe is humble, too, particularly when discussing her future.
“I feel like my ambitions are really big,” she said with a laugh. “I want to win a Grammy really bad. I want to be able to support myself financially. And I want to create a new genre, dream-rock.”
“I want to create something,” Wolfe repeated.
Though Wolfe’s words are spoken quietly, carefully, as if she’s afraid speaking them aloud will jinx her future, there’s a strong undertone to her voice that makes it sound as though Wolfe’s doing anything but idly daydreaming.
She’s looking forward and deciding what she wants – and everything about Emily Wolfe indicates she might just get it.
Words by Tori Mier