The wonderfully talented Emily Wells has been described as “the musician who will crush any preconceived notions you ever had about classical music and hip hop.” I sat down with her at SXSW recently to talk about toy instruments, turning down a record deal as a teenager, and lucky charms.
AfterEllen.com: So Emily, I understand that you play many instruments;
toy instruments, etc. Can you name a few favorites?
Emily Wells: My main instrument is the violin. I’m
also really into little toy instruments. I have a few toy pianos and
always bring one on the road with me. I have little glockenspiels, I
love analog synthesizers, old synthesizers, old drum machines … anything
that I can sample — I’m into. I really like the combination between real
instruments and electronic stuff. I also like the uke a lot … [The Melodica is] a
really cool instrument. You can kinda make a sound like an accordion
because it’s got air going through. You can play chords just like you
would on an accordion, but you can also play single notes.
AE: I love that you are able to use so many instruments to
create a totally unique sound.
EW: That’s what I’m most interested in. Different
sounds. Whether it’s the drummer or bass player I work with, or a
unique instrument. Like, Joey, the bass player, plays three different
basses. It’s great. It brings something different into it.
AE: Something great about your music is that it doesn’t
really fit into a specific genre. It seems like the two main styles
you merge in
your music are hip-hop and classical. What other influences are there?
EW: I love folk music. I like Bob Dylan … but
so does everyone. He’s definitely someone I totally respect. I would
say I’m also heavily influenced by Jazz, although I’m not sure how much
of that makes it into my work. Gosh, I love anything I can get my ears
on. Just like instruments — whatever I can get my hands on. Old country
music, I love—
AE: So could you see yourself bringing some of that stuff
into future songs? Like merging country and classical or … ?
EW: I don’t know, but that would be cool actually. My
new stuff is really down tempo with the beats and I bring in hip-hop,
for sure, and the classical stuff too. The Symphonies: Dreams
Memories & Parties album is basically 10 compositions. Some of
them have choruses, but I really focused on the instrumentals. The new
stuff I’m working on still brings in that symphonic element, but has a
more lyrical song base.
AE: Is there anyone who stands out as a childhood
influence? Any current artists you want to mention?
EW: I grew up in a Classical world because of my
parents. I was playing violin at 4. My dad listened to a lot of church
music. So it wasn’t until I got a little older that I was able to
branch out and listen to stuff like the Beatles, Big
Brother, and then I really got into early ’90s hip-hop.
As far as
today goes, I go through phases. Lately I’ve been listening to a band
called Department of Evil, which the production is really
good. Another classic of our day is Joanna Newsom — so
brilliant. Especially, her last album … it’s like, wow.