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Take Five with Emily Duff

Emily Duff talks new album "Born On The Ground," background in music, and guitars.

I picked up my Uncle’s mandolin at age four and immediately knew that music was my way out of my head and into my heart. By age seven, my Mum taught me four chords on her 1967 Giannini Classical Guitar, which was way too big for my tiny hands, but pushed me to stretch and work harder to shape bar chords.  I learned all the pop and folk songs in her 1970’s Big Chord Songbook collections and immediately started writing songs about how messed up our home life was.

At ten years old, I was playing classical cello and trombone, and my father bought me a 1976 Ventura Electric Guitar.  A semi-hollow body, Cherry Red ES335 knock off that looked like Chuck Berry’s.  Chuck was a guitar hero to me.  It was a Valentine’s Day gift given to me specifically to piss off my mother while my parents were going through a bitter and violent divorce.

Right after that, my Mum had a nervous breakdown and left my sister and me with our father, who wasn’t fit to raise his hand, let alone two young girls, so we basically raised ourselves.  I was a tough kid, smoking and drinking by age ten, so I often say that I was raised by a pack of cigarettes.  Honestly, if it wasn’t for music, especially guitar, I might have really gone down the drain.  Being a songwriter and a musician completely saved my life as a young girl and continues to do so every single day as a way to process ideas, thoughts, feelings, general overwhelm—and make sense of the who, what, where, when, and why of it all.  Music sorts out the great big cosmic mystery for me.  It’s been coming in quite handy during this pandemic.

My influences are so diverse.  I grew up in the golden age of songwriting, so I was schooled as a songwriter every time I turned on the radio.  I’m lucky.  I draw heavily from artists like Etta James, Bobbie Gentry, Aretha Franklin, Tanya Tucker, Brenda Lee, Janis Joplin, Carol King, The Staple Singers, Led Zeppelin, The Carpenters, The Pretenders, The Clash, Johnny Cash, Townes, Kris Kristofferson, Blood, Sweat & Tears—I could go on for days, and I haven’t even scratched the surface or touched on all the classical composers I draw on as a cellist.  I have music playing in my head all the time.  It can be a bit much at times, but it all leads to songs—for me, it’s all about The Songs.  I write every day, and that brings me to my brand new record, Born on the Ground.  This record makes me really happy because I think it actually brings all of my influences and favorite genres together really nicely.  My style has been described as “Sweet & Sour Rock and Roll with a Great Big Hit of Country Soul.”  Of course, there’s a huge Punk inside as well, and I am very fond of her.  This record ties it all together and allows me to explore and have a great time with my amazing band—I miss them so right now.  I play for hours every day and do a weekly live stream show on Facebook, Sundays at 4 pm, but there is nothing like playing with other musicians.  Having musical conversations on stage with your musical family is a very profound and important experience for me.  Perhaps because I had such a broken family life, these musical relationships and communications are essential to my mental health and well being.  Makes sense.

“My new record, Born on the Ground, is my 20/20 hindsight look-back without anger, through the mature lens of being a mother who never had one, and a happily married wife who never saw a healthy marriage while growing up. I reckon this record is about being in a good place, ‘beating the odds’ and ending a cycle of abuse.”

Who were your musical influences that inspired you to be the musician you are today?
My mother, without a doubt.  She started it all and then I would pass the baton to Neil Diamond, who then hands it off to—Diana Ross & The Supremes.

Tell us about your songwriting process; do you start with lyrics or the chord progression or both?
The song tells me where to go.  My process is to listen to the song, always.  It’s always different.  The only thing that’s consistent at this point is that I keep my ego out of it and don’t fight when something isn’t working.  Follow the song, tell the story, make it visual, vivid, and real—then allow the listener to try it on like a dress or a suit that was tailor-made for THEM.  When it’s done, it’s not really mine anymore.

Share with us your gear selection and how you use each instrument to create your sound.
I write on guitar.  I have many.  I love guitars too much, if that’s possible.  I especially love guitars from the ‘50s and ‘60s but it’s all about tone and feel.  Acoustic guitars are magic because they open up and sound better the more you play them.  Every guitar holds stories and songs.  Wood is a living thing, it has secrets.  I especially love old Harmony electric guitars with DeArmond pickups.  The new Harmony line is amazing, and I will certainly be investing in a few of their brand new models!  I love small Seagull parlor guitars for gigging, and I put the K&K pure mini pickup in every acoustic I have now.  It’s my go-to pick up for installing in acoustics.  I even put it in my custom Martin OM that my husband gave me for a very special birthday for the show I played at City Winery NYC when I shared a night with Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin.

Young women in music today are always looking for inspiration and advice. What would be your advice to aspiring young musicians today? SERVE THE SONG, NOT YOUR EGO.  Write what you know, be honest, go deep but always have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Music should be about joy and not stressful.  Be authentic.  Your audience will see and hear that immediately and that will be very attractive as a sound and as an energy.  Sonic vibrations are very powerful and healing—we really need that right now.

And lastly, here is an open-ended statement, music to me means

GGM Staff



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