Emily Davies Singer Songwriter the first Filing Room Sessions Interview.
Why did you start playing music? What got you into music?
I grew up in a musical family and took piano lessons from a young age, though was too shy to ever play in front of anybody. In my teens, I pestered my brother to learn songs on the guitar that I wanted to sing, and we would sometimes venture out of our front room to play gigs in local pubs and folk clubs.
When it came time to leave home to study in Nottingham, I realised a little more self-sufficiency was required so I bought my first guitar and set about teaching myself to play it. The very first song I learnt was one I had longed to sing for years, and which still pops up in my live shows from time to time – Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.
Having tried (and failed initially) to write songs on the piano, I found that the guitar opened up a new sound and new possibilities and soon the songs began to tumble out. Years of writing, recording, live gigs and festivals followed; each experience taking me somewhere new and often unexpected and bringing me into contact with all sorts of amazing people.
I have had the honour of supporting some incredible artists over the years, including Laura Marling, The Swingle Singers, Ben Taylor, Jake Morley, Heidi Talbot, Harbottle & Jonas and William the Conqueror. I have independently released three records.
- 2012 EP ‘Follow You’
- 2015 EP ‘The Angel’s Share’
- 2020 Debut Album, ‘Free to Roam’
Name your top 5 musical influence’s?
Influences change over time I think and some seep into my work without me being very conscious of it. In term of my long-term companions, I would say Joni Mitchell, the Tallest Man on Earth, The Staves, Anais Mitchell and the artists of the Laurel Canyon golden years.
What is music? What does it mean to you?
Music makes me happier than anything else I know. Writing and playing has always been catharsis – a way to soothe myself when life feels a bit overwhelming and to satiate a desire and a need for creative expression. It allows me to explore memories and emotions from different perspectives, to tell stories and is a means of connecting with people in a different way.
Music has also taken me on some wild and unexpected adventures, has brought me into contact with people with whom I might otherwise have never crossed paths and has given me some of my most treasured memories.
Do you still have the first musical instrument that you brought or were given? What was it and do you still use it?
I had a lovely upright piano that was given to me when I was young by a lovely couple who lived next door to us. I kept it with me for many years and many house moves but eventually sold it when I left London and relocated to Devon 5 years ago.
A lovely friend of mine bought it and she sent me a photo of one of her kids playing it so it’s special to know it’s being enjoyed by a new family. I now have a full size weighted electric piano which is more mobile and fits in the back of my Mini!
Name 5 of your favourite songs?
- Leif Vollebeck – Elegy. This song is so soothing and I adore the piano in it. I saw him live in Bristol and when he performs, you can see the musicality throughout his whole body in the way that he moves and plays.
- Big Thief – Pretty Things. I am a huge fan of Adrianne Lenker and of her band Big Thief. It’s hard to pick just one song but I included this one because the first time I ever heard her music was live at a festival and this song just floored me. I stood there completely mesmerised by the sound and her presence and by this song and had tears streaming down my cheeks!
- Joni Mitchell – Cactus Tree. I have loved Joni Mitchell for as long as I can remember and it’s impossible to pick only one song. But if I had to right now, it would be this one which I only came across a couple of years ago. It resonates with me right now because the narrative is from the perspective of this strong independent woman who knows her own mind and is moving through the world in her own way and I find that sentiment refreshing and empowering. “She’s so busy being free”.
- Big Red Machine – I Won’t Run From It. A friend introduced me to Big Red Machine and I love their sound and this idea of ongoing collaboration with a whole host of incredible artists. This is the track I find myself singing along loudly to most often. It just feels like this wonderful release.
- edbl, feat. Isaac Washington – The Way Things Were. During last year’s lockdowns, my sister and I made each other playlists. I took them on long walks with me every day up in the hills around Exeter where I live. This track always put such a bounce in my step and has such a good groove and it just reminds me so vividly of that time and of my lovely sister.
How would you describe your music?
My music is pretty intimate in lyrical content and sound. I try to tell a story or take people on a journey through a song and there is often a progression or a movement within a song perhaps to a different point of view or perspective on a feeling or an experience. Sound-wise, there are certainly folk influences and one very lovely reviewer said my songs ‘radiate a kind of classic authenticity: the stories are poignant are so perfectly formed that they feel familiar’.
What do you think about the current music industry/business? Big question I know, so a short answer or more in-depth long answer is fine, either way.
Conflicted! It’s incredible that we have access to so much music and that it is now so much more accessible to record, produce and release music independently. But,it is so hard to generate money from music: though streaming gives us access to so many new and established artists, I think a lot of people don’t realise just how skewed the business models of most online streaming platforms are in favour of the companies and not the artists. The market is also so saturated that it can be hard to break through, particularly as an independent artist.
What do you think will happen with music and the music industry/business in the future? What would you like to see happen?
I hope that now venues are opening up and artists are able to tour again that people will buy tickets and go to gigs and buy physical records and merch and support artists. I think there’s also a lot of potential for artists to build and nurture their fanbase through platforms such as Patreon, enabling artists to develop a closer relationship with those who love their music and for the audience to feel connected in a more intimate and meaningful way.
Tell us about your best gig so far?
I’ve been fortunate to have some really memorable gigs over the years. I was invited to be part of Laura Marling’s Once I Was An Eagle album launch – an immersive 2 week event, produced by Secret Cinema and I was invited to open for Ben Taylor, son of the mighty Carly Simon & James Taylor.
My most memorable gig though was playing the Rising Stage at Green Man Festival. I had been trying for about 5 years to get booked for this festival and so to finally secure the booking felt an amazing achievement. I got to share the stage with my best friend and musical soulmate Oli Tatler and my gorgeous sister Briony also made a special appearance for one of the tracks. I was playing at 12 noon on the Sunday and had been worried whether people would make it on to site to come see me play – my sister and I handed out postcards all weekend with the details and asking people to come join us and when I turned up there was an amazing crowd there. It was quite an overcast start to the day when I first took to the stage but something magical happened about midway through the set. I had lost a dear friend a couple of weeks previously and I dedicated a song called This Is Love to him. I had sent him very rough demo of it when he was fighting his short and very brave battle with cancer and it’s a song that is trying to let somebody know that if you can’t fix things or take their pain away, you want them to know how much they are loved. So that is the song I dedicated to him during that set and as I strummed the opening chords, the clouds parted, and this beautiful sunshine broke through and it felt like he was there with us that day.
Tell me something that really helped you on your musical journey?
About 10 years ago I met an incredible man called James (Jim) Bogan who is a Professor, writer and film-maker out in Rolla, Missouri. He and his wife Mary were in London for 3 months with a group of students who were studying abroad and I took the opportunity to show them some of my favourite places in London. We used to sit and talk for hours about art and creativity and life and one day Jim said to me ‘well of course Emily, you are an artist’. I can’t remember the exact context of our conversation, but nobody had ever said that to me so directly and so sincerely before and I realised I’d never truly seen myself in that way or had perhaps lacked the confidence to call myself an artist, as strange as that might sound. Something really shifted in that moment and changed how I saw myself and my music and gave me the confidence to believe in myself and in my creative endeavours.
What do you think of the South West music scene?
Honestly, it took me a while to find my feet with the local music scene when I first moved to Devon 5 years ago. Having established myself on the London circuit, it felt a bit like taking two steps backwards when I first moved here. It’s quite a tough place to find the right venues and to secure gigs, and I’ve had to work hard to build connections in order to open up those opportunities. Thankfully, I have met some lovely people which has helped hugely.
How has Covid 19 and lockdowns affected your music?
I recorded the tracks for my debut album in December 2019 and January 2020 with a plan to release the album in June 2020. And then covid 19 arrived and everything changed. There were huge delays on the mixing due to circumstances beyond my control I felt the whole project slipping away from me. Instead of dwelling on the things I couldn’t change, I set myself another project to produce and release a stand-alone single that I’d written in January of that year. I recorded it in my front room, did the photography and artwork and released it on 18 June 2020. Sometimes, having limitations on resources can force you to be inventive and creative and push your own boundaries of what you think you can achieve!
I did finish the album – Free to Roam – and released it on 11 December 2020. I hosted an Instagram Live from my living room, inviting people who’d been involved in the making of the record to join me to talk about the album and the journey and playing tracks from the record. It was not at all how I’d imagined releasing the album but in fact felt a very intimate and personal way to do it which felt very fitting for this album. I am so proud of the record and so thankful to the people that helped me bring it to life – both sonically and visually.
What is the best music festival/event you have been too as a listener?
Green Man Festival in Wales. The line-up is always incredible and eclectic and it’s a great place to discover new and emerging artists. There’s a great community of people that return year on year to the festival and the main stage sits at the foot of a mountain so the views are pretty spectacular too!
What musical instruments do you play? Are you learning a new Instrument at the moment or plan to in the future?
I play the piano, guitar. I’ve been thinking about getting a Shruti Box for a while as I love that sound and think it could work well in some of the new tracks I’ve been writing. I’ve always wanted to learn the Cello too – such a beautiful instrument.
What’s your favourite venue/festival/club/pub that you have performed at?
During a few years in London, I played a host of legendary venues including The Troubadour, Proud Camden, Magic Garden, The Betsey Trotwood, The Green Note. I have played in living rooms and churches, on beaches and in the ruins of an ancient Welsh castle. Since being based down in Devon, I have played The Barrelhouse in Totnes twice and love that venue. The sound is always great, the room has an incredible quality to it and the audiences are always so respectful and attentive – it’s a real joy to perform there.
Have you performed music outside the UK? If so where and what was it like?
I was flown out to the Seychelles to play Oceanbeat Festival where I got to sing with Talvin Singh and listen to Mozez (Zero 7) play iconic songs off the Simple Things album. I remember walking from the hotel down to the beach one day and sitting on this white sand looking at the sparkling turquoise water and trying to get my head around how this could possibly be real!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a musician? Or yourself when you first began on your musical journey.
I think the best advice is to just about get out there and play. And don’t worry if you make a mistake – just smile and keep playing! The more you play and perform and write, the more you begin to find your own unique and distinctive voice. I would also recommend jamming with other musicians – I didn’t really have opportunity to do that growing up and really wished I had.
Tell us about a less known underground band/artist that you really like and have been listening to?
Madison Cunningham – she’s an American guitarist, singer songwriter and is unbelievably talented. Her album Who Are You Now is well worth a listen. Also, Oscar Jerome – Breathe Deep. And Scott Matthews is incredible – he has been around a good old while and has an incredible back catalogue to explore!
Do you have a home studio or a recording set up for writing and recording new music ideas? If so, tell us about your set up?
I currently have a pretty simple home recording set-up – an iPad, iTrack Solo interface and a couple of mics and I use Garageband. I’m self-taught with it all but love the process of recording and mixing demos – it’s addictive!
Are you working on any new music or songs at the moment?
Yes, since releasing the album last year, I have been writing new solo material and also co-writing for the first time with my best friend Oli. We’ve known each other for 11 years but have only recently started co-writing and it’s been super fun. We have quite a different approach to song writing and also different lyrical voices but have found a way in which to write that embraces those differences and I’m really excited about what we have so far and we are hoping to put them out an EP
When is your next single or album due out for release?
TBC but watch this space as I’m keen to put out some new music soon.
Where can we find out more about you and your music?