Despite her Southern roots growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Emily Hackett was a big rock ‘n’ roll fan. Her father, a rock critic and “the music guru in the house” according to Hackett, made sure his daughter was exposed to good music.
She listened to everything from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin. She learned to play guitar to the female powerhouses who proliferated the nineties music scene – Jewel, Sheryl Crow, and Michelle Branch. “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw made her realize country music is all about the song.
Labeled one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know” of 2018, Hackett recently released, “By the Sun,” an EP that features her signature songwriting style that is both self-aware and viscerally honest.
Guitar Girl Magazine caught up with Hackett while she was in New York City playing a one-off show.
The production is just as important as the song itself when you’re an artist and discovering what truly you feel like gives the song its best life is a journey.
Do you remember that moment and the feeling that went along with it when you realized you could play your music as your career?
Absolutely. I think that there’s no better feeling than to feel like you’re being accepted, or you feel important for some reason, or you feel something that drives you is coming to fruition and being fulfilled. That’s in any aspect of life – in a relationship, in a career, a conversation – that little bit of validation. That to me was just eye-opening. That was when I figured out it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Was it a hard road for you or did it happen pretty easily and quickly?
Present tense – it is a hard road. I think that’s the case for everybody. There’s no real Cinderella story. Everybody’s got something that they’re struggling through, even if they weren’t pursuing being an artist and what seems to have happened overnight – there’s always something inside of them that was working towards getting somewhere they wanted to be.
So, I think for me, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of figuring out where I wanted the road to lead – genre-wise, my sound, all of that. It took a huge ride to get there because I was always figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B. When I write a song, I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it, and in my head I’m hearing it one way – I’m hearing this big production, this magic behind it – but being able to communicate that to the people that you work with is definitely a learned element if you’re not the one doing it all yourself. I got to discover more aspects of music working with different friends and figuring out, “Oh, this song may sound one way when I keep it acoustic and only add banjos or mandolins or very folk elements to it – it can stay in that lane, but if I go, and I add electric guitar and weird, quirky sounds, like the ones in ‘Nostalgia,’ all of a sudden, it becomes something else entirely.” It was a learning experience for me. The production is just as important as the song itself when you’re an artist and discovering what truly you feel like gives the song its best life is a journey. And it’s been a really, really fun one for me over the last couple of years.
RELATED STORY: Emily Hackett Releases Bright New EP BY THE SUN
When you say you were trying to discover what genre you wanted your career to take, was there a moment where you were contemplating rock? Was it between that and country?
It’s funny that you say that, and first, I should say that I hate genres. I think that they’re silly. It’s frustrating having to play that game a little bit just because you want to find the best avenue to get your music to the people you think will dig it. I do think those lines are very blurred for me because of the fact that my music falls in the country genre now because of where country has gone in the last few years and how much it’s opened up. I feel at home now because it’s a place I can tell my stories.
Rock ‘n’ roll was that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it has done a whole lot of things since then, and I do think that some of that’s coming back with artists like Jade Bird. I think she’s unbelievable. She’s a new artist. I think she’s doing the coolest thing because she’s taking what she grew up on and kind of giving the finger to the genres and just figuring it out. She’s ending up falling in all different places, and she’s able to share her music with a whole mess of types of people, and that is what I hope to do because ultimately, songs are supposed to hit the heart, and we’re all human.
It’s not like we all listen to one genre anymore. I think genres were much more split years ago because we weren’t as exposed to everything. You did listen to what was played in your house or was played in your town. Now, it’s all at your fingertips, so I think more and more artists are blurring the lines. Take me, I listened to Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and all that good stuff, but then I was also a huge fan of Shania Twain and Britney Spears and all of that. So, you really do hear little pieces of everything, so it’s really hard to be like, “Well, she’s this, and she’s this.”
So, yea, in the beginning, it was hard for me to say, “I’m country,” because it felt inauthentic to me. I didn’t grow up wearing cowboy boots or work on a farm or anything like that, and so I felt – I was more concerned about the fan. I was more concerned that any country fan was going to be like, “Oh, she’s not country. She doesn’t know this artist or sound like this artist.” But it did come down to the songs for me, and I finally realized that’s what it was about.
Your lyrics are very honest and heartfelt. How has that resonated with your fans?
It’s been awesome. I get a lot of people thanking me for my honesty. Especially when it comes to songs like “Josie” and “Nostalgia” and going to the places that everybody thinks about going to in their head but may not vocalize it. I like being able to say that it’s okay to go there, and you’re not the only one.
What is your creative process? Because we all do have these thoughts that you capture so perfectly in your music, but then they’re gone. How do you stay so present?
Ya’ know, it is a tricky thing, especially with today and our phones and always being in them. I do use my phone, and my Notes are full of quotes that people say or little ideas that I’ll have. I especially, especially am grateful for my phone when I can record snippets of song ideas. My Voice Memos is far more valuable than my little notes because I am old school – I do carry this little mini moleskin around with me in my bag and always have a pen. That is one of the things people always ask, “If you didn’t have a bag or you didn’t have a purse, what’s the one thing you need to have on you at all times?” I always say a pen.
The thing that’s nice about journaling, too, is that it forces you to slow down. It forces you to be in that moment as you’re writing every word. Sometimes, when I am doing the physical act of writing out a word, I come up with five more ideas just because of the fact that I’m taking the time to look at the way it sounds. I can come up with a bunch of rhymes right off of that. I like doing the stream of consciousness thing and putting it down for a minute before coming back to it.
It’s fun to empower each other all the time and be like,
“We deserve to be heard, so let’s figure out how to do it.”
There’s been a lot of talk about women not having enough of a presence on the radio. Do you have an opinion about that?
Oh, yea. It’s just so hard because I don’t know what it is. I wish I could get the “Why?” behind it. I wish I could ask God, “Why did you give us this little innate challenge with each other – this innate competition?” There’s no real reason behind it other than we want to make sure that we feel loved. Instead of us making sure that we know that we individually are loved, and we can stand behind that in confidence, it just comes down to the comparison game, “Well, are we loved as much by that person?” And that’s just females, in general, so it makes it ten times more challenging when you’re trying to grow a community of writers and artists that are females and rise together and continue to be more and more seen when you can’t really help but, at times, go to that dark comparison side and figure out, “What about their career? It’s better than mine. What about their songs or their voice or their look or whatever.”
Sometimes, it can be healthy when you really admire somebody’s career, and you look at it like, “Oh, I just love what they’re doing, and I kind of want to do something like it but in my own lane.” I think it’s what has kept us back from being able to rise with the guys, especially in the country genre.
It sucks because there’s so much to be said by females in a different way that guys can’t say it. We have an unbelievable amount of emotions and a huge capacity to be able to translate them. And we’re the caretakers – that was our God-given role as humans, to be caretakers. So these women songwriters and artists who have that naturally in them and then are also gifted with the craft of being able to put it into words and send it out into the world as a giant hug or whatever it may be, I’m telling the truth about growing up or she’s telling the truth about heartbreak or breaking somebody else’s heart, people need to hear that in the way that they aren’t – they just aren’t hearing it from the men.
It’s nothing against the men at all. I’m a big fan of a lot of those guys, and it just comes down to the fact that men and women have different things to say and both of them are equally important. I think that there are so many women that are just bubbling under the surface just ready to erupt, and I think we’re all ready for that.
The more I talk to fans, too, the more I see their frustration that we’re not getting the radio play or the playlisting on Spotify and Apple Music. They really do pick and choose. Even conversations I’ve had with labels, and on the music industry side of the world, they say, “We can’t sign her because we already have a girl.” It makes me want to say, “Oh, well, okay. How many guys do you have?” It’s almost like saying, “We already have a Native American working at our office.” Ya know? It might as well be the same thing when you say that.
I do think the energy is there, and there are so many people – the fans want it, the women are ready, and I think that we just need to be given the opportunities. If those kinds of mindsets are going to hold us back from having those opportunities, then we need to make our own and create our own female playlist. Create a damn festival for females only. The boys are not invited. I think there’s a lot of that coming up, too, just to show people want to hear it. It comes down to a “proof” thing at this point. It’s fun to empower each other all the time and be like, “We deserve to be heard, so let’s figure out how to do it.”
Besides an all-female festival, how is this going to change in terms of a presence on the radio or getting picked up by a label? How do you see that changing?
It does come down to people taking a stand, I think, and not succumbing to The Man being right or the label head being correct in saying that. Because we have such a small window that’s given to us I think when we have the opportunity to speak up; sometimes there’s a fear that you’re going to lose that small window for yourself if you say anything. I have to admire people like Cam recently. She’s just been a huge advocate and vocalizing a lot in terms of females deserving the right opportunities in Nashville. It’s just like everything else – politically, too – if one person has the balls to say, “This is wrong,” then more and more will get behind that. I think it is going to be a slow build but eventually will be a tidal wave.
I’ve always been a fan of Martins because my dad played a Martin.
Is there a particular type of guitar you’re drawn to – in a general sense or at this moment?
I’ve always been a fan of Martins because my dad played a Martin. He actually played a 12-string, which was interesting because that was the only guitar in the house. I learned my first chords on a 12-string, which was super bizarre. I grew up playing a Simon & Patrick, which is Canadian, and I loved it. I think it’s super bright and I loved the body of the guitar. It felt like I could easily hug it. It was small and very “me” sized and it was my buddy for the last ten years.
I finally got a Martin in the house. I think that they’ve always had such a warm sound, and I just got one for my birthday and I love it. It’s been kind of a gamechanger for me. Acoustic is really my thing. I’ve played around with electric here and there at my husband’s studio and had a lot of fun, but that’s an adventure I have yet to embark on.
What are you listening to right now?
I try to stay up to date with other artists in my shoes. I listen to a lot of New Music Friday. I try to find the cool new rock artists like Jade Bird is one who I mentioned earlier, and Dermot Kennedy is a super cool artist, too. If I’m gonna clean the house, I’m gonna put on a whole Led Zeppelin record, and I’m gonna listen to it top-down. I’m still that old school record nerd.
I am really drawn, it seems, to a bunch of the people from across the pond. There is something about that music culture in the UK that I’m in love with. I lived over there for a little while and just got to know the people, and they really love stories in the same way that I do and the things that they listen to. I did a tour over in Ireland. It’s funny; you wouldn’t expect them to love country music but every song they were like, “That’s so cool.” They just wanted to talk about it. They love diving into the music, so that was really interesting.
Ultimately, you can communicate music in whatever way you want.
Alive or dead, who is your dream collaboration? Who would you love to play with? Who would you love to have a conversation with, musical or otherwise?
Joni Mitchell. The way her brain works is extraordinary. She’s a poet; she’s a painter, she’s an artist in every sense of the word. She’s been a huge inspiration, and she’s helped me out.
There’s a set of three lengthy interviews [in her biography], and it’s a beautiful read. She was one that was very quiet; she didn’t do a lot of interviews. I think that’s the other reason why I would want to sit down with her – she’s still a little bit of a mystery, and I love that that’s something that remained her whole life. But she told the interviewer, “Sometimes I have trouble telling the guys what I want to hear because I say it in colors. I want a little bit more yellow there; there’s too much red.” It took them a while to get there, but they finally figured out what she meant. I just thought it was really cool she found different ways to communicate art and that it’s okay if you don’t know, “Oh, I need the flat.”
Sometimes communicating music can be tricky if you think you know what you want to hear but you might not have a Music Theory background and know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s really nice to surround yourself with those people, obviously. Ultimately, you can communicate music in whatever way you want. I respected her for that.
What would you tell your younger self which is just starting out as a musician?
Don’t be a dummy and give into fear. Don’t let fear make the decisions for you because it’s a liar.
For more information about Emily:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/emilyhackettmusic
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/ms_emilyhackett/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/ms_emilyhackett
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/missemilyhackett
By Megan McClure