I recently had the pleasure to speak with EmiSunshine. We spoke about her new album and her future plans. Emi is 15 years old but you wouldn’t know it based on her writing, performing, and communication skills. This is one of the most poised and mature 15 year olds I have met. Her star is definitely rising.
ES – Emi Sunshine TL – TwangriLa
TL: So first of all, I wanted to congratulate you on your new album. I listen to it a lot. I love it. I think it’s a great album.
ES: Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
TL: Very much. So when I was doing my research for my review, I saw all the people that you wrote with.
ES: Yeah (laughter).
TL: You wrote with a lot of really good people.
ES: I know. I’m very honored to get to work with the people that I do. I’ve wrote with Vicky McGehee, Kyle Jacobs, Jeffrey Steele, also Jim Lauderdale, Autumn McEntire; a lot of different people. And people that I write with regularly, like Fish Fisher. I’ve had a crazy two years now. We’ve wrote with so many people.
TL: But that’s good. Your writing is wonderful.
ES: Oh, thank you. I enjoy doing it.
TL: You tackled some pretty serious issues on this album.
ES: Yeah. I think I decided for this album that I wanted to because on my last one, I think I tackled some subjects that are a little bit out of the ordinary for me. But with this one, I just really wanted to talk about things that I was passionate about and that I wanted to put my opinion on as well. But I could also write songs that relate to others and not really get in the way of politics or anything like that, just state facts and just be like, “Hey, this is tragic, but we can all agree that it is tragic.”
TL: This is about the human condition. The way you write it isn’t political.
ES: No. I just want it to be something that we can all agree on.
TL: Yeah, and you have great observation skills that shows genuine maturity.
ES: Thank you. I have a great mother who taught me these things, and I’m able to form my own opinions, too, about that. So yeah, she’s really helped me.
TL: That’s great. So you come from a musical family, obviously.
ES: Absolutely. My great grandmother was a singer, my grandmother, my dad, uncles, and cousins, and everyone in between, really. And my mom, her whole family, not really singers or songwriters or anything like that, but my mom was a writer, so I got that from her and musical part from my dad. So it’s really great to have that on both sides.
TL: And you play with your brother and your father and your uncle, right? (laughter).
ES: I do. Yeah, we all travel together. We’ve been doing this since I was around—I don’t know, full-time, probably around nine, I think. So yeah, it’s been quite the journey.
TL: I can’t even imagine to be—that this is like the family business. It’s really neat.
ES: Well, the funny thing is my great grandmother had a group and it was all family as well, so I wanted to continue that tradition in my own way.
TL: So the song, Family Wars, how did you come up with the inspiration to write such a song?
ES: I hear other people’s conversations sometimes. And when I do, I find these stories wherever I go. So that song is (laughter) that song was like a mixture of different stories that I’ve found from other people over time, I guess you could say.
TL: I think a lot of people can relate to that because so many people have problems with their families.
ES: Well, yeah. None of us are perfect and that’s what I was thinking, that that song, that anybody can really relate to it.
TL: That definitely worked because maybe everyone doesn’t have all of those things, but maybe one sliver (laughter) of truth in them.
ES: Yeah. For somebody, it might hit home.
TL: Yeah. Well, I think there’s pieces of it that probably hit home for everybody.
ES: Yeah, yeah. That’s really what I was thinking. I’ve had people tell me before that, “I didn’t relate to this, but I did to that,” and that was something that I found great in there, just thinking about this song. They could relate to it in some ways, so yeah.
TL: How do you feel about when you write a song, if people interpret it differently than what you were intending?
ES: That’s what I’m going for. That makes me very happy because people can take it how they want to, and that’s what I like to do in my music. Ever since I was very young, that’s how I wanted to write. I want music that can appeal to all and doesn’t really have a limit to different people, really.
TL: Right. And it looks like, I guess, you must’ve broken into your dad’s record collection when you were pretty early, didn’t you?
ES: Pretty much. My family introduced me to all types of different music, and that’s what really helped me, I think. My mom would let me listen to a lot of Nanci Griffith and the Dixie Chicks and stuff like that.
While my father, there was a lot of different stuff that he would introduce me to, but it was Jack Black—no, Jack White, sorry. I got that mixed up, I suppose (laughter). Then it was a lot of old ’80s music, too, which I did not understand—my whole family said, “Hey, if it’s good music and it has a good message, and something within it that helps this world in some way, then it doesn’t matter the genre. If it’s good music, it’s good music.”
TL: That’s very true. How did you get to learn, like people like Dolly Parton and Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams?
ES: My mom, actually. My dad, I think, he think introduced me to Jimmie Rodgers at one point. I think that’s right. I wanted to learn how to yodel, for some reason. I don’t know when it came up, but I wanted to learn how to yodel. So I started looking up YouTube videos. Then is discovered Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, some of my favorite artists. My family has good taste.
TL: That’s great. And all the women you mentioned, they’re all strong women and they had such a contribution to country music.
ES: Absolutely. That’s something that I really value within country music, that they have so many beautiful, amazing, people. I really love that. But Dolly, I grew up around Dollywood, and I guess she was one of my biggest influences at first, but by her writing, and also her voice. I love her voice.
But I guess one that really stuck with me was Emmylou because I loved the tone of her voice and the beauty within it. To me, it was a lot of her writing, too, but it was the feel. You could feel what she was singing, and that’s what I love, too. I actually got to sing with Loretta Lynn onstage, and that was crazy. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of amazing people. I got to meet Emmylou many times, and she’s great.
TL: Yeah, I didn’t meet her but I saw her at AmericanaFest. She introduced one of the acts. It was supposed to be Buddy Miller but he was sick, so it was War and Treaty. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, but—
ES: I think I have, yes.
TL: They’re a husband and wife. They’ve got amazing voices.
ES: I’m glad that you mentioned Buddy Miller because I grew up listening to him, too, and Julie. I love Julie Miller. I grew up listening to her and she’s a big influence as well.
TL: I listen to Buddy and Jim on the radio. They used to have a—I guess they still do. It’s been a while. I love Jim Lauderdale.
ES: Oh, he’s a sweetheart. He’s a very nice person.
TL: So was that the first time you worked with him on this album?
ES: We ran into each other a couple of shows when I was younger, but besides that, no. It was our first time writing a song with him and being in the studio with him, and it was quite the experience. I loved it. Writing with him was amazing.
I had this song that I was having a lot of trouble with at the time, and it was called There’s Got to Be More, and it’s actually on this album. But I was having trouble with it. I had it for almost a year. And I’ve nodded to him and we started working on it, and you can just feel his influence within the melody. He sang on this song on the album. And he came in, he actually seemed pretty nervous at first. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. But he got in there and he sang and it was just beautiful. He got it right off the bat. And it was a lot of fun to work with him on that.
TL: I was on one of the Outlaw Country Cruises and he was on it. And I met him, and I introduced myself. And I saw him a year later at AmericanaFest and he remembered my name. I can’t believe it.
ES: That’s great. That’s awesome.
TL: That’s the kind of guy that he is. He really cares about people. And he doesn’t just pretend-listen. He really listens (laughter).
ES: I grew up listening to him as well, and he is just a fantastic singer and songwriter.
TL: How did the recording process go?
ES: It was interesting, actually. We recorded this whole album in six days. (laughter). It was actually supposed to be a side project, really, because we were working on a new album, a solo album for me at the time.
And we ended up doing this album with Tony Brown, my producer. And we started talking about it with him. And we got into CDO and we knew only had so much time and it was very stressful at first. But we started talking about the songs and everything. We have a few songs that just weren’t going right. We just couldn’t figure it out. We couldn’t really get them to groove the way that they wanted them to.
And he just said, “Why don’t you change this word around so it’ll fit better? And why don’t you sing this like this? And why don’t—dad—Randall, why don’t you do this?” And it just changed the entire song. And that’s what I was so intrigued about him, him just being in there and sensing the whole vibe of the room, and just making everything go faster, really.
So it was interesting to watch him work. That was my first time, really, working in a studio for that long of a time with him. But it was really cool. We started talking about one of the songs called Oh Caroline, and that one was originally a very slow, just kind of like a ballad. And he said”Okay, I really like this song, but why don’t we speed this up a little bit? Why don’t we make it more of a mid-tempo song? Let’s try to see what happens.” Then it just transformed the song, and it gave it a new light to it, you could say. The whole experience of being there with him. I actually got to co-produce on this album a little bit, too, and that was quite an honor to get to do that as well.
So yeah, working with everybody and having all those musicians on this album was quite an honor. And The McCrary Sisters, oh my gosh. They sang on this album and I was so happy. It was my first time meeting them, and they walked in and I was so nervous. But we started talking about the songs and it just flowed so nice on one of them. But on the other one, it made me feel like, “Okay, this is working. This isn’t,” and it wasn’t going exactly right. But Tony was just like, “Oh, just do this,” and it just went smoothly after that. It was a lot of fun, getting to meet all those people and being a part of that.
TL: It sounds like he knew exactly when to apply certain things and when to just let things take—let nature take its course.
ES: He didn’t want to change anything about our styling per se. He just wanted to make it better. And that’s what I love about him, is that he doesn’t want to change me. He just wants to help me find myself even more than we already have.
TL: I’m going to ask you a question. I bet you I already know the answer to it. Did you watch Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary?
ES: I haven’t got the chance yet. I want to so bad.
TL: Oh (laughter). That wasn’t the answer I was expecting.
ES: I haven’t gotten to watch it yet because we were actually doing a lot of stuff in New York a couple of—I think it was like a month ago or whatever time it was, and then we were on the tour before that. And then we had to do a lot of press stuff. And it’s just been insane so I haven’t had the time to sit down and really watch it.
TL: But I can tell you, you’re going to love it. Everyone’s in there: Dolly, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Lefty, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou—it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, the way he put it all together. And yeah, people say, “Well, he should’ve had this and that.” But overall, I gave it a 98%.
ES: Yeah. Don’t critique great art right off the bat. You got to watch it and understand it first.
TL: So speaking of country music history, The Opry, how many times have you been there? Was it 16?
ES: No, I’ve been there 15, actually.
TL: I was close. That’s a huge honor, being asked to play the Opry that many times.
ES: Oh, gosh. It was so much fun to get to play there and be a part of that. I have never played a stage that was quite as beautifully made, to be honest. Even though the circle’s a little bit worn, it’s beautiful, just standing there and looking out at the audience and being a part of that. That’s something special.
TL: I totally agree. It must give you such good feeling, either be up on that stage and then knowing people are cheering for you.
ES: Oh, yeah. I got to talk about it with my band the first time I played there. And we walked out there and I was so nervous. I’ve never really been nervous onstage that much, but that night, I was just filled with fear, to be honest. And I walked out there and I stood in that circle, I looked out at the crowd, and the first thing I said—I think I remember the first thing I said, was, “How are you doing tonight?” or something like that. And I was just so freaked out. But I started playing and starting getting used to it. And by the end, on the last song, I was so comfortable. I was so happy. And I was just so filled with joy just to even be in the presence of all the people there. And so it was quite the experience. I hope to play there again someday.
TL: So how do you balance being in school and being a teenager with the demands of being a touring musician?
ES: I get this question a lot. Well, I guess, it’s a challenge but we make it. I’ve been home schooled ever since I was around five years old. Even before I started playing music, it was just the norm for me. When I started playing the instruments and when I started singing and writing music, yeah, it was difficult to go between that and education, and also just being a kid. But we work it out.
We usually travel with a four-year-old. It’s my uncle, Bobby, my drummer. It’s his son, and we travel with him. And we’ve found a way to do that. We go to zoos every now and then when we’re on the road. We go to museums. We go to parks, we do so many things. We’ve gotten to visit so many great places because of what I do, and it’s like being on a mini-vacation all the time, to be honest. We take it for granted sometimes, but it really is. We get to do so many fantastic things and help other people.
TL: Well, that’s good. It sounds like when you work, when you go to play music, you actually take field trips and learn about the area. You educate yourself.
ES: Yeah. I love museums. It’s one of my favorite things. Museums and aquariums are my two favorites, and we tend to go to zoos more because, okay, because he wants zoos, but it’s okay. But we do that. And we also go to art museums which we all love. I love going to art museums. And then this one time when we were playing in this one area, there was this museum. I think it was called the MIM [Music Instrument Museum], and we played there and there’s so many instruments in there. There was like—I don’t even know, 16,000, they said, or something like that. And I was just so amazed by all of these beautiful instruments from many different countries. And it was really cool. So yeah, I get to do all kinds of stuff.
TL: Have you been to DC, the Smithsonians?
ES: I have not, but I want to. I’m sure that’ll be a lot of fun for us. We actually got a new puppy and her name’s Garnet, so she’ll probably go with us wherever we go now, too. She’ll enjoy that.
TL: Oh, that’s nice. What kind of dog is she?
ES: She’s a Scottish Terrier.
TL: Those little puppy teeth are sharp, too, aren’t they?
ES: They are so sharp. She goes after toes a lot, too (laughter).
TL: Wear your socks (laughter).
ES: We wear shoes around here (laughter).
TL: So speaking of touring, do you have any plans to do a big tour in support of the album?
ES: Yeah, we’ve been touring since October last year. We had a busy year, and considering they put the album out around October last year, we’ve been going since then to now. So it’s been fun.
I wanted to mention real quick, we take a week out of every year to go write—we take a week out of every month to go write in Nashville with various writers, and it’s been fun so far. So yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing right now.
TL: Well, that’s great. Talk about an education. That’s an education right there.
ES: I know, right? I’m pretty much like—I went into this room and they were like, “Hey, who do you want to write with?” And I’m like, “Anybody?” I’m just staring at everybody there. And they’re like, “Yeah, anybody. Let’s talk about it.” And I’ve gotten to write with so many people including Tia Sellers, I got to write with her recently and she is amazing. One of her most famous songs she wrote was I Hope You Dance.
TL: Yeah, and so what are your future plans now that you’re—this is your second album, so what, for the next five years, what do you want to do?
ES: I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do on my own. I’ve been thinking about my solo album and I’ve been thinking about where I want to go from here as an artist and the types of songs that I want to write. I’ve been thinking about the places that I want to play someday. I’ve always wanted to play Red Rocks, that’s one place. And I want to be able to play, I want to be able to sell it out one day. That’s what I want. I have big dreams, I know, but that’s something I want.
Yeah, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. When I was very young, I told my dad, “One day, I’m going to play the Grand Ole Opry,” and he was like, “Okay.” And then one day, we went into this guitar shop, and I wanted this ukulele, and it was a temple ukulele. It had 12 strings. It was beautiful. And I said, “I want this ukulele,” and he was like, “That is way too expensive.” And I said, “What if you got it for me when I play the Grand Ole Opry?” And he said, “Yeah, sure. I’ll do that.” And then a week later, I played the Grand Ole Opry. Maybe two weeks later, I played the Grand Ole Opry. And I was like, “Where’s my ukulele?”
Anyways, anything can happen, I guess. Well, there’s stuff like that. It was very sudden. Maybe one day, that’ll happen. I guess, also, I want to travel more. I want to go all round. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I want to travel around the world. I want to be able to spread my music around and just bring more light to this world, if I can. So yeah.
TL: Well, those are great aspirations, and I’m sure you’ll reach them because you have the right mindset and the right attitude.