Emmaline is originally from Indiana, but attended Cincinnati’s Conservative of Music and started making a name for herself in Cincy before relocating to Nashville last year. Still in her early 20s, she possesses a voice and demeanor beyond her years. She admits to being an old soul and embodies the grace and glamour of old style jazz. With smoky echoes of greats like Billie Holiday in her in voice and tattoos on her arms, she’s bringing jazz to a new generation. She just released a new EP [Retro Kind of Love] and she’ll make her screen and movie soundtrack debut this April in Sweetwater. Emmaline returns to the Ludlow Garage on 3/31 to celebrate her new EP as well as her birthday. Don’t miss this opportunity to see a brilliant young jazz performer in an intimate venue. Emmaline sat down with CincyMusic to chat about her new EP, collaborating with other musicians and the proper way to celebrate a Cincinnati birthday.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s good to see you again. I haven't seen you since you left Cincy. How is Nashville treating you?
It's been good. It’s been crazy, because we moved here [Nashville] in July . But, since we were doing so much touring at the end of 2022, it didn't really feel like we had time to really get acclimated and realize like, ‘Oh, this is my home now.’ So, since it's kind of been the slower season during this whole beginning stretch of 2023. I've finally gotten a chance to really get out there and meet new people and make connections. And really, it's starting to feel like home. So, it's good. I’m really liking it so far.
I was reading a little bit about your family background. You came from a musical background, so, it's always been a part of your life. I was kind of laughing because your new single is called “Retro Kind of Love” . And I'm like, you're super young to be pining for those retro days [laughs]. But, you've got a bit of the old soul to you; I think I've told you this before, you remind me of some of the greats like Billie Holiday in your voice and passion. So, I'm curious, how did that old spirit come about in somebody so young? [laughs]. Probably a lot of other people, your generation, which is, frankly, also my son's generation, wouldn’t even know who Blossom Deary or Ella Fitzgerald are or be passionate about jazz.
Right. Yeah. I think for me, it’s a conglomerate of things. I've always been one of those people that got comments from even complete strangers or people that I've had very small interactions with being like, ‘You're such an old soul, you seem so much older than you are’. And this has really gone on for most of my life. And I think there's lots of things that play into that. But I think as far as my appreciation for jazz and for…I really love vintage films and just classic art in general. So, I think growing up with my dad being a jazz musician, and me growing up with the music... and also, he was also very into old movies and black and white films and stuff like that… so, I think I just grew [up] with an appreciation for all things timeless. And that's just a huge part of why I do what I do, you know?
Yeah, and there is a timeless beauty to it. I've always kind of liked jazz, but it took me forever to get into classical music, because I looked at it, and I didn't really see myself represented there. For me, it was just like these crusty old white men [laughs]. But then a friend of mine is a violin player and quite young and Indian and it really opened my eyes, like, yeah, there is this great passion and artistry to it. What do you think people around your age feel about jazz? Are they passionate about it? Or is it kind of a niche thing?
I think with all of the resources we have now, and record labels not necessarily being in charge... I mean, to an extent, they still run history, of course, but with everyone having the ability now to make their own independent record labels and release music independently, I think it's opened a door for lots of music that maybe wouldn't have been heard otherwise.
And with social media, as well, it's giving these genres, or maybe more cross-genre type of material, a platform to find people that are looking for that exact sound. I think really, even over the past five years, we've seen more [of] an influx of people with jazz influence and soul influence and pop and Americana and all of this fusion of influences getting a front seat to reach a wider audience. And I think that is going to just keep growing, the more resources that are out there for independent artists, you know?
And you're certainly doing your part; I mean, your social game’s very strong and you're very active on social media. I love seeing the kind of behind- the- scenes things where you're practicing or demoing your new songs and giving us insight into how you're creating. It’s really cool, it’s very engaging. You’ve got a new EP coming out and you're touring behind it. So, I'm excited for both; excited See you back in Cincinnati. I really like the new single [“Retro Kind of Love”].
Thank you. Yeah, yeah. I think that the title track for me of the project ‘ Retro Kind of Love’ …
it came about from me just kind of thinking on that idea of how I've always been told, like, ‘Oh, you're such an old soul, you're such an old soul.’ And I wanted to kind of use my imagination and really immerse myself in this idea of what if… like, time travel was possible and we could go back to a simpler time? Because it is really appealing to me as somebody who, you know…I obviously am very active on social media, and I have to give social media its props for giving me the ability to have a platform and to reach a lot, you know, a much wider audience than I would ever be able to reach without it and without a record label. But, because it's such an intensely
time-consuming and relevant part of my job description, I love the idea of ‘what if I was able to go back to a time when there were no phones and there were no distractions and you're able to just live fully in the present moment?’, because that's one of my biggest struggles with running my business all by myself. Because it is a business, you know, being an independent musician and doing all of this. It is business and so having to constantly be on my phone and posting things and sending emails and like advancing tours, it just adds up. And, so, it was almost a therapeutic experience writing this song, to kind of be like, ‘what would it look like if I could live distraction- free, and we could just all go back to a simpler time?’ And I think the way it translates in the song, or the way I hope it translates in the song, is just kind of a freeing fun experience that people can all kind of relate to, because I think we're all kind of caught up in our phones and computers. And I think we all in a sense kind of dream of an escape, you know, and that's kind of what I wanted to touch on with that song.
Yeah, I mean, there's definitely something comforting about jazz and I will say personally, especially around female vocalists. If I'm home and cooking or whatever, if I put on Billie Holiday, it’s this really beautiful kind of soothing warmth even when the subject matter is dark like Billie or Nina Simone singing “Strange Fruit”. There's a beauty that is super comforting, both from the music and the voice.
When we moved into our current house, it’s from 1908, so it actually has a foyer with a fireplace and that’s where the previous people had their TV and I’m like, I don't want a TV on the first floor of my house. So, when we come in, there's a fireplace. I put a record player in there and you can sit and listen to jazz. And it is a way just to sit and focus and kind of disconnect.
Because I didn't want the first thing that you see when you walk in is a big TV and you're just staring at it. So, it is intentionally a place to unplug and enjoy simplicity. I get a lot of comfort from your music as well. A beautiful simplicity.
I love that. I'm so glad.
So, I noticed on the new single, you play violin . You were trained in violin and the vibe I got seeing you playing it [in concert], but also on the new single is [that] it almost is kind of taking the voicing of, say a saxophone. I could easily see that if you played sax dropping that in to get that [sound] but it's a bit of a different tonality with the violin. How do you think about incorporating violin into your music since you’re very adept at that as well as singing?
Yeah, I mean, this is really the first project that I …really, I think it was almost kind of a confidence thing. Like, this was the first project that I really had the confidence to let my violin kind of share the front seat spotlight with my vocals. And it's a confidence thing in a weird way for me, because violin was my first instrument, so, I feel extremely comfortable [playing it]. I started playing violin when I was four and I was classically trained until I was nineteen, so that was really my thing. And so, it's less of a confidence thing playing it. But more of when I first started kind of doing jazz and writing my own songs, I really wanted to establish myself as a songwriter and a vocalist first.
I didn't want it to feel like, ‘Oh a novelty- like violin player/singer’; you know, ‘Oh, what a novelty you never see that.’ I don't know why there was just something in me that was like, I want my vocals and my songwriting to translate without needing, like the wow factor of ‘Oh, multi- instrumentalist/violin player.’ So, I felt like with this project, it was really my first time of feeling like, I am ready to really take that step towards really promoting myself as a multi- instrumentalist and incorporating my violin almost equally with my vocals, because it is such a huge part of me. I mean, it was my first instrument. I've spent thousands of hours practicing, you know, literally, so it feels really refreshing and a step in the right direction for me to fully embrace [and allow myself to say], ‘Yeah, I'm a multi- instrumentalist, and yeah, I can kill it on the violin, and I can sing and I can write’, you know, and it's kind of like, embodying it and just being like, ‘Yeah, this is who I am.’ So, it just feels right and it felt like the right time to really take that step.
It's an interesting voicing for jazz. I'm trying to think if I know any are any other [jazz] artists [using violin]. Like I said, for me, it feels like it's almost sitting in for, say some brass…
…that I don't think you have in your band. Right?
Not currently. Yeah.
Yeah, so…don't ignore your skills [both laugh]. I saw a posting that you're doing some acting now and you're actually going to be in a movie [ Sweetwater which comes out 4/14].
I am. My debut film!
Nice. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? I saw you made up [for the role] and it’s a really beautiful retro look that perfectly suited you.
Yeah, it was crazy. I mean, acting was really never something that I saw in my future. I, of course, just like anybody else, I did little plays in middle school or whatnot. But it was never something that I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be in a movie’, you know? And this opportunity came so out of the blue. I got an email from a director, it was at the very beginning of 2022, I think in early January. And he was like, ‘Hey, [we’re] making this movie and we're looking for somebody who can play the role of an Italian, a fictional Italian, jazz singer in the film.’
And he, the director [Martin Guigui] himself is a musician as well, so, he loves music. And it was really important to him to have a real musician singing live and acting as well. And so, I was invited to submit a self-tape of myself trying out some of the lines, because they already knew I could sing.
And so, they're like, ‘Here's the script and we just would love to see you make a self-tape.’ So, like I said, I really didn't know anything about this world, I am a musician. So, I hired an acting coach in Atlanta and I was like, ‘Okay, I have one week, and I need to learn what to do for this audition!’ So, she helped me just kind of give me the Spark Notes of like, what to do. And, you know, she was like, ‘You're gonna do fine. you have like a really natural ability at this, and you're gonna do fine. Go with your gut, because I can already tell your gut instinct is… it feels really organic to the role.’ So, I was like, okay-submitted the self-tape, waited. I mean, it felt like I was waiting months, and I think I was. And at some point, I had kind of given up on it. I was like, ‘Oh, maybe they went with someone else. That’s totally okay. I'm not an actor, I don't have my feelings hurt’, whatever. And then, literally I had a couple of weeks before they were supposed to start filming. And the director called me and was like, ‘We want to make it official; we want you to play this role, here's the official script. We're buying your plane ticket now. Come out to LA.’. And we had like, a week in the studio, recording the soundtrack. So, I'm featured on the soundtrack a lot, even when I'm not on screen. I'm singing, I think six songs in the movie soundtrack.
And then, so we were in the studio for about a week and then I was on set for about a week. And we actually tracked live a performance in what's supposed to be kind of like a Harlem nightclub type of vibe. And that's…, I was featured with Gary Clark Jr. Because he's also in the film.
Wow, now way.
Yeah. So, we tracked that live. And so, there's a live performance of Gary Clark Jr. and I in character performing in this nightclub. And it was just an awesome experience. It's an amazing movie. It is inspiring. It's about the first African-American player in the NBA [Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton]. And his story has kind of been buried throughout all of history. And this director, it has been his passion project to finally tell the story of this amazing individual. And the NBA is sponsoring the film and [is] very heavily involved in the promotion of it. And it's really special. So, I'm really excited that I was invited to be a part of it, and I'm excited to see it myself because I haven't seen it yet!
Right, you've only seen the pieces where you're on set. And yeah, it'll interesting to see how it's compiled. That is amazing. Gary Clark Jr. is another guy who's just like phenomenal. I did get to see him at Brady when he was here last time and yeah, just incredible. He's coming back in May.
I saw that he is, he just announced that.
And, actually, Kamasi Washington was just announced. He's coming to Ludlow garage.
Oh, really? Oh, that’s super dope that will be awesome!
Oh, that'll be a really good show.
Well, [speaking of] collaborations, I saw, and I love this, you did some work with Bootsy Collins on a single and that was just dynamite, as well.
I really loved it. It worked beautifully. Yeah, you're getting around!
How are you finding [the process of] connecting? Nashville seems like …I don't know, I guess you can comment having lived in both cities. Is it easier to tap into that broader music community [in Nashville]? Because it seems like literally there are studio musicians every time you turn around right?
Cincinnati has got a great music scene, but it doesn't seem to be an industry like Nashville. Right? There’s not a “Songwriters Row.”
Yeah, of course. So, I mean, for me, working with Bootsy was such an inspiring experience, because of all of his accomplishments in music history, literally, like his contributions, and what a, you know, musical innovator he is and what an awesome person he is to work with. He's just the nicest individual. And I went to his house, his home studio, I want to say like, probably five times or so. And this was kind of over the course of, I would say, maybe two years or so. And we just, it was an incredibly collaborative experience to work on stuff with him, because like, I would sing something and he'd be like, ‘I really liked that, what if we build on that?’, and then it was just incredibly collaborative and playing off of each other's ideas. And I think, for me, as somebody who… I came from the classical world, it's not a very collaborative sphere of the industry at all. And it's a lot of you by yourself in a practice room, just hashing out really crazy passages for hours and hours and hours. And so, kind of switching gears to existing more in a jazz space and songwriting space, which is a lot more collaborative...it has been kind of a switch for me mentally that I think I'm still learning how to open up and be more vulnerable with collabs, and songwriting and stuff like that. And I think it really is because I existed in this very individualistic environment of classical music for so long.
But for me, when it comes to working with other musicians like Bootsy, it felt so fluid like I never once felt out of place. Or, you know, you can just tell when you click, organically connect with somebody, it's a special feeling. And I definitely felt that with Bootsy. I also worked on a collab with a super amazing, talented jazz pianist and vocalist. He's English, and we did a collab of the [Crowded House] song “Don't Dream It's Over”.
We did this arrangement that is really jazzy and really modern sounding, but still kind of maintaining the original intent of the song. And we did that collab, obviously remotely because he's in another country. And it was kind of a similar thing; really organic, just [a] good connection, never felt like there was any competition or trying to one up each other. There's no judgment, you know? And that's always what I look for in collaborators, especially as I continue to kind of open myself up to this world of more collaborative music experience.
Yeah, it's interesting - rock and jazz versus classical, right? Because, yeah, classical there’s not a lot of room for improvisation, or kind of steering off the music, especially if you're playing with a group, right? It's like, we all have the same music, you're practicing your part, it’s not like you're gonna break into “Hey, I'm gonna freestyle! “
Right. That is so just not acceptable in those spaces. [Laughs]
It's interesting having a break out of that and try and change your mindset. But yeah, I think it's super healthy. Otherwise, you can tend to get kind of insular. It's like, take inspiration from everybody and kind of chase it.
Do you want to talk a little bit about the tour and what we're going to be seeing and why you're amazing and why people should come out and see you? [Both laugh]
Absolutely! Yeah, so this tour is really special because I'm heading out on the road with a different configuration of instruments and it's going to be a little more intimate and organic feeling. I'm going to be on the road with just a quartet. So, it's going to be upright bass, and then just a small jazz cocktail drum kit, guitar, and then me on vocals and violin. So, typically, in the past, I've had keyboards, background vocals, horns, I've done all these different types of instrumentations on my tours. And for this project specifically, because it's so intimate…and really, my goal with this music was to have it feel like a jazz combo is performing kind of contemporary, jazzy pop songs in a little lounge, you know? I wanted it to feel intimate. And so, this new configuration of the band is really capturing that, and I'm super excited. I have a feeling that it's going to feel very fluid and improvisational. I think that's kind of as opposed to some of my past tours have been a lot more planned and very intentional. And that's not to say that this isn't, it's just a little more, there's a little more room for, you know, who knows what might happen, you know?
So, I'm really excited. And it's gonna be so fun to be back in Cincinnati, because, well, for two things, because obviously I haven't performed in Cincinnati… in over a year, right?
Yeah, last time I saw you was you came through on the Christmas show at Ludlow [December 2021].
Yeah. And that was over a year ago. Yeah. So, I haven't performed in Cincinnati in over a year. So, I'm excited about that. Two, this is my EP release tour, so, it's going to be new material, new band, new vibes. And then three, it's actually the night before my birthday!
So, kind of like a birthday party/EP release/homecoming show. All of the above!
We’ll get you some Busken’s cake and some Graeter ’s to celebrate.
Exactly, that's how we celebrate correctly! And maybe even like a couple of coneys from Skyline.
Maybe after the show because you never know how those are going to sit [laughs].
Yeah, you never know [laughs]. You really never know. Yeah, that will probably be a post-show thing. And I have a day off the next day on my birthday. So that's good.
Cool, I’m super excited. I saw that you're doing a vinyl release for this as well, but that will probably take a while. Will you have the new EP available on tour in CD form?
Yes, I will! And I'm so excited because I was initially told that my vinyl order wasn't going to be complete until June because vinyl has just been- the manufacturers have been so backed up because of the massive influx in vinyl demand. But just literally yesterday I got an email saying, ‘Guess what? We wrapped up your order sooner than expected and it just shipped out and is on its way to you.’ So, I’ll have my CDs. I'll have new shirts and I will have vinyl with me! I am so excited the timing worked out.
That is phenomenal. Congratulations!
Yeah, I cannot wait. I cannot wait to buy it and get it signed.
Can people meet you after the show? Will you be hanging out?
I will be hanging out, yes!
Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Wonderful seeing you again. Congratulations on all the success.
So excited to catch you early in your career. In ten years, I can say I knew her when!
Let’s hope so!
Emmaline performs at The Ludlow Garage on Friday 3/31. Her new EP, Retro Kind of Love, is available on streaming platforms, CD, and vinyl.