In 2006, she won Berklee College of Music’s Summer Performing Songwriter Contest and was named Rookie of the Year by The Dallas Morning News.
She attended Berklee on a full scholarship, graduating in 2011 with an artists’ diploma.
In 2007, she was selected to attend the Grammys and won first place at the Texas Music Project’s “Texas 10 Under 20” contest.
She was a New Folk Finalist at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2008. The same year, WUMB Radio in Boston named her Best New Artist of the Year.
She won Scotland’s 2009 Burnsong International Song Contest.
Glamour magazine named her one of the Top 10 College Women in 2010.
She’s been the opening act for Leon Russell, Joan Osborne and Marcia Ball, among others.
She’s already released three records, “Bright Side” (2006), “Proof” (2010) and “Alive, in Love” (2011).
Her YouTube channel has collected more than 1.5 million hits.
Elbert recently returned from a six-week gig in Asia, and is about to head out on a quick road trip to California.
On April 20, she’ll be in concert at Crossroads Music in Winnsboro.
She took a few minutes to talk about her years at prestigious Berklee, living in New York and being in charge of her career.
News-Telegram: How did your time at Berklee College of Music improve your musicality? Songwriting? Performing? Guitar playing?
Emily Elbert: Being at Berklee was incredible. The community is so diverse, and so full of life – it’s just rich with great musicians from around the world.
I didn’t study songwriting, or very much voice or guitar either, actually – but I did take some classes that were really enriching.
I took a lot of percussion classes, studying rhythms from other cultures, and I think that affected my guitar playing quite a bit. And Livingston Taylor (James’ brother) teaches a fabulous class on performance techniques.
But mostly, Berklee was about the community. So many of my favorite musicians are my peers from school, and I draw from them a great deal of inspiration – and collaborations as well. Before Berklee I had pretty much only played music alone.
That changed very quickly, which definitely affected the way I approach music as a whole.
N-T: You're staying pretty busy ... what's it like, being an independent musician, running your own affairs?
EE: A bit crazy, honestly. The music itself, I adore, of course.
But the behind-the-scenes aspect, the booking and the logistics, is definitely more than a full-time job. I think that’s something that most people don’t realize – how much legwork actually goes into making the tours and recordings happen.
That being said, though, it’s all worth it. I do it because, above all, I love playing music for people. And I really believe in what I do. It brings me so much joy, and I want to share that love with others.
Hopefully before long I’ll find the right team to help me out, but for now I’ll keep chipping away. These days, if you want to make it in the music industry, you have to be willing to give it everything you’ve got.
N-T: Is living in New York essential to an up and coming artist?
EE: Certainly not for everyone. But I’m a bit addicted – I’m totally wild about it.
Brooklyn has the most electric creative scene – so many young artists and thinkers, and so many interesting, cutting-edge things going on. Being there is a huge source of inspiration for me. It brings me a lot of joy, and I’ve met so many wonderful people there.
But there is great music coming from all corners of the globe – and today, in the internet age, anyone can share their music with the world, regardless of their geography.
N-T: Your dad is a musician and plays gigs with you from time to time. That must be fun.
EE: Absolutely. We didn’t really play together when I was younger, because I was too shy – but now it’s very special to me. I admire him so much.
N-T: Your voice is so clear, true and versatile. Did singing come naturally to you ... or did you have to work on it?
EE: I’ve always wanted to sing, but was afraid for a long time. It wasn’t until I started playing guitar that I realized couldn’t hold it in anymore, and I began working up the confidence to sing in public.
N-T: You were selected as one of the top 10 college women by Glamour magazine. That must have been a thrill.
EE: Absolutely. The other girls were so inspiring, too. I still keep in touch with a few of them – it was a great honor to be a part of that group.
N-T: It seems that all of your press has been positive, with critics falling all over themselves to promote your music. That must be nice.
EE: Haha. Well, you’re very kind.
There have been so many people that have been wonderfully helpful in helping me to get this far (a great many here in Texas), and for that I am grateful every single day.
But honestly, it’s not all that way.
It’s mostly brick by brick, trying to find new listeners one by one, by playing live, and putting my music out there into the world as much as I can. Believe me, I send a lot of unsolicited emails that never get read, much less responded to. It can be quite frustrating, but at the end of the day, I really love playing music for people, and I really believe in it. That’s what keeps me going.
N-T: Who are your musical influences? I hear a lot of Jobim in your YouTube performances.
EE: I adore Jobim. Lots of Brazilian music, really.
My parents played Jobim for me when I was a baby, and his music been a continual presence in my life ever since.
South American music and African music are dominating my headphones quite a lot these days. But really, I love music from all times and places.
I started playing guitar because I wanted to be like Jjmi Hendrix.
Then of course 1960s soul, rock, folk.
I finally saw Paul Simon play in Singapore last month and that was one of the most inspiring concerts of my life.
I also love a lot of the jazz and soul that has come out of Texas in recent years – Badu, Roy Hargrove, Snarky Puppy, Kim Burrell.
I love classical music, too. And when I’m in New York, I’m kind of perpetually having my mind-blown by new bands. It never ends.
N-T: You've just released a beautiful video of your song, "Michelangelo." Can you talk about your inspiration for the song? And, tell us how the video came to be. The dancer featured in the piece is stunning. How did ya'll get together?
EE: Thank you! Writing that song was a cool experience – I was in a Renaissance Art History class at Berklee, with a really wonderful, passionate professor.
He told us all of these rich anecdotes about the artists and their work; it was so engrossing. I was particularly taken by Michelangelo’s work, and story. I wrote that song then – rented a bunch of library books and dove in. It was partly spurred, actually, because I convinced my teacher to let me write that as a portion of my final project.
That’s the only song I’ve ever written that has a bibliography. Haha.
N-T: I'm so in love with your cover of "'Until You Come Back to Me" you shot last summer in Brooklyn. You did Aretha and Stevie proud.
EE: Thanks! I love that song.
Two of my favorite musicians working together; it doesn’t get any better than that. I have a lot of fun playing that song. Just trying to pay tribute.
N-T: You seem to like the bossa nova rhythm. What is it about the beat that appeals to you?
EE: It’s very honest, and in some ways rather simple, but at the same time deeply complex and sophisticated. The chordal harmonies are as good as it gets.
You can listen to it and completely relax, feeling like you’re surrounded by nothing but sea and sun – or you can dive in, dissect, and be its student, and always have more to learn from it. That’s a beautiful thing, to have both sides.
N-T: You've released several CDs on your own. What lessons did you learn from self-publishing?
EE: Oh, I’m still learning! There’s so much to figure out, from writing, arranging, and recording, to pressing, publishing, and promoting, to booking and executing the subsequent tours.
But the cool part is seeing the paradigm shift in independent music careers. It is now entirely possible to release your own material, and create a career based around that – without the middle man of a big record label controlling what you do, and taking all of the money.
Ten or 15 years ago, that was a very difficult endeavor. Not to say it’s not challenging now, but if you want to have a career in music, you really love it, and you’re willing to work for it, it’s totally possible, and rewarding.
N-T: How has social media changed the music business?
EE: Social media is the big catalyst in the creation of the new music industry (and the dying-out of the old business model).
Now, you can record a song on your computer, put it on YouTube, or any number of websites, tweet about it, facebook about it, create a web presence, book tours, and fundraise for professional recording projects – all through social media.
It’s amazing. It’s putting the power into the hands of the artists and the fans, and it’s also breaking down the barrier between artist and fan, and allowing for real connections to develop.
N-T: Any interest coming from established record labels?
EE: A bit here and there, but never the right fit. I’d love to find the right label, agent, management, or producer, but I’m not going to sit on my hands waiting… I’ll just keep chipping away until then.
N-T: You just returned from Asia. Talk about how you got that gig and what you enjoyed.
EE: Asia was incredible! So many beautiful gigs, beautiful people, beautiful land and cultures…it was such an inspiring experience.
I learned so much, too. The whole band did. It’s an interesting thing, putting together a D.I.Y. tour on the other side of the world.
It certainly wasn’t without its challenges…last minute cancellations, illnesses, injuries, etc…but, it was so valuable.
It was the first time I’ve traveled abroad with a band, which was really fun, because I almost always tour alone. This time, I got to take four of my friends, who are all fantastic players.
The springboard for the tour was that, last year, while I was doing a solo tour in Thailand and Indonesia, I met a couple in Bangkok – they came to one of my gigs, and as it turns out, they run a series of festivals in the north part of the country.
So, they invited me to bring a band for this year’s festival, in Chaing Mai. Once I booked that, I thought “if I have a band in Thailand, I’m not just going to fly them in for a weekend festival. I’m going to make the most of it.”
So, I reached out to venues and festivals all around Southeast Asia, and eventually pieced together a six-week tour. Three big festivals, lots of club dates, and some school workshops – it was crazy, and it was amazing.
N-T: Do you have a favorite cover?
EE: That’s always changing. I love learning new tunes. I love learning songs that wouldn’t normally be played with acoustic guitar and voice. There’s no fun in just playing the expected – I want to incorporate the bass line, the rhythms, the horn parts – I like it when it makes me stretch.
N-T: Do you have a favorite artist? Songwriter?
EE: Stevie Wonder, if I had to pick one. No doubt.
N-T: You're going to play Winnsboro's Crossroads 4/20. Do you like playing small rooms? Why?
EE: Yes! And I love playing in East Texas. There’s something so special about it. People are so kind, and so genuine, and so welcoming. I always look forward to coming to Winnsboro.
Tickets for the April 20 show are $15 and on sale at
www.crossroadsmusiccompany.com or call 903-342-1854.
Click here to watch a video of Elbert covering Stevie Wonder's "Till You Come Back To Me" last summer. Pay close attention to the birds singing along. They know a good thing when they hear it.
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