She stunned the judges at her blind audition on the 2016 season of the hit show The Voice, with all four spinning their chairs and Blake Shelton declaring “Your voice, its like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Its just a completely new sound — unbelievable!”
Since her run on the show, singer-songwriter Emily Keener has been busy working on her new album, Breakfast, now available on iTunes and streaming on Spotify. The LP highlights her powerful voice with a blend of ethereal and indie-pop sensibilities.
We got the chance to connect with Emily via email and get to know her a bit better. Scroll down for the Q & A with this lovely and talented person!
Hi Emily, nice to e-meet you! First off, for those out there who are unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about yourself.
Nice to e-meet you, too! I’m an 18-year-old singer/songwriter from Wakeman, Ohio, and I’ve been performing and writing music for six years. I’ve always been drawn to music, and when I started to learn how to write lyrics and chord progressions, it instantly turned into my passion and center.
Tell us about your new record, Breakfast. First, why the title? And what makes it different from your earlier records?
I decided to call it “Breakfast” as a nod to the last line in the last track, “The Things I Do” that goes: “…until then, there is breakfast again/and I’ll stare out of the window and wonder when.” I liked the imagery of a monotonous thing like a meal paired with the existential leanings of the rest of the song. Funny enough, I didn’t even realize that I mention the word “Breakfast” two other times on the record!
The whole thing is very fresh and intricately arranged. I find it very exciting to listen to the production choices and the way my songs live and breathe with the full-band vibe. Previously, my records have been a little more simplistic and acoustic. I think Breakfast provides a nice contrast to that, and shows that I am comfortable with shifting my musical focus and experimenting.
Which song on it is the most personal for you and why?
So many of the tracks are based heavily on my personal experiences and my perspectives. I try to be as vulnerable as possible with my lyrics and subject matter, so there are large pieces of my heart in all the emotional songs, especially.
I would have to say “Fire & Brimstone” and “The Castle” are the most personal. The former specifically talks about the feeling of being 17, a struggle with the reality of aging and time, and a search for truth in a very confusing world. The latter is a raw look at depression and inner demons that so many of us face for the first time at this stage in life. My hope in writing them was that they would resonate and help others feel less alone.
You called the bonus tracks ‘Second Breakfast’ — Are you a Lord of the Rings Fan?
I am! I love that you got the reference!
The bonus acoustic EP isn’t set in Middle Earth (although, the song “Unburdened” has some similar imagery). The name was just too good to pass up!
What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself through your Voice experience?
I learned that I could handle a lot more than I thought. Yeah, I may have been terrified every time I stepped on that stage, but by the time I walked off, I would be thinking: “Oh, okay. I’m alive, I got through that performance in front of millions of people, and now I’m going to go get an acai bowl and sleep for 12 hours. I’m still a normal person, and this is my life.” Getting in the groove of things in such an intense environment takes a lot, but I managed to do it, and that’s extremely empowering!
What was the most valuable thing you gained from working with Pharell Williams, your mentor on The Voice?
I think I gained a greater sense of my own musical abilities and intuition. He’s a feeler, like me, and we had a lot of good conversations about trusting yourself and trusting the spirit of the music. He often insisted that I know a lot more than I think I do, and that has stuck with me.
What is the sweetest thing a fan has said to you/done for you?
I could never pick one thing, because so many sweet things have been done for me over the years. My favorite experiences are when I get pictures drawn for me, when fans give me super thoughtful gifts, or when people drive from Florida to Ohio for one of my shows. (yes, that has happened!) The kindness of my supporters is unbelievable!
Who would you most like to collaborate with as a singer/songwriter (besides Pharell haha)?
I would love to collaborate with Norah Jones. I’m a huge fan of her work, and she is one of the best singer/songwriters out there! Opening for her or performing with her is a dream of mine. I would also die of joy if I could collab with Paul Simon, because he is my favorite writer of all time, but he has retired from performing.
You seem pretty grounded and well-supported by your family. However, many teens suffer from bullying even though everything seems okay on the surface. Have you experienced bullying, and if so, how did you get through it?
Because I’ve been homeschooled and surrounded by mostly older friends, I have not experienced a lot of bullying from my peers. Sure, there were some negative comments on my Voice performances, and that never feels nice, but the responses were 90% positive. I was pretty good at shaking the rest off.
I think some of the hardest “bullying” that many of us face is the stuff we say to ourselves. The stuff that other people say that we validate and see as true. So, yes, I’ve struggled with that negative self-talk, and I address it in my lyrics now and then.
What’s the biggest challenge you have had to overcome in your career so far?
I’ve never questioned my desire to do this for the rest of my life. But, at times, it’s hard to know if I’m focusing on the right things or going in a good direction. There are a lot of different approaches to take in this business, so it’s not easy to know what’s best or what makes the most sense. The underlying challenge is a fear of “messing up” or “not being good enough”. I’m grateful for The Voice, because my time on the show really helped me face that.
What role does your family play in your success?
My family has been extremely supportive from the beginning. I grew up listening to my Dad play guitar, and I was mesmerized by it. He always had music playing around the house, and it instilled a love in me that hasn’t faded in the least. I started teaching myself to play at 11, because I wanted to be just like him.
Soon after, my Mom got me working with a local songwriter named Chris Castle, and he taught me about chord theory and song forms. Because she saw something in me and the silly country covers I was playing at the time, I was able to start at a really young age. I’m super grateful for that! My siblings have put up with my late night practice sessions, and the rest of my family comes to every show they possibly can.
Most embarrassing moment ever?
I was asked to sing the American and Canadian National Anthems at a Cavaliers watch party in Cleveland this year. It was for one of the Conference Finals games, so it was a big deal, and the stadium was packed even though it was just a watch party.
I got up to sing. Music started. First line or two of the Canadian anthem: just fine! Then… nothing. My mind went blank. I had completely forgotten every lyric ever. Instead of staying silent, I said with wide eyes, “I’m not from Canada.” Everyone started cracking up. Thank God we were playing against Canada that night. I still felt disrespectful and wanted to apologize to every Canadian on earth!
What are you most grateful for?
I’m grateful for all the amazing opportunities that 2016 has held. I feel very lucky to be diving into my life-long musical journey at such a young age, and it makes me excited for the future. I get even happier when I think of the friends and family that have lifted me up!
Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you.
Lots of people know that I live in the middle of nowhere, but I also used to be quite the farm girl. I showed pigs in the county fair (no joke!), rode horses all the time, and have fed my fair share of chickens. Also, I love photography and want to travel the whole world with a camera. I guess that last thing isn’t entirely unique, but still!
What is your New Year’s Resolution?
I’ve decided to do yoga four times a week, and answer every message I receive within 24 hours. As an Olympian of procrastination and the worst texter ever, I know which one will be most difficult!
What do you have coming up next?
I have two shows in January, and more details and ticket links can be found at www.emilykeener.com/events! I’m also currently booking some out of state shows, so follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to see if I’ll be coming your way!
Could we please get a selfie of you right now, doing whatever it is you are doing at the moment?
“Just relaxing in my room, listening to Norah, and enjoying the snowy day!”