Singer songwriter, blues rocker, and self-confessed guitar gear geek, Emily Wolfe brings a fresh diversity of catchy indie pop rock to new album Outlier, while maintaining her hard edged guitar solos and musical pedigree.
With her very own signature Epiphone guitar, the technical know-how to make her own pedals and classic blues rock musicianship, as her song says, she ‘don’t need no man’.
1st 3 – Where did the title Outlier come from?
Emily Wolfe – Before I started doing the album, I kept hearing people saying that word. I just thought that the word was really cool, so I looked up the definition to make sure I knew exactly what it was trying to say, and it really fitted with how I was feeling as a person and a musician. I’m really trying to do something totally different and out of the box. The word ‘outlier’ isn’t anywhere in any of the songs on the record, but it matches what I’m trying to do with the music.
1st 3 – It’s a change of direction – the last album was harder and much more straight blues rock whereas this one combines that with pop, indie, even electro. What led to you moving in that direction?
I never want to make the same record twice, that was the big thing for me. I wanted to branch out and evolve sonically. I think that it’s important for artists to do that because it gets a little stale if you just put out the same stuff, so I wanted to pivot a little bit. I was pretty reluctant to put synths on the record because I’ve never been a fan of the synth sounds that I’ve created myself, but when I was doing production with Michael Shuman, he’s great at that stuff, and he made some synth stuff from samples that I really loved. It was kind of an experiment at first, and now I’m really excited about the sound.
1st 3 – How did the collaboration with Michael Shuman come about – were you a fan of Queens of the Stone Age?
I’ve been a huge fan of Queens of the Stone Age for a while. I love the guitar tones, I love the vocals, the lyrics, everything about that band, the attitude especially. He brings such a solid foundation to that band with bass and such a cool factor. He has a side project called Mini Mansions that my band and I were listening to on the road and my bass player asked: Dude, have you ever thought of getting Michael Shuman to produce your record? I said: No, but that would be so amazing and crazy if he did. I just reached out to my manager and said: Do you know anyone who knows him, it would be awesome to work with him. He found someone who knew him, and Michael wrote back pretty quickly and was into it. We freaked out, the guys and me. We got to the hotel and found the email response from him. We jumped up and down on the bed and freaked out, it was so exciting.
1st 3 – You now have your own signature guitar, how did that come about?
I’ve been worked with Epiphone and Gibson for three or four years, and my rep flew out my band and me to LA to do a show for NAMM, which is this big music conference. It’s a gear conference and the manufacturers for different instruments and products in the industry meet up in this big convention centre, this was before Covid. We played a show for the Gibson team and people at the conference, and the executives really loved it and wanted to do a signature guitar after that. I just said: Oh my god that’s crazy, of course I’ve love to. So, they let me design it and it was a dream come true.
1st 3 – You’re obviously very into the technical side of music – was that something that technology just interests you or was it to do with wanting to be self-sufficient as a musician and not rely on others to do that for you?
It was a mix of both of those things. Six or seven years ago I was working with a producer based in Austin and I asked him: How do all these great guitar players develop their own sound where you can hear them on speakers at a restaurant and be like, that’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, because I can tell in the way he plays, or that’s BB King? I really wanted to develop that for myself and figure out how I could create an identifiable sound. He told me that I should dive into the gear world and learn how things work and take things apart and put them back together and figure out what makes what sound. After that conversation, I really got into the electronic part of actual guitar pedals, the inside of something like this (holds up pedal) – it looks nuts inside and it causes distortion on your guitar, you can do all these crazy sounds. It was partially that conversation of me wanting to figure out how to create a sound that was identifiable and then it just spiralled, and I really loved it. I learned to solder, and I learned to make microphones – make mics out of guitar speakers or whatever. But I also didn’t want to have to rely on anybody to tell me, this is why there’s a problem here on your guitar. It was to be bulletproof in terms of troubleshooting. So, it was both of those things.
1st 3 –You’re touring the US in October and November this year – you must be really looking forward to that after Covid.
Yes, I can’t wait, I’m so excited. It was tough not to be able to play shows because it’s such a big part of my identify. Not having that was really devastating. I’m excited to get back on the road. I’ve just been sitting in my tour van in my driveway, I’m just so excited to get back to it.
1st 3 – You’re playing a couple of show with Joan Jett – how did that come about?
I think someone on my team knows someone on her team, but I did do a show with Heart and Joan back in the Fall of 2019. It was a lot of fun. I guess she heard it and liked the music and was down to do a show together.
1st 3 – Who are the guitarists that inspired you when you started playing guitar?
When I was learning to play, I was pretty isolated so just listened to the music that my dad had on all the time, which was Creedence, The Who, Ozzy Osbourne and stuff like that. I basically learned by listening but then I started to dive into thinking about what I really wanted to be inspired by. It was Stevie Ray Vaughan and BB King and Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, he’s got a really interesting way of playing. It’s really cool and stylistically he’s really unique. So, it’s a mix of classic rock and modern rock. I try to look for new guitar players as much as I can, but those ones are very much the influences.
1st 3 – Did think that being a woman would be a barrier or did that not enter your mind?
For sure it entered my mind, especially by force! There was one time in New York City I was playing Mercury Lounge. I didn’t hear it, but apparently there was a guy in the audience saying, that’s a chick?! So, I guess he didn’t look up to see who was playing until halfway through the show, but he was shocked that I was a woman. That shows up every now and then. When I first started it was all the time, now it’s less so. I think that at first it was a challenge but at this point in my career, I feel like it may be an advantage because people don’t expect a woman to shred and not be sexualised for it. Like especially in the gear world, it’s interesting – you’ll see women who play guitar, a lot of them are just boobs out, here’s my body and just look at me, I’ve got a guitar and it’s just an accessory to my body. For me, I don’t want to go down that way. If I’m going to be a guitar player, it’s about the guitar and the music. It definitely came up and it still does. But I think at this point since people don’t expect it, when they see me playing and they think it’s good then I think it’s surprising in a good way. At first, it was annoying and challenging.
1st 3 – You speak much more about guitar playing than singing – is the singing secondary?
That’s interesting that you point that out. I was very shy, and I didn’t sing in front of anybody until I was like 20. I think that’s why I consider myself a vocalist second. But I do love to sing and now that it’s a career, I should probably own it more than I do. Guitar is how I write and the closest I feel to music is through a guitar. I’m definitely a performer and everything like that but yes, singing is secondary to me, I try.
1st 3 – How important is it to write your own music and lyrics?
A lot of artists these days don’t write their own stuff, but I do because I feel that it wouldn’t be as genuine if I wrote a song written by someone else. I realise that down the line, I may get handed a song to do and I guess I’d be ok with that but at this point, I like to write my own stuff.
1st 3 – What are your all-time favourite covers to play?
We did Ace of Spades by Motorhead for a while and that was really fun. Then we tackled Hot For Teacher by Van Halen which was really tough but it was fun – my drummer had to stretch his hip flexes out before every show if we were going to play that one. We’ve been covering Voices Carry by ‘Til Tuesday, which is a great song.
1st 3 – How important is it to you to be a visible LGBTQ role model to younger women and girls?
Oh man, it’s so important. I know when I was growing up, I didn’t have LGBTQ people to look up to, other than Tegan and Sara, which was great but they didn’t play the type of guitar that I played. I love their stuff but there wasn’t really somebody that I could look up to and say, ok this is possible for me to do. I didn’t feel like I had whatever X factor growing up. It was tough to not have that. I really want people like me to believe that they can do it. Honestly, if I can do it then I feel like anyone can because I was so shy growing up. I thought that my life would be: I like music but I have to get a desk job and drive a Nissan Sentra and be regular. I think that it’s so important for people to have role models and if I am one to somebody then that’s super special and I’m happy to be that.
1st 3 – Now that you’ve just come out of the Trump years, how is the climate for LGBTQ people in the US?
Trump, oh my god, that was four years of just dumpster fire. I think we’re progressing slowly. It’s definitely been slow. Obviously, there are pockets of the country that are way more open than others in terms of being gay or being any way other than a straight white male. I think that those pockets are expanding and filling the gaps but very slowly, there’s a ton of work to do still.
1st 3 – What are the stories behind your tattoos?
This one is just a cardinal (bird) tattoo – I’ve always loved cardinals, they’re lucky to me. This skull one is a reminder to stay sober because it’s a skull surrounded by chrysanthemums, which is a symbol of death. When I was in the middle of an addiction problem, I could have died and I nearly did, so I wanted to have a reminder that I’ve made it a long way, I’m six years sober.
1st 3 – How do you meet the challenge of staying sober on the road and in the music world?
I think a big part of it was to do with being so open about it. The more people that know I don’t drink, I don’t want to disappoint those people, so I don’t want to go back to it. But also, my fans are really supportive, and they know what I’ve been through. If anything comes up, they’ll intervene and help me out. So, it’s due to both the people around me who support me, and also knowing that I don’t want to go back to being that way.
1st 3 – Compared to many people, you’ve dealt with your demons quite young, haven’t you?
Yes, I was 24 when I got sober. I was pretty young, but I think that my career would not be where it is today if I hadn’t got sober. There was a clear choice – it’s music or drinking, it’s doing what I love or drinking.
1st 3 – What does the future hold for you – is there a five-year plan?
Oh man, I wish there was a five-year plan! I’d love to shoot up to the moon in five years or win a Grammy, but I mostly just want to play arenas every night so hopefully we get there. I think that I just have to constantly remind myself that this career is such a process, and I have a moving bar of success, so I have to take it opportunity by opportunity and be grateful for those, and just keep going that way. I have tried the three-year plan, five-year plan, and if I don’t meet those goals, I get really super sad. I think that it’s more of a process and I’ll see how far it can it go.
1st 3 – Do you have plans to play in the UK?
Yes, I think that in early 2022 we’ll start doing overseas stuff. I’ve been to London and Amsterdam but that’s it, I’m dying to go.
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