Today we’ve had a chance to interview another amazingly talented musician and great human being Emmet Michael.
Introspective and enthralling, with equal parts grit and grace, Emmet Michael is a musician who was built on his trials. Turning to music in his darkest times, he found solace in his ability to share his heart with others through his lyrics. Drawing on his experience of transitioning from female to male, living with mental illness, and battling addiction, his songs carry a tone of desperation and sorrow. With soulful melodies and heart wrenching lyrics, his music conveys a message that is both powerful and vulnerable. Entirely unique, yet familiar. More info here:
Lisa: Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
Emmet : Music was always a very integral part of my life. Because I grew up in the church, I was always surrounded by it. My mom sang worship at every church we went to, and the school I went to incorporated worship as well. I always loved to write as a kid. I wrote stories, poems, and then that very quickly evolved into writing songs. As a young adolescent, I leaned on songwriting as a means of coping with all of the heavy emotions I was feeling. I didn’t really show anyone the songs I was writing at that time, but the process of writing was cathartic in and of itself.
I always felt that tug in my heart telling me to pursue music in a way I didn’t about anything else. I didn’t actively make the decision to pursue it seriously until a couple of years ago. I think that’s because I had so many personal obstacles in my life before that. I needed to deal with those first.
Lisa: Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
Emmet : There was a while where I wanted to be a high school English teacher. I always loved to read and to write, and so many of the English teachers I’d had growing up inspired me both academically and personally. More recently, I wanted to pursue something in the field of mental health. I went to school for a semester for it. I realized very quickly that the structure of academia wasn’t exactly well suited for me. I love to learn, but I don’t love structure.
In both cases, I wanted to pursue those things because of the way they impact and change lives for the better. I’ll feel fulfilled as long as I’m doing that. I think that’s something I can accomplish even more so through my music.
Lisa: You’ve had a rough road from transitioning, living with mental illness, and battling addiction. Tell us a bit more about that. Do you think that these helped you in your creativity?
Emmet : Music has helped me to be able to cope with all of these things in a way that nothing else ever has. It wasn’t always that way though. I turned to drugs as a means of coping for a very long time. As a result, I put music (and pretty much everything else) on the back burner. I could hardly function, let alone have any creative output. I was afraid of living my truth, as a transgender man, in a conservative Christian community. I didn’t know how to face myself. Eventually, after hitting what I would certainly call a “rock bottom”, I decided to go to rehab. It was there that I finally came to terms with who I was, and began the process of coming out. I realized very quickly that song-writing could be a useful tool to express all of the feelings I’d suppressed for so long. From that point on, that’s something that I’ve utilized. I write about my transition, addiction, and mental illness in hopes that others can understand and relate to me. It gives me a sense of liberation, and connection to others.
Lisa: I love your single “Locksmith Hands”, and your voice is amazing here, full of emotions… What is it about, and where did you get inspiration to write it?
Emmet : I’m so glad you like it! This is a favourite of mine also. Locksmith Hands is about wanting to be open to loving and being loved, but being afraid of the vulnerability it takes to get there. It’s about the people in our lives who have the ability to open those “locked doors” and to break down those emotional “walls” we have up. I think that’s something all of us can relate to. We all have a desperate desire to be in relationship with others. This song was inspired by my now fiancé, who really encouraged that openness, and gave me the space to love fiercely.
Lisa: Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Emmet : I have been inspired by a handful of bands and artists over time, but if I had to choose a top 3, I’d say Andy Hull (of Manchester Orchestra), Brandi Carlile, and Noah Gundersen. They’re all very different in genre, but share a sameness in depth of song-writing and authenticity. They speak in a language that really moves me.
Noah Gundersen, in particular, has been very relatable for me. He also grew up in a religious community, and struggled with his own personal relation to that. He writes very openly about his difficult relationship to substance use, his struggles with love, and his journey to self discovery. I think my music is somewhat comparable to his for those reasons. I also really admire how he blends the borders of genre. I aspire to show a similar uniqueness.
Lisa: What non-musical entities and ideas have impacted your music?
Emmet : I don’t identify as a religious type, but I’ve carried a lot of spiritual aspects out of my upbringing that are applicable to my musical journey. I believe in a higher power, an accepting and loving one, that has helped shaped the way I approach song-writing. The idea of what it means to have a relationship to God (or whatever higher power you might believe in), and even what it means to struggle with that, has greatly shaped my musical expression.
Overall, artists, and even just “every day” people, inspire me by sharing the so-called “ugly” aspects of their journeys. I think that art, in any form, is an incredible way to showcase those very authentic parts of ourselves. The idea that we could embrace those things has greatly inspired my music.
Lisa: What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?
Emmet : I think overall, the most important advice I’ve ever personally received, is to remain authentic. No amount of money or fame will ever be worth compromising who you are or the integrity of your songs. It is more important to be loved by few, than to be liked by many. As long as you are true to who you are, and express that in your music, there will always be a crowd who will support you.
In terms of the business side of things, it’s been very important for me to accept that in this industry, you will often be told “no”, but all it takes is one “yes” to break through. Don’t stop until you get that “yes.”
Lisa: What is your view on technology in music?
Emmet : I think that technology has been both a huge asset and a hinderance to professional musicians. It’s been an asset in that social media allows for mass promotion, to an audience spanning across the world. On the other hand, it’s really difficult for artists to make any profit off of releasing music, given the rise of streaming services. People generally aren’t interested in purchasing music if they can just stream it for free. I think it’s important to also support artists by purchasing physical and/or digital copies of their music, purchasing their merchandise, and buying tickets to their shows. Those things can really go a long way for musicians. It also allows them to be able to continue to invest in producing more music in the future.
Lisa: What are you working on right now, and what are your plans for the future?
Emmet : I’m in the final stages of recording my first full length album right now. I plan to release it in spring of 2021. Some of the songs I wrote this past year, and others I’ve been sitting on for years. These songs are very intimate to me, so I guess it just took a while for me to finally feel comfortable enough to present them to the world. I needed to first feel comfortable in my own skin. That gets easier for me as I write more, and as more time goes by. The overall “theme” of this album is about the fear of love; the fear of loving anyone else, and of loving myself. Intwined in all of that are a lot of very tender and very painful moments, all leading me to the point I am now. My hope is that listeners will feel a sense of connection to themselves, and the more vulnerable aspects of their own identities. There is such strength in bringing those very honest things to light. I hope to continue to challenge myself and to embrace openness throughout my career, always. Music has been the vessel for my personal growth, and connection to others from the very start.
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